May 2022 edition: What do the DfE’s Digital Maturity Research and Technology Standards mean for Trust Leaders?

What do the DfE’s Digital Maturity Research and Technology Standards mean for Trust Leaders?

Digital transformation and the digital maturity journey that it represents are ideas that have percolated into many public sector organisations. Steps such as replacing the queue at a post office to tax your car with a simple website transaction have been driven by a desire to improve efficiency and user experience. The education sector has been no exception but what has this meant for School Trusts?

Assessing where your Trust sits on the digital maturity path can be difficult. Recent DfE research on the use of technology established a hierarchy of technology use in schools to understand digital maturity in schools.

Three pillars were identified as contributing to digital maturity - Technology, Capability & Strategy. Using data collected in November 2020, the analysis found that schools had made more progress in technology and capability than strategy. Overall, approximately 9% of the schools surveyed were rated as highly digitally mature, 31% low, and the remaining 60% moderately digitally mature.

Strong and reliable technology infrastructure can be the starting point of digital transformation. It is not the destination itself.

Michael Oakes

Can schools and Trusts benefit from higher digital maturity?

The nature of the DfE research means that the measures are of limited value, at least for now, and the study did not establish a reliable link between digital maturity and pupil attainment. However, it is hard to disagree with the concluding comment that "there is some distance to go before schools are making the best use of technology available”.

When talking to Trusts, RM defines digital maturity as a measure of the pace at which an organisation can learn, change and progress collectively, supported by digital technology.

The benefits of pursuing a digitally mature technology strategy derive from adopting a problem-solving approach to technology deployment.

  • How can technology help a Trust achieve the objectives laid out in its vision?

  • What day-to-day problems could be removed; what processes improved?

  • What specific communication and interconnectivity mechanisms could the various elements of the Trust community use to help them thrive and grow?

  • How can teachers collaborate and share planning documents and resources across a Trust to benefit not only this year’s pupils, but next year’s, and the years after that?

  • Is it possible to provide more differentiated learning for pupils in their classroom and when doing homework?

What type of school typically scores well for digital maturity?

According to the DfE’s research, schools that scored highly for digital maturity had a formal technology strategy focused on improving outcomes and meaningful classroom use of technology. Their senior leaders had a clear focus on how to use technology to improve outcomes for pupils. Other features included strong, reliable infrastructure, staff buy-in and access to expertise.

According to the research, the 9% of schools found to be highly digitally mature were more likely to be secondary academies in urban areas. They were less likely to be local authority maintained primary schools. This could bode well for Trusts looking to build their digital maturity since it suggests that a Trust structure provides a solid foundation to build on.

DfE standards for school technology

The DfE recently published the first digital and technology standards for schools and colleges. They cover broadband connections, network switching, wireless networking and cabling. Other categories will be added in future.

Individual schools and Trusts are not obliged to meet the standards immediately (it is not yet possible to meet the broadband standards in many locations). They should do so as soon as possible, for example when updating hardware or renewing contracts.

Strong and reliable technology infrastructure can be the starting point of digital transformation. It is not the destination itself.

The digital maturity journey

RM has worked with Trusts and academies across the UK to achieve their desired level of digital maturity. In each case, their first steps differed. Some began with a simple IT audit. Others were bold enough to plan a complete technology overhaul from the start.

The case of Brooke Weston Trust, a 10-school Trust based in the East Midlands, involved setting up an internal IT Governance Group. Having undertaken appropriate due diligence, the group appointed RM as the Trust’s technology partner to design, deliver and implement a managed IT service for all ten schools. By embedding a high level of digital capability across its schools the Trust adapted quickly to the demands of the pandemic, safe in the knowledge that their technology partner could support them.

Forest CE Federation, a group of four rural primary schools in Northamptonshire, already knew that their outdated technology was a barrier to modernising the schools. What they didn’t realise was how far they could go in terms of changing the way lessons were planned and delivered, or the administrative efficiencies they could achieve.

Digital transformation is already present in our professional and personal lives. Trusts that commit to the digital maturity journey will give their pupils the digital literacy skills they need while at school and beyond.

RM is a CST Platinum Partner.