Beyond gadgets: EdTech to help close the opportunity gap

This report illustrates the potential of education technology (EdTech) to help close the opportunity gap. The paper highlights the different areas where EdTech could support disadvantaged pupils and the mechanisms for enabling schools to embrace the opportunities offered by technology.

The case for change

The UK has struggled to create equal opportunities for children of different backgrounds. While attainment and opportunity gaps are caused by a complex range of factors, not least family circumstances, primary and secondary education have the potential to correct for some of the effects of disadvantage. Given the persistence of these gaps, more innovative approaches are needed to tackle the stark differences in opportunities between children from different backgrounds.

The state of EdTech

Education technology (EdTech) offers one source of the innovation needed. The UK alone is home to more than 1,200 EdTech companies, and it is estimated that schools spend £900 million on EdTech annually. School ICT budgets are set to rise in 2018-19 following years of reductions. Encouragingly, the EdTech debate is moving away from a focus on new gadgets to one that is beginning to prioritise evidence and outcomes. This shift towards efficacy makes it a promising source of innovation.

EdTech to level the playing field

EdTech has the potential to improve outcomes for every pupil, and particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. With the right focus on design and implementation, EdTech can enhance pupil experience through data insights, online assessment and learning, and artificial intelligence (AI), and help engage parents in their child’s education, to stop pupils being left behind. It can also reduce teacher workload and give teachers more time to focus on other tasks, such as fostering pupils’ social skills or one-to-one tuition, which could be transformative for pupils that begin school below the expected standard. Finally, EdTech can help equip every child with the right skills for the future, allowing pupils to develop the hard and soft skills needed to thrive in a changing labour environment.

EdTech and pupil premium spend

The pupil premium, allocated to schools based on their number of disadvantaged pupils, offers an opportunity to enhance the understanding of the use of EdTech to support disadvantaged pupils. Schools already need to provide annual plans for the spending of this funding, but Reform analysis shows that this is done haphazardly. Requiring schools to submit plans directly into the online Analyse School Performance database, could help the Department for Education (DfE) and external researchers build a more comprehensive picture of the ongoing efforts to close the attainment gap.

Enabling EdTech

For technology to improve outcomes for the most disadvantaged pupils, schools can provide teachers with the skills to use technology effectively in the classroom. However, schools need to be supported by more guidance and incentive from the Department for Education and Ofsted to embrace the opportunities offered by technology. If not, it risks being viewed as a superfluous ‘extra’ in years to come, and its potential benefits to disadvantaged pupils delayed further.

Recommendations

1. Schools should be required to submit breakdowns of pupil premium spending to be displayed on Analyse School Performance. This would allow for the collection of data on pupil premium strategies, helping policy makers to understand common approaches, the impact of evidence-based guidance, and the extent to which innovative measures are applied to overcome the attainment gap.

2. Schools should provide Continuing Professional Development (CPD) as they are implementing EdTech. This should include sharing successful as well as failed EdTech approaches in the classroom.

3. The Department for Education should support the upscaling of an expert organisation, such as the Learning Foundation, to provide more guidance and support to schools, particularly those with more pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

4. The Department for Education’s e-procurement channel, Redimo2, should be reframed to operate like the Digital Marketplace and expanded to include a dedicated stream for EdTech products. This would allow schools to see the full range of options available to them and encourage companies to be transparent about the efficacy of their products.

5. The Department for Education should identify and engage with ‘Tech Expert’ schools to celebrate their achievements and link them up with schools that are struggling to make effective use of EdTech to support disadvantaged pupils. It should look to recruit several private-sector providers to help fund these networks.

6. Ofsted should produce a survey report on how EdTech can be implemented to improve digital skills. The report should provide feedback to individual schools on how they can improve in this area, incentivising schools to ensure every pupil is equipped with the digital skills needed for the future.

Watch our short video for an overview of the report: