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Cloud tech for education providers gets UK government backing

Out-Law News | 05 Apr 2019 | 11:47 am | 3 min. read

Education providers in England have been encouraged to consider moving their IT estate into the cloud.

The recommendation was made by the Department for Education (DfE) in a new strategy for education technology, or 'edtech'.

"We recommend that all education providers actively consider and evaluate the benefits of moving to a cloud-based approach for their IT system (moving away from relying solely on ‘on-site’ servers)," the department said in the strategy paper. "Cloud-based systems are usually more secure, cheaper to run and enable more flexible working."

Alongside the new strategy, the government published new guidance to help education providers migrate to the cloud and address other challenges in implementing new technology, and it highlighted the existing 'G-Cloud' framework as a mechanism through which education providers can procure cloud-based solutions.

The government's endorsement of cloud-based solutions for the education sector is consistent with recent advice provided to higher education providers by Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com in its recent edtech whitepaper. Edtech expert Joanne McIntosh of Pinsent Masons said last month that higher education providers that embrace cloud computing "have an opportunity to access technology that can enhance students' learning experience, better support academics with their research, and make collaboration easier".

"The launch of this strategy is a welcome endorsement by central government of the importance of technology to the education sector," McIntosh said. "Education providers today need to embrace technology solutions if they want thrive. This includes cloud solutions. Initiatives that seek to break down barriers to technology adoption are critical, particularly for providers with little or no experience in this area."

The aim of the new edtech strategy is to "support and enable the education sector in England to help develop and embed technology in a way that cuts workload, fosters efficiencies, removes barriers to education and ultimately drives improvements in educational outcomes", and to help businesses in the UK's edtech sector "provide proven, high-quality products that meet the needs of educators and foster a pipeline of fresh ideas".

To achieve this, the DfE has committed to a series of actions, including plans to speed up efforts to connect all schools in England to full-fibre broadband networks, which it said is necessary to support the adoption of new technologies, such as cloud-based solutions. It said that "without the right connection to the building, education institutions will be unable to reap the potential benefits of technology".

"Having high-speed internet availability and effective data storage enables education providers to be more innovative with their digital infrastructure," the department said. "Some universities and colleges, for example, are beginning to use data analytics and new Internet of Things (IoT) technology to help improve the management of their campuses by directly and automatically responding to student interactions and adapting to meet their needs."

The new edtech strategy set out further measures designed to boost digital skills across the education sector, and flagged both new and existing tools organisations in the sector can use to manage data and cyber risk. It said edtech suppliers should adhere to the UK's 'Cyber Essentials' standards as well a code of practice the government has developed to improve security in consumer 'internet of things' (IoT) products and associated services.

The DfE has also committed to a series of actions aimed at driving innovation in edtech through greater collaboration. One action will see the government establish 'testbed' schools and colleges where technology will be developed, piloted and evaluated.

To encourage collaboration, the department has also set a series of edtech challenges that it hopes edtech companies, education providers in England and academics can deliver on by 2021.

Education secretary for England, Damian Hinds, said: "Technology is often associated with increased automation and reduced human interaction, although within the education sector it will never replace the role of our great teachers. However, I believe technology can be an effective tool to help reduce workload, increase efficiencies, engage students and communities, and provide tools to support excellent teaching and raise student attainment."

"Yet all too often technology initiatives have failed to deliver value for money and, crucially, failed to have a positive impact. We know that not all education settings benefit from the modern broadband infrastructure needed to capitalise on the use of technology. It can be hard for leaders to understand how technology can support positive change and teachers are often told to just ‘find a way to integrate technology or devices in the classroom’. It can be difficult for education leaders to separate evidence-based practice and products from a vast range of gimmicks. This strategy starts to address these challenges," Hinds said.