On 7 August, a DfE tweet gave notice of a ‘challenge’, laid down by Damian Hinds, Secretary of State for Education, seeking to enlist the help of the Education Technology (EdTech) industry to "launch an education revolution for schools, colleges and universities....to help tackle the five biggest issues facing teachers today." Mr Hinds listed these issues as:
- Teaching practices to support access, inclusion, and improved learning outcomes for all
- Assessment processes, making assessment more effective and efficient
- Methods for delivery of teacher training and development by upgrading educator support so they can learn and develop more flexibly
- Administration processes to reduce the burden of 'non-teaching' tasks
- Solutions to lifelong learning to help those who have left the formal education system to get the best from online learning
Having had some time to reflect on the statement, the first thing to say is that we very much welcome the challenge announcement and the new approach described by Mr Hinds here at Capita Education Software Solutions (ESS). He is right to want to focus on how technology can support time poor teachers, leaders and administrators deliver what they need to more effectively.
My colleague uses a diagram he created for internal meetings to explain to new (and, sometimes not so new) staff where our products are used and what they do.
What makes us different to many EdTech companies is that Capita ESS creates management information software and services that support the learning journey from nursery right through to higher education. It is quite possible that a learner’s record will reside in a solution provided by Capita from their first visit to nursery until the time they graduate from college or university. The range of solutions offered are further enhanced by a large number of partner companies that work with our software to add value and additional capabilities and benefits.
This gives us a unique ‘all through’ perspective on the needs of those working in education today, and where and how the solutions we and our partners offer can be used to address the key issues listed by Mr Hinds in his EdTech challenge.
It’s great when we hear about success stories in relation to how customers use our products and in my role at Capita ESS I’m fortunate to visit many of our school, college and university clients and see how our solutions help them deliver improved institutional efficiency, save teacher time and improve learner outcomes.
This year I have met a school leader who explained how the SIMS teacher app has transformed (and shortened) the registration and behaviour recording processes undertaken by the school’s teachers. I have listened as a colleague in an FE college has explained how our UNIT-e product has supported on-line course enrolments and removed hundreds of hours of ‘back office’ time. I have also heard a head teacher explain that when she arrived at school one morning, one of her pupils (a boy) was waiting there at the school door, so he could get in early and write his book review to share with others on our Reading Cloud software!
These stories, and others like them, many of which are described in SIMS, Reading Cloud, or UNIT-e case studies, make me realise the power of the solutions we offer right across the learning journey mentioned above. There are so many other examples I could share.
That said, I meet many people working in schools, colleges and universities that don’t know how to get the full benefit from software that in many cases they already have. All schools, colleges and universities in the UK have a management information system which is used to analyse achievement and other data types and manage the administration of the institution. Some customers do not fully realise how this tool can help them work towards the important goals of raising achievement, improving behaviour and reducing workload, and I’m looking forward, in the new climate set by Mr Hinds, to helping those working in schools, colleges and universities understand how our solutions can help them do more, more quickly, especially in relation to the five key areas listed in his challenge.
Much of the focus in the coverage of the DfE’s challenge has been on new innovations, eye-catching technology and creating exciting new gadgets for the classroom or lecture theatre. However, while it is great to see new ways to deliver content to students, that shouldn’t be seen as the sole purpose of EdTech. At the heart of any innovations should be the needs and challenges that schools, colleges and universities face, and how they can be solved efficiently in a way that benefits learners. Those challenges may indeed be tangible representations of individual subjects or lessons, but they could just as easily be helping to ensure that all staff within institutions are comfortable and competent working in a digital environment.
Only by speaking to schools, colleges and universities with a view to better understanding their needs can we hope to create the technology – or provide the training and support – that is needed to meet the DfE’s challenge.
So, whether it is how to improve behaviour in schools, spot those at risk of ‘dropping out’ in colleges or universities, saving teachers time report writing, or reducing the burden of administration tasks like managing pupil dinner money or student enrolments, we welcome the opportunity to showcase how the solutions that we and our partners work on every day here at Capita ESS can meet the challenge set by Mr Hinds.
Graham Cooper is Head of Education at Capita Education Software Solutions. Prior to joining Capita, Graham spent 13 years in teaching. This is where he first became passionate about the impact of management information systems on student achievement. You can follow him on Twitter: @G_Cooper.