Speech

Nicky Morgan speaks at the 2015 BETT show

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Secretary of State for Education speaks about the future of technology in the classroom at the BETT show.

The Rt Hon Nicky Morgan

Good morning ladies and gents, and thank you very much for that kind introduction.

And thank you all for choosing to listen to me when all around us there are so many exciting and eye-catching attractions that might justifiably have received your attention instead.

Already this morning I have seen some remarkable things, like Groupcall, whose new app promises to revolutionise the way schools engage with parents.

Over at Google’s stand - I saw the new teaching resource that Liz Sproat will talk to you about shortly. And perhaps the most remarkable thing of all has been Sir Bob Geldof acting as my warm-up man.

I never thought I would see the day that happened, but it’s great to be able to share a platform with such a keen advocate for education and its power to change the world.

So coming here today has already been eye-opening and inspiring - and I look forward to learning and experiencing even more before the end of the morning.

It’s a privilege to be able to speak to you and a great honour for this city and this country to host this fantastic conference.

For more than 30 years, BETT has been pushing the boundaries of technology. It has been the breeding ground for new ideas and technologies, and for the collaborations and partnerships that have nurtured them.

It has played host to some of the leading figures in learning technology, not just from the UK but around the world.

And though we may not see the fruits for a few years yet, I know that here this week the educational technologies of the future are slowly coming to life.

There has never been a more exciting time to think about the way in which emerging technologies can transform the world of education.

This government has spent much of the past 5 years putting the foundations of a good education in place. When we came to office, England was falling behind the rest of the world.

Our results were stagnating in international league tables while the rest of the world moved on. Qualifications had been dumbed down; businesses struggled to find employees with the right skills; our schools and our education sector were in desperate need of reform.

So we have spent the past few years putting the foundations in place. Helping every child to master the basics. Putting the focus back on the core academic subjects every child needs to succeed.

Driving up standards and restoring faith in our qualifications so that every child has the chance to fulfil their potential.

In some ways, this has meant a focus on what might be considered fairly traditional things - discipline, standards, rigour.

Yet it has been allied to a truly creative and innovative reform agenda that has broken up the closed-shop schools system of the past.

The dramatic expansion of the academies programme; the introduction of new free schools, established and led by parents, teachers and governors; the creation of university technical colleges and studio schools.

This dramatic shift of power from the old educational establishment to a new coalition of pupils, parents and teachers has transformed the education sector in this country.

But it has only been possible because we have been brave enough to think the previously unthinkable.

To break the mould.

To not only see things as they are and ask why, but to dream things that never were and ask why not.

It hasn’t been easy.

But we have shown that with determination, creative thinking and a clear vision it is possible to win the day.

Now, with those foundations laid, we need that same determination; that same pioneering spirit; and that same clarity of vision to embrace and shape the next stage of our reform programme.

I am convinced - and more convinced having been here this morning - that innovative technologies must be at the heart of this.

British businesses are leading the world in education technology, but I sometimes fear that the fruits of that success are not yet being shared by every school in the country.

In part this is a failing of infrastructure.

According to last year’s annual survey by the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA), 65% of primary schools and 54% of secondary schools don’t have access to a good wi-fi connection. A significant number reported that their broadband provision was poor.

This is something we need to address. And I’m pleased to say we’re doing so.

Investing in the nation’s infrastructure is a key part of our long-term economic plan, and as part of this we are investing £1.7 billion to bring superfast broadband to over 95% of the UK by 2017.

BESA also found that while the number of computers and tablets in schools is at a record high, a significant proportion of teachers say they need better training to use them effectively.

This is a real challenge.

The pace of change today is such - the advance of technology so rapid - that it is genuinely difficult for generations like mine to keep up.

Even the more switched on among us might struggle to adapt to a world that changes so quickly; a world in which even the language of digital natives, digital settlers and digital immigrants seems somewhat redundant.

When Marc Prensky wrote his seminal piece at the turn of the century, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and even YouTube were still unimaginable. Even the earlier social media sites such as MySpace were not even in their infancy. Mark Zuckerberg was just 17.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that teachers and school leaders sometimes struggle to keep up.

The government’s new, world-leading computing curriculum came into force last year and already more than 4 million primary school children are benefiting from it.

But I realise that this has added pressure to teachers and schools who fear they may not have the skills to deliver it effectively.

Recent research by Computing At School and Microsoft found that more than half of 9- to 16-year-olds think they know more about computing than their teachers.

Even as I’m speaking now, a teenager somewhere is probably inventing the next big thing. The next Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat. The next ‘must-have’ app.

So it’s important that our teachers and school leaders should be given every opportunity to stay on top of change.

We have already done a huge amount to address this problem. We have funded computing at school to develop resources to help primary teachers with their first lessons and these are supported by over 900 workshops around the country.

All teachers can now access support from a local computing master teacher who can provide training and advice about all aspects of the new curriculum that we introduced last year.

We have increased bursaries for those wanting to become computing teachers, and introduced computing teacher training scholarships of £25,000 to encourage more of the very best graduates to become teachers.

Those scholarships are backed by some of the biggest names in the tech sector, and this partnership is absolutely vital.

It’s why I am delighted to be able to announce today a further partnership today, with some of our leading technology firms like O2, Google, BT, IBM and HP collaborating with some of our best universities to train the next generation of computing teachers.

