Thinking Tech

I have some big questions about ‘sociotechnical’ change and its impact on education…….

How is technology affecting young children’s ability to learn in a traditional educational setting?

Are technology devices affecting the development of children’s speech, language and communication?

Does society understand the impacts of technology on itself?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

These are just a few of the initial thoughts and questions I would like to reflect on as I begin my studies and participate in the course ‘Education in a Time of Social and Technological Change’ at Bristol University as part of my Masters in education.

Photo by cottonbro on

At this point in time I know very little about the topic of sociotechnical change, other than it’s happening! I have a real concern that primary education (and possibly secondary education too) is ill equipped to support students and teachers to make a positive impact in our technological future.

The article in the link below explains the current situation in primary schools beautifully.

I want to know more about the affects of current technology on society, both positive and negative. I am excited about the rapid changes that have taken place that have accelerated our need to understand and utilise technology to connect, educate and support each other in a diverse society.

Why, and to what extent, are processes of ‘datafication’ important to understanding current educational and social changes?

Within primary education today there are a variety of assessment platforms being used to gather, store and analyse children’s educational data. What are the implications for all of this data gathering or ‘datafication’ on children’s educational and social experiences in school? In particular I will focus on the recent government drive to reintroduce a Baseline Assessment on children starting school this September.

Williamson (2017) explains that’ ‘datafication’ refers to the transformation of many aspects of education into quantifiable information that can be inserted into databases for the purposes of enacting different techniques of measurement and calculation (Williamson, 2017, p.9). The Reception Baseline is exactly that, it is a measurement of a child’s progress from their start in school to the end of their primary years. However, rather than being a tool for teachers to use to support children’s educational progress and development, it is merely a figure that will be unknown to the teacher and used as a school accountability measure when the pupils reach the end of their primary education. Bradbury and Roberts-Holmes (2016) state in their research project that

Extensive research on the use of assessments for accountability has shown the potential impact on pedagogy and curriculum, classroom organisation, teacher’s work-load and feelings of professionalism’ (Bradbury & Roberts-Holmes, 2016, p.9)

Their research concluded that the reintroduction of a Baseline Assessment for 4 year olds was ‘problematic at best, and potentially damaging at worst’ (Bradbury & Roberts-Holmes, 2016, p.53). Teachers are rightly sceptical as to whether the assessment platforms used can truly assess children’s ‘baseline’ and recognise that the first few weeks of school are crucial for building relationships, establishing routines and settling children into a new educational and social environment. Shockingly in 2015 schools were asked to select a Baseline Assessment provider from a list of approved private providers. All other standardized assessments in UK primary schools are supplied by the Standards and Testing Agency (STA). Why should baseline be supplied by private providers and how do they benefit? Unsurprisingly the data collected in September 2015 cannot be compared between schools as intended because schools used different providers! However, the private providers were all paid for their assessment platforms.

Education can be seen as big business! There are Edtech projects being funded and developed that see the current education system as fundamentally flawed and propose educational technology as part of the solution and future of education. Williamson (2017) states that the ‘solution is in the hands of software developers and hackers who write codes'(Williamson, 2017,p.3) Furthermore he goes on to express that ‘with webs of political support and entrepreneurial investment for educational technology growing, a new digital future for education is being imagined and pursued in governmental and private settings alike, with significant consequences for learning, policy and practice'(Williamson, 2017,P.3)

What is being measured and how it is being measured have serious and lasting implications for our current UK education system. If the data collected is only about children’s literacy and numeracy, that sends a powerful message that that is what is valued and what schools will ultimately be held accountable for. This can be seen to be extremely reductionist and as Selwyn explains

a recursive state where data analysis begins to produce educational settings, as much as education settings producing data’ (Selwyn, 2015)

Teachers need to develop a critical awareness of the impact of ‘datafication’ in education to enable them to push back against what Selwyn (2015) describes as ‘top-down’ data initiatives. He looks at the purposes of data across the educational landscape and discusses the possibility of data reproducing and adding to social inequalities. This is certainly the case with the current Baseline Assessment Pilot that took place in Sept 2019. The test was supposedly designed to be inclusive yet was only available in English and took no account of children with English as an additional language or children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities.

Boyd & Crawford (2012) state that ‘Big Data’ is a socio-technical phenomenon. Their article focuses on Big data in a social media context, however, there are parallels that can be drawn between the use of big data in any context. Questions such as who controls the data? Who can use the data? and what questions do they dare to ask of the data? are all of interest and can reveal the power relationships, assumptions, biases and inequalities that are part and parcel of any data set.

