Victoria Gustavsson recently attended BETT, the hottest 3 days of the edtech calendar that brings together over 30,000 educators, technologists and policymakers (and the odd investor…). Victoria and Rory Nath discuss some of the key trends that came out of the conference:
1. Access is key
As schools increasingly put technology at the heart of the education process, it’s clear that equal access for students is everything. If you were to consider Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, access to a device (i.e. Chromebook, laptop or tablet) and Wi-Fi would be first tier. The provision of devices and connectivity in schools remains the backbone of the ed-tech ecosystem.
The UK Government is focussed on supporting improvements in connectivity, but there is little in the way of guidance for how to successfully marry this up with device strategy. The two need to go hand in hand. This leaves space for private companies to be strategic partners to schools and MATs, providing the know-how and operational support to take the pain away from digitising the classroom. Then schools can focus on what they’re good at – getting teachers the content and CPD support they need to shift to more digital-first pedagogical approaches.
Covid highlighted the consequences of uneven access to technology, both on a regional basis and within individual schools. The risk of attainment gaps widening has never been so acute. Schools responded admirably to the immediate pressures with the help of Government funded laptops to plug short-term access gaps. But looking forward we will need a more structured approach to device provision to ensure every child benefits equally from an increasingly digital education.
2. Cyber security
Unsurprisingly cybersecurity was front of mind for the BETT audience. Three quarters of schools experienced at least one cyber incident in the last year according to a national security audit, with 7% reporting significant disruption as a result.
This is especially important due to sensitive data such as behavioural records and health records. Teachers, back office staff and students need to have safe and secure access to devices and software. In education settings this is easier said than done; how do you run two-factor authentication when you have a no phones in school policy?
Cyber Essentials certification is now a requirement for schools to receive ESFA funding, so there are a number of providers supporting schools to work towards that certification and helps to protect schools’ systems, data and networks.
There are also cybersecurity platforms, such as Secure Schools who we met at BETT. Its platform is specifically designed for schools and academy trusts, helping provide tools and training, phishing simulators and a cyber security incident management plan. This helps upskill users internally but also helps to minimise disruption caused by incidents.
The other area where you can expect to see growth as this becomes a bigger focus is privacy by design within tools and software. This means embedding privacy in all data-processing activities at the outset, so data is protected throughout its lifecycle, from collection to deletion, for example through clear user consent.
3. Mental health and wellbeing
Yet again, mental health and wellbeing were top of the agenda at BETT. Sadly, the number of mental health concerns being identified in school continues to trend upward, with anxiety currently the number one issue facing students. Student-run Nightline saw a 51% increase in calls in 2020-21 and that grew an estimated 30% for 2021-22. Alongside underlying long-term drivers such as the use of social media, there are shorter-term catalysts, such as the cost-of-living crisis, and the knock-on effects of the shock of Covid and adapting to remote learning.
As readers who follow us will know, our former investment CPOMS is at the forefront of helping schools to address these concerns. Schools log on to CPOMS every day to record observations on welfare and build a holistic picture of student wellbeing. We are delighted to see that business continues to go from strength to strength after our successful exit.
Looking forwards as school life becomes increasingly digital, student wellbeing is as important as cyber security when schools are considering their online exposures. Safeguarding will need to be effectively integrated across school systems and devices. Only then can teachers build the picture they need across offline behaviour, online behaviour, attendance and attainment to spot concerning patterns and get students with mental health challenges the support they need before those challenges escalate.
We always love to meet ambitious ed-tech businesses, so please do get in touch.