The importance of ‘bottom-up’ for increasing the use of technology within schools
It was fascinating to see Damien Hinds, relatively new to the post of Education Secretary, spend some time over the summer break encouraging the further development of educational technology and increasing its use within schools.1 This comes hot on the heels of his initial attempts to ingratiate himself with the teaching community via his focus on workload.2
These set-piece interventions have occurred just as secondary education appears to be understanding what the new lie of the land is. A lot of the major recent changes are now in place and certain trends have been established:
- MATs are a significant part of the landscape.
- Students are sitting reformed GCSE and A Level examinations.
- Progress 8 is now an important headline figure.
- Teacher recruitment and retention is very difficult for schools.
- Funding is tight and unlikely to become significantly easier anytime soon.
Whilst there is clearly unhappiness about many, if not all, of the above, my sense is that many people in education have accepted that few of these reforms and trends are likely to be reversed in the near-future and therefore, adapting to this ‘new normal’ is vital.
What links the focus on EdTech and workload is that in the context of this ‘new normal’ it is easy for the Department of Education to opine about what they would like to achieve but more difficult for them to achieve it.
Let’s take teacher workload, for example. Increased autonomy given to school leaders / MATs via academisation makes top-down interventions about practical teaching activities almost a non-starter. Furthermore, increased scrutiny upon headline figures like Progress 8 increases the pressure on all schools to work harder and deliver more. Additional funding to increase staff numbers would have to be found from other parts of the DfE budget, given that more cash from the Treasury is unlikely to be forthcoming, and even if that was the case it is difficult enough as it is to find people with the right competencies to teach without trying to find more.
Similar issues afflict the DfE’s potential to improve the use of technology. Blanket introductions of hardware or software would clearly contradict the concept of school autonomy. Additional funding targeted specifically at spend on technology would draw resources away from other areas. Effective use of technology is dependent on its implementation by effective teachers, who are more difficult to find and retain.
So clearly top-down interventions across all English schools are problematic. Instead, both of these issues will have to be tackled in a bottom-up nature. There’s been increased noise over the past year about measures individual schools are taking to reduce teacher workload pressures3 and this looks destined only to increase in volume. Similarly, there seems to be an increasing curiosity from teachers and heads of department about the power of technology to augment their teaching delivery.
This is bottom-up in the truest sense. Not just schools implementing technology individually, but a lack of imposition from SLTs upon their front-line colleagues. Instead, school departments and faculties throwing themselves into using technology to achieve effective outcomes. For obvious reasons, here at EzyEducation we are looking forward to seeing that trend accelerate over this school year.