Updated: September 2023

Technology is revolutionising almost every part of our world. The next generation’s lives will be profoundly changed by robotics, artificial intelligence and the use of huge data sets. And yet, the history of ed-tech is littered with expensive white elephants – cupboards full of abandoned equipment and a profession that has developed an entirely understandable cynicism as wave after wave of new fashion has swept through our schools.

It’s not that the profession is resistant to technology – you’ll barely find a teacher without a smartphone – so what are the options for encouraging enthusiastic, expert adoption?

  1. Begin with teachers’ concerns, not leaders’ enthusiasm. The majority of tech failures begin with a senior leader visiting a conference or school and feeling excited about the potential of a new piece of kit. Success is much more likely if teachers can identify ‘friction point’ in their professional lives – e.g. a concept that’s hard for pupils to visualise, a paper-based approach to reporting incidents that is very manual and slow, a difficulty sharing resources with colleagues in another school.
  2. Raise expectations. It’s not enough for teachers to be able to identify a problem, they also need to be clear that there’s a solution out there that makes it all better. Arrange for a few staff to visit workplaces where their problem has been solved with a chance to talk about how the tool was rolled out – this can reassure that their own school has the capacity to overcome the same issues.
  3. Develop leadership. Implementation of any new approach, and especially new technology, needs the full support of the whole leadership team. It needs the buy-in of middle leaders who will translate whole school priorities into actions for their phases, teams or subject areas. Ensure that leaders can model use of the technology and are involved in pilots so that they are seen to be encountering and overcoming teething issues themselves.
  4. Invest in the right ratios. The technology itself is only one part of the necessary investment. The other two pieces are infrastructure support and professional development. New equipment without these two other components might as well never be unboxed as it’ll never be used successfully. Some people would advise the same investment in support and training as in the tech itself, while others suggest even more!
  5. Pilot, give choice. Not everyone is a rapid adopter. Ensure that new technology is carefully piloted with plenty of chance to evaluate progress and impact. Engage with staff that are broadly less keen and ensure that they’re part of evaluating anything that’s planned for wider adoption. Be very cautious about mandating new systems if teachers are happy with other approaches and have more pressing issues on their plates.

With a careful implementation approach, technology can unlock great potential in schools, whether it’s simulations, tools for teacher collaboration or online content and testing systems. The secret, as ever, is making sure that the tech ‘answer’ is a real solution to staff members’ genuine questions and concerns.

For more information about Understanding AI for School, see our new joint guide with the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), supported by the Association of School & College Leaders (ASCL), the Confederation of School Trusts (CST) and the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT).