Technology and Exam boards: Time to modernise?

I recently received a request from a teacher in relation to getting some software installed on their school device to support them in marking for an exam board.    Now I know this isn’t part of their school role however having been a standards moderator in the past, I understand the benefits to schools and colleges of having markers or moderators within teaching departments.   I am therefore eager to try and enable staff by supporting such requests however this request involved a piece of software which requires admin rights to the laptop, both for install and for the operation of the application according to the exam board.   When the concern re: cyber security was raised the exam boards final reply was that the staff member should install the software on a personal rather than school laptop.   This got me thinking about how technology has changed but how exam boards have been slow to change.   This is all the more evident currently.   Just look at the advances in Large Language Models (LLMs) with ChatGPT over the last six months.

Traditionally, examination boards have relied on paper-based tests and manual grading systems. However, these methods have several drawbacks, including the potential for errors and delays in results processing.    One way examination boards could modernize is by moving towards computer-based testing. Computer-based testing allows for faster and more accurate grading, as well as the ability to customize exams to the specific needs of each student.  I very much believe that adaptive testing is the way forward, with this also enabling students to take exams in their own time when they are ready as opposed to at a set time with all other students.   Adaptive testing also supports students taking their tests anywhere, including at home, rather than having to be crammed into a large exam hall where the conditions themselves are not exactly designed for optimum student performance.    Additionally the results would be available much quicker reducing the stress associated with a long waiting period between the exams and the results being released.   There is also the potential benefit in the reduction in the amount of paper used in exams, transporting of these papers, etc, which may help with making the exam process more environmentally friendly.

Another way examination boards can modernize is by utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) in the grading process. This appears all the more relevant at the moment with development in LLMs like Chat-GPT.   AI-powered grading systems can quickly and accurately grade exams, allowing for quicker results processing and reducing the potential for errors. AI can also analyse student performance data to provide insights into areas where students may need additional support and guidance.   Now I note here that the use of AI may introduce new errors to the marking process however I would suggest that the volume or magnitude of these errors when compared with human based marking is likely to be lower.  It isn’t “the solution” to errors but definitely a step in the correct direct.

Related to the above, exam boards need to acknowledge the existence of AI and LLMs and the fact that they will become an increasing part of life and therefore a tool which students will increasingly use in their studies be it for revision, to help in developing critical thought or for creating coursework or other learning content.   So far only IB (International Baccalaureate) have really acknowledged ChatGPT and how they see it impacting on their courses, providing at least some steer for schools on what appropriate or inappropriate usage might look like and proving at least some direction for schools and teachers for managing these new technologies.

Moreover, examination boards can use technology to improve exam security. Online proctoring tools can help ensure that students are taking exams in a secure and controlled environment, preventing cheating and other forms of academic dishonesty.    Related to this, I have seen exam boards continuing to send out resources on CDs or USB drives, or requesting student video or audio work using similar formats.   It is about time that they provided appropriate online portals to allow the quick, efficient and secure transfer of such exam and coursework data.  

Finally, examination boards can use technology to make their exams more accessible to students with disabilities or special needs. For example, screen readers, text-to-speech software, and other assistive technologies can help students with visual or hearing impairments to take exams on an equal footing with their peers.   This is already happening for a subset of students however I suspect eventually will need to acknowledge that all students are individual and having differing learning preferences including their device use and the online tools they use.  In classrooms teachers support students using a range of tools and techniques so it is only correct to seek to support the same in the final exams which are, at least for now, viewed as so critical in a students format education.   As such examination boards will need to adapt to this.


Technology has the potential to revolutionize the examination process, making it more efficient, accurate, and accessible. Examination boards must embrace these technological advancements to ensure that their exams are of the highest quality and that students receive accurate and timely results. By doing so, they can help prepare the next generation of students for success in a rapidly changing digital world.   

And at a time when the pace of technology, particularly in relation to Artificial Intelligence solutions, has never been faster, the exam boards will need to significantly increase their agility and their ability to adapt to and embrace change.


AI and Learning Platforms

Software learning platforms which come complete with learning content for students to work through are not new.   I remember an online Maths programme from my days as a university student as I was studying to become a teacher back in the late 90’s.   Basically, you worked through content and then were presented with different options as to how you progressed through the programme.    As a learner the individual modules of content were pretty much fixed, having been written into the software, but the path through the wider programme of learning was up to me.    I was provided options as to how I progressed from one module to the next.   Now, I was never a great fan of this as each module was presented in a given way and worked through examples in a given way, as it was programmed to do.  If you didn’t understand the way it was presented then there was no help or way to progress through this module although you could move to further modules in the hope they would provide you with insight which might eventually get you past this issue.    I liked the idea of online programmes and self paced learning however had concerns about user motivation, especially when you hit concepts which provide difficult for you to understand, and about the fixed nature of the content materials;   A great teacher adjusts and customises their learning materials and approach to their class and the individual students within it.   As such the self paced learning aspect was a step forward but this was about as far as it goes.

Fast forward to more recently and little progress had been made, at least as far as I saw it.   Newer learning platforms are capable of gather much more diagnostic data and analytics which allow the developers and content writers to adjust and improve their content.   So, the content is better than the content I experienced in the 90’s but generally it still provides largely linear and fixed content and if the content, its style, etc don’t match your needs then there is little that can be done.   As so, until very recently I have had a largely negative view of learning platforms which come complete with the vendors own content which teachers cannot adjust or customise to their content.   They have their place for example supplementary to classroom teaching or self paced learning when teachers are absent but that was it.

That was until recently when I saw a video of some new developments within the Khan Academy platform including its new use of the GPT4 Large Language Model (LLM).    Still the content in terms of problems set within the platform and the way they are worked through appears very linear and fixed.  So if it is maths problems it will work through the problem in a specific way;  no change there.   The difference, and the massive leap forward in terms of learning platforms is their new chat bot style assistant.   It prompts and supports the student using the platform.   It identifies common misconceptions and provides guidance.   It acts as a coach and facilitator but customising its responses to the efforts being made by the student using the platform and this includes providing motivational “well dones” and corresponding emojis.    Watching the demo it was almost as if there was a teacher sat behind the chatbot rather than an AI solution.    Now I note that this demo was short and was for the purposes of showing off what is possible in the Khan Academy platform so may not be fully representative of how it all looks and feels in real life, however if the final product is anything close to this then it is a major shift forward.

Flipped learning has been a concept long discussed looking at releasing teachers from supporting students practice of learning concepts however maybe AI solutions like GPT4 and its use in Khan Academy will allow us to release teachers from more of the basic learning.    Maybe the AI and learning platform can be used here, allowing teachers to act more as facilitators rather than delivering new learning, and allowing them to focus much more on the high order skills of creativity, critical thinking and the like.    

AI and large language models could potentially facilitate significant shifts in what learning in our schools and colleges looks like, not in the distant future, but in the very near future indeed.

Cyber culture

The enterprise org budgets being spent in relation to cyber security have, for a number of year, seen a steep increase however at the same time the volume of attacks and size of attacks have also seen a continuing and steep increase.  From a return in investment point of view this doesn’t look good.   In how many areas of a business or school would we be willing to accept increasing spends but worsening results?

Now this isnt such a big issue for schools and colleges as the available budget which might be applied to cyber security are very small indeed however viewed from a different perspective, this might mean it is all the more important to spend that which we have carefully and correctly.  

Or maybe we need to start looking at the problem differently?   If we accept that additional money and associated spends on technology tools and more staff won’t necessarily solve the problem then what can we or should we be doing?


I suspect this is key to how we need to approach cyber security.  It needs to be “how we do things around here” rather than something which is seen as an IT issue or, where things have progressed a little further, an IT and SLT issue.   Cyber security and appropriate cyber behaviours need to permeate a school, being the responsibility of everyone in the school community.    Everyone needs to understand why it matters and what part they play in keeping users, data and systems safe.     Now building such a culture isnt a quick process however I suspect it is something we need to start developing now, as part of a longer term journey to having more cyber resilient schools.


Another area that is important is the need to have some form of measurement.  In order to make sure our cyber efforts are effective we need to be able to measure this effectiveness.   This might relate to awareness of phishing or a multitude of other measures we might create in trying to assess our cyber security.    The key however is the need for some sort of measurement so we actually have some data as how we are doing, to help identify areas we need to focus on and to assess whether our efforts bring about the positive change we are hoping for.    This measurement could be the data from a phishing awareness exercise, from help desk calls or even from a RAG (Red/Amber/Green) rating exercise.    It needn’t be overly complex but it needs to provide some meaningful data in terms of where we are at the point the measurement is taken.


The third area which I think is key, and which was shared at a TEISS InfoSec event I attended, is the need for accountability.   We might have data as to where we are, or where a given department is or a school within a school group, but who is responsible and accountable for moving things forward?    We need to ensure this is clearly identified and again it isnt simply an IT issue and instead should belong to the business, the school.   It may therefore be that the HR manager is responsible for the HR dept, while the academic Head is responsible in terms of academic data, processes and staff.    Whatever the accountability lines are, they need to be clear and understood.


On reflection, the above isnt a quick fix;  culture takes a long time to develop and even establishing accountability and measures for assessing cyber readiness will take time.  We need to ensure we are measuring the right things and that accountability is set at the correct hierarchical level, with this taking some time to get right.   That said, the current approach, and complaint regarding lack of money/resources, doesn’t work as additional  money/resources havent solved issues for those which have more of both money and resources currently.    As such I think maybe we need focus on cyber culture in the same way we have previously focussed on safeguarding culture in schools.   Maybe we all need to be focusing on cyber culture?

TEISS European Information Security Summit

I try to step outside education at least once each year, looking at the bigger technology world by attending an industry event.  The most recent of these ways the TEISS European Information Security Summit on 23rd Feb in London.    I feel it is important to keep up to date with the wider technology world to sense check my thoughts and ideas and to benchmark technology in education against technology in other sectors.    During the course of the event it was interesting to have discussions from a diverse range of industries including highly regulated industries like banking.   Hearing that they suffer similar issues to education, such as shadow IT or issues identifying responsibility for data, but at a much larger scale was reassuring.

Given below are some of my takeaways and thoughts from the various sessions and discussions I had throughout the course of the conference.

Budgets and Cyber

One of the first takeaways from the event related to cyber security and budgets.    It was presented that cyber budgets and cyber spending has been on the increase for a number of years.   It was also however indicated that the volume of attacks and the size of attacks continue to increase.    For me this suggests that more budget, including more staffing associated with additional budget, does not necessarily solve or improve the situation in relation to cyber.   From the point of view of schools and colleges this is important given the limited budgets available.    I think this highlights the need to start approaching cyber and cyber risk a little differently including possibly being more accepting of the fact we will never reach 100% secure and therefore accepting cyber as a journey and simply trying to focus on our key “business” assets and on continual improvement in relation to cyber security in whatever form this may take, including where this may be simple and small improvements.


User awareness and cyber security culture was one of the three main streams offered at the conference with one session looking specifically at the potential use of gamification in relation to cyber security awarenss training.   It is true that often cyber security and other online training can be a boring process of reading a screen of text and clicking next repeatedly before completing a test at the end.   Clearly not an engaging experience and therefore possibly an experience  where little long term or deep learning takes place;  We may remember for long enough to answer the test at the end, but ask the same questions a week later and I suspect the retention of the content will have dropped to very low indeed.   So this is where gamification comes in.    The presenters identified two types of gamification, being content or structure based.   In content based gamification the content is presented as a game.  In structured based gamification the content is the same but includes some sort of leader board, prize of other enticement to engage users.   As the session was presented I was thinking of the potential of doing a Kahoot quiz with heads of department where they need to identify whether emails are trustworthy or not for example.     I also thought about some sort of competition between departments so maybe a quiz or phishing test which results in a cyber score which can be reported and compared with other departments.   This is one area I will certainly be looking into in the short term to see how I can try to gamify user awareness materials and processes, and to see what impact that has.

Civic duty rather than organisational cyber security awareness

Another point that was made during the conference was to engage people on security awareness beyond simply keep the organisations data secure but to accept that we can also deliver a civic benefit in making users more secure, both personally and also professionally.   Where we seek to do this we are more likely to engage users and have them learn from awareness programmes plus additionally we address the risk of a personal cyber incident potentially impacting on the school or other organisation anyway.  Take for example the compromised personal mobile phone:  It may have organisational email on it or info about the individual which could be used in crafting attack against them in their professional context, among other data which could pose a risk to the organisation.

Regulation as a change agent

One of the panel sessions I attended involved discussion of change and of compliance with security standards, change processes, etc.     From a school and college point of view this can be difficult as although policies are in place sometimes these will be overlooked and busy staff, both teachers and support staff, as well as students, may fail to engage with requirements or training around cyber security.    One of the panellists in the session highlighted that this wasn’t an issue in financial technology (FinTech) due to the nature of the business being heavily regulated meaning the penalties for non-compliance, for both the individual and the organisation, can be quite extreme.   Taking this insight and applying it to education got me thinking of the potential for the DfE to set requirements and of ISI and Ofsted to then include this within the inspection requirements.   Now the release of the DfE standards is a small step towards this however I suspect that is about as far as things will progress, which without any monitoring or penalties for non-compliance, is very limited in terms of impact.

Cyber insurance

There was a good session discussing cyber insurance with a very clear take away.  The session talked about how the cyber insurance market has seen policy costs increase along with greater requirements to get insured.   The questionnaires which you need to complete were a particular focus of discussion in that some of the questions are not easy to answer or not appropriate in a given context.   I have never really thought about this however the panel highlighted that the purpose of these questionnaires is for the underwriters to get a view of the risk in order to provide their proposal.   As such if the questions don’t make sense, it is the underwriters which we need to discuss this with to find out what it was they were hoping to find out from a given question.   Apparently the underwriters often don’t have access to client information, with this handled by the broker, so it is for the client, the school or college, to request a discussion with the underwriter and to initiate dialogue.


Cyber security seems to me to very much be a business risk, including where that business is the education of students.    As such it impacts all organisations albeit the scope of impact and the scope of risk varies.    This means there is a lot to gain from sharing experiences and ideas across sectors rather than just within sectors.    Having attended this industry focused information security event, where I think I may have been one of very few from the education sector, I came away with a fairly long list of ideas and things to try.    

But if I am to leave this post with one thought it is that maybe we need to get past the doom and gloom of cyber and become more accepting of doing what we reasonably can and of seeking to constantly improve, even where these improvements might only be small and minor;   It is about risk management. Any progress in the right direction is progress after all.

LGfL, Lets Assemble

Friday 24th Feb marked the Lets Assemble event, the first time I had been to this event.   I was ill prepared for the high energy start to the day with the Rock Kidz team getting things off to a flying start before John Jackson took to the stage to the Rocky theme tune.    This was certainly far from the industry information security event I had attended in the same venue the day before.


As with most events of this type the key for me was the opportunity to network and catch up with people.   I managed to have a chat with Mark Anderson, Al Kingsley, Olly Lewis, Emma Darcy, Ian Phillips, as well as Tim and Terry from the ANME, among many others.   Somehow, despite repeatedly seeing him and also seeing his excellent cyber security session, I didn’t manage to stop and catch up with Abid Patel;  we seem to be making a habit of missing each other at events!

AI and ChatGPT

One of the topics which appeared within a couple of the presentations was that of Artificial Intelligence and in particular the recent interest in Chat-GPT.    Dan Fitzpatrick delivered a great session highlighting that the current iteration of AI, such as that in ChatGPT will only get better with time.    So, where some see potential and some see challenges in relation to AI impact on education and on learning, the situation is only going to accelerate.   He also highlighted how AI technologies enable creativity showing an example of using a variety of AI tools to create a short, animated video which apparently only took him 10 minutes to produce.   Rachel Arthur, who also presented on AI suggested power in the ability to “outsource” teacher administrative tasks allowing teachers to focus on relationships. This potential reduction in administrative tasks could certainly help towards workload challenges however she also highlighted some of the potential risks in terms of bias in AI solutions and also data protection related risks where personal data is provided to an AI solution.   My view is very much that AI is here to stay and like Dan suggested, their capabilities will only improve with further and ongoing development.   And it is clear that this development will be ongoing as Microsoft have invested in OpenAI, who produced ChatGPT, while Google are introducing their own solution, Bard, and I believe Amazon may be creating their own solution, while many others will likely be putting efforts into this area and bringing solutions to market in the coming months and years.    It was good to hear from educators on this however I would be very interested in hearing what the likes of the DfE, OFSTED and the examining bodies view is, however as yet they have remained reasonably silent.

Digital Headaches

It was good to hear Ian Phillips discussing Digital Headaches and highlighting the various issues and challenges around technology adoption, implementation, change, etc.    Using technology isnt without its problems and challenges and I think the encouragement and promotion of the need to share and discuss these issues, to try and seek solutions which are then shared, is an important message.   I believe conference events, including the networking and the sessions, are key to this as are groups such as the ANME.    Its interesting that digital technologies aid communication and collaboration, yet it is communication and collaboration we likely need to do more of if we are to seek to better handle the various digital headaches which exist.

Cyber Security

Cyber security in education is such an important topic and obviously therefore had its own session delivered by Abid Patel.   I must admit to being very much on the same page as Abid in terms of his thoughts regarding the risks and also regarding the measures schools can take in relation to cyber security.   The cyber discussion in education does feel all “doom and gloom” although I note that in the industry InfoSec conference I went to the previous day it was equally bleak yet the resources at hand for organisations, such as banks, is way beyond that which schools have at their disposal.    So, more resources, more money and more technology doesn’t seem to be the answer or the silver bullet to the problem of cybercrime.  I suspect this is something we will need to consider going forward.     Abid closed his presentation with some recommendations and it was great to hear him highlighting the need to train all staff as his first recommendation, and the need to have an incident plan in place as his second.    Cyber isnt an IT issue, it’s a whole school issue so everyone’s responsibility plus like fire safety, we need to prepare for the eventuality and have a relevant plan in place.   He then went on to raise the need to minimise data which I think is an often overlooked point.  The more data, systems, etc we have the bigger the risk so if we don’t need it we should be looking to delete or remove it.   He finished on the need to avoid complacency, where I think this is the balance we need to, but are yet to find, between doom and gloom, and complacency.

