In the 2019 National Digital Education Strategy, the Department for Education defines the term “education technology (EdTech)” as “the practice of using technology to support teaching and the effective day-to-day management of educational institutions. It includes hardware (such as tablets, laptops or other digital devices), and digital resources, software and services that help aid teaching, meet specific needs, and help the daily running of education institutions (such as management information systems, information sharing platforms and communication tools)”.
The 2020 Coronavirus Act: Provision of Remote Education Temporary Continuity (2020, No.1) defines ‘remote education’ as “education provided to a registered pupil who does not attend at school”.
Constitution and laws: The 1215 Constitution of the United Kingdom, amended in 2013, gives all citizens the right to education. Each country has a separate system under separate governments. Governance of schools is primarily the responsibility of local authorities. In England, education is primarily governed under the 1996 Education Act which makes no mention of technology use in education. The 2014 Education (Independent School Standards) Regulations state that schools should give students experience in “linguistic, mathematical, scientific, technological, human and social, physical and aesthetic and creative education.”
Policies, plans and strategies: In 2012, the UK Budget committed to improving the government’s digital services. Under this financing, the Government’s 2013 Digital Strategy was established with “digital by default” as the ultimate goal. Digital services were to be designed to be straightforward and convenient for all to use, and still be easy enough for those unfamiliar with technology. They showed how the Department of Education followed each action point in the digital strategy. This includes improving the capacity of civil servants through digital literacy programmes that will help them to reach basic digital literacy as measured by the Digital Inclusion Scale (level 7). They also migrated school performance data online and hired a digital inclusion lead.
The 2019 National Digital Education Strategy, officially titled “Realising the potential of technology in education: A strategy for education providers and the technology industry,” followed the Government’s 2013 Digital Strategy. The strategy aims to “support and enable the education sector in England to help develop and embed technology in a way that cuts workload, fosters efficiencies, removes barriers to education and ultimately drives improvements in educational outcomes.” The strategy aims to do this through several strategic focuses: improving digital infrastructure, developing the digital capability and skills of teachers and school leaders, supporting effective procurement of EdTech, promoting digital safety, developing the EdTech business sector, supporting innovation through “EdTech challenges”, and improving the Department for Education’s digital services. Examples of key commitments include, “continuing to review and improve guidance documents that help steer schools, colleges and other providers through the key questions and issues to consider when implementing their technology infrastructure.”
The 2014 Digital Inclusion Strategy outlines the 10 actions that the UK Government and its partners would take to reduce digital exclusion. The actions focused on improving digital capabilities, improving partnerships between the government and the private sector, and creating a digital inclusion programme.
Digital competency frameworks: The 2018 Essential Digital Skills Framework defines the skills that individuals need to safely benefit from, participate in and contribute to the digital world of today and the future. The framework is intended to be used by everyone in the UK and supports adults to enhance their essential digital skills. Foundational skills typically required by those not currently using digital technology include being able to complete tasks such as connecting to Wi-Fi and knowing that passwords must be kept safe. In addition to these basic foundational skills, there are five categories of essential digital skills for life and work: communicating, handling information and content, transacting, problem-solving, and being safe and legal online. Each category then includes examples of skills for life and skills for work. For example, in “communicating,” skills for life includes posting on social media while skills for work include using digital collaboration tools to work with colleagues. In “being safe and legal online” life and work skills include using privacy settings on social media and understanding copyright and intellectual property legislation.
The 2014 Digital Inclusion Strategy included the development of a digital inclusion scale which helps to measure digital skills. This was used to determine the best course of action for digitalizing government services. There is a total of nine total points with the lowest point being those who intentionally choose not to engage with technology. Point nine is an expert user of digital technology. Basic digital skills, at point seven, is the minimum capability that people need to have in order to use the internet effectively. The strategy also calls for “common, agreed definitions of digital skills and capabilities” which will be developed in partnership with Go ON UK.
In England, there are various qualifications that are regulated by the 2019 General Conditions of Recognition including qualification types such as Digital Functional Skills, Essential Digital Skills, and Technical Qualifications. These are regulated by Ofqual in England. Qualifications are then classified by sector subject areas including 6 - Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and 13- Education and Training. There are three entry levels and eight total levels. For a student who has completed basic education and taken the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE), they should have reached level 2 with a higher grade. Level three is for a bachelor’s and level eight for PhD holders.
The National standards for essential digital skills, based on the 2018 Essential Digital Skills Framework, show the digital skills needed for work and life at the entry-level and level 1 with foundational skills as a pre-requisite. The national standards contain five skill sets: using devices and handling information, creating and editing, communicating, transactions, and being safe and responsible online. To receive an essential digital skills qualification and the digital Functional Skills qualification, all skills are necessary.
Changes occurred as a result of COVID-19: England has made changes following the pandemic in terms of developing the qualification frameworks for digital skills. They have also invested in improving the digital infrastructure and continued to improve the digitization of all government services. In education, the country is working on creating a 2022 digital curriculum and ensuring schools are well-equipped for distance learning.
