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Strategic planning for online learning
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4 Digital leadership in schools

Whilst integrating digital learning into classroom practice has been on the policy agenda in the UK since the early 1980s it was not until the mid-1990s with the emergence of the concept of a global information society, that it gained momentum. (Younie, 2006). The first national assessment of the impact of ICT was carried out in 1993 and appears as part of the influential McKinsey and Stevenson reports of 1997 (McKinsey, 1997; Stevenson Report, 1997). Both these independent inquiries into the ‘issues and opportunities’ with ICT concluded that, ‘the state of ICT in UK schools was primitive and it was a public priority to increase its use.’ Having identified no coordinated strategy to develop ICT in schools the Stevenson report urged government to develop a cohesive national strategy. Consequently, the new Labour government of 1997 launched the UK’s first national ICT strategy, with the flagship initiatives of the National Grid for Learning (NGfL) and the New Opportunities Fund (NOF). (TTA,1998, 2002).Yet 22 years on, despite billions of pounds worth of funding, schools are still struggling with the five key areas outlined as problematic when The ICT in Schools Programme was established: ‘management, funding, technology procurement, ICT training and impact on pedagogy (Younie, 2006: ,p,385).

A photograph of someone teaching using a whiteboard.
Figure 7: Digital leadership in schools

Research into schools often points to the fact that those who work in a school system are the victims of what Kelly and colleagues call, ‘ TTWWADI-that’s the way we’ve always done it.’ (Kelly et al., 2008). This is also reflected in books that examine internationally, why digital technology has not been embedded in schools in the way it has been in other organisations (Reich, 2020). Part of the reason for this is that often teachers and leaders are not convinced that it will improve learning outcomes.(ibid) It is very difficult to prove given there are so many confounding variables: for example, digital access; teacher expertise. Yet, there is plentiful evidence that digital learning in compulsory education, can be effective, as reflected in an analysis of research carried out by a team at Durham University, into the impact of digital technology on learning (Higgins et al., 2012), which states:

‘Overall, the research evidence over the last forty years about the impact of digital technologies on learning consistently identifies positive benefits. The increasing variety of digital technologies and the diversity of contexts and settings in which the research has been conducted, combined with the challenges in synthesising evidence from different methodologies, makes it difficult to identify clear and specific implications for educational practice in schools. Studies linking the provision and use of technology with attainment tend to find consistent but small positive associations with educational outcomes. However a causal link cannot be inferred from this kind of research. It seems probable that more effective schools and teachers are more likely to use digital technologies more effectively than other schools. We need to know more about where and how it is used to greatest effect, then investigate to see if this information can be used to help improve learning in other contexts. We do not know if it is the use of technology that is making the difference.’ (Higgins et al., 2012: ,p:3).