Nearly a third of publicly-funded schools in England are now academies (22% of primary and 68% of secondary schools). Over 73% of all academies are run by multi-academy trusts (MATs). But how can these schools maximise their chances of success in 2019 and beyond?
One answer to this challenge is to embrace educational technologies.
Indeed, MAT schools were positioned to sit at the forefront of innovation and encouraged to use technology to drive better pedagogical outcomes. But, while over 50% of educators now believe that technology is integral to everyday life and that it should be more of a priority in education (2018/19 State of Technology in Education report), more still needs to be done.
So, how can academies adopt a more strategic approach to their educational technology investment while better supporting teachers and learners?
How to make sure your MAT has an aligned strategic vision
When it comes to how technology is used within a school, strategy is key. But according to The State of Technology in Education 2018/19, academies are lagging behind other schools when it comes to having a clear strategic vision.
The stats show that only 42% of academy schools believe they have a clear vision for the year ahead, compared to almost 70% of all educators.
What does this mean for the MAT system? Are academy schools and their governing MATs less strategically positioned than other teaching institutions? Or are academy staff simply less informed of their schools’ strategies?
“Since being part of an academy chain, leadership can no longer make strategic decisions and our academy masters are incapable of making timely decisions.” Teacher, academy secondary school, South East England
There are a greater number of strategic difficulties and leadership issues in academies than in local-authority-funded and independent schools.
Certainly, it seems that there is less input into the strategic vision of academies by teaching staff. In independent or local-authority schools, the head teacher and other SLT members, in consultation with other school staff, work together to outline their schools’ key priorities. Academies, by contrast, are often strategically positioned by the MAT. So visibility could be the issue that needs addressing rather than a lack of strategic vision.
Find out why else MAT schools are least likely to have a clear strategy for 2018/19.
As an MAT director, it is worth considering whether your teaching or IT staff could offer a valuable contribution to your MAT strategy, going forward.
Read more strategic insights from our annual report The State of Technology in Education.
How academies can make sure they aren’t held back by failing technology
From their conception, academies were encouraged by the government to adopt new technologies, introduce more innovation to learning, and improve school collaboration with tech.
Whether that goal has been achieved is unclear, but academies do buck the trend when it comes to suffering from faulty technology.
While, overall, only 14% of teachers aren’t held back by failing technology, over a third of respondents from academy schools have minimal issues teaching with failing technologies (The State of Technology in Education 2018/19).
To make sure your academy isn’t held back by failing technology, establish a school strategy that sets out what you aim to achieve in terms of pupil objectives and organisational goals, and outline how technology can help you to achieve this. This could include things like:
- Attainment and results
- Reducing the attainment gap
- Improving attendance
- Introducing new pedagogical techniques/learning strategies.
Find out how else academies differ from other schools in The State of Technology in Education 2018/19 report.
How multi-academy trusts can drive educational technology innovation
MATs are indeed a growing force in the education sector. In just six years they’ve grown from under 5% of the market to over 25%. Furthermore, while not all MATs currently have a centralised budget or approach to IT procurement, those that do are using their buying power to bring about change.
Why change is needed for MATs to succeed:
- More traditional IT setups create problems that can multiply when a large number of schools – each of which runs on different technology platforms – join a trust
- Technology empowers an exchange of ideas and helps schools to learn from others in the group to bring about best-practice – for example, trying some of the many exciting new approaches to pedagogy such as flipped learning and collaborative working.
“The best MATs are using the power of the group of schools to bring about rapid and fundamental change, based on powerful models of school improvement, deep collaboration and professional learning across the group.” Leora Cruddas, CEO of Freedom and Autonomy for Schools, National Association
Yet, with country-wide budgetary pressures in education, keeping up with fast-paced technological change is just as difficult for academies as all schools.
If you work in an MAT school, standardising with one educational technology brand and partner in conjunction with other academies in your trust boosts your buying power, while building solid relationships that you can leverage moving forward. This is particularly useful when agreeing on training and additional support.
How multi-academy trusts can deliver value with educational technology
Much like the rest of the education system in the UK and Ireland, academies are still under budgetary pressure.
According to The State of Technology in Education 2018/19 report, under 15% of academies believe their budget for educational technology is at the right level, and another 14% think it’s incorrectly invested.
As such, there’s ongoing pressure for MAT academies to deliver considerable cost savings.
