Long has been the promise that technology will ease workload, but, as Damien Hinds acknowledges with all too often disappointing results. However, a recent OECD survey of 2496 of England’s teachers found that teachers who regularly allow pupils to use ICT for project and/or classwork, also report working 4.6 hours per week less than colleagues (Sellen, 2016). Perhaps technology has now come of age and is ready to help tame workload?
Hopefully answers are close to hand. Last week the Department of Education launched the much anticipated EdTech Strategy, backed with £10M in new funding. Entitled Realising the potential of technology in education: A strategy for education providers and the technology industry this strategy launches ten key challenges to EdTech providers and schools that aim to find practical ways technology can and is helping teachers with workload.
Teachers will welcome the DFE’s priority areas which address issues raised in the 2014 Workload Challenge. Then, 53% of teachers wanted action to make marking less burdensome; 63% of teachers highlighted the impact of excessive detail in routine tasks, while 45% asked for help on duplication of tasks.
In response, the DFE have challenged EdTech providers to work with schools on solutions which automate marking and assessment – even for essays. Similarly, the search is on for solutions to administrative issues like parent engagement/communication and enabling flexible working.
Such solutions are timely. At this year’s Head Teachers’ Round Table conference and the Schools and Academies Show, workload and teacher retention were among top priorities for many schools. Here, I heard of schools where teacher marking is banned – instead relying on student self and peer-marking, and on Edtech solutions to mark work (and hopefully populate teachers’ mark-books). Schools also talked about using technology to ensure planning, curriculum resources and good practice are all effectively shared to reduce workload. These types of initiatives will be well supported by the DFE’s strategy which promises to help schools and EdTech providers to work together, identifying and sharing good practice.
The strategy also contains a range of time-saving guidance on procurement and infrastructure and is something IT Managers will find useful. Of practical benefit will be the LendED service, the try-before-you-buy service, and the establishment of a network of demonstrator schools.
There is however, one catch-22 in all the above. Improving teachers’ workload via technology will require effective CPD. Yet only 25% of England’s teacher rate ICT training as effective (Micklewright et al, 2014), CPD budgets are under pressure and workload itself is a key barrier to CPD (Sellen, 2016). Some innovative thinking looks necessary. The DFE have teamed up with the Chartered College of Teaching to produce excellent online courses, but how these are used by schools must be carefully considered. As was found in the £230M ‘NOF ICT training for teachers’ initiative (1999-2003), online courses alone are insufficient (Conlon, 2004; OfSTED, 2004). For Good evidence based advice, schools and EdTech companies can look to the UK Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education.
With these foundations, the Government’s new strategy offers much for schools and EdTech providers, working in partnership to realise the potential of technology to lighten teachers’ workload.