BETT 2020: highlights and insights from my ninth show

Richard Harley, CEO of ScholarPack, discusses the stand-out features of one of the sector’s most impactful events

BETT is always the highlight of our year. As the biggest event in the UK dedicated to driving technology adoption in schools, BETT is a must-attend show for us. It’s not unfair to say that most school leaders aren’t ICT specialists, and with squeaky tight budgets, there’s huge pressure to get purchase decisions right. Giving school leaders the space to see tech in practice, and really interrogate suppliers on efficacy, is one of the many reasons why BETT is so popular. This year was my ninth BETT, so I’ve seen lots of changes over the years. Here’s a rundown of the main learnings I took from this year’s event, and how that compares to previous years at the show.

Trust attendance is growing

From a purely practical point of view, the layout of the show was quite different this year, with a focus on driving delegates toward ‘showcase’ areas of the exhibition. The show was huge and footfall to our stand was at an all-time high. It was interesting that there were more MAT leaders in attendance this year, which generated lots of interesting conversations about how to choose an MIS when your school is going through academisation, as well as how it can support schools in different locations and settings. With more than 50% of all pupils now being taught in academies, and the establishment of MAT spending power, we expect that this trend will continue to grow.

Workload and wellbeing featured heavily

Tackling workload and improving staff wellbeing were prominent topics at this year’s show. We saw a number of exhibitors offering innovative tech solutions to help ease the burden in schools. Of course, while there are lots of solutions available, often huge time savings can be won just in the way the school performs the simplest tasks. Your MIS for example, can save hours of administrative burden, and we had many conversations with schools to explore these time savings in more detail. In fact, reducing workload and looking at products from a holistic point of view in terms of how it could relieve pressure on schools and staff, frequently came up as the most important factor in making a purchasing decision. In a budget strapped industry, this is a big shift in behaviour and a sign workload challenges are at breaking point for a lot of schools.

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A big focus on STEM

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There was also a clear focus on showcasing new ways to engage pupils in STEM subjects at this year’s show. While this may seem obvious, in previous years, the focus has been more on technology as a solution to delivering learning, or supporting management. This year, we saw a big focus on coding, and tools for engaging pupils in the science of what goes into the gadgets they use in the classroom (and at home). It has long been recognised that female uptake in STEM is a real problem in this country; indeed, figures still indicate that take up of STEM subjects by girls at degree level are just about reaching a third. It was encouraging to see a shift this year. The inclusion of Brian Cox OBE as a headline keynote was important too, demonstrating a commitment to engaging delegates on topics of scientific interest – rather than the traditional government representatives.

Innovations in the classroom

Tech innovations were in abundance at this year’s show. It’s always exciting to see companies in the edtech sector pushing the boundaries of what’s possible – especially when it’s for the benefit of our schools and students. I was pleased to see VR as a learning aid much more present at the show this year – a definite sign that this once ‘sci-fi’ technology is becoming more mainstream. Increasingly, schools are embracing VR as a way to really immerse pupils in areas of the curriculum that previously may have been restricted by traditional teaching resources. This technology is tried and tested in other industries, so it’s easily accessible to schools – the challenge will be in creating a provision for quality curriculum content in VR and the production of affordable VR units.

We also saw a number of exhibitors demonstrating the use of robots in the classroom. I stopped by a stand showcasing robots who use AI to read books aloud to a class of students, mimicking the teacher’s voice. Incredible.

Looking to next year

 Purchasing in the education sector is becoming more sophisticated. With the growth of MATs, procurement is changing and those making the decisions are becoming savvier about how and where they spend their money. Furthermore, a younger generation of school leaders are coming into the sector – with innate understanding and appreciation of how to integrate technology into daily life (and work). I believe these are big trends that will impact BETT quite significantly in the future. We’ll definitely be at BETT next year to see how this evolution plays out.

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