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Edtech-Try Before you Buy

We need to change/ upgrade our Ed-Tech from time to time but where from and who do we trust? Claire Lockyer shares her do’s and don’ts to help others.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that people love selling stuff to schools. Teachers are used to being bombarded with marketing emails. It’s no surprise really that teachers feel there is safety in numbers and, if Mrs L (the Head of the school down the road) has chosen to buy in the new whizzy piece of tech kit, then maybe that’s easier and safer to follow the example than risk going it alone and getting even more sales calls.

If I’m honest, I agree. Almost. You see, it’s likely Mrs L only bought it as Mr B already has it. Mr B thinks it’s ace. Mr B got it as he went to Bett and loved what he saw. He was told that 900 schools already use it and he didn’t want to miss out. But Mr B forgot none of his teachers felt any need for a new tool. His staff are happy with what they have in place and actually, they don’t have time to give to learning a new piece of software as they’re too busy triangulating all their evidence which (you still with me here) Mr B asked for them to collate…

So, let’s have a think about that. Doing the same as others is good. Buying products based on recommendation from someone you trust, also good. Researching products before you buy? Quite honestly, this bit is priceless. Happily following everyone else could indeed land you with the best piece of software ever to be loaded onto the school’s stock of ageing HPs. Or it could lead to a hefty bill incurred from buying a product to fix a problem that never really existed in your school. So how do you navigate your way through?

  1. Identify what you need. Think about those areas where you’re doing what you’ve always done. If you’re using the same procedures as you did 10 years ago, it’s highly likely there’s a piece of software out there designed to ease your load. Are you using pen and paper to record details? Safeguarding concerns written on paper and stored in your DSL’s head/filing cabinet are a great example. My last school wrote concerns on green paper. It became a verb – to green form it. Did it work?  Yes – although that’s also because my Head was pretty amazing at knowing all her children. Was there better out there? Absolutely (take a look at to see my choice for improving on paper recording). 
  1. Research. I’m not talking produce a 300-page analysis. Google is your friend. Ask your staff, ask your friends. Ask questions – ask Mrs L why she bought it. What do her staff think? I can’t dress this bit up, it’s going to take time but I cannot stress how much this is time well spent. Think of this as your lesson planning bit. Yes it’s a pain and no-one much likes doing it but, when it comes to delivering the end product, you’re so glad you’re not winging it. Very occasionally a winged-it lesson is a gem but mostly you never want to repeat the experience. Get the research right and you won’t waste money on rubbish – and you won’t need to repeat the process for a long time.
  1. Contact suppliers. Have a plan. What do you want? Be clear and direct. There’s no harm in asking, “Can you deliver ……” Make them work hard for your business, you want an email detailing how they can help/solve the issue you’ve presented them with. If they don’t understand your school and what you do, consider if they’re right for you. You’re building a relationship, you need to like each other from the start, way before you send pennies their way.
  • Demo Try before you buy. Always. Ask to see the system and check it does what you need. Most firms will be keen to show you the sparkly bits that were fun to build. Tell them beforehand what you want to see. I’ve sat through 60-minute demos when actually, I only needed to see 5 minutes to know it did/didn’t do as I wanted. Sitting through 60 minutes of scripted sales spiel is a tough (and incredibly dull) way to learn the importance of planning out what you want.
  • Decision If you want a week to think about it, say. If it’s a no, say. Most sales teams will tell you a ‘no’ is the second-best answer they can get. No is no, it means go away. If you leave a sales team without a definite answer, they will keep contacting you. Say no if that’s your decision and say no more contact. If it’s a yes, tell them what you want. You’ll have to work together here but, if they want your business, they need to fit around your dates and availability.
  • Implement Remember that lesson plan analogy? Apply it again here. Ask the supplier what you need to get the system up and running successfully. If you need a local administrator, who will that be? Is the Head really the best choice? Get your staff on-board and keep them up to date with what’s coming and when. Then select a ‘start to use’ date and stick with it. Be very clear with who should be using it and for what. Do not accept old procedures once you’ve made the change. Remember that ‘green form’ safeguarding system? Paper is no longer acceptable, everything comes through the system.  Especially if we’re taking child protection, running more than one procedure leaves you far too open to mistakes. The most successful implementations I’ve seen have a local champion pushing the project. The least successful were those where staff were completely unaware of big changes heading their way. No one likes change but effective communication with staff will help smooth the way. 
  • Review Diary note to check after a week/a month/6 months/whatever suits you. Do not just renew when the time comes. Check the system has brought the changes you wanted and, if it hasn’t, get rid. I’ve seen a school pay an annual subscription for an online maths service where no-one checked if it was actually being used and the office simply paid the invoice (it was being used, about twice a year in EYFS). It’s easy done, don’t let it be your school that repeats this.

My final point is don’t ignore EdTech. There are good guys out there! My mission is to help ease the load on teachers so they can do the bit they do best – teach our children.

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The author

Claire now works in EdTech (although not as part of the sales team and she doesn’t earn commission off any sales). Claire is also a qualified teacher (primary, lover of upper KS2, thinks year 5 kids are just the best). Before teaching, Claire worked in investment banking where her role included assessing, testing and implementing new software. Claire’s work experience means she has seen both the business and teacher sides. Claire has experienced being hounded by the EdTech sales bod who calls at 11am (whilst she’s teaching English) and who doesn’t understand why Sunday at 10pm is the time teacher Claire is most likely to actually read an email. Claire’s pet hate is tech firms who insist on telling teachers ‘to just play around with a new system to get to know it’. As Claire points out, new systems are just not top priority when you have to teach all day.

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