New ICT policy group welcomes its 'wonderful brief'
Stephen HeppellProfessor Stephen HeppellIt may have been three years coming but the Government now fully accepts the importance of ICT for learning and that it's not enough to simply leave it all to schools. That was the message from education secretary Michael Gove MP and skills minister Matthew Hancock MP at the first meeting of the Educational Technology Action Group yesterday (February 4).

Group chair Professor Stephen Heppell said: “We were given an unequivocal steer by our ministers to be bold and ambitious; to clear away impediments and to be world leading. They reminded us that technology could and should help make learning fun. It was a wonderful brief to be given, from the heart, and we will be open and inclusive in achieving what was asked of us – an action group, not a faffing around group!”

Michael Gove's message to the new group was that he and his team had reflected on their former position of getting out of the way of the education front line. The public sector was not as tech-savvy as consumers and they felt that government had a convening and leadership role to play so that the right conditions were cultivated for education. They recognised the disruptive potential of technology and were committed to supporting teachers in leveraging the best out of technology to improve their effectiveness and professionalism.

Identifying obstacles and 'horizon scanning' on the agenda

They wanted the new group to identify obstacles to the effective use of technology for learning, especially if they had been put there by government, and to 'horizon scan' for ICT developments of particular interest for schools and colleges. This would include giving pointers and suggestions for innovatory practice.

They also felt that it was important to recognise that using technology for learning should also be enjoyable, that learning could and should be fun. This went along with a view that technology should be another tool in the task of driving up standards and should be used by the different sectors to share information and help each other (the action group covers schools, further education and universities).

Both ministers were clear that the action group should reflect the voices of education to provide policy and decision makers the best possible, and independent, advice. It would not be fettered by politicians and would be expected to help formulate sustainable, responsive and agile policy. It is anticipated that the work of the group would be important for any UK government, whatever its political hue.

The group is dominated by educators, including four professors, and has representatives from other organisations and industry. Following the inaugural meeting further recruitment will take place of teachers and leaders from schools colleges and universities. Etag was created following the work carried out in 2013 by the further education group set up by Matthew Hancock to investigate better implementation of ICT for learning – the Further Education Learning Technologies Action Group (Feltag).  Publication of the first Feltag report is imminent and it is anticipated will make some strong recommendations around funding, workforce development, leadership and governance, infrastructure, regulation and inspection and greater involvement of employers and learners (for more on Feltag see "Skills minister on path to 'ICT for learning' strategy?").

Matthew Hancock announced the creation of Etag at the BETT Show in January, saying: ""Today I am delighted to announce a new Education Technology Action Group. This group of experts will identify how learning technology can be best used – across schools, universities and colleges. I’m hugely proud that we have a distinguished membership – chaired by Professor Stephen Heppell – and that Anant Agarawl, President of EdX, will attend our first meeting."

Etag committee members
Professor Stephen Heppell (chair); Mark Chambers (Naace), Professor Angela McFarlane (King's College London), Ian Fordham, (Education Foundation) James Penny, (European Electronique), Phil Richards (JISC), David Hughes (NIACE), Bryan Mathers (CGLI), David Brown (HMI), Professor Peter Twining (Open University), Niel McLean (e-skills UK), Pauline Odulinski (EFT), Manoj Badale, (Blenheim-Chalcott) Bob Harrison (education adviser for Toshiba Information Systems UK Ltd), Maren Deepwell (ALT), Professor Diana Laurillard (University of London), Jill Lanning (Federation of Awarding Bodies).

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