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More than ever, schools need to embrace technology

Proposed changes to Ofsted's education inspection framework will put edtech front and centre, says Canvas' Graham Raddings

Posted by Julian Owen | February 13, 2019 | People, policy, politics

Following the news that it wants to shift its focus away from exams, it’s clear that there are some significant changes making waves within Ofsted’s framework. We believe that they’re going to have a profound effect on the way schools use technology.

At the moment, Ofsted provides a one-size-fits-all approach, which inspects everything - from nurseries to multi academy trusts (MATs) to vocational training providers - in the same way. The idea is that a team of inspectors go into an institution and challenge the staff to provide evidence on several key areas: effectiveness of leadership and management; quality of teaching, learning and assessment; personal development, behaviour and welfare; and crucially, outcomes for children and learners. 

This, of course, is a huge undertaking. For a large academy, we might see a team of ten required to gather enough information to make an assessment; perhaps it’s no surprise that a lot of the data is gathered before a physical inspection. Self-assessments, publicly available data and exam results are all assessed, and the actual inspection is all about whether what inspectors see matches up with the data provided ahead of time. 

It isn’t a perfect system. Data use like this is seen, by some, as a blunt tool, unable to capture what really happens in the classroom. And an over-reliance on data means that the education industry can all too easily become a numbers-driven audit factory, too concerned with exam results and not focused enough on the quality of education provision. 

Giving educators the tools that allow them to deliver student-centred, fuss-free teaching and learning, and to prove to inspectors this is happening consistently, is now more important than ever

The new way 

But this is changing. Ofsted’s new education inspection framework puts more emphasis on the substance of education and actively discourages unnecessary data collection. 

This also means that it will be necessary to fundamentally re-evaluate the way that we measure progress in education. Ofsted’s new approach will draw attention to the idea there is good data and bad data. Bad data is labelled ‘national accounting’, designed to report to assessors how the system as a whole is performing, and to contrast good practice with bad. Good data is the nuanced ability to understand students’ strengths and weaknesses and progress paths, and will become much more important under the new framework.

This is, of course, more difficult to measure than the pass/fail tests of the past, and calls for broader, ongoing, and real-time assessment, which can only be delivered by the use of technology.

The importance of edtech

In a digital economy, the use of tech to deliver compelling and engaging education to digital natives, and to equip them with the digital skills needed to thrive in employment, is absolutely essential. With this in mind, it is disappointing that Ofsted still doesn’t measure the use of edtech in schools.

But the new framework will make the use of technology important: the ongoing assessment afforded by virtual learning environments (VLEs) is crucial to making data analysis work. A VLE’s ability to turn static information into actionable insights, fuelling change, is the real key to making data analysis bear fruit. This data has to be consistent and cross-compatible across a range of schools that might be in different towns, cities or counties.

Ofsted’s new approach will draw attention to the idea there is good data and bad data

The use of technology can also play a significant role in facilitating quality education and positive student experience; this, too, needs to be consistently impressive across multiple sites or campuses. Ofsted defines learning as an ‘alteration in long term memory’, meaning that utilising and demonstrating well-planned and organised curricula, to make sure lessons stick, is key to success. 

A new dawn 

Though the nature of inspections is changing, quality of education and pedagogy has always been front-of-mind for schools, and teachers remain the key component that everything leans on. Giving educators the tools that allow them to deliver student-centred, fuss-free teaching and learning, and to prove to inspectors this is happening consistently, is now more important than ever.

Good technology is like electricity – it serves its purpose by making other things work without being the centre of attention. While Ofsted isn’t explicitly looking for the use of edtech in schools, it has the potential to be a key facilitator for institutions and trusts putting it at the core of their plans when the new inspection framework is rolled out in September. We’re looking forward to helping more schools meet the challenge. 

Graham Raddings is Canvas' head of solutions

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