Why digitally transforming schools should be a priority

It's no secret that schools are facing unprecedented pressures in the face of the coronavirus outbreak. Every kind of organisation has been impacted; each one battling its own individual set of problems. But for headteachers in England, those problems are exacerbated further by the responsibility they hold for millions of children and parents.

By Simon Carter, Marketing and Propositions Director, RM Education
In one fell swoop, schools were forced to close “until further notice”, GCSE and A Level exams cancelled, and schools were told to continue to care for vulnerable children and children of keyworkers – even through school holidays. Headteachers quickly went from running an ordinary school, to a (primarily) virtual one.
While there have been calls to provide digital devices to households where children cannot get online, the most significant challenge is still the one facing headteachers themselves: how can they evolve quickly and effectively to protect against further disruption?
A clear IT strategy is key
Schools should be a constant for all children – whatever their circumstances. If this lockdown period has proved anything, it’s that schools provide much more than just education for their pupils; they provide a place of safety, a place to socialise and a place to grow. In order to protect and maintain this school environment in difficult circumstances, technology will become more than just a novelty, but a necessity.
To implement it properly, however, requires a robust and well thought out IT strategy. All too often technology is implemented for its own sake, with no clear understanding of the specific objectives it is expected to deliver. The right technology foundations need to be in place from the very start in order to give teachers and staff the confidence they need to make the most of the digital tools on offer.
To do this, it’s important to involve the people within your school who are responsible for IT from the very beginning of your digital transformation journey, to determine what solutions are needed and they can be used to achieve the right teaching and learning objectives in our school.


Investing in new applications
If the past weeks have taught us anything, it is that in today’s digital age there’s no question that school resources need to be available online and teachers and pupils need to be able to access them from home.
Migrating systems and documents to the cloud is the first step here, so that pupils and teachers can access the learning resources they need as easily at home as they could in their school. Investing in appropriate and up-to-date hardware is also important as well as enabling access to emails for staff that need it outside of the school day (for example on their smartphone) could be the difference between a mediocre and brilliant school digital transformation.
Next on the list for school IT teams is probably to start thinking about whether the learning applications used in the classroom operate in a mobile form and reconfiguring workflows if necessary. Productivity – particularly among young teachers and young adults in secondary school – is likely to be highest where they feel most comfortable with the technology and applications they are using.
Digital training for staff
Having reliable hardware and software is only part of the journey. Educating teachers and staff about how to use the technology is just as important in the digital transformation of your school. While crafting a seamless virtual learning environment is all well and good, it’s ultimately a wasted investment if nobody knows quite how to use it.
Earlier this year, RM Education research revealed that only a quarter (27%) of teachers were confident using the technology provided by their school. More recently, C3 Education undertook research after most schools had closed that suggested that barely a fifth of teachers were coping with learning from home and almost half of pupils were struggling.
But in times like these, teachers’ understanding of technology could make all the difference in the continued education of children around the country. All staff need to know how to get the most out of virtual learning systems – especially as the need for distance teaching increases.
When planned for and delivered properly, virtual learning can be as diverse and engaging as face-to-face teaching, so it’s crucial that your staff know what technology is on offer and how it can benefit their lessons.

An opportunity for growth
This lockdown signals a changing tide for schools – one that should be a positive (albeit steep for some) learning curve in the long run. We already know young people are increasingly comfortable with learning on demand – just look at how university education has evolved – and that learners respond better if they are empowered to take charge of their own learning. By making changes sooner rather than later, schools can future proof their offering and enable students to learn flexibly and safely, no matter where they are.