School is a place, education is a state of mind
The Secretary of State for Education, the Rt Hon Gavin Williamson MP, appeared in front of the Education Select Committee this week to face a barrage of questions.
How to address the learning lost over the last eighteen months was the main focus and the need for schools to be able to deploy funding flexibly was highlighted.
The Education Secretary shared his concerns that some schools are closing too early and said that they should consider implementing longer days. However, simply extending the school day is too simplistic a solution.
It would be better to allow schools to fund more student engagement with EdTech platforms as this puts a child’s education literally in their pocket. They can then learn what they want, when they want and it leans into what many students want to do already, which is go on the device they already have in their hand!
Encouraging children to diversify their educational experience by interacting with EdTech means they become more independent learners - data gathered shows that students will engage with content across evenings and weekends, with some EdTech providers seeing over two-thirds of their usage is outside school opening times.
Robert Halfon, the chair of the Education Select Committee, highlighted the regional variations in access to the National Tutoring Programme, with schools in the North East having to be put on waiting lists to access tutors. Our children’s education is vital to their future and longer term, to that of the country too, so they don’t have time for their school to sit on a waiting list.
There is much discussion about having to lure workers away from their kitchen tables and back to their desks, as it appears that our working patterns have changed irreversibly. The government is latching on to the popularity of flexible working by considering introducing legislation that gives us better rights to demand it.
The pandemic has shown that working from home does not necessarily make us less productive and having flexibility over their schedule has improved the wellbeing of some employees. Clearly, home working is only possible for certain types of jobs, but a variety of careers can now be done from anywhere, thanks to the development of reliable technology.
Teaching also moved online for large parts of the pandemic and in the same way we are looking to retain some of the positive working arrangements that were sprung on us, we should also take this opportunity to look to the education sector to see if any beneficial practices can be retained.
There is much talk of flexi working, but what about flexi schooling?
Lost learning and educational catch up remain in the news following the resignation of former education tsar Sir Kevan Collins due to his disappointment at the amount of money the government offered to address this problem.
Aside from the aspect of funding, debate has raged on how best to help students catch up. The Department for Education is clearly pinning its hopes on the success of the National Tutoring Programme but others, like the Secretary of State, have called for the school day to be extended. However, it seems that many are reticent about this proposal.
We need to take a step back and consider what it is we are actually trying to achieve. Simply making children stay longer at school will not guarantee that they learn more. What we need is for children to spend more time engaging with high quality educational content in a way which suits them, as it is a misnomer to believe that sitting in a classroom is the only way this occurs.
EdTech platforms have been lifesavers for many teachers and students during the pandemic and we now need to ensure that these gains are embedded in everyday mainstream education.
I am proud to be one of the Founders of the EdTech Evidence Group whose prime function is to help schools assess the impact of EdTech in the classroom through robust evidence gathering and analysis, ensuring that they invest in the things that they know make a difference before committing to buy them.
The government should allow teachers access to every resource possible to help children move on from this disruptive time in their education. We know EdTech works, so let’s give it to them.
Anthony Coxon is co-founder and director of leading EdTech provider GCSEPod and a Co-founder of the EdTech evidence group