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“Realising the potential of technology in Education” was announced by the Education Secretary yesterday and it looks very good.

I had the privilege of being CIO at Dulwich College for four years until I left last year and I am a governor of a state maintained school. I have always been of the opinion that one of the reasons for the success of the independent sector has been that Education Secretaries have less opportunity to undermine it in their desperate hunt for votes.

Image my surprise when I read Damian Hind’s speech yesterday and found that his proposals for the use of IT in schools are sensible and likely to be productive. I am confident that many state schools will benefit from this strategy and working conditions for staff and pupils’ results will improve greatly over the next few years.

Schools are Inefficient Factories

The modern school was invented in Prussia and uses the Victorian factory model. Units of production (children) are shifted down an assembly line to workstations (classrooms) where they are processed by workers (teachers). At the end of the process they are subject to quality control (examinations). I call this mechanistic processing “schooling”.

“Schooling for the masses” was great for 19th Century Prussia but we want to provide education to the individual.  Mr Hinds is arguing that if state schools use IT effectively to become more efficient then teachers will have more time and money to spend on education.

What Is He Doing Right?

In his speech he says,

“I want our world class education sector to be at the forefront of this conversation – and to be shaping how innovation can help schools drive efficiencies, help drive down teacher workload and ultimately of course make the learning experience a better, more successful one, for all children and young people.”

Why will it work this time?

For many years the “EdTech” market has been fragmented with many “mom & pop” vendors selling badly designed products to ill-informed purchasers. However that has now changed. Microsoft, Google and Apple have moved into the education market and are spending billions of dollars producing software that actually works for education. The challenge facing schools is no longer choosing what to do but training staff to do it. Mr Hinds has recognised this and

“In addition, we will launch a network of demonstrator schools and colleges across the country. This is really important because it will give teachers the chance to see how others are using technology and how something works as it were in the flesh”

Collaboration between schools works

Mr Hinds was speaking at the Academies show and he said,

Multi-Academy Trusts are powerful vehicles for improving schools – by sharing expertise, working collaboratively, driving improvements. This is something we want to see more of, because it repeatedly shows that it can improve outcomes for pupils.

It is no accident that the first MATs were founded by people who sell carpets. They understood that by creating economies of scale and scope it would be possible to become more efficient and to spend less on schooling and more on education.

What should Independent Schools do?

There are two approaches to achieving economy of scale and scope in the provision of IT. The first is outsourcing, the state school of which I am a governor uses a supplier who services over 100 other schools. As a result they can provide good services at low cost. However, I believe that this is not the best path for most independent schools because every independent school is proudly different. Commodified IT provides a commodified experience for both staff and pupils.

So they must collaborate as equals

I believe that independent schools should collaborate deeply on IT strategy and collaboration across all tiers of IT including, infrastructure, academic administration and education.

Next Steps

I am still looking for ad-hoc project work so if you need any help please give me a call.

If this article “rings true” and you would like to discuss my ideas about how independent schools can work together to improve IT services please give me a call on 07989 381331.