Key ways to drive value for your multi-academy trust
- Deploy common devices. A mismatch of IT across an MAT can make it very difficult for staff and pupils to work together, so standardising your educational technology makes it far easier to manage
- Use cloud-based software. If you have a central approach to IT, monitoring usage of your software allows you to see where infrequently used licences can be re-deployed within your multi-academy trust. This gives you scope to identify where they will be put to best use, rather than continually purchasing more licences. If your academies are buying separately, moving your legacy solutions to the cloud, and using cloud-based software and applications still increases access and reduces costs
- Consider tools that don’t require annual upgrade costs. For example, free to use, ClassFlow can be used in conjunction with existing tech and initiatives (e.g. BYOD), with no need to pay for new equipment
- Standardise on educational technology brands and partners. Not only can you drive value from using common products, but you will also have access to the same level of support across the entire trust. School staff will feel confident moving between academies within the MAT using the same technologies
- Consider interactive front-of-class technology like the Promethean ActivPanel. Because your trust has academies spread across various sites, using technology to connect them can be incredibly valuable. Request a demo to find out more
- Consider total cost of ownership. Invest in appropriate, upgradable and long-lasting technologies. For example, interactive front-of-class displays like the Promethean ActivPanel, are constantly upgradable, allowing your MAT to keep up with changing computing technology
- Standardise safeguarding tools. If your school has a centralised approach, the ability to deploy standardised safety and safeguarding technologies is incredibly valuable. Even if you’re not currently purchasing software centrally your MAT academies could input their safeguarding policies to a standard database
- Don’t skip the warranty. With such controversy today around school budget allocation, it’s important to make sure any valuable educational technology investments aren’t at risk. Look for products that come with a favourable warranty as standard. For example, the Promethean ActivPanel comes with a 5-year warranty and ActivInspire software included (some manufacturers only go to three years). Find out more about why it’s vital you don’t skip the warranty if you want to protect your school IT investments.
Find out how else technology can be used to drive value for your MAT.
“As an academy we are technology-rich, however maintaining the technology due to a lack of money is making it difficult to continue with some aspects of technology. For example, we’re moving from Apple Macs running on an Apple server to using them to run Windows, to save money.” Deputy head teacher, academy secondary school, North East England
While driving cost-savings for MAT schools can be complex, a standardised approach to IT allows your academies to work together to share costs, best practices and resources. And this can still be done, whether you have centralised budgets or not.
Find out more about how school budgets are impacting educational technology investment in The State of Technology in Education report.
How an MAT can overcome the key challenges when it comes to educational technology
Despite the obvious benefits of greater collaboration, engagement and creativity, there are challenges when it comes to implementing educational technology successfully. This is particularly true for multi-academy trust schools, where standardisation and cooperation are crucial to success.
So, what are the top challenges faced by MAT ICT departments?
- Inconsistencies in technology usage. Under the MAT format, different schools may have come together for a variety of reasons, and it’s unlikely that they are all at the same level when it comes to using technology.
- Infrastructure investment. For an MAT, there is the additional challenge of ensuring that all of its schools receive the necessary level of investment to succeed. As such, significant one-off investments are not feasible for most MAT ICT departments.
- Sharing ICT staff. MATs often need to share resources. While this can help to keep costs down, resources can – if not carefully monitored – be stretched to breaking point and create resentment from ICT teams who are forced to adapt to new roles and new responsibilities. Consolidation of IT and suppliers can help to reduce the burden.
To deliver the high educational standards expected of an MAT, establishing a unified technological ethos is a must. By moving to a cloud-based model MAT ICT departments can leverage collaboration and productivity tools that create greater consistency across schools.
What does the future of educational technology in academies look like?
Technology is increasingly important for meeting goals like raising attainment, boosting engagement and improving a school’s profile. As such, more educators are relying on educational technology to supplement and support teaching methods in UK classrooms than ever before.
But, with so many options available, which technologies do teachers think they will be using over the next few years?
According to our State of Technology in Education survey:
- 60% of respondents said online assessments would see the biggest growth over the next few years
- 54% of respondents said that online content and resources are likely to increase
- 37% identified front-of-class technology as a key growth area
- 45% said tablets were on the rise. That’s up 16% from last year
- Cloud-based lesson-planning and delivery tools were selected by 47% of respondents.
What are the most future-proof school educational technology investments? Find out in our blog.
However, we’re unlikely ever to see educational technology taking a higher priority than quality teaching staff or tried-and-tested learning practices. In fact, the majority of educators (79%) believe that educational technology will most likely be blended with traditional teaching resources over the next decade, rather than replacing them.
The future, therefore, is more likely to feature a blend of interactive front-of-class technologies like Promethean ActivPanels and handheld devices like tablets, used by highly skilled teaching staff in collaborative and inclusive educational settings. Online resources, digital tools and traditional resources will be used in harmony to teach arts, sciences and future-proof skills like coding.