There is no doubt that data is extremely useful in educational settings and that informed, thoughtful collection and analysis can support the effectiveness and efficiency of educational institutions. However, the proposed Baseline Assessment of 4 year olds is an extremely controversial education policy that is completely based on the ‘datafication’ of our children.


Williamson, B. (2017) Big Data in Education: The Digital Future of Learning, Policy and Practice. London: SAGE Publications LTD

Boyd, D. and Crawford, K. (2012) Critical Questions for Big Data, Information, Communication and Society, 15(5), pp.662-679

Bradbury, A. and Roberts-Holmes, G. (2016) “They are children…not robots, not machines” The Introduction of Reception Baseline. UCL Institute of Education

Selwyn, N (2015) Data Entry: towards the critical study of digital data and education, Learning, Media and Technology, 40(1), pp.64-82

Selwyn, N (2017) Education and Technology Key Issues and Debates. London: Bloomsbury Academic

Am I digitally literate?

In thinking about my own digital literacy as part of my continuing studies, I have searched for a definition of what it means to be digitally literate. There are of course conflicting opinions. To some ‘digital literacy’ simply means to have the appropriate skills to use technology. This could almost be as simple as a check list of skills that you have and tasks that you are able to perform. To others ‘digital literacy’ encompasses the cognitive, social and emotional aspects of living, learning and working within a digital environment. I wonder if being ‘digitally literate’ means being comfortable in your ability to use digital technologies to communicate, express opinions, thoughts and ideas, critic information and opinions, learn and ultimately thrive in a digital environment?

I regularly use Twitter and on reflection I learnt to navigate Twitter simply by playing. It was a process of exploration, trial and error that I engaged in because I was curious about it as a source of connection with other educationalists and as a source of information. I was interested!

When I use Twitter I feel curious, interested and supported. Often my thoughts and opinions are reaffirmed and supported by others as they like or retweet. I feel a sense of connection to a community. I recognise that this could also be a criticism of social media and make a conscious effort to try to follow people who share different and maybe conflicting views. However, I think that human nature means that this is not always easy to do!

The benefits of using Twitter for me are that by connecting with others, via Edutwitter, I can continually engage in professional development and learning. I am frequently signposted to books and articles that I am interested to read. I can consolidate and challenge my thinking and learning.

I often share my Twitter discoveries with my colleagues via Twitter or Whatsapp. It is an effective way of becoming a community of learners.

The downside of my Twitter use is that it is a time thief! However, as I continue my learning journey I have discovered that I can manage my use more effectively by setting a time limit…who knew! So to return to the title of this blog post, am I digitally literate? Not yet, but through playful exploration and connection I am learning to communicate, reflect and ultimately thrive in our increasingly digital environment.

Always Learning

As part of my current learning about social and technological change in relation to education I am developing an understanding of the following concepts:

Technological determinism – The belief that technology is leading change in society. Claiming that technologies have inevitable and predetermined effects on people and social processes. Marketing campaigns and the media often seek to persuade people that a product or technology is essential in itself and will lead to a required outcome.

Neil Selwyn and Keri Facer (2013) discuss the ‘the technologically determinist perspective that “social progress is driven by technological innovation, which in turn follows an ‘inevitable’ course” (Smith, 1994,p.38) in their book The Politics of Education & Technology.

Social determinism – Claims that technologies are irrelevant and are merely tools for society to use.

What is Sociotechnical change and what needs to be considered when we seek to conduct sociotechnical analysis?

Technology and society influence each other. They can be described as co-constituted or a mutual shaping approach. They are intertwined.

Ben Williamson (2016) explains that

‘technologies are socially. politically and economically produced, and also socially, politically and economically productive’

Sociotechnical analysis avoids technological determinism and instead focuses on the practices and activities around technologies, the meanings that people attach to technologies and the social relations and structures that technologies come from and continue to develop.

In beginning to think about ‘sociotechnical change’ I have begun to think about the use of mobile phones as digital devices in schools. Until recently the use of mobile phones in many schools was prohibited by teaching staff and pupils. However, times are changing rapidly. I currently teach in a large primary school and staff are now encouraged to use their mobile phones to share their pupils learning with all stakeholders via twitter. Teaching staff share pupils learning and also engage in reflection and learning through sharing thoughts, reading, blogs and images of learning environments via edutwitter. I have also experienced interactive apps that can support engagement and interaction in the classroom such as padlet and mentimeter. The poster created below shares some of my initial thoughts around the positives and negatives of using mobile phones as digtal technology devices in school by both staff and pupils.

