The project had transformed an underperforming secondary school maths department in ten weeks using iPads. Myself and colleague had trained the teachers to use iPads for digital assessment, and by the end of our time with them, had reduced their marking cycle from two weeks to two days, increased student and teacher interactions by 300%, and improved independent working by 87%. At the end of the year, student GCSE progress was up by 25%. I received coverage for the work from as far away as Dubai, receiving numerous invitations to present on the education speaking circuit in the process. Yet, something didn’t feel right, and for me the achievement felt hollow. As the months went by I’d heard through the grapevine that the foundations laid for teachers in the maths department were slowly being dismantled in favour of returning to the old way of doing things. They were happy to have seen the improvements. However, once the project was finished, the school went back to its usual ways because it felt familiar. Worse still, they took the iPads out of the hands of teachers and made them a bookable resource for students to use, with the idea that this was ‘better’.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time I had seen this happen. I had been working to improve learning with technology in the UK education system for a number of years by then and, in that time, had worked with Apple and Google, and received accreditation by the Department for Education. Month after month, I would meet new schools that wanted to know how to use technology to enhance learning. Each time, I would offer my insight and guidance, only to find that few actually took it. Rather than looking to transform how teachers worked, school leaders wanted lesson ideas, apps to use and projects to run, all focused on the classroom. Despite my best efforts, they couldn’t accept that focusing on technology in this way was a false economy.
Schools wanted the wow factor that technology brought to the classroom, and were prepared to ignore just how little it affected student learning.
What is it, then, that schools really need to enhance teaching and learning? My experience in the education system, has led me to an exciting and inescapable conclusion. For a school to flourish, it must focus on developing the performance of its teachers day after day. Technology can accelerate the performance of teachers in new and inspiring ways and this is why it must be focused towards them first. Only then will teaching and learning improve.
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