When Damian Hinds announced that the focus of his Department for Education would be social mobility, it was welcomed by all of us in education. We know the vital role that education plays in closing the inequality gap between the most and least advantaged in our society, and the impact that social and economic disadvantages have on students at all stages of their education.
In his first announcement, and many of his more recent comments, Mr Hinds emphasised the role education technology can play in this, particularly focusing his comments on the benefits for Early Years. Whilst I agree that technology is a tool for social change, I would argue that we must broaden our thinking to any and all opportunities where it can have an impact. Technology can help disadvantaged sixth formers as much as children in Reception.
Although university participation rates are rising, the most disadvantaged pupils are still far less likely to go to university and they are very unlikely to attend a top Russell Group university. Parental income is the single biggest contributing factor to this situation. 77% of Oxford’s UK undergraduates come from the wealthiest 4% of households. Where you were born and the economic situation you were born into dramatically affects your life chances. In 2018, we shouldn’t be repeating the same tired conversation, wondering why the very best universities serve the privileged few. It is our belief that technology can deliver support to students and schools that have previously been left unreached.
In my experience as a former Head of Department and Head of Year, when you use the phrase ‘edtech’ around teachers, it can elicit a wide range of responses; the most common being “nice idea but I don’t have time to work out how that works nor how to work it into my curriculum.” I can understand the reticence but when launching our University Preparation Programme, we knew that to bring our levels of support to students and schools across the country, technology was a necessity.
Technology-enabled distance learning may be unusual within the world of mainstream schooling, but there’s no doubt that when implemented well the results can be truly transformative for students of all ages. Mr Hinds’ vision to tackle the social mobility crisis is not new, but his strong belief that technology can help to close the gap is. Students from less advantaged backgrounds need the right support to improve their chances. With a focus on addressing what students are missing, building relationships with schools and delivering that support across the right platform, it’s never too late to start closing the gap.
James Higgins is Director of the University Preparation Programme at Bonas MacFarlane Education