Education minister calls for industry and educator partnerships

Secretary for education Damian Hinds has said the technology industry should work in partnership with education providers to solve common problems

Education secretary Damian Hinds has called for the tech industry to work with schools to use technology to improve education.

Speaking at the 2019 BETT technology education show in London, Hinds said technology could be used to reduce the amount of time teachers spend on “non-teaching tasks” and claimed “Education is one of the few sectors where technology has been associated with an increase in workload rather than the reverse”.

By working in partnership, education providers and the technology industry could implement technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) to reduce the amount of work teachers have to do, Hinds said.

Later in 2019, Hinds hopes to outline an “EdTech” strategy, as part of the government’s Industrial Strategy, aimed at using £10m of funding to support schools and tech providers to work together to reduce teacher workload and increase teacher training.

The strategy will start by piloting potential technology in a group of schools in England.

Using email as an example of where access to technology has added to teachers’ workloads as opposed to saving them time, Hinds said: “Back when I was at school, there was an annual parents evening and a report at the end of the year – maybe a letter home if there was a school trip. That report still happens and so does the parents evening, but email has revolutionised parent-teacher communication. Email hasn’t replaced much; mostly it has just added.”

Teachers are stretched when it comes to delivering the computing curriculum, with many claiming they do not have the skills available to teach concepts such as coding, and in 2017 the government failed to hit its target for recruiting computing teachers.

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Hinds advised teachers to ditch email outside of works hours, which has been advised of many to improve work-life balance, and cited St Edward’s secondary school in Dorset which implemented best practice guidelines on when email should and shouldn’t be used.

“I’m sure none of us now could imagine a life without email, but do we ever stop to think how much of our day is actually spent reading or replying to them?” he said.

“In many or perhaps all occupations, email takes up a lot time. MPs have seen a step change in correspondence and contact through email. For many teachers, the situation is even more intense, with a huge volume of emails from parents and their senior leadership team that they need to respond to outside of lesson time.”

Making “smarter use” of technology for tasks such as lesson planning, marking and admin could save time and reduce teacher dropoff, said Hinds.

“At Bolton College, for instance, they have used IBM Watson, an artificial intelligence programme, to build a virtual clerk they call Ada,” he said.

Personalised learning assessments

The AI allocates personalised learning assessments for 14,000 students as well as addresses questions about attendance and curriculum, tasks which previously teachers would have to do in their spare time.

This is in addition to the Workload Reduction Toolkit the government released in 2018 to act as a series of online resources to help schools reduce teacher responsibilities, as well as the Department’s work with Ofsted on proposals to implement an “inspection framework” to reduce the burden on teachers.

Much has been done over the last year to try and support teachers, especially those teaching technical subjects.

In 2018, the government announced an £8m fund to help train teachers in how to deliver the upcoming T-Levels, as well as introducing an Initial Teacher Training Scholarship Programme to encourage more people to become science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) teachers. 

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