New report calls for dedicated 'Office for Edtech' to drive change

A dedicated Office for EdTech and Digital Skills should be established “at the heart of government” to drive “coherent national change”, a new report has recommended. 

The Edtech Advisory Forum, made up of school leaders and tech specialists, has released an interim report investigating the impact of Covid-19 on education and children’s services. 

The report, which has been submitted as evidence to the education select committee’s inquiry into the impact of the virus on education, recommends the creation of a dedicated office to “drive forward coherent national change” and support a “UK-wide approach to digital skills”.

It said edtech was “fragmented” across the government with the Department for International Trade (DIT), Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (DBEIS) and the Department for Education (DfE) all playing a part. 

The group suggested that an office “with clear ministerial responsibility . . . would coordinate and improve the focus” across these departments. 

While the forum was hesitant before any consultation to detail how the office would work, it is understood it could be similar to the Office for Artificial Intelligence, which is part of the DCMS and the DBEIS. 

Tony Parkin, an education technologist, said anything that increased focus on the area “would be welcome”. But he said the move could re-create a Becta-style organisation that would require an “arms-length body or quango” set-up.

The British Educational Communications and Technology Agency or Becta, previously promoted technology in schools. 

But it was the first quango to be cut in 2010 under Michael Gove, then education secretary, and adviser Dominic Cummings in the so-called “bonfire of the quangos” that saved the government £80 million a year. 

However, Ty Goddard, the chair of strategic body EdTechUK and a member of the forum, said: “We don’t need another quango, we need a unit at the heart of government that’s able to drive this agenda forward with focus.” 

He said the dedicated office would “bring many disparate strands of work together under key ministerial leadership” and “be more effective than the sum of its parts”.

Covid-19 has changed the digital landscape as schools move to online lessons and platforms. 

It has also forced politicians to open up the sector to edtech, particularly Nick Gibb, the schools minister, who has been resistant to such moves.

The DfE’s edtech strategy was launched last year with backing of just £10 million, a sum that some critics saw as paying lip service to embracing technology in schools.

The new report said the pace of change created an “urgent need” for another strategy. 

It also called for an educator designed and led national platform for schools in England – such as Hwb in Wales and Glow in Scotland.

Cat Scutt, of the Chartered College of Teaching and a member of the government’s current EdTech Leadership Group, said the recent focus on edtech had “changed people’s views in both directions” and created a “more balanced perspective on tech” by showcasing its value and limitations. 

But she said while schools might move to blended-learning approaches, the growth in the wider sector “will start to flatten out as things go back to normal, but with some tech enhancements”.

A DfE spokesperson said it was “constantly working to help the sector harness” the potential of technology. Its current edtech strategy drove improvements in educational outcomes.