Bob Harrison talks to the new chair of Naace, Dave Smith, about life in the ICT hot seat

The professional association for those working in learning with technology, Naace, has been around for many years. Long enough, in fact, to become a brand.

Its DNA would reveal mergers of organisations from bygone days when local authorities controlled school budgets and had their own strategic policies for ICT. It was seen as an outfit for local advisers wanting to work closely with government. But what is it now and who does it serve? (UPDATE: Dave Smith resigned as chair of Naace before the end of 2016.)

The original organisation was called the National Association for Advisers in Computer Education which has gradually evolved to take into account local authority ICT advisers becoming an endangered species, and the increasing involvement of company employees, consultants and teachers and school leaders.

Naace ICT Mark a benchmark for schools staying ahead of edtech curve   

logoICTMarkFollowing the closure of the government’s own edtech agency, Becta, Naace has continued the work of its Schools Self Review Framework and rebranded it as the Naace ICT Mark. This acts as a benchmark for schools that want to stay ahead of the ICT curve.

Times have changed and Naace strives to respond to the changing educational landscape and policy context. It was a player in the reform of the ICT curriculum, but in attempting to defend ICT and ensure a balance in the new Computing curriculum it was, like many others, outflanked by the cosy relationship between the computer scientists at the BCS and the then minister of education Michael Gove MP. The result was a new subject which was, many felt, overly weighted towards computer science.

This somewhat unpleasant experience continues to haunt Naace. It was dismayed when schools minister Nick Gibb MP refused to approve new qualifications designed to replace the ICT GCSE and A levels which he dispensed with despite entreaties from teachers wanting a full range of qualifications for their students. Nick Gibb did not want a competitor to the computer science qualifications which he views as more “rigorous” and academic. The long term impact of both these decisions will be felt in years to come as students work their way through the system.

I attended the Naace annual conference in Leicester recently and caught up with the new chair of the Naace board of management, Dave Smith, and asked him about the challenges in the year ahead:

Bob Harrison: Congratulations on being elected chair of Naace. How long have you been involved in technology and education and what is your current role in education?

Dave Smith: Thank you for your kind comments. I am currently computing and online safety adviser and business development lead at Havering Education Services in London. I started my career as a primary school teacher in 1994, moving on to work for a university (in 2001) where I provided ICT consultancy for schools.

logoswitchedonFrom there in 2004 I was appointed leader for school improvement through ICT at Engayne Primary School, Havering, leading on the implementation of an ambitious plan to roll out 100 tablet PCs, whole-school wireless and visualisers in every class to embed education technology across the curriculum. This was recognised by HMI at the time as "one of the most ambitious improvement plans for ICT seen across the country".

I have held a number of roles in technology and education, including local authority school improvement adviser in Havering since 2005, where I provide computing and online safety advice for schools, which has included being part of the development team for Switched on Computing  (a support resource for the computing curriculum which is now in more than 6,000 schools in the UK and beyond). I have been a member of the Naace board of management since 2014 and have a particular interest in the strategic leadership and curriculum application of education technology to enhance outcomes for children and young people, as well as the importance of online safety to keep our children and young people safe from harm.

BH: What does NAACE stand for? What does it do?

DS: Naace is the United Kingdom’s education technology association. Naace stands for the appropriate use of technology to advance learning, teaching, school and college leadership and organisation. Naace collectively looks to speak up in terms of advocacy for education technology, looks to recognise and collect evidence — through our Naace Self Review Framework and accompanying Naace ICT Mark — f what works well in schools and colleges. It is committed to supporting news ways of thinking about learning and technology through its Third Millennium Learning Schools' network.

logo iste2016Underpinning all of this, Naace is a community of education stakeholders devoted to improving the outcomes of children and young people through the effective use of education technology. This community shares practice both within the UK and beyond and has relationships with likeminded international organisations such as ISTE (in the US) and the Japan Society for Educational Technology.

We also have exciting initiatives in the pipeline including, but not limited to, a new partnership with the Department for Education for cost-effective procurement, a new partnership with The TES involving publication and professional development and a whole new set of industry partners committed to helping us get the Naace message in front of schools and colleges, teachers and the wider education community.

We continue to make it more attractive for people to join Naace too by significantly expanding the products and services for members and significant discount offerings from our partners that can benefit members in their work.  

'Stories of schools receiving poor advice — so new advice line'    

picdavesmithnew400UDave Smith: 'develop a nationwide digital strategy for education'Following the demise of the former government ICT agency Becta and the decisions by many local authorities to scale back their provision to support education technology in schools (an understandable but unfortunate reaction to a lack of funding), there is a vacuum in the independent advice and support available to schools. Naace, without the advantage of a Becta budget, is seeking to do something about that and provide schools with a friendly source of objective advice.

