Ed-tech in 2020 and beyond

Written by: Caroline Wright | Published:
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Ahead of Bett 2020, Caroline Wright looks at BESA’s latest research findings on the state of ed-tech in UK schools and the challenges faced by the sector, not least when it comes to teacher training

It was back in 2018 at the international ministerial event, the Education World Forum, that the former secretary of state for education, Damian Hinds, challenged the technology industry to launch an education revolution for schools, colleges and universities.

As Mr Hinds recognised, for all that technology has promised in terms of supporting learning and reducing teachers’ workload, its full potential is yet to be realised in schools. So, two years on, we have to ask what progress has been made?

As an official partner to the Department for Education (DfE), the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) has been working with the UK’s leading ed-tech suppliers and more than 1,200 schools to gather their views on the issues outlined by Mr Hinds – not least the challenges they feel continue to cause a barrier to progression.

The findings show that these challenges come down to what we have termed “the big three” – a lack of CPD and training in the use of technology, finance and budgets, and a lack of knowledge in the best practice procurement of quality digital resources.

If you look at the seminar speakers in the Bett Arena on the first day of Bett 2020, you will see that all address these key issues.

CPD and training

In 2003, the DfE estimated that, for every £1 spent on technology, 30p would need to be spent on developing teachers’ digital skills if we were to successfully integrate ed-tech into schools. This is a benchmark we have failed to reach.

In between 1997 and 2010, Labour governments spent £6 billion on computer hardware (Selyyn et al, 2012), however less than £240 million was spent through Labour’s New Opportunities Fund on digital training for teachers (BESA, 2015).

Similarly, if total school spend on ICT resources across England has averaged £500 million per year since 2010 (DfE, 2010-2018), Parliament’s Science and Technology Select Committee has nevertheless identified that less than one in three ICT teachers has received government support to undertake a relevant qualification (2016).

The result is that 68 per cent of UK schools continue to report a shortfall in teachers’ digital skills as one of the principle challenges they face over the coming year (BESA, 2018).

Furthermore, approximately 30 per cent of primary school teachers and 40 per cent of secondary school teachers admit to still having a fear of, and an unwillingness to use, technology because of a lack of understanding of how to do this effectively (BESA, 2017). Some of this fear stems from the school’s network infrastructure and connectivity. But it also stems from the atomised nature of the UK schools system.

According to the OECD, after Chile, the UK has the second most complex schools system in the world. This has often made it hard for UK schools to partner with one another to share knowledge and best practices as to the use of ed-tech.

The government does seem to be addressing these and other issues as the publication of its policy paper in April, entitled Realising the potential of technology in education, confirmed (DfE, 2019a).

In terms of connectivity, thankfully the government is committed to working with industry to accelerate the roll-out of full-fibre internet connectivity to schools.

The DfE is also preparing to launch a network of technology “demonstrator schools and colleges” to provide peer-to-peer support and training (DfE, 2019b). A further source of encouragement is the government’s work with the Chartered College of Teaching to launch online training courses about the use of technology for teachers and leaders.

Added to this, schools now have free access to BESA’s “LearnEd”, regional ed-tech roadshows which are designed to showcase products and services and facilitate learning from other education leaders.

Bett is also a great annual source of quality CPD. It is there to support education leaders to develop a vision for technology and understand “what works”, when and how. So, do not forget to look at the programme of CPD-accredited seminar sessions during Bett – all are free to attend and will hopefully provide you with the knowledge and inspiration you need to make positive changes in your school or class.


In 2016/17, the average school ICT budget equated to £59 per pupil. If this seems small, it is because it is. School expenditure on ICT resources was the lowest of any category of out-goings: lower than energy, which accounted for £74 per pupil, and lower even than money paid to educational consultants, which accounted for £90 per pupil (EPI, 2019).

If money is in short supply, so is schools’ understanding of what technology best suits their needs and how to get the best deal. This is not a criticism of schools, but the inevitable result of a fragmented and often overwhelming marketplace in which 24,000 schools are each individually responsible for purchasing their own learning resources.

Again, there seems to be a clear intention from the government in its policy paper (DfE, 2019a) to simplify the marketplace both for schools and suppliers. It now recommends that schools should pre-negotiate buying deals for technology and is currently trialling regional buying hubs in the South West and the North West.

The government has also partnered with BESA to launch “LendED”, an online platform where teachers can trial products before they buy.

If the work of Svenia Busson, author of Exploring the Future of Education (2018), has shown that online “try before you buy” are the most effective strategy of any in boosting schools’ uptake of ed-tech, then LendED is undoubtedly a promising development.

Shows like Bett give educators the opportunity to meet suppliers, ensure they are investing in the most cost-effective solution and negotiate the agreement they want; it gives schools the opportunities they need to ensure their budget is well spent.

Best practice procurement

At the time, the move from a more centrally based local authority procurement structure to one where schools buy their resources directly, was welcomed. However, with it came more pressure on schools to invest effectively. Companies are having to find new ways of reaching teachers to inform them about innovation and new product developments and schools are struggling to differentiate between all the resources on offer.

Many schools are facing seemingly intractable problems like their ever-increasing workload and teacher shortages in key subject areas of the curriculum.

We are seeing industry rise up to meet this challenge with a number of ed-tech solutions to reduce pressure in these areas. Whether it is the delivery of certain curriculum areas through cost-effective online or virtual “schools” or the growth of learning content creation tools, this is one of the most exciting developing ed-tech areas. So many of these emerging technologies will be on show at Bett 2020.

The DfE’s ed-tech strategy is certainly starting to have an impact and ministers have made it very clear that they value BESA’s collaboration and want to work with us, our member suppliers, and schools to tackle the challenges the sector continues to face.

I believe collaboration between schools and industry is the way forward, and long may that continue. A closer collaboration between schools, government and the technology industry will help develop more intuitive products that are more suitable and aligned to what educators really need – ultimately improving outcomes in terms of teacher understanding and confidence in using technology effectively in their teaching practice.

Once again, the BESA team will be on hand during Bett 2020 at the BESA Information Point, to answer your questions, offer advice and point you in the right direction.

  • Caroline Wright is director general of the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA), the industry trade body for education suppliers. BESA vets its members’ finances every year and requires them to abide by its code of conduct. Visit www.besa.org and follow her @CJPWright

Further information & resources

  • Primary schools and ICT: Learning from pupil outcomes, Selyyn, Potter & Cramner, 2012.
  • 25 years of research of ICT use in schools, BESA, January, 2015.
  • Consistent Financial Benchmarking Reports (CFR) 2010-2018 & Academy Account Returns (AAR) 2012-2018, DfE.
  • Digital skills crisis, House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, June 2016.
  • How the impact of education technology is currently measured in the classroom, BESA, 2017: http://bit.ly/2DoXvS7
  • Edtech in English maintained schools, BESA, 2018: http://bit.ly/2q7mhmM
  • Realising the potential of technology in education, DfE, April 2019a: http://bit.ly/2IIufu8
  • Edtech Demonstrator schools and colleges programme, DfE, October 2019b: http://bit.ly/2R0hOx1
  • LearnEd Roadshows: www.besa.org.uk/events/learned-roadshow-2
  • Understanding school revenue expenditure: Part 1, Education Policy Institute (EPI), 2019: http://bit.ly/35Ia4E6
  • LendEd: www.lended.org.uk
  • Bett 2020 takes place at London’s Excel from January 22 to 25. Entry is free. For details, visit www.bettshow.com

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