How can the DfE use EdTech to reduce teacher workload?

Justine Greening was making progress on using EdTech to alleviate workload – here’s what she’d achieved so far, and what’s still left to do, says Atif Mahmood

The DfE’s own research has identified workload as the “most important factor” behind teachers who leave the profession.

I meet with heads of department and headteachers daily, all of whom overwhelmingly want to promote wellbeing and retention in the teaching profession, but in reality the number of hours teachers spend outside their normal teaching time has not fallen, and the answers remain elusive.

As a former teacher, I built an EdTech platform specifically to tackle workload and planning, having become concerned at the disconnect between the reality of work in schools and the Department for Education’s strategy.

Justine Greening was finally starting to understand the potential of EdTech

With the creation of the DfE’s EdTech team, alongside the GovTech catalyst fund, Justine Greening was finally starting not only to understand the potential of EdTech, but build it into decision-making and departmental planning. Some big changes were on the horizon, especially in terms of increased teacher productivity and reduced workload.

I saw this first hand when I attended a joint meeting between the DfE’s EdTech team and workload policy team in late 2017, to discuss what the former’s mission should be, and how technology can help out.

With this in mind, it seems timely to note the progress that has been made to date:

GovTech catalyst fund

When the government launched a fund in November to incentivise Britain’s tech firms to come up with smart solutions to fix public sector problems, they specifically mentioned the need to free up teachers’ time. This £20 million fund could help nurture and support some innovative ideas around tackling workload.

Teacher CPD

One of the things the DfE focused on under Greening was teacher CPD – specifically technology skills. This is a welcome priority, as the more comfortable and confident a person is with technology, the more they are able to really get the most out of the available tools.

EdTech in decision-making

The DfE is now involving EdTech as an integral part of its policies and reviews.

Educating school leaders

While AI can help and support teachers, the DfE’s EdTech team doesn’t see it as a replacement, so more is being done to educate schools on using the right technology and the benefits it can have, specifically to eliminate workload. More of this needs to be pushed through teacher communities and organisations like NESTA and the Education Endowment Foundation.

That said, there are also plenty of areas ripe for development in the EdTech sphere. These include:

Initial teacher education

When training is being delivered at university, EdTech platforms should be used and promoted. Interested companies could provide free access to university students, to help with embedding use of EdTech early on.

EdTech research

Research from credible professors, teachers and their recommendations needs to be used to form action plans that are publicly available to schools.

Product feedback

The DfE should regularly seek national feedback through surveys from teachers to really understand if EdTech products are having a positive impact on teaching and learning. This research should be made public to schools so they can make informed decisions when procuring products.

Product accreditation

The DfE’s new EdTech team should set up a portal with accredited partners that schools can go to if they are specifically worried about workload. These can be supported by case studies so the schools can do their own due diligence.

EdTech procurement

A school-by-school approach to procurement is inefficient, risks poor decisions being made by non-specialists, and raises costs for everyone. England should follow the lead of many countries – including the US – that have more centralized regional procurement systems. This approach may also help with greater usage of EdTech products because of collaboration between schools in the region using the product.

Atif Mahmood is Founder and CEO of Lumici

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