Currently we are hearing many stories of schools receiving poor advice, of technical solutions being bought without the appropriate supporting infrastructure and of curriculum solutions being introduced that are here today and gone tomorrow. I see the Department for Education’s recent tablet procurement announcement for schools as a very encouraging sign, as it at least provides schools with a place to go to consider purchasing options.  The Naace Procurement Advice Line, which we will launch in September, will build upon the DfE initiative and address the advice needs of schools.

It is impossible for a membership organisation like Naace to behave like an official national agency like Becta and, indeed, in many respects we would not wish to do so. However, in the changing educational landscape there is a danger of a vacuum forming, where schools and colleges are unable to source independent advice, thought leadership and guidance regarding education technology.

The Naace community is confident that it can be a large part of the solution here. Together we have been making tools that support school and college leaders and teachers.

Our recently launched "Leadership Briefing Paper", which was created in in partnership with the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA), has opened out key strategic messages for school and college leaders, our E-Guides are bringing clear, sensible and achievable curriculum developments within the reach of the classroom teacher and our Open Badge Academy partnership with one of our sponsors (Makewaves) is uniquely empowering the relationship between education establishments and effective technical support.

The latest elections to the Naace board have seen the appointment of six new members representing the United Kingdom’s education technology community. The board has a wealth of knowledge and experience and is made up of award-winning teachers, advisers and commercial providers working with the Naace Professional Team, led by our chief executive Mark Chambers.

This team builds on the existing board members, who I have already encouraged to take an increased role in the strategic direction of Naace as well as reaching out to members, partners, government and other organisations to ensure that the benefits and impact of education technology are heard loud and clear, so that there is an undeniable acceptance of its importance in supporting improved educational outcomes.

In my first few weeks in the role I have been delighted by the numerous approaches that Naace is receiving from new partners looking to work to support our aims.  I see this as an endorsement of the direction of travel that Naace is taking.

BH: Recent changes to the ICT curriculum, assessment and the use of technology for learning across the curriculum have been challenging for schools. What has Naace been doing to help?

Naace and Naace members have been – and continue to be – involved at the centre of national developments in curriculum and assessment. We have fought for breadth, balance, relevance and choice in the curriculum. and we have to challenge the system's lack of an advanced digital qualification. These are important principles that are at risk in a curriculum that is, despite being introduced in September 2015, is still in its infancy.

This immaturity is reflected in a passion for computer science that appears, in the views of feedback from Naace members, to want to “fit everything else in" to an artificial construct that does not have the flexibility to properly recognise digital skills and expertise with digital technologies. There is evidence that the English system in particular, is moving from one which offered something for all students in terms of developing their digital competencies, to one which provides advanced input and qualification for one aspect of the computing curriculum (computer science) and downplays the significance of the other two thirds.

The Naace membership is fully committed to the success of computer science, but is also equally committed to the whole computing subject and consequently argues for breadth of study and choice in high-quality academic qualifications.

I was recently approached by a computing leader in a primary school (outside my own local authority) who raised a question from their headteacher. This computing leader had asked him to take advice from me as to whether, “We really need to use ICT across the curriculum any more, especially because we could do with saving money on our budget…”

If we are not careful, the drive to reap the benefits of embedding of technology across the curriculum could easily be extinguished by schools in England thinking that teaching of the subject of computing is enough. This would be dangerous. Beware the effect on teaching and learning in geography, history, science and other subjects if we turn our backs on education technology.

Surely, we would not be mad enough to do that? The UK has world-leading education technology companies, products, services and practice in our schools and colleges. We should be rightfully proud of this, and ignore it at our peril.

However, let us not be too downcast here, as we remind ourselves that we are part of a large global community where there are many who successfully use education technology. If we are consistent in our approach and persuasive in the evidence we share and collate, eventually the wheel will turn. We believe that there is still a need for access to a choice of digital qualifications at GCSE, ensuring high-quality learning experiences of information technology and digital literacy.

In the future teachers, sometimes supported by their establishments and often on their own initiative, will need to source their own professional development if they are enthusiastic about education technology and the development of skills relevant to a digital generation and a digital economy. The Naace community offers the opportunity for collaboration, co-construction of learning materials, the sharing of practice and the recognition of expertise in a manner that builds on where the individual is at.

Other opportunities are available but we believe in building a strong collective voice that, because it is united, is hard to ignore. This community has been effecting change for almost 35 years and we intend to continue doing so as long as creativity, making and new technologies are valued as key components of an effective learning system.