Some of our top technology experts from these firms will be going into schools to train primary school teachers. New online resources will be made available to help them to learn.

The Department for Education has agreed to match fund all of the projects as part of our commitment to invest £3.5 million to support schools with the new computing curriculum, and I know that this is money that will be very well spent.

Our new computing curriculum has already attracted interest from countries around the world including South Korea, the Netherlands and Singapore, and the backing it has received from major tech companies will help to ensure that even more young people are able to leave school truly prepared for life in modern Britain.

The next stage for us is to raise our sights still further.

A year ago, my predecessor was one of 3 ministers responsible for establishing the Education and Technology Action Group to investigate how digital technology might empower teachers and learners in new and exciting ways.

I would like to thank the chair Professor Stephen Heppell, the members of the group who have given their time, and all those who responded to the call for evidence last year.

I look forward to studying the group’s report, which will be published today. But as I do so, I will be looking for ideas in a number of areas where I think technology can transform the educational landscape.

The first is accountability.

We need to reform the way schools are held to account. We have an analogue system in a digital age. League tables are important and an Ofsted report will always be an essential part of the service, but there is much more we can do.

As we inject further choice and competition to the school system, parents and students will rightly demand more information from us so that they can exercise that choice effectively.

We need to consider how the era of ‘big data’ can help to provide it.

Already we have begun to produce destination data on school leavers to identify where they end up. We aim to include them in league tables by 2017.

In future, we could try to link qualifications to tax data too in order to demonstrate the true worth of certain subjects.

How can we continue to improve our use of the National Pupil Database and bring it into the accountability framework? The database is already one of the richest datasets in the world. It is already used extensively to evaluate individual school performance. How can it be mined further to bring this information to life for parents and students, helping them to make better decisions?

The second area I would like to look at is assessment and reporting.

John Hattie’s work in New Zealand demonstrates what is possible. By using technology to administer regular standardised tests, he has transformed the way children learn and the way parents are able to monitor their child’s progress.

New York City’s School of One does much the same thing. It provides real-time feedback to parents through pupil-specific algorithms for maths. Each day the parent can see areas for improvement and track day-to-day progress.

This is vital. One of the major concerns that busy parents raise with me is the challenge of staying on top of what’s going on in their child’s school.

If we can find a way for all schools to use technology to improve the flow of information - ensuring the information parents need is there when and where they need it - this will help to ease some of this pressure.

I know Google are doing a lot of work in this area, as are the National Foundation for Educational Research.

And so are individual schools. Stone Soup Academy for example, an alternative provision free school in Nottingham, uses an innovative online tracking system, where pupils can see data visualisations of their performance as they go along.

Or Reach Academy in Hertfordshire that uses Google apps to allow teachers to create and organise homework and class assignments online, provide feedback, and communicate easily with their students.

Finally, I believe technology can play a critical role in helping to deliver one of my major priorities: reducing teacher workload.

My recent ‘workload challenge’ initiative - which received more than 44,000 responses from teachers across the country - identified a number of key drivers of teacher workload.

Two of the most prominent were planning and marking, and there is so much that technology can do to streamline the processes here.

On my regular tours of schools across the country, teachers have shown me apps which can scan and mark almost instantly - saving hours of work.

Quick Key, for example, is a scanning app for mobile phones that allows a teacher to scan a whole class set of answers in about a minute. Letting them pinpoint exactly how well the class are doing, freeing them up to spend more time delivering lessons in the first place.

Those lessons need to be planned. But technology can help here too.

Increasingly, curation can help to reduce duplication in the system and help to spread good practice from school to school.

Just the other day, the Stephen Perse Foundation, a leading private school in Cambridge, announced they were making 12 multimedia textbooks available online for all to use. And of course the world’s largest online collection of free education content is already available on Apple’s iTunes U platform.

But it doesn’t take a tech giant or private school to make this happen.

The other day I visited William Edwards School in Thurrock, an outstanding school doing great things for its pupils. And not just its own children, but those from around the world too. Because teachers at the school have designed a lesson planning app that has been downloaded around 10,000 times in 35 different countries across the globe, as far afield as Venezuela. It’s a remarkable success.

I’m absolutely not saying that technology can be a panacea. There are many other drivers of workload and I will be announcing a full response to the ‘workload challenge’ shortly, but there must surely be a role for technology.

There is so much more we might do. I have not had time to explore the role technology might play in changing how children learn in the classroom, though Liz Sproat from Google will do so shortly.

But we are fortunate in this country to have some of the best teachers, best schools and best educational technology companies in the world. And I am keen to ensure we do more in our own schools to harness the power and potential of ed tech.

To do so, we must show the same creativity of spirit, the same vision and the same enthusiasm that we have had in reforming our school system in this parliament.

Those changes have dragged our education system from the twentieth to the twenty-first century, but we cannot let things rest there. We must always strive for more.

We must be prepared to innovate, to break the mould, prepared to change.

Prepared - as the playwright wrote - not just to see things as they are and ask why, but to dream things that never were and ask why not.

As I look around this forum today, I see people who spend each day asking that question. ‘Why not?’

The crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently.

And I know that as the famous quote goes on to note:

The one thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

I hope you find the inspiration right here this week to keep changing the world of education.

Thank you very much for listening.

Published 21 January 2015