New Microsoft report highlights ‘inadequate’ access to technology in English schools

The Closing the Achievement Gap in the Connected Classroom report from Microsoft Surface explores how UK educators are using edtech to address the growing digital divide

A new report from Microsoft explores the growing digital divide in UK schools, revealing that many of the nation’s primary and secondary education providers still have ‘inadequate’ access to technology.

Produced alongside the Centre for Education and Youth, the Closing the Achievement Gap in the Connected Classroom report surveyed over 5,000 teachers across England, including more than 1,200 senior leaders, to gain insight into the current state of edtech implementation and usage across the education sector, delving into the challenges schools face in future edtech adoption as well as measures taken to address digital inequality.

The last 12 months have been defined by school closures, local and national lockdowns and social distancing restrictions, making 2020 one of the most disruptive years the sector has seen thus far. As such, Microsoft’s research is timely and impactful, showcasing the many complications educators face in providing the connected learning experience this year’s cohort has so heavily relied on.

According to the report, the state sector is significantly lacking one-to-one technologies for teachers, with just one in three claiming to have suitable access, compared to two in three teachers in the private sector.

On top of this, 72% of students in schools rated inadequate by Ofsted do not have access to a personal device in the classroom, compared to just 59% in schools rated outstanding.

Just 1% of primary state schools are able to provide devices students can take home, compared with 38% of their private sector counterparts. At secondary level, 7% of state schools have devices students can take home, compared to 20% of private secondary schools.

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The pandemic has undoubtedly exacerbated the UK’s digital divide, which disproportionately affects the most disadvantaged pupils. Pre-COVID, just 15% of lessons required the use of a device, but with fully-online or ‘blended’ learning options steering the sector through a tumultuous 2020, most schools now require the use of an edtech tool, service or solution for teaching and learning to continue, with the ‘blended’ or ‘hybrid’ learning environment increasingly being recognised as the ‘new normal’ in education.

It makes sense, then, that teachers across all sectors and specialities agree that edtech tools benefit students in diverse ways; from developing independent learning skills (65%), to preparing them for future studies and employment (59%), to empowering students with special educational needs and disabilities (48%).

Despite this, edtech accessibility remains a pressing issue, with the report shining a light on various barriers to adoption, including:

  • Around one in four teachers say they would need additional training to get the best out of edtech tolls and solutions, while a similar number had concerns surrounding edtech durability
  • One in five teachers said they have concerns surrounding their ability to safeguard students who have access to a personal device
  • Teachers are cost-savvy, with 54% stating that device affordability is a key factor in deciding whether to invest

Chris Rothwell, director of education at Microsoft UK, told ET: “Our recent findings are really eye opening. They showcase the benefits technology has in education and shines a spotlight on the very real need to ensure that there’s adequate access to technology to meet students’ individual learning needs to ensure this digital divide can not widen. Our aim at Microsoft is to provide solutions that empower every student on the planet to achieve more and we must safeguard this through equal opportunity.”

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