The Edtech Demonstrator Programme: a new dawn for the sector

Announced at the Bett Show in January this year, the Edtech Demonstrator Programme is an exciting development for UK education. But what exactly does it mean for the future of edtech? Genna Ash investigates

The Breakdown:

– The Demonstrator Programme forms an integral part of the government’s Edtech Strategy

– “The Edtech Strategy identified a number of barriers to the effective use of technology in education. This included a recognition of the need to support teachers and leaders with opportunities to develop digital skills and confidence” – Deborah McCann, Department for Education

– Alongside programme partners, the DfE will hand-pick a national network of Demonstrator Schools and Colleges

– The winning Demonstrators will receive between £75,000 and £150,000 in grant funding

– “Schools and colleges have been encouraged to put forward a range of different proposals for how they would use the funding for this programme” – Ty Goddard, The Education Foundation

– “Finding out what works and what doesn’t and then applying that to policy-making is truly transformational. It gives Demonstrator Schools an opportunity to shape the future” – John Jackson, LGfL


The 2019 Edtech Strategy

It’s been almost a year since the Department for Education (DfE) launched its landmark Edtech Strategy. Described as the start of a brand-new era for schools, the scheme was set to encourage pioneering tech companies to work alongside UK schools and colleges to relieve growing teacher workloads, support professional development and bolster student results.

Backed by £10m in government funding, the strategy was seen as an engine to drive digital innovation, raising the bar for schools, colleges, and universities nationwide. It’s no surprise that government ministers are keen to iron out the kinks in a sector where exports are estimated to be worth £170m. But while edtech is undoubtedly progressive, it’s also a complicated market. Like most things in this hyper-connected, digitally enriched stage of human development, edtech comes with its fair share of barriers that we must learn to navigate.

The edtech challenges

The strategy outlined 10 key edtech challenges to be addressed by 2021, including:

– Using technology to reduce the time teachers spend on marking, with TeacherTapp noting that most teachers spend at least three hours per week on the task (while some are burdened for as much as 15 hours per week).

– Boosting continuous professional development (CPD) opportunities for teachers in schools and colleges, while also ensuring they are more tailored and accessible.

– Identifying how anti-cheating software can be improved to clamp down on essay mills – in September 2018, 46 senior figures from the UK higher education sector called for the government to introduce legislation that would “ban the provision and advertising of essay mills”, with one in seven students admitting to paying for the completion of an assignment in a 2018 study from Swansea University.

Edtech Demonstrator Programme
Source: TeacherTap

“The Edtech Strategy identified a number of barriers to the effective use of technology in education,” Deborah McCann, head of edtech policy at the DfE, told Education Technology (ET). “This included a recognition of the need to support teachers and leaders with opportunities to develop digital skills and confidence.”

Inside the Edtech Demonstrator Programme

Each Demonstrator school or college will draw on their experience of embedding technology to help other institutions consider and improve their use of tech. Each Demonstrator will deliver their own model of support, which the DfE and the programme partners hope will help other school leaders tackle the following sorts of challenges:

– Helping teachers and leaders use technology to reduce workloads and create more time to directly support their students.

– Assisting teachers and leaders in reviewing their technology infrastructure and plan long-term investment/refresh programmes that help secure a 21stcentury working environment for teachers, and supports a learning environment that reflects the modern world.

– Helping leaders find financial efficiencies and/or invest to save, “through for example, considering a move to cloud-based technology and ensuring existing ‘back -office’ technology properly meets their needs,” explained McCann.

– Assisting teachers and leaders in formulating informed decisions on the types of technology that will help inspire and meet the needs of their pupils.

– Ensuring teachers and leaders understand the potential of, and are able to implement, the use of assistive technologies to help meet the needs of pupils with SEND (special educational needs and disabilities).

– Contributing to the DfE’s evidence base regarding the impact of technology in education, as well as the impact of the ‘hub’ model in providing peer-to-peer support on the use of technology to tackle challenges faced by teachers and leaders in a wide variety of education settings and contexts.

“Ultimately,” added McCann, “the aim is for the Edtech Demonstrators to improve the working environment of teachers and to promote accessibility, engagement and attainment for students across hundreds of providers who are supported by the Demonstrator schools and colleges across the country.”

Setting a benchmark for quality

In an interview with ET, John Jackson, CEO of the London Grid for Learning (LGfL) – a charity dedicated to advancing the use of edtech in schools – described the programme as a “blueprint that harnesses technology and digital innovation to transform teaching and learning”.

“The opportunity to be involved in and engage with a national strategy that really falls in line with the passion we have is fantastic for us,” said Jackson. LGfL is one of the programme’s three delivery partners – all of whom were announced by ex-universities minister Chris Skidmore at the Bett Show in January this year. Working alongside LGfL, The Education Foundation and the Sheffield Institute of Education, the DfE will formulate the country-wide Demonstrator network, striving to support peer-to-peer learning and help teachers master the use of emerging technologies.

Edtech Demonstrator Programme
Source: RS Components

“The consortium brings a wealth of relevant expertise to the programme,” explained Ty Goddard, co-founder of The Education Foundation. “We are now leading the interview process for the selection of schools and colleges to be appointed as Edtech Demonstrators and make recommendations to the DfE on which establishments should be funded.

“The programme is expected to run from Spring 2020 to the end of the academic year in 2021. Each successful demonstrator will seek to work with a range of institutions and will encourage schools and colleges who are interested in their support to get in touch. The Sheffield Hallam Institute of Education, as part of the consortium, will work closely with the Demonstrators to design and implement the evaluation of this programme.”

The innovative programme partners will work alongside successful schools and colleges, helping them shape and finalise their plans, all while guiding them through what Goddard describes as a “regional field-force of advisors” who will help the Demonstrators collaborate across the country, share resources nationally, and ensure the programme’s sustainable impact.