Home Visits…schools reaching out into their communities.

This week I have visited the children who will join me at school next week. I have been welcomed into their homes by their parents and carers to begin to establish the relationship that will support them as they take their next step on their learning journey.

Home visits are a very special part of being an Early Years teacher. Children remember and talk about our visits long after they start school and it supports a personal connection with their key adults that allows them to feel safe, secure and happy in their new environment.

No child should feel alone on the next step of their journey.

For all involved it’s a bit nerve wracking as you approach the visit and both children and adults (school staff included!) can feel shy. However, it has been an absolute joy to meet everyone and experience tells me that the power of a meeting in the home is enormous.

Education is fundamentally all about relationships. The quality of those relationships between pupils and teachers, parents and teachers, the school and it’s families and the wider community. Those relationships begin with schools reaching out into their community and visiting children and their parents in their homes.

It takes a village to raise a child is an African proverb that means that it needs a whole community to be involved if we want our children to grow and thrive in their environment. Home visits are a crucial part of schools reaching out to children and families.

Coping! At what cost to our children?

Coping! At what cost to our children?

15 December 2018

Teachers have always coped with shifts and changes in educational policy. As the GPs of the education system Primary Teachers are fantastic at providing care and education for all children. However, just as a GP in our health service would not be expected to operate on a broken leg or perform complex surgery, teachers cannot be expected to effectively provide for complex special educational needs without support from specialists. Inclusion is wonderful and essential when properly supported by specialists to meet the needs of our vulnerable children and children with complex SEND. The system is failing and as a result teachers and schools are failing our young people. Teachers have got used to the fact that there is little or no support available for a variety of reasons. It is nolonger a system driven by the needs of the child. This is a crisis and it is wrong!

Teachers should be able to refer children and parents to the specialist support that will allow them to thrive within our education system. During my 21 year teaching career I have had the pleasure of working with some wonderful educational psychologists, physiotherapist and speech and language therapists who have the expertise to assess and support children in schools and in their homes. Sadly this support has become increasingly hard or impossible to access for children in our current system. Teachers are copers and will work with the resources they have available but at what cost to our children?

Parents and teachers are increasingly distressed at the difficulties they face when trying to get appropriate support for their children. Many parents resort to funding specialist therapy themselves when possible, other children simply go without. The consequences of little or no early intervention are enormous as they progress through the education system.

A symptom of a system in crisis is that children with obvious speech delays and disorders are regularly signed off when they clearly require continued support. The system does not have capacity to help them. Equally children requiring intensive therapy are seen perhaps twice a year and then it is up to schools to provide the therapy.

I recently heard a teacher sum it up beautifully as she said ” oh yes, they must be using the assess the need and do nothing model”. We joke as a means of coping in a woefully inadequate situation. We need to say enough is enough. Early intervention and specialist support for our children is essential and should be a non negotiable!

You can have both!

13 November 2018

I strongly believe that it does not have to be a case of process versus product in education.  So many teachers say they know it should be about experiences and the learning process but the senior leadership team want results, outcomes, data!

You can have both. You can provide a rich, experiential, joyful education for children that ensures that they achieve their best outcomes. It’s not one or the other.

In her blog about continuous provision on Alistair Bryce-Clegg’s website Jo from St John’s C of E Primary explains clearly how she has worked with her team to provide both!
Yes,there is top down pressure. Yes, many tests exist and there’s no change on the horizon. However, I firmly believe it is our duty as educators to facilitate real learning.

The outcomes of children’s learning journeys should not be the product that the adult has pre planned. Of course teachers need to know their aims and objectives and share these with their children. They must make children’s learning explicit so that all involved in the process understand what they are doing and what they can aspire to learn and achieve. But to teach to the end product or test is simply too narrow and blinkered. By doing this and narrowing the experience we limit children’s learning and as a result we limit their outcomes. Learning should be limitless, surprising, challenging, individual and driven by the child with the support of facilitating adults.

IMG_5617Children inspired a superhero den outside that provided a wealth of child initiated writing experiences

Adults need to know where they are heading but also be brave enough to allow children to surprise them. When planning a guided writing session of course the teacher must plan the objective for the lesson and share with the children the skills they are developing and practising. What the adult does not need to do is prescribe what the children must write about. In a rich, inspiring learning environment, where children are part of the process and inspire the ideas, children have plenty to say and will not struggle with what they’d like to write. Pie Corbett talks about children having a bank of stories and experiences that they know so well they are not stuck when it comes to what they want to write and they can then work on the process and skills involved in writing it.