EdTech on a Budget

Emma Darcys presentation on embedding technology on a budget was really interesting indeed and I loved her focus on the need to be the change in your school and to be “highly aspirational for your students” yet also to not expect it to be perfect overnight.    It was the fact she focussed very much on the students and on learning rather than on the specific technology or platform which came out most from the session.    I also liked her advice regarding the need to pilot new ideas which aligned with the fact that things may not work as you planned or may go wrong, so piloting allows you to hopefully identify the speed bumps ahead of rolling out any technology solution widely.     Her advice to get out and visit other schools was also useful as I have done this in the past however in the last few years havent been out to other schools with quite the same frequency;   something I maybe need to seek to address.


As a first experience of this LGfL event, it was certainly a positive one.   I would have loved to actually stay behind and network further with people at the end however had to rush to catch my train and, if you read my blog occasionally, you will know my poor track record with trains.    There were lots of great sessions and in fact a number of presenters who I was unable to see due to other sessions, including sessions by Mark and Olly, which only goes to show the quality of the sessions on offer.    The close of the event marked the end of a tiring couple of days but all in all it was worth it and this is definitely an event I would look to attend again. So with that its back to my email inbox and the 300+ emails which have landed in the two days I have been out of school!

Day in the life: Half term edition

Last week was half term and from an IT Services point of view this represents an opportunity to catch up on things and to do maintenance and other works while the teaching staff and students are no longer on site.   As such I thought I would share another “day in the life” similar to my post from January 2022 (A day in the life of a Director of IT).

Start of Day

Have set myself a target of running 65km each month in 2023, trying to build some consistency into my health and fitness efforts.  As such it was up and out at 6am for a run.  On this occasion my run was cut short at around 3.5km out of my planned 6km due to not feeling 100%, however its still progress considering I lost a weeks worth of running at the start of February due to a heavy cold.


In work for around 8:30 which is slightly later than normal, with this being the result of some ongoing roadworks which have now been ongoing for what feels like years.   I need to get sorted back in my office following the whole IT department including myself being relocated to the DT department to allow some essential power works to be done on our offices.   The first part of the day is quickly catching up on social media posts and looking at my calendar for the day to check what I have on.  As its half term the calendar isnt that busy although I have plenty of tasks to work on, so this means my time is very much self-directed rather than directed by meetings and appointments.   As we are in the middle of the week, Wednesday, I spend a little bit of time looking towards next week and allocating time for various meetings, preparation and planning and other tasks.   This is a weekly task I do to ensure I am always looking ahead and trying to be proactive in my planning as opposed to have to be forever reactive.   I have a number of 1:1 meetings planned with various staff so it is at this point

It isnt however long before an impromptu meeting arises to look at events management and how technology can be used in helping plan events in what is a very busy school with lots of things going on, whether its sporting, academic, music, drama, art or other events.   This meeting is followed by another meeting looking at inspection compliance and data requirements.   In both cases my focus is on trying to identify and simplify processes first before looking at how technology can be used.    Applying technology to overly complex processes in the hope of improving things is something I seek to involve as I feel it just created complex technology solutions which in turn tend to be expensive in terms of total cost to support, manage and maintain, but also tend to be fragile and more prone to fail.  


One of the projects I am working on currently relates to using PowerBi to analyse academic results data.   As lunch is approaching I spend a little bit of time playing with my data model to see if I can get the outputs I would like.   It becomes clear that some of the data needs to be reprocessed into a slightly different form in order to facilitate the outcomes I am looking for.  


When working on data exercises or little programming problems time can just disappear so before I know it lunchtime arrives and it is a quick visit to the canteen for some food with this then being eaten at my desk due to the main canteen undergoing some maintenance works.   The canteen staff as always do a fantastic job.  I particularly enjoy the Tunnocks Caramel Wafers which were on offer.   As I have my lunch a bang out a couple of emails in relation to the podcast, “In our humble opinion”, I am working on with Ian Stockbridge ahead of a recording session planned for this evening.


After lunch and I have two main tasks on my to-do list, being continuing working on the PowerBI data analysis and also working on an initial draft of a proposal looking at moving school servers to the cloud.  

Within the PowerBI project I find a lovely visual to present value added data comparing students actual grades with predicted grades based on standardised testing.   I then however hit a challenge in relation to looking at individual classes in terms of how to model the data.  This is something I will need to come back to.   And its important to note here that my belief is that data always has context so therefore the data in itself is of limited use without someone able to add the detail in terms of the individual students involved, events which have occurred, etc.

The proposal for a move to the cloud comes together quite well as I look to present the positives and the risks of such a move.  It is my firm view that most services will move to the cloud however I recognise that cloud hosting will be more expensive than locally hosting, when viewed over the longer term, however with that come some advantages such as improved scalability and better security functionality.    The proposal isnt at this point ready to be presented but it should be ready following a number of revisions and adjustments planned in the weeks and months ahead.   This, in my eyes, is a long but important project.


