Beyond gadgets: EdTech to help close the attainment gap

28 June 2018

Last week, the OECD found that social mobility in UK is “stagnating”. This report was published six months after the Social Mobility Commission highlighted an “unfair education system” as one of the “fundamental barriers” to social mobility. New thinking in the education sector is needed and Education Technology (EdTech) provides a promising source of innovation. With the right implementation and a focus on outcomes, EdTech could be used as a catalyst for the change that is urgently needed.

England is struggling to provide equal opportunities for children at school and promote social mobility. Children in England’s most disadvantaged areas are 27 times more likely to go to an inadequate school than others. Not only are disadvantaged children aged five enrolling at schools with less developed key skills, such as basic numeracy and literacy, the attainment gap between them and others grows throughout their schooling.

EdTech offers one source of innovation. With the right focus on design and implementation, technology can enhance the provision of education in multiple ways and help benefit all pupils, but particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: The potential of technology to drive improvements

Pupil experience can be improved through data insights, online assessment and learning. Data collected on pupils’ attitudes to school have helped predict those who are most likely to stop attending, as much as 12 months in advance, and intervene to keep them in school. One trial found that online teaching can improve science results for struggling pupils by nearly 20 per cent. EdTech can also free up teacher time to help focus on other tasks, such as fostering pupils’ social skills or one-to-one tuition, which would be transformative for pupils that begin school behind.

Schools must prepare all pupils for the future labour market. In less than 20 years, it is likely that 90 per cent of jobs will require digital skills. Many young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are leaving school with fewer opportunities than their peers. Research has shown that technology in the classroom supports a range of hard and soft skills, such as creativity and innovation, research and information fluency online. Schools need to ensure that every pupil is equipped with the skills they need to pursue the career of their choice.

For technology to improve outcomes for the most disadvantaged pupils, schools, the Department for Education (DfE) and Ofsted must work together to focus on how technologies can be designed specifically to improve teaching and learning to help those that need it most. The DfE could partner with independent organisations to disseminate high-level guidance, create better procurement channels to help schools browse tech products, and help develop partnerships between ‘Tech Expert’ schools and schools that struggle most with EdTech and attainment gaps to help spread best practice. Ofsted, which is responsible for school inspections and regulation, can then provide support to help schools use EdTech to improve digital skills through producing a survey report on EdTech and using this as a base to help schools understand how to best foster skills for the future.

With a stubborn and persistent opportunity gap in schools between pupils from different backgrounds, innovation is urgently needed. Education technology presents a great opportunity to help level the playing field and create more equal opportunities for every child.

Sarah Timmis, Researcher, Reform

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