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Election manifestos met with 'disappointment'

The edtech industry weighs up the election promises of three main parties following manifesto launch

Posted by Sophie Beyer | May 19, 2017 | Business

The education technology industry has responded to the launch of the manifestos this week.  There's not enough priority for technology in education in the three main election manifestos says trade body Naace, with a mixed response from the wider edtech industry.  According to industry experts, the potential for technology to make efficiency savings as well as improve outcomes has been ignored, and 'the UK needs to do something different'.

Funding for schools is already at breaking point in most cases

Mark Chambers, CEO of Naace, the edtech association says: “Naace members are reporting significant disappointment with the amount of attention paid by each of the main political parties to edtech in their manifestos. The importance of edtech is multifaceted beginning with the fact that schools, to be relevant to their students’ needs, should offer access to high quality technology resources, content and tools; this should be an entitlement for all UK students regardless of their background or ability.

“Well managed edtech leads to significant savings for schools in many aspects of resourcing and can markedly improve their systems including for example, their communication process with community, parents and carers… If we are to see a continued improvement in outcomes for young people then we need to be moving away from the 19th century curricula, classroom organisation and pedagogy that schools are retrenching to and embrace 21st century learning.”

The Consertive Party manifesto, released on 18th May 2017, details education objectives and offers a direct response to widespread concerns that surround anticipated budget cuts.  The party, if returned to power, intend to encourage academy sponsorship, develop and expand apprenticeship schemes, open a minimum of 100 free schools each year and create more grammar schools.

The Conservative Party responds to recent concerns over school funding by acknowledging how difficult it is ‘for schools receiving a higher level of funding to make cuts in order to pay for increases elsewhere’ and vow to ’make sure that no school has its budget cut as a result of the new formula’.   The manifesto makes explicit the party’s interest in education technology by making references towards a ‘modern technical education’ and ‘world-class equipment’. This interest and possible investment seems to be fuelled by the Conservative’s plan to make the UK ‘the most innovative country in the world’.

It is clear that the UK needs to do something different, rather than repeating the same short-term cycle of pledged funding increases followed by inevitable shortfall and squeezed budgets

The Liberal Democrats, who look to invest in early years education and teachers, also plan to inject an extra £7 billion to England’s school budget and promise that no school will lose money per pupil in cash terms.

The Labour Party, who wish to scrap tuition fees, reintroduce maintenance allowances and extend free childcare to 30 hours for all two-year-olds, mean to use money from extra tax revenue to commit an extra £25.3bn for education. 

Now is the time for unity across the sector; not dead ends. We need to work harder to persuade, evidence impact and communicate properly to educators

Simon Harbridge, CEO of Stone Group said “Funding for schools is already at breaking point in most cases. Schools are having to do more, with less, and technology - rather than being seen as a further drain on funding, has to be seen as a way to provide efficiency savings as well as great educational outcomes.”

“At a very basic level, we have to invest in technology in order to equip future generations with the skills to compete in the global workforce. Possessing digital skills is becoming increasingly more vital to many careers…[and] having a strong foundation of digital skills is essential.”

Technology and education has formed a key role in government policy recently with the launch of the Digital Strategy, and the Spring Budget in March this year.  Ty Goddard, chair of EdtechUK says: "As a sector edtech has come a long way; recognition in the recent Digital Strategy, as to its educational and economic benefits has taken a while, admittedly.  As importantly, schools, colleges and universities are leading the way. Now is the time for unity across the sector; not dead ends. We need to work harder to persuade, evidence impact and communicate properly to educators, beyond hard-sell trade shows.

"Department for Education taskforces should provide many opportunities to begin to further the edtech debate and the proposed Opportunity Areas, if continued, are ripe for testing digital. The growth and support for other sectors, like the creative industries has been hard fought – patient lobbying, core arguments and not being distracted, those should be the watchwords. Specific manifesto mentions are not really our yardsticks."

Education is likely to be a key factor in the election.  James Bell, Director of Professional Services at Renaissance“The main parties are placing education front and centre of this general election. The Conservative manifesto commits to strengthening early years’ literacy and numeracy and high quality technological assessment programmes have an important role to play in this.”

The manifestos are all committed to increasing the education budget, with differing priorities from each party.  However, the history of budget changes has had an impact.  Rachel Matthews, Director of International Communications at Canvas said “looking at the historical impact of policy over the years, it is clear that the UK needs to do something different, rather than repeating the same short-term cycle of pledged funding increases followed by inevitable shortfall and squeezed budgets.”

“Whilst the future of education funding can still be considered uncertain, the future of education technology is not. Children are digital natives and are growing up in a digital age, necessitating digital developments within schools.”

By Shelbie Holmes and Sophie Beyer 

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