Education secretary urges school leaders to ‘shift away from email culture’

Damian Hinds also reveals government will launch an education technology strategy supported by a £10m innovation fund

Education secretary Damian Hinds has urged schools to “shift away from email culture” and claimed that new practices and technologies could help reduce the burden on teachers of having to deal with a “huge volume” of electronic correspondence.

Hinds also revealed that the government will later this year launch a national strategy for education technology – or “EdTech” – which will be supported by a £10m fund to be invested in innovation projects at schools and colleges throughout England.

Speaking at the Bett show in London, the education secretary said that “education is one of the few sectors where technology has been associated with an increase in workload, rather than the reverse”.

“Back when I was at school, there was an annual parents evening and a report at the end of the year. Maybe a letter home if there was a school trip,” Hinds added. “That report still happens and so does the parents evening, but email has revolutionised parent, teacher communication. Email hasn’t replaced much; mostly it has just added.”

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He said: “In many or perhaps all occupations, email takes up a lot time. MPs have seen a step change in correspondence and contact through email. For many teachers the situation is even more intense, with a huge volume of emails from parents and their senior leadership team that they need to respond to outside of lesson time.”

The education secretary went on to cite several examples of schools that have taken steps to move away from an “email culture” that blights teachers.

St Edward’s, a secondary school in Dorset, has banned emails being sent to its all-staff distribution list – outside of one school-wide weekly bulletin. Senior managers have also instituted clear policies on the purposes for which email should – and should not – be used, and the time frame in which staff must reply to messages, according to Hinds.

Bolton College, meanwhile, has installed a virtual admin clerk – called Ada – based on IBM Watson artificial intelligence technology.

“Ada helps deliver personalised learning and assessment for 14,000 students [and] queries about attendance or curriculum content,” Hinds said. “It has saved Bolton’s staff hours and hours of time they would have spent on admin either at college or in their own spare time.”

He added: “Many schools are already reviewing their school practices to reduce workload – and to those who haven’t already, I encourage them to look at what they can do to shift away from an email culture in, and into, school to free teachers up to spend more time in the classroom.”

There are, as yet, few details of the impending EdTech strategy. But the government indicated that the strategy and the accompanying £10m fund “will be supported by a group of schools and colleges selected to aid the development, piloting and evaluation of innovative technology”.

Sam Trendall

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