On the face of it, the summary of the Department for Education’s ed tech strategy launched today (I’ve not yet read the full document) looks reasonable. However, a few things strike me:
First, the very first statement is:
“[We] Are working with industry to accelerate the rollout of full-fibre internet connectivity to schools most in need.”
Very laudable. And it sounds remarkably similar to what the Labour government tried to achieve in 1997, and what I was trying my best to ensure happened when I was an ICT advisor in a London local authority from 1998 to 2001. Here’s an extract from a document published by Becta in 2002:
Internet connectivity Targets for 2004:
Primary schools: 100%
Secondary schools: 100%
Source: Michael Wills speech 10 January 2001
A big problem in those days was the setting of targets that could easily be “gamed”. Thus a school could claim to have internet connectivity by having one computer in the school library connected to a modem, available only on Wednesday afternoons when the part-time librarian was in.
The Ed Tech strategy published today states:
“Our aim is for all schools to have access to modern broadband infrastructure”
The key question then is what does “have access to” actually mean in practice? I mean, it could mean having a BT broadband cabinet just outside the school gates!
Or it could mean, as a local authority team decided, that having one computer in the whole organisation connected to broadband was OK. I asked them why they had announced that they now had a fast broadband connection when, to all practical purposes, it was useless. “Because one of our targets was to have it connected by today” came the reply.
Another key question is: why is that nearly 20 years later connectivity for schools is still an issue? I can think of legitimate reasons why, but I think unless the DfE and others ask the question they’re not likely going to come up with useful answers — not in the long term, anyway.
Secondly, I can’t help reflecting on the fact that had the government of the day not got rid of Becta, the QCA and various other bodies that had accumulated knowledge and indeed wisdom over the past 20+ years, they wouldn’t be now having to reinvent the wheel. Hence my illustration for this article: it was a photo I took at a conference in 2009.
Thirdly, I’m glad the DfE is keen to encourage schools to use technology to reduce teacher workload, but again, I was asked by the then DfES in the early 1990s to create a section on my website, to which the DfES linked, on how to use technology to reduce workload, based on my book Make Time With IT.
So my question here is: why are we still discussing teacher workload, and how technology can reduce it, over a quarter of a century later? You’d think by now it would be a non-issue, and the fact that it isn’t suggests to me that (a) the DfE itself makes too many demands, that in turn cause some senior leaders in schools to make demands, and (b) Ofsted hasn’t done enough to hold senior leaders to account, a point I made both to Damian Hinds (see A new framework for judging teachers) and in my response to the Ofsted framework consultation.
Fourthly, I think that on the plus side the government has made the right move in backing the LendEd platform, which brings trial versions of software into one central place.
As I said, I haven’t yet read the full strategy document, so regard these as initial thoughts. To summarise: a bit like the curate’s egg, parts of it are excellent. I’m looking forward to discussing the new strategy and its ramifications over the next few months.
You can find the summary strategy and the complete version here: