By James Miller
6 January, 2021
James Miller, National Director for Estates and Technology, shares some insight into ICT, how it sits at the heart of the Trust and how it has become ever more important since the pandemic took hold of our educational landscape…
Over the past 12 months, we’ve all learnt that ICT has become more critical than ever to learning. As children and adults alike have got to grips with remote working, teaching and learning, at OAT we’ve put ICT at the heart of the work we do, thereby ensuring we continue to provide high-quality education no matter what.
In light of the latest lockdown and move to remote learning, we’re upholding our commitment to ICT resources that are flexible, appropriate and accessible, with safeguarding and security at the centre. We also want to continue to invest in and develop our systems, so that they are as helpful as possible to our pupils.
Across the Trust, working alongside specialised support from expert organisations, the use of ICT will primarily seek to enhance and extend opportunities for learning and development to provide our staff and pupils with the social and practical skills for a rapidly changing world both in and beyond school. Our updated strategy will focus on the following six key themes:
These themes reflect the needs and requirement within our network of schools to build on the work already completed, improve communication, collaboration and sharing of knowledge between schools, using a safe, fast and reliable computer network.
Alongside these new themes that will help to guide our work, in order to support our schools more effectively and efficiently, the team at head office are providing more resource. Over the next few months, there will be two regional ICT managers in post, that will work closely with the regional estates’ managers and the heads of academy finance. The regional team will work closely together to better support our schools with financing, resourcing and delivery of projects.
Meanwhile, we are looking towards the opportunities being presented in sector, to ensure we are taking advantage of these and placing OAT at the forefront of ICT in education. This includes things like moving to common cloud systems in order to reduce the amount of hardware at each school and further developing the sharing of resources between academies.
Our vision is that each academy will have a broadband connection that provides high levels of connection not only with the internet but with each academy. This will help to improve video conferencing quality, as well as the sharing of data within the network of academies.
Addressing the digital divide
When our academies were closed in 2020 and now again in 2021, schools did and are doing everything they can to ensure every pupil can access remote education in some form. Our schools use a variety of learning platforms to deliver lessons, including Microsoft Teams, Google Classroom, Google Meet and Zoom. Covid-19 has made us think about what the best systems are, and how we can respond and be flexible during these times. Over time, we want to look at which learning platform is the most effective and implement its usage across OAT.
However, across the UK this pandemic has brought the digital divide into sharp focus, and the disruptions caused by Covid-19 have highlighted that lots of students do not have access to the equipment they need for remote learning.
In the spring the government launched an initiative for schools to provide devices and online access, to help children and families most in need to access remote education during Covid-19. Devices have been made available for some students who have been particularly affected by the disruption of face-to-face education at their school.
Along with the support from government, it is OAT’s intention to bridge the digital divide by ensuring that all students have access to an internet enabled computer device at home suitable for completing schoolwork (i.e. laptop, tablet or similar with a screen and a keyboard). Since July, we have successfully secured Department for Education funded devices which have been deployed to schools and students who need them most, which has helped to bridge the gap.
Although this pandemic has highlighted digital disparities and issues, exposing these problems has also given the opportunity to fix and improve them, making sure that technology can be a useful tool for everyone, including those in education. We have all learnt a great deal over the past 12 months, and this is something we at OAT are more determined to continue to build on into 2021.