Comment Blog 29 June, 2018

Overcoming the barriers to EdTech

As the Reform report Beyond Gadgets rightly points out, EdTech has the potential to help transform outcomes for pupils. Not least those from disadvantaged backgrounds. However, tackling the barriers to the successful implementation of EdTech in the classroom is essential in order for its transformative impact to be realised.

Last week, we at BESA (the British Educational Suppliers Association) published our second annual report into how schools view the use of EdTech in the classroom. Undertaken by the National Education Research Panel, which surveyed a representative sample of teachers across England, the findings were particularly insightful as they were the first to show year-on-year comparisons as to how schools are engaging with EdTech products.

A key section of this report focuses on the barriers to EdTech implementation. The biggest barrier across both primary and secondary levels is “teacher unwillingness to use EdTech”, which brings home the importance, as highlighted in the Reform report, of the Department for Education (DfE) needing to provide more guidance and support to schools.

That said, the BESA research found the DfE does have a challenge in terms of establishing their authority when it comes to EdTech. 22 per cent of primary schools, and 39 per cent of secondary schools “strongly disagree” that there is a need for more government advice and guidance. This stance is softening year on year, however. Last year, it was 42 per cent of primaries and 62 per cent of secondaries strongly disagreeing.

Teacher unwillingness to use EdTech is dropping year-on-year, however, alongside the second biggest barrier cited by schools, which is the need to understand the benefits of EdTech solutions.

The biggest is a lack of budget, cited by 29 per cent of primary schools and 28 per cent of secondary schools, an increase of 11 and 14 percentage points respectively. That school budgets are under considerable pressure is obviously not news, but the sharp rise in budgets being cited as a barrier compared to last year shows that this problem is becoming particular acute. It is one of the motivating factors behind the Resource Our Schools campaign that BESA has launched to address the issue.

The second is the rise of concerns around e-security and data protection. 25 per cent of schools cited this as a concern, a rise of 15 percentage points at secondary level. This is, doubtless, compounded by concerns around the implementation of GDPR in schools in May this year, but it would be tragic if legislation brought in to address data protection in schools led to a downturn in the engagement with digital technologies as a result.

Reform is quite right to say that state school education system in England is ripe for innovation, and to highlight EdTech as one source of the innovation needed. There are over a thousand EdTech companies in the UK developing innovative solutions that can have a positive impact on everything in schools from pupil attainment to addressing teacher workload.

However, if schools are prevented from engaging with EdTech due to budgetary constraints, data security concerns or a lack of professional development for teachers, then the wholescale innovation that EdTech could bring about will be prevented from taking place.