In this blog, Andrew Blackie – Head of Partnerships at Sparx – shares his views on creating, developing and integrating solutions into the education sector, and what we can do take make sure these are valuable for everyone involved. 

Recently, I was fortunate to attend an event at the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster. If you’ve been, you’ll know what an impressive Grade II listed building it is. It has a wonderful, elaborate baroque style. The interior was planned on a Piranesian scale – bonus points if you know what that is.

Anyway, it is hugely impressive; as impressive as its list of guests and events. It hosted the first meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in 1946. Mahatma Gandhi, Bertrand Russell, Martin Luther King, Dalai Lama and Winston Churchill have all spoken there, not at the same time – what a gig that would have been.

It was also the location of the first public performance of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and a little less impressively, it is where the FIFA World Cup trophy was on display in early 1966 when it was stolen. Anyway, England won the trophy four months later. It’s an eclectic mix.

I was at the hall to attend the Church of England Schools’ conference. We were treated to another eclectic mix: Damian Hinds discussing character and resilience and preparing our young people for the world beyond school, and Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin – Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons – reflecting on being subjected to her first racial abuse in 30 years after the Brexit vote. Bloody Brexit.

We were also treated to some wonderful dancing and singing by pupils from a number of Church of England schools with songs including the annoyingly catchy “This is me” from The Greatest Showman.

So far, so architectural review and trip advisor guide to the Methodist Central Hall.

However, out of the shadows of the domed ceiling of the Great Hall and the angels in the exterior spandrels designed by Henry Poole (you knew that, of course), the conversations kept returning to mental health. The mental health of our learners and the mental health of our teachers. Many of those responsible for pastoral care were extremely concerned about the pressures, strains and stresses of education on both groups. We can be aspirational about our desire for conscientiousness, drive, perseverance and effectiveness of our education, but are we ignoring this omnipresent and bellowing elephant in the classroom?

Many businesses and schools are attempting to address school administration workload and teacher workload. Many products and solutions profess to improve progress in pupils. But there’s always a catch. Efficacy and impact appear to be very narrow in scope, aspiration and scale. It is not unusual to hear a pitch from a business that aims to address teacher workload but it’s usually with a product that takes an inordinate amount of time to implement or roll out across a school. 

There is no point giving teachers access to tonnes of content and expect them to develop a scheme of learning in order to use it. There is no point giving teachers access to learning analysis and data insights, if you don’t give them any content. There is no point giving teachers whizzy, large, interactive screens if the content is substandard. There is no point giving them clever touch screen devices, when the WiFi is not geared for concurrent connectivity. Our ideas should not sit in their own worthy bubbles. They need to be integrated to really address the big issues.

Sadly, many solutions (best intentions aside) are not having the desired positive impact on teachers. Some stresses have gone, others have taken their place.

EdTech suppliers need to work directly with schools to build solutions with them; innovation and experience blend to create phenomenal impact.

The EdTech sectors needs to build products with well-defined impact. Central Methodist Hall took many years to plan and construct, and it was built to act not only as a church, but to be of “great service for conferences on religious, educational, scientific, philanthropic and social questions”, which it still does today. And it’s still standing and delivering over one hundred years later. Talk about resilience and character.

How many businesses in education are building for the long-term? How many have a vision as clear and focused as the Central Methodist Hall? How many will ever have the impact of the Central Methodist Hall?

This is obviously not an exclusively religious schools issue, though it does have a spiritual aspect. At their core, many schools have vision and passion. Solutions need to address these and instil self-belief and self-worth into every pupil and teacher. Products and services are not separate to that, they should have that at their heart.