Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has said the Government is ready to spend £150 million to give every school in England access to a high speed broadband connection by 2025.
He highlighted the pledge in a speech to the BETT conference, along with a desire to see more schools using cloud based data systems and a plan to explore the potential of digital assessment.
Zahawi said the plans should contribute to the creation of an ecosystem in which the use of good digital tools can spread quickly between schools and colleges, and in which data can be shared easily and securely.
He emphasised the importance of every school having a decent broadband connection, saying the Department for Education (DfE) will make this a priority.
“My department will work with DCMS (Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) and with our broadband providers to enable every school to have access to a high speed connection by 2025,” he said.
“We are going to set clear standards so that schools know technology they should have in place and we will provide support to help meet these standards for schools that need it.
“We will build on the success of our Connect the Classroom programme and invest a further £150 million to upgrade schools that are struggling to reach the minimum Wi-Fi standards.”
He said the first standards are being published and that as part of this the DfE is issuing help on how schools can protect themselves from cyber crime.
Data systems upgrade
This will be accompanied by an effort to modernise data systems, in which he said schools should be looking to make more use of cloud systems linked together to support decision making.
Zahawi also said the DfE is keen to work with education regulator Ofqual and the Standards and Testing Agency to explore the potential of digital assessment.
“Other countries have been experimenting in this area and it’s possible we can learn from what they are doing,” he said.
“We have already made some progress in our primary assessments with our multiplication tables check and I have asked the STA to continue this work.
“We have also made progress in vocational and technical qualifications.
“It’s possible that more digital assessment could bring significant benefits to students, teachers and schools and I want to start carefully considering the potential opportunities in this area.”
Better use of tech
He also expressed a desire for schools to adopt an evidence based use of technology – including assistive tech – to support learning.
“I am not going to wade in and start telling schools which bits of kit to use or when,” he said. “Nor will you see my department suddenly start buying edtech companies or interfering in the marketplace.
“My role is to make sure schools get the guidance and information they need to make informed decisions for the benefit of all their pupils and staff.
“So I would like to challenge the edtech providers… to build that evidence base … What is the impact of your product on learning outcomes? And then to share it openly.”
In addition, he said the Government will provide £84 million to support the National Centre for Computing Education to keep teachers’ knowledge of science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills up to speed, and that it will offer scholarships of up to £26,000 for people to become STEM teachers.