The end of the day has arrived and it is shortly after 5pm I leave for the carpark before driving to the car park which is my route home, inclusive of the ongoing road works.    Arriving home and the house is empty as kids are out so it is a couple of quick household chores and some reheated Pizza ahead of jumping on Teams at 8pm to record what will be episode 6 of the “in our humble opinion” podcast with Ian.   The episode seems to go quite well and we ended up having a further chat post ending the episode.   Following ended the call I quickly upload episode 2 and release it via our website and also via Spotify and other podcast channels.


Finally, the end of the day and a little bit of time watching TV before bed.    Currently this involves a number of “classic” 1980’s movies however it isnt long before I am too tired and the TV gets turned off before the movie ends.


Half terms seem to go quickly but it is only when you stop and take note of what has been done, as I have done above, that you truly appreciate what is achieved.   Normally you simply get to the end of half term, wonder what has been achieved and then are drawn to things yet to do or the tasks which we be required come Monday when the term restarts.    But stopping and taking note requires time and when things are busy we often don’t allow ourselves that time.   Although reflection is important it is seldom urgent.    Maybe this has to change! And it is also worth noting that not all half terms or holiday periods are as busy as this one…..sometimes they are busier.

Balancing technology use

Have always been a fan of technology and of the potential impact of technology in education (note I don’t say EdTech 😉) however I have also been quick to point out we should never use technology for technologies sake;  We should ensure we use technology where it adds to, enables, enhances or even re-defines learning and learning opportunities, but we should also be comfortable not to use technology where appropriate, where it might distract or where it adds nothing or little to learning.    It was therefore with interest that I read an article in relation to a Dutch supermarket chain where they are reintroducing “slow checkouts”.

Slow checkouts

In the supermarket I visit on a regular basis as part of my weekly shop I had observed the steady removal of the conventional checkout staffed by a checkout assistant, and the move to technology enabled checkout solutions where shoppers simply scan their own shopping and pay via an online terminal.   This all makes sense in terms of efficiency and getting people in and out of the supermarket quicker, which seems to make sense from a consumer point of view;  I want to get my shopping done and get back home with as little delay as possible.   It also likely works from the supermarkets point of view in reduced cost and increased flexibility;  You don’t need a checkout assistant for each terminal so a reduced staffing bill and the terminals don’t need breaks or holidays.

So from a “lets use technology” point of view it all looks rather positive, and this is where this article comes in as it highlights that some customers actually view the shopping experience as a human experience, and look forward to the interaction at the checkout with the checkout assistant.   Consider the impact this couple of minutes of interaction might have on an otherwise isolated pensioner or single person.  The impact is notable.

How might this reflect on schools?

The purpose of school is learning and learning is an inherently social experience.   Additionally, within schools some of the learning relates to actually learning and developing social skills.   As such, like with checkouts in a supermarket, I think we need to keep an eye on the balance between using technology and the social side of life in schools and colleges.   Actions taken in relation to technology use will impact on the social side of school life and correspondingly actions to change the social side of school life will likely impact on technology use.    I think this might be particularly important at the moment in the significant discussion around the use of artificial intelligence and solutions such as Chat-GPT.   How can we make use of these solutions without losing out on the social side of learning, on discussion, peer of peer interaction and whole class involvement, etc?     How can we gain efficiency benefits through automation and AI based personalisation in teaching and learning, while maintaining social interaction with peers, teachers and others?


I think this plan to introduce more “slow” checkouts serves as a flag highlighting that the march of technology, although largely beneficial and positive, may have other implications that we need to ensure we consider.    We need to remember the social animal that we are, the things which make us different from the automated nature of technology.   And in doing so we need to find a balance between the efficiencies and accuracy of technology and the variability and social interaction which underpins the human animals we are.


Is There a Future for Chit Chat Checkouts? – Issuu

Jan 2023: a quick review

It’s been a busy January and I can’t believe how quickly time has flown.  As such I thought it might be a good opportunity to take stock and do a little bit of reflection using my 2023 pledges as a starting point.


I set a plan for releasing a podcast of at least 6 to 8 episodes at some point in 2023.   This has led to a discussion with a colleague, Ian Stockbridge, where we have been discussing some sort of collaboration for a while now however never managed to actually put aside time and make anything happen.   In January however we both have put time aside and started a little Podcast project with 5 episodes already recorded and a few more planned.   As such it looks like my plan to get a podcast released is well on its way and likely to see fruition and the release of episodes in Feb/Mar this year.

Time Management

Am not sure much has changed on the time management front as January has certainly flown by.   I do however hope I have started to build some new more effective time management habits however only time will tell.


It was a ropey start to January with no running at all done in the first week however I picked up in week 2 and by the end of the month had managed 12 runs and 65km.   The 65km mark is higher than the 50km per month I planned, but would see me again break the 750km mark as I did in 2021 and 2022.  As such this is progressing well.


