Phillip Hedger, CEO of LEO Academy Trust
At BETT (the British Educational Training and Technology show) this year, there was a real focus on the difference impactful use of technology can have on our students’ futures. The message was clear: impactful use of technology can help save teachers time – time that can be redirected back into the classroom; and it is in the classroom where investment in technology needs to have the biggest impact.
As we know, the world of work is changing, and it is because of this that our students need a new set of skills to thrive in the 21st Century. Technology for learning therefore can no longer simply be about the adoption of technology, but instead, about thoughtful absorption. Digital literacy cannot be approached as an ‘add-on’ or an afterthought within the curriculum. It must become a part of a school’s DNA, and an integral part of its daily culture. Research identifies world class companies as being ‘digitally savvy’ because they absorb IT. This is what our schools should now be striving for.
Digital literacy cannot approached as an ‘add-on’ or an afterthought within the curriculum. It must become a part of a school’s DNA…
During BETT, I was fortunate enough to attend events led by executive leaders from Google for Education, LEGO, London Grid for Learning and Adobe. Here are my reflections, which I thought it would be helpful to share with others across the system.
Google for Education
At the Google for Education session, I joined executive leaders from across Europe and the Middle East as part of ‘Anywhere School 2020’.
Encouraged to think as Generation Z do, we became ethical activists, global citizens concerned about sustainability, and entrepreneurs focused on financial literacy, all through immersive experiences. We had to work flexibly, consider how and why we communicate, develop creative responses to the challenges we faced, and were fascinated to explore automation and the world of AI. (If you haven’t come across Google’s Teachable Machine, do take a look. It provides a fast, easy way for students to create and explore machine learning models.)
At the Anywhere School, students apply core skills to everyday tasks with foundational literacies such as numeracy, literacy and science still high on the agenda. However, alongside these, we saw digital skills, financial literacy, cultural capital, and civic responsibility take centre stage. During our Anywhere School experience, every task came back to the four competencies of: critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration. Without these, along with the resilience to keep going in the face of adversity, the complex challenges we faced would have been impossible. (I mention resilience as Character Education was also a key aspect of life at the Anywhere School, and also because resilience is becoming an increasingly crucial skill in navigating the changing environment we all live and work in.)
A keynote from Esben Staerk, President of LEGO Education, developed this thinking further. Reflecting on the role of STEAM learning, Esben spoke with real clarity on the need to develop creative, collaborative and confident students who are ready to thrive in their chosen careers during an age of automation.
“The automation revolution will not be a one-time event. It will be a cascade of disruptions as AI improves. To stay relevant, humans will have to reinvent themselves over and over.” Yuval Noah Harari.
In the session with LEGO, it was clear that building knowledge is always going to be important. Our students will still need to understand STEM concepts, learn language rules, comprehend world history & geography, and read, comprehend, and write effectively.
However, developing complementary skills and knowledge will be crucial. What the World Economic Forum calls for is a ‘T-Shaped’ person; having a specialisation, complemented by knowledge and skills outside their area. These will include:
- Complex problem solving;
- Critical thinking;
- Collaboration and emotional intelligence;
The power of learning through play at school was also highlighted- and not just for EYFS- but for learners of all ages. Hands-on learners acquire knowledge through experience rather than abstraction, and this helps with better retention. Meaningful and joyful activities nurture curiosity, and stimulate creativity; and it has been proven that engaged, hands-on learners perform better across STEAM subjects.
London Grid for Learning and Adobe
Finally, sessions with London Grid for Learning, Adobe and the brilliant ICT Evangelist – Mark Anderson, focused specifically on the impact of technology for learning in the classroom.
As we know, technology has the potential to make everything different, but it also has the potential to do nothing; the difference between the two is you. We must avoid the trap of using technology as a gimmick, as this devalues the technology and what we are trying to achieve in the classroom. Instead, we must focus on three key questions:
- What are your priorities for teaching and learning?
- What outcomes do you need?
- How can the use of technology support and enhance learning and deliver better outcomes?
The development of a digital skills curriculum will become essential in the years ahead. Studies show that the strongest growth is expected in technological skills, including both basic digital skills and more advanced technological skills. Demand for higher cognitive skills, social skills, and emotional skills, is also expected to rise. These so called ‘softer skills’ are becoming the new hard skills desired in our workforce, as more traditional job roles such as data entry clerks, accounting clerks, assembly and factory workers, and customer service workers, continue to decline.
“Our students will need the confidence to become lifelong learners and adopt a growth mindset – open and resilient, and ready to take in new information and apply it.”
In their place, the top 10 emerging jobs this decade will include: data analysts, AI and machine learning specialists, software and application developers & analysts, and digital transformation specialists.
Our Response – LEO Academy Trust
At LEO Academy Trust, we have begun to address this changing landscape with a curriculum which prepares children for life through our five LEO Pupil Outcomes. They are:
- Active Citizens in a Global Community
LEO pupils are local, national & global citizens; they have a strong sense of identity and make positive contributions to their community.
- Self-Directed, Collaborative & Confident Learners
LEO pupils develop independence, confidence and character through sport, creativity, performance, volunteering & experiencing the world of work.
- Innovative Learners who pursue Excellence
LEO pupils innovate and maximise technology; their performance in Maths, English, Science and Computing exceeds their peers nationally.
- Healthy Learners who make small changes with a big impact
LEO pupils have the physical, emotional, and social literacy to overcome challenges.
- Leaders of today; life-long learners
LEO pupils develop leadership skills, life skills, cultural capital & financial literacy.
Reflecting on BETT, I believe that every Trust needs a clear Digital Strategy. This should be focused on areas such as: vision & strategy, systems & policy, and training- that puts teaching pedagogy first. This strategy should also include digital resources, a digital skills curriculum, a focus on online safety, and effective stakeholder communication.
It will be interesting to see how the Department for Education’s new EdTech Demonstrator Schools & Colleges Programme will help schools and trusts tackle the challenges which lie ahead.
Phillip Hedger has been the CEO of the LEO Academy Trust since its formation in June 2015. LEO Academy Trust is a trust of six primary schools in Sutton, which spans Nursery and the Primary education phase.