Back to the future

Schools Commissioner Frank Green CBE, talks free schools, academies, coding and the future of edtech in our schools

Frank Green tookup the post of national Schools Commissioner on 1st February 2014. As Commissioner he is the public face of the academies and free schools programmes. Previously, Frank was Chief Executive of Leigh Academies Trust and also has 15 years experience as a headteacher. Rebecca Paddick caught up with him at this year’s Education Show, and asked him about the changing world of edtech.

✥ Tell us about your work with free schools and academies – how are you settling into your role as Education Commissioner?
It’s an enormous challenge. There is still a lot to do to push through the free schools and academies programme and to effectively restructure English education. Some of the major challenges are about misconceptions. Because the initial academies centred around failing schools, a lot of people are keen to avoid academy status because they still associate it with failure, and it isn’t the case anymore. Free schools and academies are a new, self-managing, self-improving system of education.

✥ What are your thoughts on bringing more technology into schools? Are you on board with it?
My experience and history would say that I am very on board with technology in education. Technology is all about communication and access to information, and the teacher’s job is to make sure that they maximise both of those and put it together in the right way so that you expand the knowledge and the skills base.

We can use technology to show and explain complex ideas in simple ways. There are some wonderful apps around that I think are still under-utilised by schools. Technology is becoming a seamless process, it is becoming invisible, and tech is at its best when it is invisible.

✥ Is it going to be a challenge for teachers to keep up with developing tech?
I would have said that five years ago, but I think the latest generation of teachers are digital natives. They’ve grown up with access to the web and social media, and they know how to use it. There is no fear about it anymore.

✥ What about budgets, can schools afford the latest edtech?
When people ask me how do they keep within their budget, I say to them: make sure you have got a fabulous wireless network. Then, all you have got to do is build on that. One of the major challenges for schools is getting one device per child, but the emergence of tablets, and the iPad being the driver of the market, has brought this goal a lot closer. BYOD will soon become a common platform, and could save schools a lot of money in the long term.

✥ What do you think of the new computing curriculum?
I call it ‘back to the future,’ because it feels like we have come full circle. As a physics, chemistry and maths teacher in the early-80s, I can remember using the Microelectronics Education Programme. I remember taking apart a ZX81 Spectrum so I could teach children how to programme Hex coding, therefore devising algorithms. The whole programme was tremendous for building up the understanding of computing,and although this curriculum is a lot simpler than that, it’s an excellent starting point, and it’s essential for the children of today to understand ICT, as it is inevitably our future.