DfE report uncovers key barriers to the use of edtech in schools

Surveys revealed that almost one in five schools do not retain offline backups of crucial data, among other things

The Department for Education (DfE) has published the findings of a detailed review on the state and usage of edtech in schools.

Produced in line with the government’s 2019 edtech strategy, the DfE commissioned CooperGibson Research (CGR) to conduct the survey as part of its vision to help schools and colleges across the UK maximise the use of technology in the classroom.

Fieldwork for the survey took place between November 2020 and January 2021, during a period where schools were open but the majority of students were learning from home due to the national lockdown. On top of informing the government on steps to take to help schools embed and use technology to support cost savings, workload reductions and boost student outcomes, the report provides an overview of the sector to help with the development of tools and solutions that suit schools’ current needs.

The review is based off findings from 2,555 online surveys – 897 from headteachers, 854 from teachers, and 804 technical survey completions.

Benefits of edtech

Overall, perceptions of technology’s impact on pupil attainment were positive, with the majority of headteachers (88%) and teachers (84%) believing that edtech had or would better student outcomes, over half of whom felt this positive impact had already occurred (headteachers 55%, teachers (57%).

Most heads (74%) and teachers (65%) also felt that technology had or would help to reduce workloads in the future. Headteachers in particular agreed that technology had saved them time on key tasks, such as financial management.

However, tech was perceived to have had less impact on the time staff spent conducting formative and summative assessments, and supporting SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) students.

Remote learning in response to COVID-19

The survey revealed that online learning platforms, digital curriculum content tools and services, and technology to deliver pre-recorded and live online lessons were key tools to support remote learning throughout the pandemic. Many institutions also invested in devices for pupils and staff to allow remote teaching and learning to take place.

While the majority of schools feel they now have the ability to support remote education, a significant minority (one in five) claimed the tech they used for remote education fell short of expectations, citing software for online or blended learning as an area that could be improved, along with digital access for SEND learners, and teacher confidence in their ability to deliver the full curriculum while working from home.

“Requests for additional support with using technology when pupils are learning from home were relatively high” – Education Technology Survey 2020-21, DfE

The main challenges cited by schools were not experienced within the school itself, but rather in pupils’ homes – including access to devices, connectivity and skills. In-school challenges that were mentioned were edtech affordability, quality and availability, as well as broadband connectivity.


The technical survey gathered data on school infrastructure such as wired end user bandwidth delivery performance, use of on-premise versus cloud storage and systems, operating systems, critical data backups, and devices for staff and pupils.

The bandwidth performance delivered to wired end users was typically 1 Gbps or less, and primary schools (48%) – especially local authority maintained primaries (51%) – were significantly more likely to experience lover bandwidth delivery of up to 100Mbps compared to secondaries (21%).

Only four percent of the primary schools that completed the technical survey and none of the secondary schools stated that they had fully cloud-based storage and systems. Ten percent of primaries and 5% of secondary respondents were fully on-premise.

Cloud benefits that were cited include improvements in remote provision (primary 78%, secondary 94%), heightened collaboration and communication (primary 73%, secondary 82%), cross-site working or working on-the-go (primary 74%, secondary 79%), and many schools also experienced improvements in in-school teaching and learning (primary 49%, secondary 63%).

Affordability was deemed the biggest barrier to full cloud system integration, with 74% of schools listing it (39% a ‘big barrier’). Time was another hurdle to full cloud migration – especially for secondary schools (87% vs 71% primary schools).

The main operating systems in place in schools were Windows products – Windows 10 for user or desktop infrastructure (primary 91%, secondary 97%); Windows 2012 (primary 21%, secondary 55%), 2016 (primary 21%, secondary 66%), or 2019 (primary 14%, secondary 58%) for server infrastructure.

Worryingly, a significant minority of schools (18%) did not retain offline backups of critical data or were unable to answer, and of those, over half had on-premise only storage or systems, potentially leaving them vulnerable to critical data loss.

“Evidence from the edtech survey 2020-21 suggests that many schools have successfully implemented and used technology to support teaching and learning and help them with their day-to-day management,” the report concludes.

“Overall, schools perceived that the edtech they have used has saved them time, reduced teacher workload and contributed to improved pupil attainment.

“However,” it adds, “some schools reported that the technology they used did not sufficiently meet their needs…Key barriers to the use of edtech were identified which should be considered in developing strategies to support schools, including the cost of edtech, quality or availability of technology and wireless or broadband connectivity for staff, particularly for small primary

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