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Collaborating for innovation in edtech

The rise of the Multi Academy Trust offers new ways for suppliers and schools to work more closely together

Posted by Charley Rogers | March 13, 2017 | Technology

The number of academies and multi academy trusts (MATs) increases on a monthly basis. At Bett Academies (16-17 March, NEC, Birmingham) the director of Assembly, a non-profit joint venture between Ark and NEON, will be talking to suppliers and MATs about the changing needs of these schools, and how collaboration will help the next wave of edtech to evolve.

Two decades ago, there was an explosion of ring-fenced technology funding for schools. Suppliers rushed to develop the right resources to the required standards, but inevitably there was a lag between schools’ needs and budgets and the suppliers’ developments; mistakes were made.

In time, schools and suppliers started to work together to understand changing needs, and we started to see a country with the highest quality of learning technology in the world. For those companies who had immersed themselves in understanding schools’ needs, huge rewards were reaped. As other countries’ governments followed suit with their own edtech investment programmes, the UK export market saw suppliers thrive; their prices dropped while product development continued. It is for this reason that UK edtech now leads the world.

Today, we are seeing a new phase in the evolution of UK edtech.

The Cambrian explosion of MATs in the last few years has parallels with edtech innovation two decades ago. As was the case then, funding and demand from MATs has come very quickly. Over the past three or four years, as the number of MATs has skyrocketed, an entirely new set of school needs have evolved.

Suppliers are not yet fully prepared, nor educated in the very specific needs of MATs. The rapid development of these academies and trusts brings about unique challenges, unlike those of traditional stand-alone schools.

It is therefore vital that both MATs and suppliers recognise this and work hard to address the change.

The danger is that suppliers won’t recognise this evolution, and will carry on developing the same resources for individual schools, hoping their round products will fit into MAT’s square holes.

In my view, the only way to achieve this is for both MATs and suppliers to work more closely together, to understand these unique needs, and collaborate on the development of appropriate resources.

I call on all sector suppliers, academies and MATs to collaborate and invest in the development of this next phase of learning technology.

This can involve suppliers reaching out to their school customers to understand changing requirements, but conversations can – and should - be initiated by MATs themselves. By combining forces, it will be easier to scope out the necessary new products or current product enhancements that are required.

In my experience, some of the most exciting innovations stem from companies being willing to work together. And interestingly enough, this isn’t just about supplier collaboration. Some of the best innovations happen when MATs join forces. With the benefits of cooperation between suppliers and MATs being so clear, my vision is for both sides to unite. At Assembly, we are developing MAT Analytics in partnership with two MATs (Ark and Reach 4), and in close collaboration with leading assessment providers (GL Assessment, Rising Stars, Renaissance Learning and Sharing Standards). The varying perspectives of these organisations undoubtedly improve the quality of our product.

It won’t be until several companies and MATs come together and work collectively, combining their knowledge, experience and ideas, that we will get really well-designed classroom resources that meet the very specific needs of the changing education landscape.

During my presentation at Bett Academies, I will be encouraging academies, MATs, and suppliers to join forces, not only on product development, but also on pricing. MATs should leverage their size and scale to improve their purchasing power. And this power is not just about achieving economies of scale, it’s also about ensuring their requirements are understood and met by providers.

Hopefully, the better suppliers recognise the fact that the needs of MATs differ greatly from traditional schools and will want to work with them to jointly refine their products to suit these needs.

I therefore encourage MATs to offer an invitation to those companies who are willing to work with them, to soak up their advice and in turn benefit from the products that fit their specific need and any discounts offered.

During my presentation at Bett Academies I will be giving examples of where sharing intellectual property and forming partnerships and joint ventures has actually improved the quality of an offering to mutual benefit.

Joshua Perry is the Director of Assembly, a schools data platform. His session ‘Collaborating for innovation in edtech’ will be chaired by Priya Lakhani OBE, CEO of CENTURY Tech, at 10:30 on Friday 17 March at Bett Academies show, NEC, Birmingham. Please reserve your free entrance online at www.bettacademies.com.

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