2.2.1. Technology infrastructure and digital capacity of schools
Electricity: Electricity in the UK is governed by the 1989 Electricity Act, which reorganized and allowed for the privatization of the sector. However, this act does not explicitly mention schools. The UK Government has also recently allocated funding to help schools be more energy efficient. This supports the Government’s 2022 Energy Relief Scheme (updated in 2023), which made schools eligible for a discount on school gas and electricity unit prices. This scheme is scheduled to end in March 2023.
Computers and devices: The Department for Education’s 2021 Get Help with Technology Programme helped to provide disadvantaged children and young people with computers, tablets, and 4G wireless routers to help them access remote education and online social care services during the COVID-19 pandemic. The program ran from 2020-2022. Computers and devices are now owned and distributed by local authorities, academy trusts, and schools.
Internet connectivity: The Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review sets the UK Government’s goals for telecommunications connectivity. Fifteen million premises should be connected by full-fibre by 2025. A majority of the population should have 5G coverage by 2027. By 2033, the whole country should be connected to full-fibre. The Department for Education (DfE) and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) work together to ensure full-fibre internet connectivity for all schools in England as part of DCMS’ 2020 Rural Gigabit Connectivity Programme. Alongside these programmes, Project Gigabit seeks to enable hard-to-reach communities to access lightning-fast gigabit-capable broadband through a voucher program. GigaHubs is a part of this project which specifically focuses on public sector buildings such as schools. In a 2022 White Paper, the Department for Education promises to ensure all schools are connected to high-speed connection by 2025. The Department for Education also publishes 2022 broadband standards for schools to follow.
2.2.2. Technology and learning environments
The 2020 Coronavirus Act: Provision of Remote Education Temporary Continuity (2020, No.1) and (2021, No.2) charged schools with the legal duty to provide remote education. The Coronavirus provision expired in 2022; however, the Department for Education continues to publish non-statutory Guidelines for Providing Remote Education which are reviewed yearly. The 2023 Guidelines for Providing Remote Education suggests different options for remote education such as “recorded and / or live direct teaching time, as well as time for pupils to complete tasks, reading, and assignments independently”. The guidelines recommend digital learning platforms, though it does not recommend any in particular. According to a 2022 White Paper, the Department for Education plans to develop an optional digital curriculum which will contain packages of resources and video lessons. This builds off of the Oak National Academy resource, an independent public body which was launched in 2020 to support teaching during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Oak National Academy contains thousands of resources from primary to key stage 4 that have been designed by teachers. In England, provisions during the COVID-19 pandemic were mostly organized on a school-by-school basis.
England was one of the first countries to embed computer programming as part of the compulsory school curriculum. Students in primary and secondary school study computing as part of the 2013 National Curriculum; the goals of this course are for students to: “understand and apply the fundamental principles and concepts of computer science (including abstraction, logic, algorithms and data representation); analyse problems in computational terms, and have repeated practical experience of writing computer programs in order to solve such problems; evaluate and apply information technology, including new or unfamiliar technologies, analytically to solve problems; and are responsible, competent, confident and creative users of information and communication technology.” The curriculum is comprised of four key stages, the first and second are at the primary level while the third and fourth are for secondary education. At key stage one, students learn what algorithms are; how to create and debug simple programs; use technology purposefully to create, organise, store, manipulate and retrieve digital content; and use technology safely. Students continue to improve their programming skills and their safety skills in stage two. New information includes being able to understand computer networks, such as the internet; use search technologies effectively and critically; and select, use and combine a variety of software on a range of digital devices to design and create a range of programs, systems and content. By stage three, students should know how to use two or more programming languages. They also gain skills such as computational abstractions, Boolean logic, and hardware and software knowledge. They can complete tasks such as undertaking creative projects that involve multiple applications across a range of devices to achieve challenging goals and create, reuse, revise and repurpose digital artefacts with attention to trustworthiness, design and usability. The last stage builds on the previous stages. Students should leave with analytic, problem-solving, design, and computational thinking skills in computer science, digital media and information technology.
One of the goals of the National Curriculum for Design and Technology is for students to “develop the creative, technical and practical expertise needed to perform everyday tasks confidently and to participate successfully in an increasingly technological world”. Three key stages measure student competency. For example, in the second key stage, students are asked to understand computing. In the third key stage, students may be expected to select from and use tools, techniques, processes, and equipment such as computer-aided manufacturing; investigate new and emerging technologies; and understand developments in design and technology.
Initial teacher training is designed to help future teachers reach the teacher standards in order to obtain Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). The teacher standards are also used to assess teachers who already have QTS. Teachers should know how to differentiate and adapt lessons to meet the needs of students. They should also use data to monitor progress, set targets, and plan subsequent lessons. Technology is not explicitly mentioned, nor are digital skills. Accredited initial teacher training (ITT) providers determine their course materials and qualifications.
