Edtech strategy’s focus on partnership is vital but let’s make it more than a buzzword

Stephen Farmer, head of Cranbrook Education Campus, part of the Ted Wragg Trust, shares supplier-school partnership advice

The DfE’s recent edtech strategy mentions the word ‘partnership’ about 15 times – most instances in the context of the education community working with the edtech industry. ‘Partnership’ is a notoriously woolly word, but what it means to me is an open and honest relationship in which both parties strive to meet a common goal. At the Ted Wragg Trust we have worked in partnership with a local edtech company, Sparx, for the past eight years. Through this, we’ve learnt a great deal about how partnerships between schools and the edtech industry can work.

Overall, the experience has been very positive, but if a school is planning to partner with an edtech company they need to consider a number of things to ensure success. The first thing to realise is that ‘partnership’ is something more than simply procuring something from an edtech company as a supplier. It’s a two-way street and requires you, as the school, to get more deeply involved, and for the edtech company to invest greater time and resource.

Related: The edtech strategy in numbers [infographic]

The priority is to ensure you have the conditions for success. Insist an edtech company comes and does a full technical visit. What can look amazing in a demo may perform quite differently when the technology is embedded in the classroom. That’s frustrating for staff, students and for the supplier.

Once you’re satisfied that the technical infrastructure is in place, you can make a start on the implementation. My advice here is to start with a small trial, rather than a large-scale roll out across the school. I’d recommend you select teachers who are interested in technology and reasonably confident in using it.

What can look amazing in a demo may perform quite differently when the technology is embedded in the classroom. That’s frustrating for staff, students and for the supplier.

While it’s great to be enthusiastic about incorporating edtech into classrooms, what is key in such a partnership is to take a slow, cautious approach. As you expand implementation, ensure there is enough time for training staff in how to use the technology and, once it’s up and running, you need to make sure that the supplier is really listening to your feedback and acting on it.

Another important thing to negotiate with an edtech partner is how much time they can be in school. Can they be on hand to speak to teachers, to solve technical issues, listen to feedback and, most importantly, get a deep understanding of what can work in a classroom setting? Don’t get me wrong, I am very positive about virtual support such as webinars and screen casting. However, many of my staff found it much easier to get to grips with the technology because there was someone on hand.

The edtech strategy: our writeup

The final piece of advice I’d give is get a good sense of how much time an edtech company is going to commit to ‘nudging’ you. I know lots of edtech companies provide automated updates, and these are useful, but it was the calls and individual emails from the supplier that got my attention and that of my staff – it really helped us to stay on top of things.

In some ways, it feels like the DfE’s edtech strategy is some years too late for the Ted Wragg Trust due to the work we’ve already done. However, the DfE has stated an intention to set up a number of ‘testbed’ schools and colleges to support the development, piloting and evaluation of technology. We hope we can share our insight and experience as these projects get underway because partnership means more than with just the edtech industry. Most importantly, we need partnerships between schools if this strategy is to be more than just a flash in the pan.