New DfE Edtech Strategy Supports Model Behind Edtech Impact

Mike Forshaw

Michael Forshaw is the CEO and founder of Innovate My School and Edtech Impact. He's been working in education for the last 13 years - initially as IT manager within a large secondary school, and then building Innovate My School and Edtech Impact from the ground up.

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The UK government has been quiet on education technology for many years, but the wait looks to be finally over. They’ve released a 48-page edtech strategy to “build a vibrant edtech sector” that drives efficiencies and improves educational outcomes.

I was one of the early invitees to a series of DfE roundtables in the summer of 2017, where around 50 of us were asked to discuss the ‘top 5 challenges of edtech’. Despite the room being a bit industry-heavy, I left the sessions feeling encouraged, and particularly impressed by the newly assembled ‘DfE edtech team’ and their listening-first approach. It also helped pinpoint a number of problems that I thought my company, Innovate My School, could try to solve – as an entrepreneur, you’re always on the lookout. 

Wind on 21 months and, after a lot of listening, a change in education secretary, and continual Brexit-related distractions, the DfE edtech team have managed to push through a comprehensive edtech strategy. Result!

So why should Innovate My School care?

Jumping back to those roundtables, my biggest takeaway was the need for an online marketplace that works for everybody (both buyers and sellers). ‘We need a TripAdvisor for edtech!’ I kept hearing. Actually, many have tried. And they all lie in an over-crowded marketplace graveyard.

The call for an independent voice to support schools with their edtech procurement, specifically around SaaS products, continues to get louder. The DfE clearly recognise this: “We will explore how to facilitate a better online marketplace for EdTech, to help schools and other providers connect with a wide range of trusted, quality products. This will ensure that they are able to draw on the opinions and experiences of their peers, achieve value for money and help to buy products and services quickly and effectively.”

I’ve spent 13 years working with schools and suppliers, and conditions for buying and selling edtech are indeed getting worse. That’s why for the last 6 months, my amazing team have been working furiously on solving the marketplace conundrum ourselves. The solution is called Edtech Impact and is the largest public evidence base in education on what works for UK schools.

We know that procurement habits won’t change overnight, so we’ve been busy partnering with teams that can accelerate our mission. YPO, Emerge Education, EDUCATE London, Nesta, Kokoa Standard and our advisory board all care deeply about impact and are helping us to build a more informed marketplace where the best products, regardless of size and marketing budget, rise to the top.

Impact is why we’re all here.

It’s why any product exists – to improve educational outcomes – and it’s why we’ve built our marketplace with impact at the heart of it.

In his Foreword, Damian Hinds says, “It can be difficult for education leaders to separate evidence-based practice and products from the vast range of gimmicks.” And that “all too often technology initiatives have failed to deliver value for money and, crucially, failed to have a positive impact.”

Interestingly, the word ‘impact’ is mentioned 89 times throughout the strategy document, but nowhere does it say how impact will be effectively measured. Edtech Impact is the only platform in the UK actually doing this in any practical, scalable way.

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Context is important.

The DfE will be setting up a network of ‘demonstrator’ and ‘testbed’ schools and colleges across England “to support the development, piloting and evaluation of technology”. This is good, but will it cover every context?

Last year, we surveyed Innovate My School readers about the challenges in procuring technology. 66% stated a “lack of information on a product’s impact in a school like mine”. Education settings vary across the country: a small rural primary will have very different characteristics to that of a large inner-city school five times the size.

Edtech Impact provides extended free trials for any teacher to carry out their own in-school evaluations on the effectiveness of edtech. A personalised report summarising the findings is created post-trial to support an informed purchasing decision. The report is also shared with the supplier for feedback, and is made publicly available for other schools to read. Everybody benefits.

By empowering the people using the products to measure their own impact, and by building continuous feedback loops between buyer and seller, we have an impact engine that will uncover what really works, in every context, as it’s powered by everyone. The best suppliers grow organically and we kill any edtech waste.

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We’ll achieve more by working together.

Finally, Damian Hinds is planning to “work in partnership with the edtech industry”. I hope this includes the many teacherpreneurs and grassroots networks that exist outside the usual London circles. It’s time to drop the barriers and exclude no one from the conversation. Take a look at Finland’s edtech playbook for inspiration.

At Innovate My School and Edtech Impact we are open to suppliers from any country, from startups to enterprise. There are no memberships, we just care that they’re in it for the right reasons and know that education is not a quick win.

The new edtech strategy brings a new hope, and indicates that the UK government realises the important role it has to play if technology is to transform teaching and learning in the way it has other sectors. There’s lots to execute on, and we don’t have time to waste. But first, let’s take a minute to acknowledge this significant milestone, and say a big well done to everyone that contributed and lobbied hard to get this over the line.

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