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Why buying more technology for schools could be the wrong move [9ine Guide]


In a recent BESA research note, primary schools will increase their spending on technology by 3.6% and secondary schools by 2.8% in 2015/16. Within this, the priority of spend is wireless networking, PCs /Laptops/ Tablets, flat-panel displays, ISP charges, application and centrally- purchased curriculum software and content. 

The 2015/16 forecast spend equates to £554 million for English schools, a significant sum by any account. However, the quality of teaching in a school is not automatically improved when a teacher is given a tablet, pointed towards clever apps, given new software, or subscribed to a handy cloud service. This approach can actually cause more problems than it solves, as each teacher still has to construct a lesson that moves their students forward, whilst also incorporating the new technology in a way that benefits their learning.

In practice, when faced with the prospect of trying to fit new technology into their lessons, the additional planning burden and the risk of poor lesson outcomes, leads many teachers to close the classroom door and stick to what they know. This means the huge potential of technology is left unexplored, the school strategy is derailed and the school’s investment yields little impact on student progress.

So which technology inspires teachers to improve the quality of their practice?

As ever, the answer is already inside the school. In many cases, schools already have sufficient technology to improve the impact of teaching and the outcomes from learning. Plus, they already have the skills to handle strategies such as differentiation, engagement and assessment. What they often lack however, is the knowhow to combine the two and unlock the full benefits of their existing technology.

Below is an approach that uses technology to rapidly develop the professional practice of your teachers, without any further spending on hardware or software.

 In two recent examples, the differences in technology provision couldn’t have been further apart. Both are comprehensive schools, one with very little technology (only PC and interactive whiteboards in the classroom, no shared devices), the other a 1:1 iPad school where every student and teacher has a tablet. They both saw the value in technology, but faced the same problem - they did not have the knowhow to use the technology to improve their professional practice.

Both schools addressed this using an evidence-based approach. They focused upon the school’s objectives for teaching and learning and then conducted an iterative programme of trial and review to identify where technology could succeed in improving outcomes for students, in both classwork and homework. By documenting the evidence over six weeks, both schools were able to identify which of their existing types of digital tools were effective and for what purpose.

This is what they did in that six weeks:

  • Identified four volunteers who were interested in one-to-one coaching to develop their professional practice
  • Briefed them on the context of the programme and agreed how it would be tailored for them and their students (e.g. improved differentiation, more effective use of feedback or assessment, improving progress for specific groups of students)
  • Scheduled four weekly sessions for an hour each
  • Provided 1:1 coaching sessions with each member of staff, reviewing the outcomes from their  previous lesson
  • During each session with each member of staff, they identified an element of the lesson where an activity could be improved using their existing technology
  • In the final two weeks of the programme they removed their support and challenged the teacher to identify and improve an element of their own lesson
  • Conducted a self-review and student voice session in week six

By combining technology with a sustained period of reflection on their own professional practice, the teachers were rapidly able to:

  • Improve scaffolded tasks using digital resources in the classroom
  • Enthuse and motivate students to focus on tasks for longer periods
  • Improve resilience in grouped tasks
  • Collate student responses and use them for targeted feedback during the lesson
  • Strengthen subject knowledge through self-guided, online tasks for homework
  • Demonstrate greater progress for specific groups of students

The results of this approach proved to them that it is good quality teaching that dictates the impact of digital tools. Using the evidence they gathered, they were able to decide which technology was required right now and which technology could wait. Both schools are therefore able to make rapid, sustainable progress, while planning their financial resources to buy only those resources they know will have a rapid impact on teaching and learning.



To understand how this methodology is applicable to your school, an ICT Health Check is advisable. By taking a holistic approach with an ICT Health Check, you will be in a position to evaluate the impact of existing technology in improving outcomes for students, and at the same time, create a data driven ICT investment plan linked to the needs identified within the ICT Health Check. An effective ICT Health Check is one that starts with the needs of technology to support teaching and learning, and considers strategy and vision, technical architecture and IT operations. A best practice ICT Health Check for a primary school is located at the bottom of this page. A secondary ICT Health Check would follow the same structure, albeit cover much more. If you get in touch, we can also provide an example Secondary ICT Health Check.