On the 24 April 2020, just 30 days after commencement of lockdown 1.0, a funding round was announced; a neat and tidy figure of £100m to boost remote education provision throughout schools in England. Similar schemes were also announced in other UK countries.
The vision was laptop devices and internet access for all pupils and a robust, well-managed digital learning platform for all schools, all provided quickly and efficiently. The initiative brought in two US behemoths built on advertising and business software – Google and Microsoft – and was supported by a flurry of guidance from the Department for Education (DfE) and an expansion of the DfE Demonstrator School programme.
Well intentioned? Largely. Successful? To some extent, yes.
The COVID-driven tech revolution
Meanwhile, Twitter’s abuzz with teachers sharing tips on how to send editable PDFs home to perplexed parents…
The DfE’s chosen Google/Microsoft implementation partners go wild with marketing their virtues, seeking, ironically, the top spot of Google to say they’re great with Google to the headteachers searching.
On top of this, families continue to flail and frantically mime to Grandma that her Zoom mic is on mute each Sunday afternoon at 3pm. It’s all a bit hectic – but all with a new, if slightly bewildering focus on technology.
The attainment gap challenge
Zoom forward (pun intended) a few months and the widening attainment gap becomes increasingly evident. Boris and his chums add a few zeros to their previous announcement; a neat and tidy billion dedicated to a Catch Up Fund – there to tackle the impact of lost teaching time.
Much of it is secretly gobbled up by COVID cleaning costs, yet at Elementary Technology, we supplied more classroom visualisers to schools than ever before. Touchscreens on trolleys for social distancing in school halls and Learning by Questions for engagement, assessment and benchmarking attainment. Technology was near the top of the spend list.
The objectives outlined in the 2019 DfE Edtech Strategy were revisited; improving connectivity, tackling teacher workloads, inclusion for SEN pupils who cannot fully access altered teaching delivery, streamlined assessment using marking automation and developing digital capability with a stab at providing technology CPD – plus lots more besides.
Naace saw a growth in membership applications and renewed interest in our Self Review Framework, there to support schools planning and implementing a longer-term ICT strategy.
And parents’ evening switching online to Zoom – what an unexpected relief for teachers and parents alike. Convenience, tighter schedule management and, I’m told, fewer awkward silences and better engagement from parents. Will we return to in-person parents’ evenings? I expect many will not.
The teaching perks of digital
There are also a few more nuanced observations, particularly around the positives that teaching remotely has brought about.
The biggest benefit, and one which many teachers will seek to continue, lies in lesson capture. Students who miss out can simply rewatch, Netflix-style, then complete a feedback assessment and type a few words into the Classroom chatbox to demonstrate understanding. This is a new luxury.
A second is homework – setting, submitting and providing feedback – all seamlessly conducted and stored online, accompanied by one-to-one support where required.
Classroom management – although there are tales of pupils being delayed as their Pot Noodle took longer than expected to prep (wish I’d saved the tweet), there are also widespread reports of quieter, more passive pupils being more forthcoming when online. This Tweet thread is full of positive tales:
My ‘quiet/passive’ students are using the chat tool and contributing far more remotely than I’ve ever seen in the classroom.
— Jessica (@JessicaTeaches2) January 14, 2021
I spoke with the author, a secondary director of learning and development, to hear more. Here’s a brief summing up from Jessica:
“I began to notice students who rarely contributed in class were now my core contributors in a live remote lesson on Teams. They would use the chat tool to answer my questions that were otherwise met with silence. These same students were delivering presentations through recorded videos and thriving as a result. Despite the situation, there are many lessons we can learn and must take forward into the classroom on our return”
This Twitter feed and comments are very insightful. I wonder if there are ways to embrace this when all students return?
This article does little to acknowledge the immense disruption that COVID-19 has brought to education; from widening gaps to workload, to grieving to mental health, and more.
Then, as a knock-on effect, we have reams of late night DfE guidance updates, competing pressures from parents, issues of safeguarding, over-stretched budgets, ‘friendly’ Ofsted check-ups, and the rest!
We naturally look forward to when this appalling combination of challenges is behind us…
It would appear, though, that with a little impetus from school leadership, public policy, teaching staff, supportive parents and engaged pupils, that a more central role for edtech can be a lasting legacy.