In my setting all adults have backed off the treadmill of getting children through activities. Adults now spend time listening to children and facilitating their next steps through a rich, engaging, open ended environment. I can honestly say we have been on a journey of enlightenment! Children are happy, adults are happy and the learning is sticky. By that I mean that children remember their experiences.



Children engaging with ‘stonework play’ within the continuous provision.


Through objective led planning all adults know what the child can do and what their next steps might be. Over the course of a busy, play filled week the children work on their next steps in a variety of contexts within the continuous provision. Sometimes these learning opportunities come from peer to peer interactions, sometimes from being with an adult and sometimes from the learning environment itself (continuous provision). Adults skilfully choose whether to be an observer or whether to interact in the play. When interacting they may model a skill for a child, scaffold a child through a process or simply enjoy the moment. We have been inspired by Greg Bottrill’s recent book ‘Can I go and play now?’. He talks about progress being an adult expectation that has to be measured and that we expect to be linear, year by year, term by term. We know that children develop at different rates and that our current measures do not allow teachers to record children’s progress adequately. Just take a look at the vast span within the exemplification document for writing. It seems glaringly obvious that if the adults want to measure progress and outcomes the measurement system should reflect all children’s achievements and progress steps, but that’s a whole other debate!

What I know to be true is that to facilitate exciting, purposeful learning you need children’s engagement. Experience and a wealth of research has shown us that child led play never fails to engage. It may not be easy because despite popular belief play is not easy for everyone. You only have to see adults behaving like meerkats as they take on a supervising role rather than playing in the outdoor area ( and we’ve all done it!) to know that playing is not easy and facilitating purposeful, developmentally appropriate play takes great skill. As Dr Helen Bilton said recently ” it is rocket science!” In fact it is neuroscience.


 Making marvellous mixtures in our mud kitchen led to talk about recipes and children choosing to write their own recipes or asking an adult to scribe.

Dr David Weikart’s research showed that ‘children’s language performance decreases in proportion to the amount of time spent in forced group academic activities. They increase in proportion to the amount of time spent in free choice and expressive activities.’
It’s surely time to say goodbye to the carousel of adult directed activities and instead take a giant leap into the world of child centred play. It is after all our most powerful tool for engagement and learning.

Be bold, be brave and let children have both a rich learning process and fantastic outcomes. You can have both!

We go out!


A playful approach to learning allows us to seize the day and grasp every learning opportunity in our path. When I say that, I literally mean in our path, as this week the adults and children in the my EYFS setting all set off on a wonderful winter wellie walk. We simply ventured out of our space and stomped our way around the rest of the schools outdoor environment.

Adults and children talked about their environment and children were animated, engaged and very eager to explore their world first hand. They jumped and rolled in piles of leaves and dashed from one discovery to the next.


Their obvious joy and delight at finding a bug hotel in a tree was clear for all to see. Collections of treasures were made, children felt their hearts race as they ran around, talk flowed between children as they commented on and described the world around them. They experimented with new words and phrases and listened carefully as adults named things and shared their knowledge. Most importantly the adults listened and let the children lead. There were plenty of ‘wow’ moments as children climbed trees, found shelters and experienced joyful learning outside.

These wellie walks enhance our continuous provision and allow us to make the most of our wider outdoor space. They provide children with the opportunity to run further and to explore the great outdoors on a larger scale. Our daily continuous provision gives our children the opportunity to free flow between the indoor and outdoor playful learning environment. However, going on walks feels like setting off on a voyage of shared discovery and thinking.

The impact of such shared adventures is enormous. Children and adults display high levels of well being ( as measured using the Leuven Scale) and nurture each others curiosity and wonder at our world.

On our return some children choose to move indoors, independently removing their waterproofs and exchanging their wellies for their shoes. We passionately believe the Nordic saying ‘ there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing’! Others choose to remain in our great outdoors and confidently begin to purposefully move tyres, crates and cable reels around,demanding yet more physical effort from themselves. Some children grab an apron and dash off to the mud kitchen where the children are ‘ provided with open-ended resources that facilitate challenge and encourage discovery’ (Thomas and McInnes’, 2018 A chapter titled ‘Into the great outdoors: opportunities and experiences by Alyson Lewis and Rebecca Poole).

The opportunities for memorable, joyful shared learning outside are endless and wonderful. It begs the question why anyone would want to stay in?

Little Extras!

Little Extras!

01 November 2018

By ‘little extras’ do we think the government means providing as Sue Palmer explains ‘ a rich, diverse environment inside and outside. Staff who know how to play with children in these environments and a training program to support staff to deepen and extend their professional skills’? Quality costs money and the expression ‘you get what you pay for’ perfectly fits our current UK education system.

