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Highlighting Excellent EdTech Practice can Help Every School Excel

By shining a light on the great edtech practice that’s already happening, we can work together to help every school get better, says Ty Goddard...

  • Highlighting Excellent EdTech Practice can Help Every School Excel

When used well, edtech can enhance teaching and learning. It can reduce workload, focus learning and save money. It can support parent-teacher communications. But how can we tell when it’s used well?

Experience has taught me that innovators are often a humble bunch, who aren’t always comfortable broadcasting their achievements.

That’s why the Education Foundation recently launched Edtech 50 Schools, an initiative aimed at shining a light on schools that use edtech in groundbreaking and impactful ways.

As part of the launch, I went on a nationwide tour with Mark Anderson, better known to many by his Twitter handle @ICTEvangelist, to visit some pioneering UK schools. Here’s a taster of what we found…

Enhancing existing learning

In Wales, all schools have access to the Hwb Platform, a repository of tools and resources that support learning and teaching.

Having worked on the Welsh digital competency framework, Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Bro Edern (near Cardiff) was an early adopter. Embedding the digital framework curriculum-wide has made edtech a fundamental part of school life.

But Bro Edern didn’t stop with the national hub. They’ve also given each student a tablet. Accompanied by an acceptable use policy, these tablets are strictly to enhance existing activities, not to replace them.

For instance, in art class I found students drawing insects. They used both real insects and 3D tech replicas to check their work. They could zoom in, view details and amend their drawings as needed.

By adopting a technology students are familiar with, Bro Edern has seen pupils increase their depth of learning across subjects.

Improving communication

Edtech isn’t always about student learning. At Acklam Grange School they’re using technology to support parental communications. Middlesbrough has a high number of students who speak English as an additional language (EAL).

Often, parents also have limited English language skills. Acklam Grange found that EAL parents weren’t always comfortable approaching the school.

To research different solutions, Acklam Grange attended a variety of education technology events. They now support parents and front desk staff to use the free Microsoft translation apps.

An excellent communication tool, this allows EAL parents to interact more easily with school staff. It also helps integrate them into the local community.

What’s more, the school has adopted a flipped learning approach to school leadership team (SLT) meetings. Using Microsoft OneNote, the SLT can now access all relevant documentation in advance of meetings.

This has reduced staff workload and led to better decision-making. According to deputy head Jon Tait, it has also made SLT meetings far more productive.

A few years ago, Ofsted rated Acklam Grange as ‘requiring improvement’. Partly thanks to edtech (and a solid, goal-based implementation plan) they now have a ‘good’ rating. This illustrates how edtech can have a positive effect on a school’s improvement journey, without needing to impact learning directly.

Creating digital architecture

One of the most innovative schools we visited was Shireland Collegiate Academy in Birmingham. Head teacher Sir Mark Grundy came to the school in 1997. On starting, he found pupils eager to learn, but staff who had lost their confidence.

Since he had a background in tech, Mark decided to create a technology framework for the school.

Shireland’s resulting approach has grown over the years. It now incorporates numerous educational technologies. The SLT takes a realistic approach to the role of edtech in school improvement – staff are always learning too.

One key innovation is what the school calls ‘class sites’, built on top of Sharepoint. In essence, these are customised micro-communities embedded in an Office 365 environment.

A hub for teachers, students and parents, the class sites keep all work centrally located. Teachers can now see pupils’ homework before lessons, adapting their plans as required. Parents have a window into school life and can see their children’s class work. This is ‘extended schools’ in action, for a new age.

Shireland has also introduced audio and video feedback. This has saved teachers time, and allowed students to collate feedback across subjects, helping them to identify improvement areas. The school has also introduced data visualisation tool, Microsoft Power BI, to transform assessment.

However, it is Shireland’s underlying framework that remains the most fundamental transferable change. This is because it can be implemented across other schools in the multi-academy trust.

With a ‘scaffold’ already in place, new schools can focus entirely on ‘back office’ process and culture change. The result is an edtech architecture that connects the schools and grows with them. As Sir Mark says, “it’s not clever, just a bit unusual at the moment.”

A sound strategy

During our week-long tour, a common thread we found was schools taking a holistic approach to edtech. They didn’t just focus on ‘gimmicky’ technologies, but on supporting staff in their professional journey.

People were as important as the tech itself. The schools we visited aimed for cohesive integration, often using platforms as a starting point. Activity was also led from the SLT – it wasn’t just the case of a single, enthusiastic individual trying to make a difference.

To date, the government’s approach to edtech has been somewhat piecemeal. Focus has shifted from digital literacy and ICT, to computer science and coding.

While all these have a place, there has never been an overarching national strategy. To achieve this, we need edtech providers, schools and, crucially – national leadership – working together.

Our approach has to be systemic, process-driven and widespread. We need regional hubs to support schools and to develop the edtech sector. Most importantly though, we must move away from a small number of digital leaders trying to implement change.

Instead, edtech must become a commonplace fixture, woven into the fabric of our education system. My vision is that it becomes not the exception, but the norm. Useful, practical and impactful; supporting teachers and enabling learning.

This is what Edtech 50 Schools is all about. By showcasing what schools can do, we hope to highlight what can be achieved when we work together.

Ty Goddard is the director of the Education Foundation and Edtech UK.

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