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Last month the government unveiled more digital guidance for schools that included the importance of having a long-term strategy for technology use.
At Leigh Academies Trust (LAT) this is something we have been working towards for many years as part of our focus on edtech, including the rollout of 17,000 Chromebooks to pupils during the pandemic in 2020.
This was a key milestone in our plan to implement a digital strategy, based on a three-year road map, to help bring uniformity to technology use across our schools.
Creating a digital strategy for our schools
This work started pre-pandemic and began by first understanding where each school was with regard to its use of technology, set against a five-point “Digital Levels” scale:
- Level 1 – no tech
- Level 2 – low tech
- Level 3 – variable tech
- Level 4 – embedded tech
- Level 5 – innovative tech
To help us understand where each school is currently we provide an annual survey to staff and pupils, so they give feedback on technology use in a number of areas.
We then analyse the data according to different groups – teachers, learning support assistants, support staff and pupils – to understand their perceptions of technology use, including around digital citizenship and the use of digital tools.
We also look at other data sources and combine these with academy visits and reviews as ways of identifying successes and areas for improvement.
For example, trust curriculum advisers and academies directors provide regular feedback to academies on the quality of education, including how technology is being used to support pedagogy and improve outcomes for pupils.
Integrating digital tools
With this information we can then measure how academies are moving towards the wider trust digital strategy. It was key to organise the one-to-one device rollout first, so that we now have a level playing field for pupils’ access to technology.
To help with this device use, we have also developed a “digital toolkit” that outlines the digital resources, software and apps used to support the curriculum we deliver.
This is important: we do not want digital to be seen as something standalone but rather integrated with teaching and learning to enhance existing practices and create new opportunities. This is why all LAT educational policies and curricula include appropriate and effective use of digital technologies.
The digital classroom
For example, every physical classroom has a corresponding “digital classroom” that is used effectively for communication, collaboration and accessing resources.
All homework is assigned digitally with provision being made for any pupils for whom off-site digital access is not possible. Teachers can also use digital tools to provide additional support to students and families – especially the most disadvantaged – following best practice guidelines.
Digital technologies are embedded into teaching and learning to include assessment and feedback, collaboration, accessibility and knowledge development. In addition, careers education is enhanced through the use of online services.
Finally, we want to develop a community of good digital citizens who understand the risks and benefits of being online and how to keep themselves and others safe. As such, digital citizenship, online safety and academic integrity are all key to our digital strategy, too.
A three-year plan
We recognise that this is a major body of work that cannot be done overnight, so we have developed a three-year road map for all academies to help reach this goal.
Year 1 requires academies to give access to a device and the digital classroom to all staff and pupils.
They can then begin adopting the digital toolkit and provide training for staff. All staff work towards baseline accreditation in the use of the Leigh digital environment and access wider training through our online professional development platform.
Each academy will also appoint its own digital leadership team that joins a wider community of digital leaders across LAT. The goal is to achieve at least Digital Level 3.5 over the first 12 months.
In year 2 all revised educational policies and practices should have digital technology woven throughout. All homework should be assigned digitally, and digital citizenship should be increasingly embedded throughout the curriculum, with the academy working towards national online safety accreditation.
Academies should start using digital platforms to inform the careers programme. In addition, the use of accessibility tools should enhance inclusion, making it easier for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and English as an additional language (EAL) to access the full curriculum.
In addition, staff should be noticing a reduction in their workload as more efficient digital methods become integrated across the academy.
We cannot ignore the reality of technology
Year 3 is about embedding all of the work implemented over the first two years so that strategies become more consistent. By the end of this year, all academies should have achieved the minimum goal of a Digital Level 4.
Finally, we recognise that for new staff joining at any point during this road map they may require help to get up to speed with this project, so we are now providing digital awareness and skills training as part of induction to help with this.
We know all of this is a huge piece of work, but it is one that staff, students and parents have fully embraced. There is a recognition across the trust that we cannot ignore the impact that technology will have on education and the future lives of our pupils.
Simon Beamish is chief executive of Leigh Academies Trust