The Elliot Foundation specialises in the primary sector and now has over 20 schools in the UK, making it a successful academy chain. So, what part has Google for Education played in this MATs journey?
Lucinda Reid:When did you first hear about Google for Education?
Rachel Jones: I have been interested in education technology for many years and I think I heard about Google for Education initially through Twitter, as I was a very early Twitter user. Then, when we set up The Elliot Foundation we knew that we wanted to follow a cloud-based approach and we felt that Google was a solid option.
LR:What attracted you to Google?
RJ: It was definitely the creativity in the educational products and particularly children using technology and apps as part of their learning. One of the challenges that faces us now is that children are digital swimmers, as they are in an environment where they treat technology passively. If they don’t understand how technology is developed, then they are passive recipients rather than active creators. At Google, their strategy is to develop children as makers, doers and creators. I think that is the single biggest factor for me.
LR:Once you decided to use Google, how did you implement it into the academies?
RJ: Our initial use of Google was as a core organisational tool that could be used to help our growth. Then we started to use Google in the classroom, so children use Google apps and work together at home and school. The Google classroom environment is three-dimensional and very innovative.
LR:What challenges did you face during the initial set-up?
RJ: The first challenge was bringing all the academies into a single Google tenancy, so that we all live in the same place. This was a lot more complicated than we realised and there is a level of project management and consultation that has to happen, as the more schools that want to use it, the bigger the job! Another challenge was ensuring that those at the most senior level were committed to using Google. It was important that everyone understood why the academies would work in a cloud-based context and what it would involve.
LR:How did you ensure that everyone had this understanding? Did you meet any resistance?
RJ: Teachers work incredibly hard and there is a limited time for training because they are so busy, which meant that finding time for developing this understanding was hard. However, we found a way, as we knew that we could demonstrate the gains of using Google, as it saves time and increases efficiency. Once they were plugged in and started, everything was fine, but the crossover period is hard.
LR:When the academies started using Google, what changed?
RJ: A lot of my work was working on the mindset of senior leaders, as without the mindset you can’t make changes. You might have the toolkit, in this case Google apps, and the skillset to make them work, but without the mindset it is very difficult. So, when a few people in the academy got it, Google started working really well. It was delightful to hear the success that people were having using Google and these references really helped us to spread the message. Peer-to-peer work is really important to us and it is an approach that The Elliot Foundation always champions.
LR:Aside from using Google Classroom, what other tools are you currently using?
RJ: One of the things that I am looking at are the collaborative tools that Google offers. For example, there is a tool which enables staff to upload work that they are particularly proud of and people can share and look at this work. Google Analytics is also attached to this, so I can see what is being shared the most and establish which members of staff are embracing the new technology.
LR:Where do you see The Elliot Foundation and its relationship with Google in three years?
RJ: With Google specifically, I have a really clear goal. I would like them to see us as a leading UK education provider of their products, as we want to squeeze every last drop of value out of Google for Education. We are also very well supported with RM Education who have helped us to build our relationship with Google. In terms of The Elliot Foundation, I think we can create some really exciting teaching and learning. I think we can develop national projects with children in tiny schools in rural East Anglia who are working with schools in Birmingham or London to co-create content. All of this is possible with technology and we will embrace it so that we can give children even more opportunities. Ultimately, that is what we are all about; everything that we do is for the children.