State of UK EdTech 2019

This is a document based on a talk given to the Shanghai Education Commission in November 2019.

It describes the current state of edtech in the UK and gives a historical explanation as to how we’re here.

It should be noted that the UK education system is not based on central or regional prescription.

  • Schools and colleges are largely free to adopt technology and use it as they wish.
  • This means lots of market competition to create the best resources at the lowest prices.
  • Also means schools are not necessarily aware of the best resources.
  • How did we get here?


  • Tony Blair, while in opposition in 1996, told the party’s annual conference in Blackpool that the age of achievement in education would be built on new technology.
  • “In time no child will be without access to a computer and no school unable to use them properly,” he promised.


  • By the time Tony Blair had won a third term of office in 2005 Britain’s schools were some of the most technology rich in the world with nearly two million computers.
  • Almost all secondary schools – 99.9 percent – were connected to the internet.
  • Four fifths of primaries used interactive whiteboards and 99 percent of secondaries.
  • But despite investments in software, the demand for technology had moved on so quickly that only 28 percent of IT managers and 15 percent of teachers felt their schools were well-equipped.


  • Suppliers, needing to keep costs as low as possible came under pressure to leave out or reduce the training element and leave it to schools or local authorities.
  • A lot of whiteboards, for example, got sold on the basis of the lowest prices and the substantive training was stripped out of the package.
  • “Whiteboards were going up on walls without teachers being trained to use them and, not surprisingly, they got used as glorified projector screens.”
  • Had it been left up to schools to decide how to spend the money there would have been a smaller and more effective build-up of using that particular technology with much more training and it would have had a far greater educational impact.
  • The problem was their central delivery through a government organisation, which had to work with a very unhelpful regime of government procurement rules.”
  • Even in 2007, when 91 percent of primaries and almost all secondaries were using whiteboard technology in the classroom, only 31 percent of primary and 16 percent of secondary schools said the majority of teachers were very confident in using them.


  • In 2008 the Government, now led by Gordon Brown as Prime Minister, created a grant that was to provide £639 million to help schools and local authorities improve their services, such as broadband infrastructure, learning platforms alongside digital learning resources.
  • ICT budgets reached their peak of £420 million across the UK by 2010. By then the purchase of hardware had slowed down and personalised learning and learning platforms were changing the way computers were used in schools.


  • The arrival of David Cameron as Prime Minister in 2010 ended the computer arms race for schools.
  • Two weeks after the election the new Government announced the closure of the government agency responsible for ICT in schools to save £80 million of public spending.
  • The new Government halted a new primary curriculum that put ICT at the centre as one of four core elements alongside literacy, numeracy and personal development. They wanted to see “more facts, more emphasis on the content of the curriculum and less on the way it was taught”.


  • In 2013 schools began to shift to tablet technology and by 2014, 47 percent of computers in schools were portable laptops and tablets.
  • A new phrase had come into being – “screen down” – classrooms where tablets are on the desks but unused.
  • “In a number of parts of the country I see schools putting in policies for every student to have access to a tablet. Sometimes, once the tablets arrive, they are scratching their heads. Now we have them, what do we do with them? “

Central prescription

  • Decisions were made centrally about what schools needed and schemes devised accordingly.
  • Instead of letting schools and teachers work out what they could make the best use of.
  • “There were lots of rules about what schools could and could not spend their money on and all too often the rush to spend their software allocations meant they bought titles that stayed unused in cupboards,”.


  • Meanwhile, ICT (information & communication technology) was scrapped as a curriculum subject and replaced by computer science.
  • Even teachers confident in their mastery of the use of technology said they did not necessarily know how to teach programming.
  • Wireless provision was a major problem in many schools and teachers believed it was having a significant impact on pupils’ ability to make the best use of the available technology available.
    • Two thirds of primary schools and more than half of secondary schools aid they were under-resourced in Wi-Fi connectivity in 2014.

2010-2018 Academisation of Schools

  • Schools separated from local authority – funding direct from government rather than local government
  • Can set their own term dates, don’t have to follow national curriculum and spend on their own priorities
  • Initially setup by the Labour government – 200 schools when they left office in 2010 –
  • In 2010, there were financial incentives for schools to convert and within 4 years 60% of secondary schools were academies.
  • No evidence of improved outcomes.
  • Schools able to compete (with restrictions) with one another for students – using the power of free market to drive improvement.
  • Schools able to group together to form Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) – roughly two thirds of academies are now part of a MAT
  • Schools can spend money as they see fit so no central policy on ICT.

2019 Edtech Strategy

  • Previous secretary of state for education under Prime Minister Theresa May launched an Edtech Strategy.
  • First time a coherent plan released.
  • This included:
    • a fund to prove the effectiveness of reducing workload using Edtech,
    • A test-bed of schools and colleges to test edtech
    • Mentions Bolton College (now part of the University of Bolton)
  • Does not prescribe what should be purchased.
  • Only to highlight good practise.

2019 Edtech Strategy Going Forward?

  • New Prime Minster – Boris Johnson - appointed a new Secretary of State for Education.
  • Everything continuing as before due to Brexit.
  • Don’t know where we stand but the work started by the DfE looks to be continuing and in fact we have been part of a competitive tender process recently for funding

So where are we in the UK?

  • Schools and colleges can decide what to buy and from where.
  • A vast array of different devices and software across schools & colleges.
  • A confusing number of software vendors competing.
  • Every school has at least a suite of computers or tablets - usually both.
  • Every classroom has interactive whiteboards
  • All schools have good internet connectivity
  • Lots of teachers subscribe to lesson preparation resources such as Twinkl and Classroom Secrets.
  • These provide worksheets & Powerpoints for use in class.
  • There is an acceptance that online resources can work well for students.
  • There is also an acceptance that teacher workload in the UK is causing a retention issue.
  • 15% of qualified teachers leave within 12 months of qualifying.
  • 33% of qualified teachers leave within 5 years of qualifying.
  • There is a move away from marking work.
  • Used to be triple marking.
  • Live feedback or nothing now.
  • Use of resources like Emile for homework or setting simple tasks – read a book, paint a picture - is growing fast in primary schools. As no marking required.
About the Author
Author: Glen Brooke-JonesWebsite:
Glen is the founder and CEO of Emile Education. Emile has supplied learning resources to more than 15% of schools in the UK & Ireland.

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