One of the core themes emerging from this year’s Queens Speech was the Government’s ambition to make Britain the best place to ‘grow up and grow old’.
In doing so, the Government is focusing its sights on improving education, believing that this is the primary factor to achieve gold status for the UK as a place to age, and age well.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi summed this up in the recent Parliamentary debate on the Queen’s Speech, saying that the best place for people to develop their potential is in a country that provides a future ‘full of promise’ and where the ‘door of opportunity is always open.’
So, what exactly does this mean for the UK’s education system?
According to Zahawi, the key is the Schools Bill: the first in six years to be focused on educational reform, and designed to deliver a stronger school system that works for every child, and where children can ‘escape the quicksand of disadvantage.’
In terms of policy, it means £5bn of investment for the Multi-Year Education Recovery Plan, and a £7bn cash increase in the total core schools’ budget by 2024/25 – with a £30k starting salary for teachers. The Bill also sets out the Government’s ambition for all schools to be part of a multi-academy trust – or in the process of joining one – by 2030.
The Secretary of State noted that the Schools Bill heralded not just a new chapter in educational policy reform, but ‘a new book’ in skills education, amidst a multitude of changes to the world of work and learning.
Why then, is there no real consideration of a future education system that brings into scope the role of remote and online learning?
The Government has faced significant criticism, in the past, for a failure to adopt a technologically savvy stance across multiple departments. It now looks like the Department for Education is the latest victim of that neglect.
The 64-page policy paper, ‘Opportunity for all: strong schools with great teachers for your child’ published in March of this year, had eight mentions of the proposed role technology will play in the future of education, but the main action point was to enable all schools to have access to a high-speed internet connection by 2025.
In contrast ‘Capabilities for Success: What’s Working in EdTech Today whitepaper’, a report from SMART Technologies published earlier this year, found that almost two-thirds (64%) of schools in the UK now embed technology in everyday teaching and learning practices, using it to transform teaching approaches and learning outcomes.
The pandemic tested our ability to roll out entirely online forms of learning – with schools across the UK being asked to push this through urgently during the spring and summer terms of 2020. The lack of planning, given the challenges of the pandemic, has left a sour taste in the mouths of some parents, teachers, and students, that online learning is not the way forward.
Having now emerged from the pandemic, educational institutions should no longer be proposing an entirely online offering towards learning – but should instead be promoting the benefits of ‘blended’ forms of online and in-person learning. The working population has accepted a move to more ‘online’ forms of engaging with colleagues and clients, so why can’t we push for the same within education?
The UK EdTech sector was valued at £3.4bn in 2021. As the Schools Bill gains momentum in Parliament, it will be interesting to see if the Opposition decide to push harder on having it re-drafted to encompass the digital agenda.
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