Edtech: Common mistakes made by schools

Written by: Sally Lanni | Published:
Talking tech: Pupils at work at Pheasey Park Farm Primary School in Birmingham, one of the DfE’s EdTech Demonstrator Schools (both images supplied)

The EdTech Demonstrator programme is funded by the DfE to offer technology support and advice to schools. After operating for 18 months, Sally Lanni looks at some of the common ‘mistakes’ that she sees


Last year, the Department for Education launched the first phase of its fully funded EdTech Demonstrator Hubs initiative. There are currently 43 “Demonstrator Schools” dotted across the country providing edtech support t free of charge.

These schools – including Pheasey Park Farm Primary School where I am executive headteacher – have all been assessed to ensure they are able to offer effective support to help other schools use technology effectively.

As such, over the past 18 months we have had the pleasure of working in partnership with many schools across the country. Whether the priorities are based around reducing workload and using technology to remove unnecessary tasks, supporting more flexible teaching practices, improving access to excellent curriculum resources, or communicating more quickly and easily, we aim to work collaboratively with each school.

It is never about coming in and changing everything – in fact it is often very light-touch support, perhaps even just an audit with some easy-to-implement suggestions.

Whatever the collaboration looks like, the beauty of the demonstrator schools is that the advice is funded by the DfE and freely available.

In this short article, I’d like to highlight some of the common “mistakes” that our edtech demonstrator team has seen during its work over the past 18 months.


Mistake 1: A short-term vision

Possibly the most common mistake that we see in schools is not having a long-term vision to integrate technology. A school may have all the technology it needs but each application has been bolted on to the existing infrastructure rather than being strategically planned and linked to improving outcomes and reducing expenditure.

In some cases, the school’s set-up is simply not suitable for their plans. For example, they do not have the necessary infrastructure in place to optimise outcomes for wi-fi, networking and internet security. Short-term decisions are often made without looking at the bigger picture.

However, this is not necessarily due to ineffective leadership – it can simply be down to too much pressure on a head of IT to deliver something too quickly.


Mistake 2: Lack of a phased approach

Tied to the point above, we see many schools where there is a lack of a phased approach to their edtech infrastructure. This can result in a challenging sustainability and replacement plan. Short-term, reactive investments are often not based on a budget plan so they become knee-jerk and unsustainable financially.

Over the years schools have invested in many technologies to support the running of the setting as well as teaching and learning, but what we see happening is that new staff aren’t always fully aware of what technologies they already have and sometimes rush to invest in something new.

We often find that some schools have edtech systems already in place which are perfectly suitable but simply not being used to their full potential. Rather than replace the old system, we show schools how to build on its untapped potential at a fraction of the cost.


Mistake 3: A lack of unity

We often observe situations where all the necessary stakeholders have not been involved in new plans or decisions. Unless everyone understands the vision and has bought into it, there will be a range of inconsistencies that hamper the effective roll-out of new technology, not to mention a waste of talent and resources.

This mistake is definitely a communication issue but often it is also due to a lack of adequate staff training. If staff do not know how to use the technology, they won’t reap the full range of rewards.


Mistake 4: Poor change-management or a lack of staff training

Since 2008, various learning platforms have been used by schools to offer a personalised approach to learning while organising and managing each student’s development.

Initially very few schools implemented effective change management, including teacher training, and many learning platforms failed as a result. Since then, things have improved because schools have in the main recognised the potential of these systems. However, it still remains the case that many of these systems are not being used consistently or effectively across the school.

One idea we suggest when implementing new technologies is to give staff a safe environment where they have time to “play” with any new technologies before they are fully rolled out. Leaders should ensure that staff are offered support through observation, buddy teaching, monitoring and reassurance, and joint planning. This way everyone is involved without a divisive “them” (edtech users) and “us” (non-edtech users) approach. When this is followed by appropriate product and change-management training, success won’t be far away.

A lack of “growth mindset” attitudes among the staff is another common challenge. However busy teachers are, they need to continue learning. What we regularly see in the schools we have worked with is that when staff feel they have more time to consider their long-term development, highly effective improvements start to be realised very quickly.


Mistake 5: Thinking that remote learning is over

Covid-19 has undoubtedly made the biggest demand on the technology infrastructure in schools. But to think that remote learning is only a “lockdown solution” is a mistake. The second round of DfE funding for EdTech Demonstrator Schools was very much focused on managing the pandemic’s impact. It is so important that schools recognise remote learning as a long-term strategy – it is the new 21st century way of learning and schools must be prepared for this “new normal”.


Conclusion

We have had the pleasure of working in partnership with many schools who have welcomed the DfE funded support, but there is plenty more funding available. Due to the success of the initial year-long programme, the funding has continued for a second year – until March 2022.

If I may be so bold, another mistake that schools could be making is to miss out on this government-funded initiative. So do consider contacting one of the EdTech Demonstrator Schools. Whether you would like an initial IT audit or full advice on cost-saving, improvements or implementation, we are here to help.

  • Sally Lanni is executive headteacher of Pheasey Park Farm Primary School in Birmingham, one of the DfE’s EdTech Demonstrator Schools.


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