New report spotlights ‘inadequate’ access to technology in English schools

Just 1% of primary state schools provide devices that their pupils can take home, compared to 38% of private primary schools according to new survey data from polling organisation Teacher Tapp, published today by Microsoft in association with think tank The Centre for Education and Youth.

As schools continue to flex and adjust to a second national lock down, this new data highlights the challenges faced in providing the connected learning that education increasingly depends upon. The findings, published in a new report, also highlight the benefits and opportunities that teachers believe access to technology can provide.

Microsoft commissioned the survey of more than 5,000 teachers across England, including more than 1,200 senior leaders, to better understand the value and benefits educators perceive from current education technologies and the barriers they foresee to future adoption, the so-called “digital divide” included. The results are eye opening:

  • In the state sector just one-in-three teachers has access to one-to-one technologies, compared to two in three teachers in the private sector
  • 72% of students in schools rated inadequate by Ofsted do not have access to individual devices in their classrooms, compared with 59% in outstanding schools
  • Just 1% of primary state schools provide devices that their pupils can take home, compared with 38% of private primary schools. At secondary level, 7% of secondary state schools provide take home devices, while 20% of private secondary schools do so

Evidence regarding the severity of England’s digital divide has been mounting throughout the pandemic, with the global health crisis throwing into sharp relief the inequalities that divide England’s children and young people. Although on any given day, only around 15% of lessons involve anyone using a device, recent months have pressed fast forward on the process of transforming schools and education, with hybrid learning rapidly becoming the “new normal”.

A picture showing a Surface device and a quote from Microsoft's Chris Rothwell

Howard Lewis, Surface Business Group Head, said: “Our findings show that access to technology across England at a one-to-one level can help meet students’ individual learning needs, supporting them in their development of critical life skills. Yet a digital divide is now widening the achievement gap, with teachers citing a lack of access to ed-tech tools in the schools that are least able to provide access to technology for individual students.

“We have to find a solution that delivers a range of robust, cost-effective and flexible tools, alongside free resources and initiatives to help UK educators”.

Commenting on the report, Loic Menzies, Chief Executive of the Centre for Education and Youth, said: “It is indefensible that it has taken a crisis of this scale to reveal the material barriers to learning that stand in pupils’ way. The need to act now could not be more urgent.”

Teachers across all sectors and specialties agree that education technology tools benefit students across a whole range of needs, from developing more independent learning skills (65% agree), to preparing them better for future studies and life at work (59% agree), to empowering students with special educational needs (48% agree). Yet access varies dramatically. However, in addition to issues around accessibility of devices, today’s report identifies a number of barriers to the adoption of connected technologies:

  • Approximately one-in-four teachers said they would need training to use new tools and technology effectively, and a similar number had concerns around the durability of the solutions
  • One in five teachers said they would be concerned about safeguarding if pupils had one-to-one access to a device
  • They are also price sensitive, with more than half (54%) of teachers indicating that the price of a device is a key factor when it comes to deciding on which product to buy

Chris Rothwell, Director of Education at Microsoft UK, said: “In order for children to reach their full potential, they need teachers who are working at theirs, with technology that can help that. It’s critical schools, students, teachers and IT departments have access to the right software, tools, training, and practical guidance to do just that.”

A picture showing a Surface device and a quote from Loic Menzies, from the Centre for Education and Youth

Microsoft has found a groundswell of interest in the question, “How best to take advantage of the new opportunities arising from this disruption?” and hearing from educators themselves is the best starting point to unearthing new pathways of action that could deepen learning for students and teachers. Microsoft is committed to working with schools and teachers so that every child, no matter their background is equipped and supported to achieve their full potential and these insights are vital in continuing the conversation around the possibilities to bridge the digital learning divide.

Click here to download the full report.

To learn more about the results of the study, or to speak to someone about device options for your school, please visit our webpage here.

You can also learn more about Microsoft’s vision for the future of education in our new paper “Reimagining education: From remote to hybrid learning,” a collaboration between Microsoft and New Pedagogies for Deep Learning.

Note: All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from Teacher Tapp. Total sample size was 5,000 Primary and Secondary Teachers online in England. Fieldwork was undertaken between May 6 and 7 2020. The survey was carried out online