'Current government ministers have a mental block about technology for learning'

BH: Current ministers in the DfE seem to have a mental block about the potential of technology to enhance teaching and learning. What is Naace doing about this issue

PicNaaceRiskitAbderrahmane Benjeddi presents a RiskIT Challenge award to High Tunstall CollegeOver the past few years a succession of initiatives have been challenging for teachers' and schools' and colleges' use of education technology. Our relationship with the DfE in supporting its recent procurement announcement for schools is an encouraging sign. The computing curriculum in England has offered some positive ways forward especially its focus on online safety which is having an impact on the provision of online safety in schools.

Furthermore, as an association, we have had visits from ministries of education from Russia and Japan, exploring what is happening in computing in the UK, and in particular England – this is a positive endorsement of UK edtech. Naace has been able to feed into the curriculum developments happening in these countries too, something to be proud of.

As an association Naace is concerned about what is happening is schools and colleges in relation to what is good teaching and learning with technology and, if we don't know, perhaps we shouldn't risk it? As a charity Naace relies on contributions from members and partners. Using membership income we have developed guidance for schools and colleges, collaborated with partners to produce assessment information, methodology and case studies and continued to champion our annual RiskIT! Challenge (pictured left). We shall continue to focus on highlighting effective practice in the UK and through our international partners – giving schools and colleges the confidence to continue to invest in education technology.

BH: What are your priorities for your year as chair of Naace?

DS: I am passionate about the ways in which educational technology can enhance teaching and learning and facilitate school improvement. I am also concerned by the online safety challenges that face children and young people in today’s world. With these aspects in mind, I want to see Naace work with partners across the United Kingdom and beyond to demonstrate the efficacy of education technology to improve learning outcomes for children and young people and to help keep them safe online.

Additionally, I want to see Naace membership increase further to encompass an even wider set of education stakeholders. Naace was once seen as predominantly a professional association for ICT advisers. However, we have always been much more than that. Naace is the natural home for all of those interested in education technology.

Headteachers, school and college principals, teachers, IT technicians, teaching assistants, governors, trainee teachers, Ofsted inspectors, school improvement advisers and anyone with an interest in education technology should become members of Naace and join our growing community. We need advocates across all areas of education speaking out in favour of the benefits of technology, standing-up for and demonstrating impact on learning outcomes.

'Improved provision for broadband and wifi – an undeniable right for all'

I would like Naace to continue to build upon the work of the Government's Educational Technology Action Group (ETAG) – particularly in terms of infrastructure. ETAG highlighted the need for improved provision for broadband and wifi in education. These need to be an undeniable right for all.

I also intend to work with Naace colleagues to encourage a focus on developing new ways of engaging an audience of people not familiar with Naace; valuing our existing partnership with local authority and independent consultancy networks and further increasing membership across multi-academy trusts so that we can have a bigger collective voice and potentially open doors to more strategic audiences. Important in this are the Naace delivery partners, the Naace app and a new programme of events for 2016/17 – including a revamped National Education Technology Conference powered by Naace in 2017.

Watch out for changes that we are making to ensure that it is more relevant and applicable to school and college leaders. I have attended some fantastic, relevant Naace conferences down the years with lots of ideas, initiatives and tools to takeaway. The Naace Board of Management are determined that the 2017 Naace conference brings together the best voices across the education technology sector to make it an absolute must to attend. Keep an eye out for our plans as they develop and speak to our relationship development officer Aga Kelly and conference organiser Anna Street-Barber about opportunities to be part of this (email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

I also want to see Naace offering added value for our longstanding and very supportive sponsoring partners, who provide valuable assistance for our association and its initiatives. I would like to see these partners offered an enhanced voice and role in both advising and listening to the needs of the wider Naace community. Collectively we can achieve more for schools and colleges.

'Still a need for additional support and advice'

In my Havering role I provide online safety consultancy to schools and am very concerned by comments from children, young people and Naace members highlighting the risks that they are putting themselves at online. Schools and colleges are trying hard to equip children and young people with the knowledge and skills that they require to engage with online world. However, there is still a need for additional support and advice. I would like to see Naace play a pivotal role helping to further support the work of partner organisations such the UK Safer Internet Centre and continuing to back important national initiatives like the Safer Internet Day.

Next year will see the further development of our products and services for members, and, to inform this, we are about to launch a survey of Naace members to examine what they are able to offer and the direction that they would like our organisation to develop. We have allowed time in our programme of activities to develop responses to this and we are excited by the ideas that we know will be forthcoming from this creative community.