Managed one book so far in January, mainly due to a train journey which allowed me to get a significant amount of reading in.   Continuing to read will be very much dependent on my finding the relevant opportunities and time in my day as we progress through the remainder of the year.   I suspect this is one pledge which I may fall short on.

Big Picture

I have already taken the step to roll smaller tasks together however I still think I am being drawn to more operational rather than strategic matters.  I suspect this is something I will need to continue to work on during the course of the year.

Holidays and Experiences

January hasn’t provided too many opportunities however I already have a couple of plans which I am looking to put in place in relation to building experiences and arranging holidays.   I am also trying to ensure I note any achievements so I am better able to reflect when, in the future, I look back on 2023.

Contributions to Edu and Tech

I have already had a few opportunities including a podcast, a webinar and also some guides I have been involved in producing.  In terms of the remainder of the year there are a few events I hope to be involved in plus a number of different ideas and projects I am actively seeking to explore.   I have also enjoyed contributing to discussion in relation to Artificial Intelligence such as ChatGPT as I see such potential for the use of AI solutions like this however I also see significant risks which we need to consider and seek to mitigate.  January has also furnished me the opportunity to attend my first face to face conference of the year in a Microsoft and ANME event at which I was an attendee, finding it to be useful and interesting.    Overall, I hope that when I look back, 2023 will have been a good year in terms of my contributions to education and technology in education.


I have enjoyed spending a bit of time discussing digital citizenship with various year group assemblies both in December but continuing into January.   This is definitely something I want to build on going forward.   Equally enjoyable have been the esports groups I have been involved in who have positively took on competition among themselves, and who hopefully may consider moving on to compete with other schools/colleges in the 2024 season.


I have achieved more in January than I thought I would have done, albeit this means I have been very busy indeed at times.   In turn this has meant time has flown by, however it has also meant I have not had the reflective time I would have liked but sadly you cant have it both ways.    If I had more time stopping and thinking, I doubt I would have had the time to achieve as much.   As such I will need to keep an eye on this balance and check it continues to be at a point I am happy with.  I note as I write this that the start of feb saw me fall ill with a cold;  Was this just due to weather or maybe just trying to do a little too much;  I am not sure.

In terms of new opportunities and experiences I think I can already identify three in my collaborative podcast, a little consultative work and also in the initial discussions regarding a conference in Europe at which I will hopefully contribute later in the year.  Given only one month gone, I think this is good progress and something I can continue to build on.

So, 1 month down, 11 months to go……..onwards to the rest of 2023!

ANME and Microsoft Event

So, Friday morning was an early start, up at 5:20am for a 6:20am train heading to Reading and an ANME and Microsoft event at Microsoft’s offices.   As always, I had my concerns regarding potential travel mishaps as often happens with me.   I was however prepared with multiple cans of “the Bru” to keep me going throughout the day;  I suspect Microsoft arent yet forward thinking enough to supply the Bru.   As it was, it turned out my expectations were correct;  Many less acceptable brands, such as Coke, were available but not a single Bru in site, so that’s the event marked down not long after it had even started!

It promised to be a busy but good day, with this event originally having been planned for late in 2022 with it cancelled at the last minute due to adverse weather conditions.   It was a shame this happened, albeit understandable.

Networking with the IT network folk.

So, like a lot of events one of the key features was catching up with quite so many great people all contributing to the use of technology in education.   The ANME’s Rick Cowell introduced the ANME and Microsoft even before others such as Alan Crawford and Kevin Sait presented on various topics.    Then there were the ANME ambassadors, Peter Othen and Ian Stockbridge to but name a few (and apologies to those I have missed off).  

Ian interestingly enough was wearing a T-Shirt which relates to a little project we have both been working on during Jan; Further info on this to be shared soon.

Every event I attend continues to emphasise the fact the “the smartest person in the room, is the room” and therefore the more people we share, interact and collaborate with, the better, with this being one of the key purposes of the ANME.

The presentations

In terms of the presentations and the event itself there were some techie discussions looking at Intune, a really useful session exploring Microsoft licensing as well as more strategic sessions looking a school 1:1 journey and the benefits of the MIEE (Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert) and Microsoft Showcase School programmes.   From my point of view, I took quite a bit away from a number of the sessions particularly in relation to Microsoft licensing and the use of Intune.   The use of Intune is definitely something I think we need to build on.   Additionally I noted references to the importance of having a plan regarding infrastructure including ongoing replacement, and the need to consider cyber security/resilience;  Both these issues are key and should be part of initial planning ahead of tech deployment, particularly in relation to mobile devices or 1:1 programmes.   They also need to be continually reviewed in relation to changes in technology usage and changes in the available technologies themselves.