The UK needs to seriously invest in quality developmentally appropriate education for children. Although of course to do this the government would need to come down firmly on the side of a child centred approach to learning rather than an early start to formal education!

Our national culture favours an early start to education. The UK has one of the earliest school starting ages in the world. However, our early start has nothing whatsoever to do with education or knowledge of child development. When the state school system began in 1870 the starting age was set early to get the poorest children out of their homes and off the streets as quickly as possible to then process them quickly so that they could enter the workforce. The sooner education started the sooner these now educated children could begin working.

Personally I’m not sure that that thinking has changed. Governments still seem to favour this approach to closing the gap and supporting children in poverty. Early schooling and government funded free preschool provision seems to still be about the end product, sustaining our workforce and economy. The intentions may well be good and I passionately support efforts to close the achievement gap. However, the glaring problem is that in order to be successful the early childhood provision must be quality. It must be developmentally appropriate provision so that it does not ultimately add to some of the glaring social problems that we face today. It’s not enough to get them in early and pour on knowledge. I use the word ‘on’ as opposed to ‘in’ on purpose as my 21 years of teaching have shown me that an inappropriate knowledge based curriculum delivered by an adult to children will merely wash over them. At best something might stick, at worst you create reluctant learners and the gap widens.

We need a knowledge based curriculum that is developmentally appropriate for the age and stage of the child. There is a wealth of research telling us what our youngest citizens need inorder to thrive. We live in an age where this research is accessible and yet many of our youngest children have to suffer inappropriate provision. There are still an alarming number of children who start school and are expected to begin formal education sat at a table with an adult led activity expected to carry out pencil and paper work. Or worse still ( in my opinion) are the early years settings who say they value play and the child but who marginalise it and devalue it by putting children through a rota of adult led and adult directed tasks with a smattering of play when they have finished working with an adult. They are truly missing the most valuable and crucial learning tool that we possess. It is of course play. Play in all its forms has the power to change everything. Educators, parents,the government and our society as a whole must recognise the importance and power of play in order for us to provide an education system for our children that ensures that they thrive. I wonder if a government that spends £420million on the state of our roads and £400million on the state of our education system can ever be persuaded to help?

Really Bold Beginnings

Last November the government published a document ‘ Bold Beginnings’ to inform EYFS teachers, schools and Ofsted about what good practice looks like in the Reception year. The backlash on social media was huge, passionate and reassuring. Personally this document was disastrous. My setting was inspected by Ofsted last November and it was clear that the document had influenced one of the inspectors. The phrase the inspector used was “ missed opportunity” and they clearly felt that a formal setting was the way to get children writing. The whistle stop tour and preconceived ideas about bold beginnings for children , meant that our explanations of continuous provision within a play based, child centred enabling environment fell on deaf ears.

As a setting we maintained our good Ofsted rating but found the experience to be extremely frustrating and disappointing non the less. What they failed to see was that children were often rehearsing the application of skills in a playful environment. This is far from a missed opportunity! In fact as EYFS practitioners know, it takes great skill to know when to interact and when to observe. The belief that children can only learn with an adult or that learning opportunities are only fulfilled when an adult is present reveals a lack of knowledge and understanding about how children learn and develop.

A year on, following a great deal of reflection, I feel compelled to write about the experience and to add my voice to the many voices calling for our education system to be about real children, real learning and real education. Surely education is about improving lives and shaping a better society. Yet our current systems are clearly failing children. Sue Palmer states in her book ‘ Toxic Childhood’ that ‘ in 2004, an English research foundation recorded that behavioural problems in young people have doubled over the last thirty years and emotional problems have increased by 70 per cent’. The current factory model of education influenced by education systems in the Far East expects children’s progress to be linear year by year and any educational research will show you that this is simply not really the case for most children.
In my opinion real bold beginnings for children means teachers having the courage to speak out for what we know to be true about how children learn. As humans we learn through interest, enjoyment, mistakes, an element of struggle and real experiences. We learn through quality interactions with others in a rich and interesting environment. We need others to be sensitive to our needs for space, time to explore, time to talk and to rest. Our children’s educational experience should be one that allows children to thrive not just survive! Learning should be an experience through which knowledge and skills are retained and transferrable and this should be achieved with joy. Greg Bottrill states in his book ‘ can I go and play now? ‘ that there is a Finnish saying ‘ those things that you learn without joy you will easily forget’. Do we want our children’s education to be forgotten?