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Education Secretary on technology for ‘access and inclusion’

Education Secretary on technology for ‘access and inclusion’

31st August 2018

The Secretary of State for Education Damian Hinds has announced that education technology will be a new priority for his department. In an op-ed in the Telegraph, Mr Hinds “set out an overarching vision for how the education sector can better exploit technology” and he identified inclusion as one of the key opportunity areas for EdTech.

Earlier this summer, the APPGAT held a symposium on assistive technology in schools, with parliamentarians, representatives from the education sector, and civil servants. A key theme from that discussion was the opportunity presented by the renewed focus on EdTech within the DfE. Speakers called for assistive technology to be mainstreamed as part of the EdTech agenda, to promote inclusion and learning for all students. Former Education Secretary Lord Blunkett reflected on the lessons from the EdTech drive that he led in government, and called for a renewed commitment to raising awareness within schools, creating an effective model of procurement, and supporting schools to use the technology effectively:   

The first thing we need to do is know what the technology can do, secondly to be able to lay hands on it, but crucially, to then have people who are trained to use it effectively, and who in turn can train the young people to be able to use it to its full potential

Mr Hinds echoed many of these points in his op-ed, noting that schools can struggle to identify the technology they most need, and he emphasised that EdTech initiatives will only work if they receive ‘the support of teachers’. Most importantly, Mr Hinds was clear on the need for the government to work with the education sector to realise the opportunity presented by modern technology. The Education Secretary set out five areas of opportunity in this area, including assistive technology

technology can help access and inclusion for children with different backgrounds and abilities. This can be especially powerful in supporting students to learn alongside other children irrespective of their needs. For example, use of speech-to-text tools and advanced screen readers can support dyslexic students to engage in information, check their work and overcome barriers where they might have struggled in the past.

This recognition of the value of assistive technology at the highest levels of government, follows a sustained engagement between the APPGAT and the DfE, and it's a powerful example of the growing agenda around assistive technology.

Focus on teaching    

The Education Secretary’s statement of vision kicks off a series of policy initiatives organised around the five opportunities listed in the op-ed: assessment, teacher training, workload reduction, and lifelong learning and inclusion. Much of this is still in development and not yet public, but the DfE has announced a collaboration with the Chartered College of Teaching (CCT), on work to promote effective use of EdTech among teachers. Commenting on the project, Cat Scutt, director of education and research at the CCT, wrote that “the most critical piece of the puzzle in ensuring that technology is used well is the teacher”. This aligns with one of the key findings from the APPGAT symposium on schools, where speakers and attendees identified a skills gap in this area and the need to support teachers to integrate technology into the classroom. The CCT will begin by creating an online course for teachers on evidence-informed use of technology, to open in early 2019. The course will have a strong strand on technology for inclusion throughout, and we are working with the CCT to inform this aspect of it, supplying case studies and joining the course pilot.

Photo credit UK Parliament (attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0))