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“With any change programme of any scale, if it’s going to be successful you need fantastic role models,” added Jackson. “You need blueprints. You need a compass for everyone else to look at, be guided by and make change happen. From an edtech strategy point of view, the Demonstrator Programme is crucial as it will really set a benchmark of what works and of course, what doesn’t. We can then feed that into the wider strategy.”

McCann sees the initiative as a “pathfinder project”; a venture designed to encourage collaboration in edtech use across a diverse conglomerate of educators. “It sits alongside other initiatives such as our support to the Chartered College of Teaching to create free online CPD courses to help teachers and leaders increase their skills and confidence in the use of technology,” she explained. “We are also supporting a Testbed scheme, delivered via Nesta, to support schools and colleges in trialling technology products, which will include elements of CPD for those involved. Over 200 schools and colleges across the country have applied to be involved in this testbed programme.”

The programme’s focus on teacher training and CPD is a timely addition to the sector, with RM Education’s first Teacher Effectiveness Review finding that only 27% of UK teachers feel confident using technology in the classroom. Teacher confidence has been confirmed as a key factor that drives the effective adoption of technology. With further research from Sparx revealing that three quarters (79%) of teachers and school leaders would like to see clear, tangible proof of edtech’s impact in teaching and learning, it’s evident that the fundamental principles of the Demonstrator Programme have the potential to revolutionise the use of edtech in the UK.

“There are so many ways that technology is transforming society,” said Jackson. “The Edtech Strategy really is focusing on the right things – the infrastructure, the incubation of innovation, all the things that are needed for success. The good thing is that there is pragmatism here. We’re all saying, “let’s make sure, as part of the strategy, that we are gathering the evidence we need to ensure its long-running success.” The Demonstrator project will provide the evidence needed in terms of policy, thinking and investment, driving the long-term transformation in teaching and learning.”

Demonstrator Schools

At the time of writing, the DfE was already submerged in the school and college selection process. Alongside the delivery partners, the DfE hopes a series of interviews will help them identify worthy ‘Demonstrators’, all of whom are using technology effectively and are keen to share their experience to support other education providers. The winning institutions will receive between £75,000 and £150,000 in grant funding to support the programme’s delivery.

Edtech Demonstrator Programme
Source: RS Components

“Schools and colleges have been encouraged to put forward a range of different proposals for how they would use the funding for this programme. Each model will be agreed between the school/college and the delivery partner,” said Goddard.

“A number of the proposed models include, for example, the delivery of CPD in the use of technology (ranging from the use of management information systems, movement to the cloud, tech to support data analytics, parental engagement, use of collaborative working platforms, use of assistive technology, and use of subject specific technology embedded in pedagogy, etc).

“Some models also propose a range of support, from ‘light touch’ CPD offers, through to technology audits, even to bespoke support for smaller numbers of schools or colleges to help plan and embed a technology offer within school/college plans and support others on their technology ‘journey’.”

Jackson notes that most organisations – schools included – rely on the use of technology, but while they are quick on the uptake when it comes to buying the kit, many fail to fully ‘absorb’ new and innovative technologies, which significantly holds them back.

“What I mean by absorption is that they actually make it part of their DNA, so the organisation not only has the tech everywhere, it also uses it everywhere, and it uses it effectively everywhere,” he explained.

When it comes to edtech, true absorption requires plenty of elements – from the leadership team at the heart of implementation, to the skills needed to maximise such services and devices, to the planning needed to power success, the resources needed to keep it running and of course, the budget required to fund it all in the first place.

“There’s a lot of things that need to come together to enable an organisation or a school to not only adopt technology, but to absorb it and allow it to thrive. Absorption is very important because you also want your initiatives to be sustainable. Often you find with big technology change that you’ve got a really strong leader who makes things happen but after that key ingredient has gone, things tend not necessarily to perform as you had expected it to after that person has left. That’s because the leader, or the champion, has really taken the strain, but not actually embedded it. Ensuring long-term success is the most important thing.”

To achieve this, education providers must consider the processes that need to be changed, as well as the pedagogy, the curriculum, the use of data, product size, and more. In their selection of Demonstrator Schools, the partners are seeking digitally savvy candidates who recognise the importance of each element. Eligible institutions must be state funded providers of primary, secondary, or 16-19 academic programmes. They must have received a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ Ofsted rating overall, on top of achieving a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ rating for leadership and management. This really is a union of the crème de la crème in edtech implementation and usage.

A blueprint for the future

One thing that’s clear about the both the Demonstrator Programme, and the Edtech Strategy at large, is its commitment to supporting evidence-based best practice in edtech implementation. “Our hope is that the Edtech Demonstrator programme helps teachers and leaders in schools and colleges across the country to progress the technology use within their establishments to help meet the needs of teachers and students,” said McCann

Edtech Demonstrator Programme
Source: RS Components

“The future of the Edtech Programme from 2021 will be informed by the impact and learning of this initiative.”

It’s not about just placing the tech in these schools and hoping for the best – it’s about instilling confidence in teachers and inspiring them to constantly upskill, embedding tech at such a level that it becomes the beating pulse of UK education.

“It’s exciting that we’re using the educators to shape the programme – it’s not just an imposed strategy,” concluded Jackson. “Finding out what works and what doesn’t and then applying that to policy-making is truly transformational. It gives Demonstrator Schools an opportunity to shape the future. I just hope we can use the talent, energy and enthusiasm from our successful Demonstrators to give us the insights and knowledge that will allow us to focus on the priorities – the investments, policies, opportunities and barriers that limit the full impact of technology in schools. We’re off – we’re an unstoppable juggernaut! And we sincerely hope that we can change the sector for the better.”


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