Tell us about your background in education.
I often describe myself as a man of two hats. I’ve spent the last 30 years developing and leading an EdTech organisation, providing innovative solutions for schools in over 120 countries around the world. In parallel, I have almost two decades of experience in school governance, from being chair of a number of multi-academy trusts and individual academies to alternative provision academies. Alongside that, I have a role on the Regional Schools Commissioners Advisory Board for the East of England and North London, as well as being the independent chair of our region’s Special Educational Needs and Disabilities board.
Tell us about your MAT.
Currently, I am the chair of Hampton Academy Trust in Peterborough and, alongside that, I am also the chair of the Richard Barnes Alternative Provision Academy, also in Peterborough. Hampton Academy Trust is a Trust containing a mixture of schools including infants, primary, secondary – all-through provision.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced when developing a digital strategy?
In reality, the first part is bringing together all of the key stakeholders from the school and recognising that a digital strategy is something that needs to be – at some point – a priority. In that regard, 2020 proved the useful catalyst for everybody to recognise the role that technology could play, when appropriate, within teaching and learning. The most important aspect is making sure that it’s co-produced and ensuring that we are finding effective ways to measure the impact of all the things that we do .
What issues are particularly impacting on pupils and teachers using EdTech across schools at present?
Number one, top of the list, is confidence. From staff having the confidence in the tools they use via continuous and professional development, to students having confidence to access the systems that we adopt as part of our teaching and learning. In parallel, making sure that we have sufficient time and effort to focus on digital citizenship skills, so that our learners are informed, are able to challenge the available information, and kept safe online.
What particularly interested you about the BESA LearnED Roadshow programme?
I’m Chair of the BESA EdTech Special Interest Group, so anything involving EdTech in the UK is something that I have an automatic interest in. Why the LearnED Roadshow programme? It’s because I think the best way that vendors and educators can learn about the effective use of technology is to have time to meet, share ideas, challenge and question. To summarise, to me, it’s the perfect place to both share and learn in equal measures.
How have you seen the use of EdTech evolve over the last two years?
It’s been a seismic change. From EdTech being a feature and something we should really find time to get more interested and involved in, to it becoming a foundation that we rely on. Areas include remote and blended learning, online safety, data management, personalised learning and AI solutions, to name but a few. Most importantly of all, EdTech has become part of the natural conversation and is now seen as something that is simply part of the day-to-day life of our schools.
How has the use of EdTech impacted on attainment in your MAT?
It’s had a significant impact. However, I question the word ‘attainment’ in this sentence because I believe when we look at the impact of EdTech, we need to use a wider lens. Not only do we need to look at the positive impact on teaching and learning, but also look at the broader strategic benefits including the time saving, wellbeing and support of our more vulnerable learners, improvements in our connectivity and communication with parents and the broader community – and wrap around the recognition that, actually, efficiencies in the way that we operate the whole trust can provide both time and cost savings that can be better utilised in the business of the classroom practice.
What has been the biggest lesson you have learned from using EdTech to enhance curriculum delivery?
Absolutely, number one is, whatever you plan to spend on technology and implement, make sure you take at least an equal provision for delivering effective and ongoing CPD, so that the tools you use are actually in the position where they can have the most positive impact. Alongside that, our lesson would be ‘less is more.’ Pick key tools that will flex with the technology and platforms used in your school, embed them, measure impact, and build confidence before you add layer after layer of technology in your setting.
What advice would you give to a school or MAT looking to develop their use of EdTech to reduce teacher workload?
Number one on the list would be to speak to the teachers. All the teachers’ voices are relevant and can identify where the pinch points are for them. Then number two, look at solutions where you can source evidence, whether that’s case studies with schools, white papers (supporting research/evidence around its functionality , other sites and schools using the technology, so that you can make sure your decision is informed both by the narrative from the vendor and the background evidence from other schools who are utilising the technology. Don’t be afraid to ask for an evaluation or an extended evaluation, and make sure you are happy that what you’re adding will provide more time savings than complexity for your already overworked teachers.
Al is author of ‘My Secret #EdTech Diary‘, published by John Catt publishers in July 2021 and the upcoming ‘My School Governance Handbook‘, also by John Catt publishers, due Autumn 2022. You can follow Al on Twitter at @AlKingsley_edu.
If you’re a teacher or SLT with a particular focus on digital strategy, EdTech and ICT, and haven’t already registered for your nearest LearnEd Roadshow, book your free ticket now at LearnED.org.uk.
Watch Al answer our questions, below.