Westminster Education Forum: New Technologies for Schools. 9th September 2013 (part 1)

By | September 9, 2013
This morning I have been attending the above event at London Bridge. Its pitch is 'the inside track' on government thinking and direction, reflected by the selection of speakers (including those from DfE and the House of Lords). Here's what I learned.


Tom Goldman, Deputy Director, Standards Division, DfE, 'Technology in England's Schools'

Tom somewhat cautiously emphasised the importance of technology in education, by quoting a speech by Michael Gove and underlining points such as;

  • We aren't yet using technology as effectively as we can
  • There are several myths around technology in education, notably the 'Everest' myth that every school needs to implement everything 'because it's there'

Tom said that the DfE is very interested in the MOOC/ Virtual learning models emerging in Higher Education and whether this transfers to “less motivated students” . Actively investigating this in the area of Physics A-level, in partnership with Cambridge University

Also keenly watching (non-DfE funded) 1-1 mobile learning research as this is seen as an important area.


Stephen Rogers, Tom's DfE colleague leading on STEM policy then answered questions from the floor (Tom was unable to stay). His general tone on strategy was very hands-off; no large, directive funding for top-down programmes any more, the DfE's role is to link up and facilitate. Astutely summed up by Lord Sutherland of Houndwood as “Your policy is that you have no policy!”

Bob Harrison of Toshiba (@bobharrisonset) asked about plans to ensure school leaders knew enough about technology's potential, a replacement for the successful SLICT programme. Stephen's response was that “there are lots of courses out there” and “schools should support schools” through the Training Schools programme. However, Stephen and his colleague Vanessa (assume Pittard) are wiling to meet with schools and other parties to discuss how this can be supported.


Chris Williams, Mr Andrews Online, 'Effective Use of Digital Learning'

Primary teacher of 20 years experience, from Hull, working in a 1-to-1 iPad school. Chris's case study looked at iBooks and iMovie for pupil-led collaborative learning using a Project Based Learning approach. He made the important caveat that iPads are not 'the answer' but were the right tool for the task, at that particular time.

Effects that were noticed were an improvement in the quality of spoken presentations and confidence, through ownership of the technology and passion generated by a well integrated project.

The ability to use social media (Twitter in this example) had eSafety considerations to manage but allowed the children to connect with real people who gave feedback, including one of the authors being studied. This resulted in powerful learning experiences for the children.

Chris finished by saying that a whole-school approach is needed, not islands of practice and that technology is not always the best tool.


Kirsty Tonks, Shirelands Collegiate Academy

Kirsty is the Director of e-Learning at this well regarded (in technology terms) secondary school.

Her initial points were similar to others – only employing technology where it is effective. Claims that the 40% of outstanding lessons at Shirelands all feature effective use of technology. Attendance (95%) and zero fixed term exclusions in the last 18 months suggests, Kirsty says, that they are doing something right.

Key technologies for Shirelands are their Learning Platform, which is the major route for communicating with students and parents as well as for staff to share good practice.

Now, I've visited this school and met with the people (a dedicated team) who run this platform and I can attest that it is impressive. I put this down to a combination of very strong leadership throughout the school and excellent (if expensive) technical resource so that teachers don't have to do the technical/ administrative work.


The next session, 'New technologies: the potential for teaching and learning' involved four presenters, Rachael Jones of Steljes (1), Niel McLean of NfER (2), James Penny of European Electronique (3) and Lisa Featherstone from JISC (4).

  1. Unsurprisingly focused on Interactive Whiteboards and associated products, in this case Smartboard Interactive Table. Disaggregating the sales stuff, a valid point about the need for use of technology to be integrated – lots of things, loosely joined, not one single tool. An argument against IWBs I'd have thought… Finished by calling for a statement on the use of technology to be included in the Teachers' Standards.
  2. Innovation needs to take place in a structured environment, otherwise it doesn't just spread. The 'islands of excellence' which characterised technology in education 20 years ago have not really been joined up. We need to bring together what is known to work through a technology in education 'what works' centre; a call for collaboration on this.
  3. Ubiquity of technology in successful schools is noticeable – the 'can you imagine life without it?' question. It's not about kit but leadership vision – you can have a lot of equipment and still not be either effective or innovative but you can understand what your educational drivers are and deploy limited technology to support these very well. A refreshingly accurate message from a technology salesman!
  4. A post-16 accessibility/ disability perspective, talking about simple things that mainstream technology can do to make information easier to access. Text to speech in Word, Adobe, Chrome & Orato.

Questions from the floor:

  • What evidence should schools be looking at?

Durham University's evidence toolkit produced to support Pupil Premium decisions is a good tool for aggregating evidence of what works (more broadly than technology). Meshguides.org (Marion Leaske's project) aims to bring together practice and research. No real discussion of the need for solid, RCT based evidence, as was called for by @bengoldacre on behalf of the DfE.


  • How can we support teachers to access really reflective professional development?

A move away from a 'sheep dip' experience, towards training related to appraisal targets. 'Flipped' CPD is also being used at Shirelands. Lots of conversation around Shared Practice (but none around the more useful Joint Practice Development)


Lord Houndowood closed this session by bemoaning the lack of responsibility for technology in education in the job description of anyone in UK government.


Coffee time!


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