Tech as a social equalizer

Bridging the gap between disadvantaged and advantaged pupils can be achieved through digital technology, says Andy Lovatt

A current major concern in education is bridging the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and advantaged pupils. We believe that digital technology is a hugely influential solution in reshaping the future for thousands of disadvantaged pupils. We also believe that disadvantaged pupils have the right personality traits to work as professionals in the experimental digital sector.

With a skills shortfall of 750,000 the UK digital sector needs all the aspiring technologists available. As the founder of Digital Advantage and a digital agency owner, I believe that the abilities of disadvantaged pupils are a resource that is being woefully overlooked as their creative thinking and risk taking is key to this entrepreneurial industry.

Digital Advantage is a six-part programme where we set up as an agency in a school or college and the coordinator adopts the role of agency boss; the group are no longer students but a workforce. They are given a brief and taught how to think creatively to create products such as apps to solve an existing problem. We are creating digital entrepreneurs who are the full package and can create a brand, design websites, prototype, storyboard and make a filmed pitch to an industry panel.

The programme runs across six sessions. Firstly, the pupils learn about creative thinking and business idea generation and are tasked with creating a group idea. Secondly, the team learn how to test their ideas through market research on widely-known tools such as Survey Monkey. Marketing is session three, where we explore mediums such as Facebook and other social media as an effective form of spreading the message about the product. Digital Advantage also has a session on business planning, where we teach how to complete a full business offer and we test the idea through

To enable the team to fully operate as a business, we teach how to create a brand identity and what this means to a products success. We use a POP to prototype the teams’ ideas, and then educate about crowd funding through Kick Starter. The course finishes with the production of a presentation film that is an elevator pitch of the business.

The Digital Advantage Challenge

The Digital Advantage Challenge was founded in 2015/16, and offers £2000 to the school, college or youth organisation that comes up with the best product and campaign. The first event was won by a group of year 9s at Chorlton High School, and all winning pupils were from families where English is the second language. Their product, ‘This App’, is currently being developed and will launch in January 2018.  

Chorlton High School winners with the judges

A transformation in the attitudes of the pupils on the programme is apparent very quickly. They are not forced to take part and can leave at anytime but they don’t – in fact their attendance figures rise, they interact with their classmates and perhaps for the first time they contribute and become part of the team. Confidence is built among the team and they feel safe enough to share their ideas for the benefit of the group. The pupils are also taught resilience, a crucial life lesson – especially in the digital technology sector.

We recently worked with a group of pupils in Liverpool who are excluded from education and at high risk of offending. They created a product – an app where you can arrange for your car to be washed – plus a full communication campaign in just five days. It is perhaps surprising that they were hugely positive and they were inspired to think of starting a career in digital technology instead of criminal activity. Two of the pupils have undertaken work experience with the Regional Director of Sponsors, Arvato.

The 2017 Digital Advantage Challenge saw 14 digital business pitch films presented to an industry panel from12 schools, colleges and youth organisations.

The event had an all-female judging panel in part to highlight opportunities for women in the sector where they are still underrepresented. Naomi Timperley from TechNorth Advocates, Coral Grainger from Capital Relations, and Sallyann Betts from Manchester Growth Hub were unanimous in their decision to make Urban Blade, from Holy Cross College, the winner of £2000 and ongoing business development support. 

Sarah Collins, teacher of business at the winning college said; “I can’t believe it! All of the business ideas were fantastic; there really was some tough competition. I am thrilled that Holy Cross Students won with their business ‘Urban Blade’! The students have already gained so much from this experience and to win is just the icing on the cake. 

Digital advantage has been a fantastic experience that really has given these students skills they never could have achieved in college alone. Now they have the opportunity to actually get the business up and running with support and guidance from some very talented people in the field.”

It is not just the winners of the Digital Advantage Challenge that benefit; Skiddle is currently market testing an app idea created by West Lancashire College to locate fellow gig goers for car shares – a service that will no doubt make thousands of lives easier.

Andy Lovatt is the founder of Digital Advantage and MD at The White Room.