The UK edtech sector’s growth has never been stronger.
Data released by the Digital Economy Council last year showed that the the nation’s edtech industry is one of the fastest growing in Europe, on target to be worth over £3.4 billion by mid 2021. But while this growth has been widely reported, the UK’s influence on the global stage is perhaps less well known.
Home to over 1,000 edtech companies and start-ups, the UK is a hugely innovative space where many of the most exciting new learning tools and technologies such as augmented (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are being pioneered. And as providers around the world compete to deliver the ‘next best thing’, they increasingly look to the UK for inspiration.
The shortlist for this year’s BETT Awards reveals just why UK edtech is having a moment. From platforms like Little Bridge, a safe online EAL community, to handwriting apps like Kaligo and WriQ, and parents evening software School Cloud, the UK is a hive of edtech ingenuity. And this creativity is attracting the attention of global investors.
A recent report by Robert Walters found that the UK attracts almost half of all edtech investment coming into Europe. One of the key driving forces behind this is AR, fuelling overall growth of over 70% in the past year alone. Meeting a demand for new learning experiences, AR’s popularity has undoubtedly been accelerated by COVID-19. But even before the pandemic, some of the world’s biggest providers were starting to notice UK innovation.
Maximising classroom tech
One such immersive pioneer was Phil Birchinall, founder of Manchester-based company Inspyro. A former teacher, Phil set up Inspyro in 2010 after realising that schools weren’t using technology to its full potential. “I wanted to create software and apps that would inspire teachers to create what they would call a ‘wow’ moment and to translate that into some meaningful educational outcomes,” says Phil.
An early UK immersive provider, Inspyro quickly became synonymous with high quality VR and AR experiences and in August 2019, the business was acquired by Discovery Education.
No longer thought of as simply a shiny gimmick, educators everywhere now realise the power of immersive technology to transform learning and broaden student horizons, particularly at a time when normal life is restricted. Immersive is fast gaining a foothold in other industries too, with the UK sector poised for exponential growth this year. Snap’s US$500 million dollar acquisition of Oxford-based AR displays developer WaveOptics in May sealed the UK’s reputation as a global AR/VR innovator.
Edtech’s diverse impact
Back in the classroom, it’s not just the UK’s immersive reality providers that are creating a buzz. Some of the best leadership and management solutions on the market are British, with software providers like IMP (budgeting) and SCOMIS (managed reporting) – both BETT Award nominees – leading a real step-change in how schools manage and handle their data.
The same is true of assessment. Discovery Education’s acquisition of Inspyro was swiftly followed by the purchase of another UK based company, Spiral. An interactive learning platform that teachers can use for quick assessment, collaboration and flipped classroom activities, Spiral’s features have been integrated into Discovery Education’s digital learning platform as part of a recent enhancement of that service. Facilitating learning wherever it’s taking place is more important than ever, and UK edtech more than rises to this challenge. Platforms like Bramble are transforming virtual tutoring for older students, with cutting-edge technology that enables teachers and students to talk, sketch and share resources in real time, across devices.
That both Inspyro and Spiral were originally founded by teachers is another interesting angle to the UK story. Many of the UK’s most innovative edtech companies have teachers at their helm. And for Nina Iles, head of edtech at the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA), this is the secret of their success.
“The untold story is actually about the partnership between the pedagogy and the tech,” explains Nina. “The classroom is where the magic happens. It’s the way in which teachers use the tools at their fingertips that delivers the real innovation, and here training is key. It’s no surprise that UK companies are making waves in the global edtech revolution: their innovations solve real teacher problems.”
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