Added to this, we want to engage in a huge push on many fronts to let non-members know we are here, what we stand for, what's in it for them, what they can contribute and why it is an imperative that the passionate education technology community stands together. Due to popular demand we are about to go live with our Naace forums, building upon the blog posts on our website. 

BH: The education and technology landscape is changing rapidly. What can teachers do to help them manage this change?

Prioritising professional development over other demanding needs makes for difficult decisions in schools and colleges. CPD and strategic advice are often put at risk when it comes to sharpening the financial pencil. However, teachers can look to Naace to support them in terms of guidance and advice and to help budgets go further. Our Essential Guides series are a good place to start.

A decade ago, I spoke with a colleague in a school in one of the Becta ICT Test Bed areas who told me that they spent 60 per cent of budget on hardware and software and 40 per cent on training and support. Often, it appears that the amount spent on education technology projects does not factor in sufficient technical and pedagogical support.

I want to see Naace continue to offer advice and support for schools, colleges and commercial providers to help ensure that a good balance is struck between the budget spent on equipment, training and technical support. Teachers have a number of routes to advice and training and can look for opportunities to share practice locally and nationally, drawing upon guidance from colleagues. With this in mind, joining a community of likeminded individuals and organisations is a good place to start. Therefore, we encourage teachers to turn to Twitter for advice from the @naace community. Go ahead and add #naace to your tweets. You might just be surprised who is listening and willing to offer support.

BH: If you had a magic wand what would you want to achieve by the end of your term of office?

DS: I would like to invite new members to join our growing community and become part of THE home of education technology advice, guidance and effective practice. Join Naace here, and I look forward to welcoming you. By the end of my year in office, with your help, I want to:See Naace work with like-minded organisations in the development of a nationwide digital strategy for education alongside the Department for Education;

  • See Naace work with like-minded organisations in the development of a nationwide digital strategy for education alongside the Department for Education;

  • Ensure that schools and colleges across the country know what Naace stands for;

  • Empower Naace members and sponsoring partners to share effective practice and impact to enhance education technology use in schools and colleges;

  • Naace to be working with partners in the development of a nationwide digital strategy for education;

  • Ensure that the Naace website is recognised as a key source of impartial, informative advice for education establishments;

  • Increase the range of benefits available to members and further engage with sponsoring partners;

  • Build on international partnerships with other like-minded organisations to demonstrate the efficacy of education technology.

Bob Harrison: So some key challenges face Dave Smith and his Naace colleagues. The organisation has an interesting balance of members: teachers, schools, advisers from a few remaining local authorities, individual associates and a substantial number of small but growing education technology companies.

While such diversity is an asset it also brings challenges when deciding the future direction of the organisation. Who does Naace really represent? It will be tricky for Dave Smith to keep spinning those different plates to satisfy the different constituents and simultaneously maintain an influence at policy level with a government which has demonstrated little interest in, or even understanding of, technology for learning. 

Should Naace be more outspoken?

Naace has been consulted on, and been involved in, some of the recent DfE proposals. It was party to the controversial decision-making process after which schools minister Nick Gibb ditched GCSE and A-Level ICT. Naace is also a member of the Educational Technology Action Group (Etag) and the UK Forum for Computing Education (UKForce) but is it having the impact it should? Or does its role compromise the critical stance required to fully serve its members interests? The recent petition to reverse the ICT qualifications decision was led by a Naace member, Kay Sawbridge (see TES'  "Thousands sign petition against abolition of GCSE and A-level ICT"), so should it be more outspoken?

Whatever the answer, there are undoubtedly enormous opportunities for an organisation like Naace in a world where enforced academisation of schools is a government desire, and where there is a lack of independent objective advice for schools about technology developments. Most important will be its role in ensuring that teachers and support staff have the requisite skills to ensure our schools are fit for a digital future.

Rumour has it however that things are about to change. Former schools minister Lord Jim Knight, now with TES GLobal, pointed out at a recent Westminster Education Forum, "Digital technologies and innovative teaching practices", that the Conservatives' policy adviser Rachel Wolf is back in London. She recently returned from the US where she worked for the failed Rupert Murdoch edtech project Amplify, run by Joel Klein. And now she is the prime minister's policy adviser for education and technology, filled with fresh enthusiasm for the topics. Lord Knight added, "She told us at a meeting in January that she was going to have, within a year, an edtech strategy." Will Dave Smith and Naace be invited to the party? Time will tell.

Dave Smith is the new chair of the Naace board of management

Bob HarrisonBob Harrison is education adviser for Toshiba Information Systems and runs Support for Education and Training, . He is an active member of both the Further Education Learning Technologies Action Group (Feltag) and the Educational Technology Action Group (Etag)