February 2022 edition: The EdTech Demonstrator Programme

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The EdTech Demonstrator Programme

For many years the debate in educational technology was too often a debate of the deliberately deaf. On the one hand, the uncritical lovers who saw in edtech a solution to all ills; on the other, the hostile witnesses who saw the use of technology as no better than a very expensive ‘Brain Gym’ – unevidenced, wasteful and a distraction.

One silver lining of the Covid-19 years has been that this debate has moved on sharply and I suspect irreversibly. We’ve all been driven to use technology in new ways by the absence of any alternative and as a result we all now have some meaningful experience to inform our opinions. We have a better sense of what does work and what doesn’t; what is easier with technology and what is more effective without; where ‘in person’ is essential and where it might not be.

That is not only true in the (physical and virtual) classroom – it is true of many wider aspects of a Trust’s work too. We always knew that online CPD was possible, but now we know better what works online, how to do it well – and equally importantly, that colleagues value it and will take part. We cannot be the only Trust where wholly new networks have developed online – enabling more colleagues in different schools to collaborate better than ever before. And some long-standing problems (like how do we run our regular meetings with chairs of governors in a way that is convenient for them) have been solved for us.

But with new opportunities come new challenges, of course. Some of these we have learned a great deal about over the last two years – how ought we to provide work to students, teach synchronously and asynchronously and keep in touch with young people we are not seeing day to day. Others we are learning about quickly.

Through this process, it has been an advantage to be part of either a large Trust or another strong, substantial collaborative network which shares practice and support. Solving a long series of problems alone and under pressure is difficult; developing a whole new way of working is impossible without some trial and error – and that is vastly accelerated if you work with others and draw on expertise.

This is an important reason why the Edtech Demonstrator programme is offering effective, practical support to schools and Trusts across the country. Funded by DfE and co-ordinated by United Learning, the programme enables a network of 42 ‘demonstrators’ (schools, colleges and Trusts with expertise) to offer advice and support to any school, college or Trust which asks for it.

Whether large or small, Trusts are well aware post-Covid-19 that it is important to have in place a strong and effective digital strategy which is right for their context.

Jon Coles

Support is free at the point of delivery. So far, 4,000 schools and colleges across England have received support with over 200,000 classroom staff and 2 million learners having been helped to implement and access remote learning. The network has increasingly moved from crisis response to supporting long-term implementation of technology and developing professionals to realise the wider benefits of technology.

Some of the case studies illustrate clearly key themes of the demonstrator work.

For example, early in the Covid-19 period, St Mary’s CE Primary School used support from demonstrator school Elizabeth Woodville Primary School to make sure they implemented Google Classrooms effectively and successfully throughout the school. Later on, they accessed the programme for a second time with a focus on staff development and pedagogy.

Likewise, Aspley Guise School initially accessed advice and technical and training support from Sandringham School to establish a successful remote learning platform. With that in place, they drew on further support to put in place a sustainable solution for staff collaboration and carry out further training.

In a similar way, Penn Wood School staff had shown skill in remote teaching early in the Covid-19 period but accessed the Demonstrator network in October 2021 because in the return to school they felt they weren’t making the best use of investments in technology they had already made to drive improved outcomes. They worked with the Wildern Trust to implement approaches which would enhance the teaching strategies they were already committed to.

More widely, the programme offers high level strategic support for Trusts, supporting the development and implementation of digital strategy and helping to identify areas where technology can have a positive impact. For example, one Trust received specific support to make effective use of its digital platform to reduce teacher workload and improve work-life balance. Another received support to implement a whole digital strategy including a 1:1 programme (i.e. a device for each pupil) and realise the benefits of workload reduction as well as improved learning.

Whether large or small, Trusts are well aware post-Covid-19 that it is important to have in place a strong and effective digital strategy which is right for their context. Beginning by benchmarking themselves and understanding their key goals, Trusts are working to embed their digital strategies into their wider strategy and their approach to education and going beyond the classroom into every aspect of the organisation – including security of systems, data analytics, collaboration and the workforce.

The EdTech Demonstrator programme provides bespoke peer-to-peer advice, matches schools and Trusts with the right expertise and starts from where you are. Wherever you are in your thinking, planning and implementation, help is always available to those who ask…