Be prepared for failure

Dr Nick Dennis, deputy head at Berkhamsted Boys School, thinks it’s important to plan for failure and work out how to minimise damage

1. Have recent curriculum changes made it more difficult for schools to balance budgets?

This is a yes and no answer. Yes, in that providing for new courses in terms of books, resources and, later on, training take up more resources and time. No, in that if you plan carefully it means you cut your cloth accordingly. It is all about thinking ahead but this can be difficult when the pressure is on.

2. Do current budgets realistically allow schools to provide high-quality tech? 

The real question is whether the tech is able to support your key function as a school and this links to the planning/strategy part. High-quality technology by itself is not going to make a huge difference in schools but if the thinking behind the use of tech is sensible, then you can make very good use of technology that is not at the cutting edge. Of course, schools would like to be able to trial things to see what can be done and there are never enough resources to make this happen, yet if you are sensible about your thinking, you can often find a way. If you are talking about infrastructure that will enable you to use high-quality technology, there is never enough budget to cover all eventualities!  

3. Do you think all schools now see investing in technology as a priority? 

I don’t think this is the general case for many reasons. In some cases it is because the people in senior positions do not ‘get’ what technology can offer them and it is the younger member of staff, who has no control over the strategy, who has to win them over. In others it is because they think of devices but do not consider the infrastructure needed to make the most use of them. In these cases, when schools see the costs for Wi-Fi provision or a leased line, it is not ‘real’ enough to merit the cost. There are schools that ‘get’ that technology can amplify the good work in terms of education and making the school run efficiently but there are a lot of schools that do not.   

4. Are businesses working alongside schools able to offer top-quality service that stay within a school’s budget? 

It depends on your relationship with the business and if you work closely together, as people do, then it can change because they know you. On the other side of the coin, I am aware of some suppliers quoting huge prices to schools they do not have a relationship with, so I would always recommend asking around and seeing what other schools work with the business. These conversations should be standard, as they will help you and the supplier have honest conversations at the start of the engagement process so there are no surprises in terms of service. 

5. What three things do schools need to think about when looking for the most cost-effective, high-quality technology? 

First is that you have a clear purpose about the use of technology in schools. Without it, it is very hard to make difficult and necessary decisions on cost effectiveness and the quality of technology. The second thing schools should do is to try and find other educational institutions that have solved a similar problem to the one they are facing and learn from them.

Finally, be prepared for failure. Something will go wrong. The device may not work as well as you intended. There may not be enough training to make effective use of the technology when it first appears. When this happens, people lose heart and start to question the whole process. If you recognise the possibility of failure at the start, you will be able to deal with it when it arises. I suggest conducting a ‘pre-mortem’ and create a scenario where you are two years in the future and the project has failed. Once everyone has contributed to the reasons for failure in this thought experiment, I suggest working out what can be done to minimise the potential damage. 


Solving the lost learning Crisis

Wednesday December 8, 11AM (GMT)