Challenges in taking education to the next level.


To prepare a session for Naace Strategic Conference (Have you booked yet? – we have been collecting comments from members on what the key challenges are in taking education to the next level. A comment made by many of you is the difficulty in affording the technology the school wants.

Against this perception we have to set the view often expressed by Heads in the videos from schools that have gained the 3rd Millennium Learning Award, that they have got (most of) the technology they need, by making it a priority. Rosie Pugh, Head of Castledyke Primary School memorably told a Naace 3rd millennium learning course that she quaked in her shoes every time she saw her ICT Coordinator coming towards her. Because she knew it meant a strongly supported request for money and that she would somehow have to find the cash.

There is a large amount of ‘thinking the unthinkable’ about this. The ONLY place in a school budget where significantly more cash for technology can be found is the amount allocated to staffing. Services and buildings will be around 10% and there is no room for cuts. Resources is probably 5%-7% and without those teachers can’t teach. The remainder, 80%-85% in many schools is spent on staffing. So logic says that to find more money for technology staffing has to be cut. This can be done. Dominic Norrish from United Learning Trust told the Naace partners meeting last Autumn that in their trust schools they work hard to cap the spend on staffing at 70% of the budget.

Reduce the staffing budget by 2% and every year a typical primary school has an extra £20K to spend on technology, and a typical secondary school has an extra £100K annually!

This kind of change in staffing spend isn’t as hard as it looks, particularly once a school is using technology properly and is generating much higher personal responsibility for learning amongst the pupils. Lets look at a few concrete examples.

Primary schools use a lot of teaching assistants. And the research evidence says that they only have strong impact on learning when used in the right way. If a school has created a strong culture of pupils leading learning, what things that your teaching assistants currently do might be done by pupils, and add to their learning at the same time? Peer tutoring also comes out well in the research.

What scope do primary schools have for team teaching? And when team teaching, can one teacher and a teaching assistant be responsible for two classes, instead of two teachers? If so, then for that period of time the equivalent of probably an annual £10K is being saved by the school. I saw this approach operating many years ago in a secondary school, with 60 pupils in an ICT lesson together, taught by a teacher and an ICT teaching assistant. And the mix of teacher and assistant was actually better than having two teachers covering the classes, in terms of what help the pupils needed. Well structured work and the right attitude towards work amongst the pupils gets the work done without the teacher always having to be breathing down the necks of the pupils. In schools where pupils take this level of responsibility teachers can spend much more of their time focusing on raising outcomes.

As to secondary, Selly Park School implemented integrated learning systems in the 1990s, think tablets now. The teachers demanded the approach was extended because it worked so well, teaching half the group while the other half worked independently and then swopping over half way through the lesson. “Half the time with half the class is better than all the time with all the class” became the watchword. But for the Head, class size went from 25 to 30. Teachers saw the effective group size drop from 25 to 15, but for the school effectively 20% of the staffing budget for those English and Maths classes was freed up to fund the technology.

Streetly Academy has completely done away with supply teachers to cover teacher illness. They have created a room containing 90 computers, into which any class without a teacher are directed. Work is often set remotely by their teacher using their Frog platform, which the pupils then work on online. A single teacher or sometimes just the senior leader on duty supervises up to three classes. The school is saving £80K a year on supply teacher costs, which in one year has paid for the technology.

This is possible. You can re-balance teaching and learning, getting significantly more learning for just a little bit less teacher time. And have more fulfilled teachers and pupils working more effectively. There are only two things you need to do – think outside the box and create the pupil engagement and attitudes that make new approaches possible.

This is what 3rd millennium learning is all about. And as we now have so many schools with the 3rd Millennium Learning Award showing us how to develop this much higher engagement, there is no reason why your school can’t do this too. Developing a whole-school culture of pupil engagement with learning can make what may seem impossible to you now quite easily achievable.

Roger Broadie.