In partnership with the Chartered College of Teaching, the Department for Education launched online training courses for teachers and leaders in education in order to help improve the use of technology in teaching.
The UK Parliament and the Department of Education significantly invested in training computer science teachers to improve teacher preparedness. In November 2018, they allocated 84 million pounds to establish the National Centre for Computing Education (NCCE) to train teachers. Drawing on help from nonprofit organization partners, the National Centre for Computing Education (NCCE) creates lesson plans and resources, runs training programs, and offers certification for preservice and in-service teachers. From April 1, 2023, all NCCE teacher computing professional development (CPD) programs, including online, face-to-face, residential and remote courses, are free for state-funded primary schools, secondary schools and colleges. Furthermore, NCCE provides subsidies to primary and secondary for teachers to attend computing CPD.
2.4.1. Data privacy
Data protection in all of the United Kingdom is regulated by the 2016 UK General Data Protection Regulation (UK GDPR) and the 2018 Data Protection Act (DPA). The UK GDPR is a version of the EU GDPR that went into effect after the UK left the EU. Functionally, they both act the same. It states that children need special protections for their data, which “apply to the use of personal data of children for marketing or creating personality or user profiles and the collection of personal data concerning children when using services offered directly to a child”. The DPA “sits alongside and supplements the UK GDPR” by for example making exceptions and establishing different data protection rules for law enforcement. Schools, as data controllers, are required to register with the Information Commissioner's Office ('ICO'), which oversees data protection in the UK.
The 1990 Computer Misuse Act, the 2000 Electronic Communication Act and the 2015 Consumer Rights Act also protect individuals’ data. However, the above-mentioned legal instruments do not explicitly mention data privacy and protection from the use of technology in education.
The Information Commissioner's Office ('ICO') released the Age Appropriate Design: A Code of Practice for Online Services (also known as the Children’s Code) in late 2020. The code aims to support compliance with the DPA and the GDPR specifically to ensure that online services appropriately safeguard children's data. There are fifteen standards that make up the code. Organizations should consider the best interest of the child, undertake data protection impact assessments, ensure age appropriateness, be transparent, prohibit detrimental use of children’s data, uphold its own policies and standards, have high privacy settings as a default, minimize the amount of data collected and retained, prohibit sharing of children’s data, have geolocation settings off by default, provide parental controls, prohibit nudge techniques that encourage use, ensure connected toys and devices follow the code, and provide online tools to help children exercise their data protection rights.
For England, the Department for Education provides online safety advice and resources for parents and carers on its website. For schools, a data protection toolkit is available. All schools are required to have a Data Protection Officer whose job is to monitor the school’s compliance with data protection and advise the school leadership about data obligations. Schools must also have their own data protection policies and procedures in place, which are frequently reviewed and updated. The National Cyber Security Center (NCSC) provides free cyber security training for school staff.
2.4.2. Online abuse and cyberbullying
The 2014 Education (Independent School Standards) Regulations and the 2006 Education and Inspections Act mandate that schools must implement a behaviour policy which should include measures to prevent bullying, including cyberbullying. They also must do as much as possible to prevent bullying.
The 2022 Keeping Children Safe in Education Statutory Guidance document provides guidelines for limiting children’s exposure to potentially harmful content through appropriate filters and monitoring systems in all schools. It also encourages teaching cyber safety skills to students. Staff must be aware of different types of child abuse and know the policies surrounding safeguarding such as reporting methods. The Department for Education also provides a 2017 guidance document on Preventing and Tackling Bullying. According to this document, bullying in itself is not a criminal offence in the UK. However, harassing or threatening behaviour through communications technology in England may be punishable under the 1988 Malicious Communications Act, the 2003 Communications Act, and the 1986 Public Order Act. In the 1988 Malicious Communications Act, a person may be charged with an offence if they send an electronic communication with the intent to cause harm or distress to the recipient and which conveys a message that is indecent, grossly offensive, a threat, or information which is false and known or believed to be incorrect. The 2003 Communications Act prohibits the improper use of public electronic communications to send a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or is of an indecent, obscene or menacing character; or to send a false or persistent message for causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety. The 2017 Preventing and Tackling Bullying guidance document also has a list of resources for schools, teachers, and parents.
The United Kingdom's Department for Education is responsible for overseeing education in England. Local authorities are responsible for implementing policy at the local level. Within the Department for Education, the Digital, Data and Technology team builds and manages technological services "that respond to the needs of learners, pupils and vulnerable children.” The team is led by a Chief digital and technology officer.
The 2011 Education Act gives schools the power to seize electronic devices, such as mobile phones, and examine data or files then delete them if there is good reason to do so.
Schools determine on their own whether or not they implement a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy. The National Cyber Security Center does guide what a BYOD policy might look like, though it is not specifically geared towards schools.