Technology use in education has been one of the major points of innovation and success in schools over the past two years. It’s also been crucial in maintaining some form of learning through the lockdowns. These adaptations are here to stay and will continue to evolve and grow as schools seek to better engage with all students, ease staff workload, and become more efficient. Governors therefore must understand how schools are using technology and the opportunities and challenges that come with it.

The Opportunities

OFSTED research indicates remote learning was not universally successful, and as Nick Perrett, CEO of Edtech business Mrs Wordsmith put it, technology is not a “magic bullet”. However, it does offer benefits right now, as well as opportunities going forward. Schools have used Mrs Wordsmith, and numerous other Edtech products, to find new ways to engage with struggling pupils outside of the classroom. New learning software offers ways to make learning more fun and interactive. Pupils enjoy being able to explore and interact with concepts and content at their own pace. Often, these suites also provide real-time data for teachers to monitor progress and intervene where necessary, making more efficient use of their time. Digital learning provides opportunities for collaborative working, automatic marking, and parental engagement.

Data is an important aspect of developing a school’s digital strategy. From highly granular feedback on students’ progress, and the impact of interventions, to the efficient management of the school itself, technology can free up time spent collating and analysing information and allow for a more effective use of staff resources.

The Challenges

As was highlighted during the early stages of lockdown, access to technology, from hardware, bandwidth, or support, is not universal. Some pupils may be disadvantaged by the adoption of technology-dependant learning – the so-called “digital divide”. Schools are very aware of this but it will be an ongoing issue for them to manage. Funding can be a major difficulty. It requires long-term planning and accurately matching capability with need, and the DfE-backed Edtech Demonstrator Programme provides a service in this regard.

Some staff aren’t entirely comfortable with the rapidly changing field of technology. Familiarity with all parts of any digital provision and strategy should therefore be a part of the staff CPD programme. Similarly, there are very serious safeguarding concerns that arise as schools, and pupils, engage more heavily online. Staff and pupils need to be made aware of these risks, as well as where to go if they have any concerns, and safeguarding should be a prime consideration when a school is evaluating platforms or software. A specific digital safeguarding policy, including guidance as to what school digital infrastructure can be used for, is crucial.

Security in general needs to be a primary concern at not only the planning stage but on a regular basis. Schools are historically easy targets for cyber criminals and any breach can have serious implications, not least for the ability of the school to continue to function properly.

The role of governors

Governors have directly benefited from the adoption of technology-enabled ways of working. Almost all boards have been able to continue meeting regularly through Teams, Zoom, and other similar platforms. In fact, many boards report greater levels of attendance and engagement online, as well as more frequent interaction with SLT and other members of staff. Beyond that, the board plays several critical roles in developing a school’s technology capability.

Ensuring suitable funding is in place is a clear example of the role governors play in deploying technology. But beyond this, it is critical governors are ensuring there is an actual digital strategy that is sustainable and that meets the needs of all staff and pupils, including SEND and disadvantaged pupils. Governors need to ensure staff are receiving suitable CPD and that the policy is both being adhered to and is having the desired effects.

Technology itself can play a part in delivering this assurance. From MIS systems like Arbor Education, or the monitoring and evaluation software provided by ImpactEd, there are options and opportunities to provide better strategic oversight whilst lowering the demands on SLT to directly investigate and report.

Find more information on Creating a Whole School Edtech Strategy. The Edtech Demonstrator Programme also has a set of resources to explore.

If you’re an individual looking to volunteer, you can find out more about the role and apply online.

This article, as with all of this term’s campaign resources, was made possible through the support of GovernorHub. GovernorHub is the leading governor collaboration tool in the country and provides 100,000 school governors, trustees and clerks with tools to communicate, share documents and access the information they need to support schools. Designed by governors, it’s a simple and easy-to-use platform that saves time, improves processes and allows boards to evidence their efforts, all in one place. Contact [email protected] to see how they can help your school or trust.