Transformational Technology and Teaching – the opportunity for a paradigm shift

I’m not the first person to recognise that schools are currently facing a unique combination of challenges. Leading a school is perhaps as hard as it’s ever been. And teachers at the coal face bear the brunt of this. Tackling these challenges will require innovation and creativity on the part of school leaders. And technology can play a role in supporting us. 

One of the most clear issues for schools is recruitment. At secondary level, the Government has missed its target for 10 out of the last 11 years. This year, recruitment was 50% below target. These figures are a symptom of a broader recruitment crisis across the sector. Consequently, it’s harder than ever to have subject specialists in front of the children that need it, especially in the STEM subjects. Without these specialists, students find it hard to develop both wonder and mastery in their subject. At the same time, staff without specialism are asked to work harder than ever to cover new subjects. This expectation of staff is in turn creating new workload burdens. 

The further knock-on effect of teacher shortages is increased spending on supply teachers. In the previous academic year spending on cover increased by 50% up to £1.27 billion. In an ideal world this is money that schools would not be paying out. Instead, it should be funding school plays, trips and sports teams. 

And it’s not just a lack of teachers in classrooms. School leaders are having to manage with greater absenteeism than ever before. Amanda Spielman’s final report as Head of Ofsted explicitly raised concerns about increasing rates of non-attendance amongst students. Not being in school creates a whole host of issues for students and teachers. Nobody wants these children to fall behind. But to help children catch-up, teachers need to set, track, mark and follow-up on additional work. Whilst at the same time school leaders are trying to create a welcoming, nurturing and valuable environment for students and families.  

Finally, schools are facing a rapidly changing technological landscape. The rise of Large Language Models such as Chat-GPT will create new fissures to overcome. School leaders will need to remain agile and consider how we set homework and plan lessons. We’ll also need to consider what type of knowledge we value in our fast evolving technological age. 

Given these challenges it’s important that school leaders continue to think creatively in serving their communities. During the pandemic we saw schools rapidly adapt to teaching students stuck at home. This new reality will also require new ideas. I’ve been particularly struck by schools choosing to adopt new technology. I worked as an advisor to the online learning platform Up Learn in 2023. Their platform strikes me as a clear tool in the armoury of schools. It enables students to gain subject specialist teaching when departments have lost a member. It has given pupils unable to access the classroom a new way of staying in touch. And it’s helped many schools achieve outstanding results through embracing the powerful technology that some may perhaps be wary of. 

Tools like Up Learn will have an important role for schools in the coming decades. The pandemic has changed the way many people work. And it may well require that schools begin to think creatively about how we operate. There are of course a number of strategies that the Government could put in place to ease the current burden faced by schools. But it is also a time for schools to think creatively and embrace new ideas. 

As George Couros said “ Technology will not replace great teachers but technology in the hands of great teachers can be transformational”.

Julian Drinkall – CEO, GLF Schools

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