At the start of the first lockdown, when we all migrated our learning online, we quickly recognised some real and potential problems. We knew we could benefit from some expert eyes. But like every other school at the time there was quite enough going on already and the last thing we needed was someone to come in and say, ‘we are the experts, and this is the way you should do it’.
What we wanted was an audit, followed by step-by-step advice based on our starting point and our desired destination. Our trust is comprised of ten primary and two secondary schools. We share ideas and benefit from each other’s expertise all the time. So we know the value and power of good advice and support. Nevertheless we hesitated, because getting someone’s opinion about what you should do or how you should act is always a little intimidating.
That’s why we all instinctively prefer to receive advice from someone who gets us, someone who is immersed in our ethos and wider practices. But we also know that the best advice often comes from casting a wider net and incorporating diverse perspectives and experiences. It’s a difficult balance to strike, and in my mind, this is why many schools who could benefit from it have yet to take advantage of the EdTech Demonstrator Schools programme. Too many experiences of school improvement initiatives that got that balance wrong.
But in the end, when you know you could be doing better, you need to be open to changing your ways. As Einstein famously said: “Everyone sits in the prison of his own ideas; he must burst it open.” So we took the leap, and the advice we got from Pheasey Park Farm, one of the EdTech Demonstrator schools, was everything we’d hoped for. We’ve transformed students’ learning, and our improved Ofsted ratings validate that decision as part of our broader strategy.
During Pheasey’s audit, we took the opportunity to revisit all our IT provision. Replacing ancient laptops and working with our local authority to install superfast broadband connectivity was the least of it. It goes without saying the resources have to match the quality of teaching and learning we expect. So now everything students and staff do is quicker, more effective and more flexible.
But software and hardware are nothing without skilled people to use them. Pheasey helped us to take a step back and assess how we could make the most impact and give teachers the information and tools they need, and that’s been a game changer! We worked to ensure our teachers’ learning matched that of our pupils’, and made professional development an integral part of our improvement plan.
And it didn’t stop there. It’s the last thing we expected from an edtech audit really, but Pheasey’s advice not only improved the day-to-day running of our schools, our expenditures and the quality of teaching across the trust; It even fed into our safeguarding review. It’s meant that when our students have had to work from home, we’ve been able to continue to keep their mental health and wellbeing at the heart of our work with them.
The pandemic has been and continues to be the most challenging time for schools. It’s no wonder so many of my headteacher colleagues are rushing around just to keep their heads above water. That being the case, and with a full return to remote learning now looking very unlikely, I completely understand why edtech seems the least of anyone’s concerns right now.
But I find myself leading a trust in the lovely solid position of having sight of where we are going, not just with our technology infrastructure but much more broadly as an organisation.
That’s a privilege, and it’s one I owe to the wonderful supportive partnership with Pheasey made possible by the Edtech demonstrator programme.
Best of all: It was fully funded.
There really is no barrier to getting transformative advice. And I strongly recommend you do so while it’s still available.
To find out more about the Department for Education’s fully funded EdTech Demonstrator School programme, visit edtechdemo.ucst.uk