On the way out

Upon the conclusion of the event and after a nice group photo, which hopefully will be shared in the near future, I arrived at the train station a little early.   I therefore availed myself of a bar next to the station for a quick pint.  There I ended up chatting with a stranger also waiting for a train.    This highlighted to me the continuing importance of social contact and the totally random interactions which technology doesn’t tend to currently provide.   Technology continues to be a tool but we need to use it to support and enhance our lives, where our lives are that of social animals who crave interactions and especially those which are outside the norm.  It was very nice to share a pint and a chat while waiting for a train.


It was great to visit the Microsoft offices, to catch up with so many people I already know and a few new people along the way, while listening to some technical tips and some more strategic insights.   This was my first in-person event of 2023 and I can only hope that the events later in 2023 will only build and enhance on this.    Onwards to the rest of 2023………

School IT Tendering

The recent court case in which a school management information system (MIS) vendor took a multi-academy trust (MAT) to court is of concern to schools.   It highlights the potential risk of vendors taking schools, colleges or multi-academy trusts to court where decisions don’t go their way.   In these cases, for me the educational institutional organisation will always suffer a loss, independent of any court decision as their plans have to be put on hold while any court proceedings are undertaken.

Now first, and to be very clear, I don’t have all of the details as to the court case in question so what follows are some general thoughts and my personal opinion on the information I have read in relation to this case, and also on the wider risks and implications.

Tendering processes have to be clear and fair

I think this is one of the key issues here, that any tendering process must be fair to the parties involved and that the methodology should be clear.   Time spent on ensuring this can hopefully prevent time lost in court cases.    It therefore is important to consider the factors that you will decide will influence your decision making.   Some of these are obvious, such as cost, service level agreements, the vendors reputation and size, while others are maybe less obvious.

Total cost of ownership

Examining the total cost of ownership is critical, as the cost of a solution, whether it is a software solution, hardware solution or mixture of the two, is more than just the upfront and annual costs.   There are the costs incurred through use of staff time during the setup phase and then the ongoing maintenance of the solution.   There is the cost of training staff to use the new solution, with this often being a largely hidden or at least difficult to predict cost.    These factors which relate to change management need to be carefully considered and weighed up.

Change management

This is where, in my personal opinion, the issues examined during the school management court case appear to have gone a little wrong.     In this case one of the vendors already had a separate contract for some of the schools within the MAT.   The tending process however did not include these schools so was clearly separate to this contract.   The courts assertion seems to be that the consideration of discounts in relation to this unfairly influenced the decision to go with this vendor, meaning the competing vendor was at a disadvantage from the outset.

A pragmatic view

As a Multi-Academy Trust you want consistency in your MIS due to economy of scale and ease of support when working on a single solution rather than differing solutions across schools.   This put one vendor at a disadvantage from the start, in tendering for a new contract limited to a subset of all schools.   I wonder if the school could have approached the existing vendor regarding exit from their contract and put out a tender for all the MATs schools?    I suspect the existing vendor may have been reluctant here however it seems, in hindsight, to have been one possible solution.

We also need to acknowledge the real-world disadvantage; As the MAT is already using one vendor they already have experience of that vendor, including trained and experienced staff in using it, experience migrating to it or setting it up, etc.   In any abstract examination of two equal solutions, where we have a positive experience of one of the solutions, plus have people already trained and skilled such that they could support others as a migration is undertaken, it seems clear to me that we would tend towards this solution, thereby disadvantaging the other.    It’s the availability bias, its confirmation bias, and its risk aversion and sticking with what we know versus what we don’t.    I note that if the current solution was poor and ill fitting in the schools currently using it, this would likely have disadvantaged them in any tendering process.   The fact it didn’t suggests to me that the solution in its practical, everyday use, rather than in a sales demo, has been viewed at least neutral if not positively.   I also note, assuming the two solutions did compare equally when disregarding the fact the MAT already had practical experience and skilled staff working with one of the solutions, would we then expect the MAT to simply flip a coin to pick a solution and in keeping the selection process fair?


For me this whole incident is of concern.  We are in a time of limited budgets plus time pressures yet this court case took up both and may signal similar cases occurring with other vendors and schools.   I note that the MAT is planning to appeal the decision so this may help in providing some clarity but only time will tell.   In the meantime, it highlights the need for care in tendering processes especially where they relate to bigger sums, such as where large MATs may be involved.    My learning experience from this incident seems to be that time spent in planning the process and ensuring transparency at the beginning may prevent time loss further down the line.    Sadly, it has taken this incident to make this more apparent.

The only final thought I have to share is that I hope it all gets resolved as soon as possible as until it does all the schools in the MAT, and all the many students they support are simply sat waiting to find out what will happen next.  This period of watching and waiting can’t be a good thing.


United Learning loses High Court battle over £2m MIS deal (

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