Dive into the data and it’s clear that technology is perceived most favourably as a way of saving money: 79% of respondents thought that technology could lead to cost savings within their trust. The largest MATs like Ark and Harris claim seven figure savings from switching MIS, and even primary-only MATs can eke out chunky six figure sums: for example, the Bath and Wells Multi Academy Trust (a 30 school trust) have achieved a £180,000 cost reduction over three years by changing their Management Information System (MIS) to ScholarPack. Indeed, I’ve written previously for Schools Week about how trusts are becoming attractive to suppliers as cost-effective commissioning entities:
“Suppliers are waking up to the fact that a central contract with one commissioning body for 10 schools is far more cost-effective than 10 contracts with 10 individual schools.”
Trust leaders are becoming wise to this too – if a trust CEO demands a discount, few vendors will be able to refuse. In the MIS market at least, trusts are also by far the most active system switchers.
At the other end of the spectrum, the greatest scepticism relates to technology as a means to increase pupil outcomes. Only 53% of respondents saw a role for technology in this area, which is somewhat surprising given that just about every trust in the country uses technology somehow. Whether it’s the assessment tracker, learning platform, online curriculum, or the humble interactive whiteboard, schools are stuffed with technology that claims to help with students’ outcomes. So what’s going wrong?
My view is that the sector needs to be better at quantifying and proving efficacy if it wants schools to buy on this basis. Right now the gold standard is an Education Endowment Foundation trial, but they’re expensive to run and perceived as reputationally risky, so there have only been a small number to date. More recently, startups like Edtech Impact are playing their part by crowdsourcing product reviews focusing on the outcomes seen and reported by real schools. Still, for approaches of this kind to take off, vendors have to be willing to engage – and trusts can play a role by asking about efficacy measurement as part of the purchasing process.
Of course, saying technology can improve a trust is not the same as declaring that these benefits are already being realised. At Assembly (part of Community Brands UK), we sell analytics software for trusts, helping them to derive insight from from multiple systems and sources. Smarter analytics has the potential to impact positively all of the areas polled in this survey, and is surely one of the things that will be on the mind of trust leaders when devising a technology strategy, but right now we estimate that barely one fifth of trusts are actually using automated analytics software.
Ultimately then, this survey reinforces the view that the role of technology is growing, and that trust leaders are beginning to recognise its benefits across a range of important areas. However, we should not rush to assume that the potential of technology is close to being reached by many trusts, and there is certainly work to be done to persuade leaders of how they can put it to better use to help reduce staff workload, stay compliant and deliver better outcomes for pupils.