Learning platforms are going into English schools, but it does not look as if that will help most of them meet the Government's target, or its aims for online reporting for parents, according to new research by Besa (British Education Suppliers Association). And local authority leadership and staff development appear to be the key stumbling blocks.
“We discovered that the key reasons for schools’ failure to meet the targets are lack of guidance from local authorities, not enough training for teaching and support staff, and concerns over access for pupils without a computer and internet connection at home," says Besa director Ray Barker.
"The results did indicate that the majority of schools recognise the importance of the policy, but also that the challenges they face with regard to implementation will be difficult for them to overcome. These are not to do with the technology itself, but rather to do with organisational, communication and financial issues.”
The Government's intention is that learning platforms will improve communications for learners and teachers in and between schools, and for parents too. They are seen as the vehicle for the online reporting to parents which is a high priority. The Besa research involved schools using learning platforms and those which have not implemented them.
The Besa research, ‘School Learning Platform Review’, was conducted via questionnaires to questionnaires to deputy headteachers and ICT leaders in 794 primaries and 468 secondaries in England.
The percentage of primary teachers using learning platforms hasn't even reached the halfway mark, according to the reseach. Only 42 per cent of them currently use one, and 22 per cent of primary schools have no plans to buy one. Secondary schools are more engaged, with 67 per cent using a learning platform in 2009. A further 29 per cent that say they swill be using them by the end of this year. Only four per cent of secondary respondents to the BESA survey stated that they do not plan to make use of a learning platform in the future.
Secondary schools started rearlier with learning platforms
Explaining the data, Ray Barker says, “Significantly fewer primary schools are aware of the learning platform policy compared to secondary schools. Also, 36 per cent of primary school deputy head teachers feel that it is not important to have a learning platform by the 2010 deadline, compared to only five per cent of secondary school deputy heads. And 25 per cent of primary deputy heads and 11 per cent of secondary stated that while learning platforms are important, they are not likely to reach the target. This is easier to understand when you consider that secondary schools have been longer implementing this technology.”
Government expectations are that all secondary schools will provide online reporting for parents by 2010 and primary schools by 2012. Secondary schools are more likely to be on target but not even two fifths of primaries expect to be in "the top two levels on the DCSF online reporting scale" (secondaries 40 per cent).
However, the research does show "a significant year-on-year increase in the number of schools adopting the new technology". "In primary schools figures have doubled each year, growing from 6 per cent of schools before 2007 to 42 per cent in 2009, while in secondary 67 per cent of schools now use a learning platform, up from 16 per cent prior to 2007."
The good news is that schools using learning platforms are broadly satisfied with the investment. The responses showed up a disparity between the views of deputy heads and those of ICT leaders, with the former being far more positive and the latter more critical.
Around a fifth of the primaries in the survey were “very satisfied” while around a half indicated some satisfaction. But 5 per cent were “very dissatisfied”. The report says: “The results, once extrapolated to the market suggest that of all the state primary schools in England and Wales, around 1,800 are very satisfied with their learning platform, with a further 3,800 indicating some satisfaction. Only 450 schools are very dissatisfied with their learning platform implementation.
“Across secondary schools, experiences are generally less extreme, with fewer than 5 per cent of schools with a learning platform being very dissatisfied – equating to little more than 100 schools. However, a quarter of schools do suggest some dissatisfaction, with deputy head teachers slightly more likely to provide this response. The balance is towards satisfaction with their learning platform. Of the 2,400 secondary schools making use of a learning platform, 500 are very satisfied and a further 950 noted some satisfaction with their implemented learning platform.”
While around two thirds of schools were broadly happy with their learning platform suppliers, the remaining third appeared happy to switch allegiance.
The subject of educational content for use on learning platforms also brought interesting responses, with a clear majority seeing it as very important. Most respondents want content from a broad mix of suppliers, but publishers will be concerned that only 17 per cent of deputy heads and 9 per cent of their ICT leaders identified commercial (paid-for) publishers as their main source of content.
Like Besa's report on e-Portfolios back in 2007, Personalised Learning in Schools, the new School Learning Platform Review again indicates the difficulty in achieving the necessary changes in school culture and practice to bring about well-intended changes. This is what Ray Barker said then: “Many schools, and primary schools in particular, have still got considerable progress to make in their understanding, acceptance and implementation of the technologies that should underpin the personalised learning agenda. The Becta target for 80 per cent of schools to be e-confident by 2011 represents a considerable challenge in the light of where we are today." Besa's new report gives further food for thought.
Ray Barker gives his own take on the research in this article on the eGovmonitor website
School Learning Platform Review is available free of charge to BESA members. Others can purchase it directly through BESA. Special needs schools are not covered in the report.