Meet the sector: Education
When we are asked for public sector sales advice, we often say really get to know the sector you are targeting. To make this a little easier for you, we have created a series of 'meet the sector' articles. First up, education!
Education sector 101
It is hard to underestimate the size of the EdTech sector -according to figures from the British Educational Suppliers Association, there were 3,392,100 computers in UK classrooms in 2017. The Department for Education is the seventh biggest government department in terms of spending through government procurement frameworks – Since 2012 it has purchased goods and services through G-Cloud and DOS worth £104m– 62% from SMEs.
The sector’s purchasing power is even bigger thanks to academies, local authorities, private institutions and universities, which also buy their own bespoke solutions. While creating a huge market, the flip side of this fragmentation is the difficulty suppliers can have in getting a foot in the door. However, from pre-school, through primary and secondary education, right up to university, the sector is undergoing a technological revolution set to change the classroom forever. Last year, the Education Foundation estimated that, globally, the EdTech sector could reach a value of $220bn by 2020.
Tech needs suppliers can solve
- The changing needs of students
Pupils’ relationship with technology is formed mainly outside the classroom. The current generation of pupils has grown up using their smart devices to develop relationships with friends and family and access information to help them navigate their way in the world. This can sometimes cause issues for teachers trying to gain the attention of those they are trying to teach, and in June, former culture secretary Matt Hancock praised schools who completely ban mobile phones from the classroom.
But digital technology can provide teaching opportunities too, with the potential to fundamental transform the relationship between teacher and students. It would be perverse to completely reject the world of information and learning tools available in the world in favour of out-of-date textbooks. Rather than passively learning, students can be guided and empowered to learn independently and assess sources of information.
Used properly in the school environment, rather than acting as a distraction, technology can assist the learning process. Online quizzes on subjects being taught can increase engagement and enjoyment. Other forms of “gamification” include role play applications where students argue from the point of view of historical figures, while geography teaching can be enhanced by augmented and virtual reality trips to far-flung regions of the world. Medals for achievement can be awarded through a number of different apps.
Many pupils may be getting used to voice-assisted technology in their home environments, where they can access information and perform simple tasks. Careful use of these technologies in the classroom can result in greater engagement with learning – giving instant access to information that might take some time to find in a book. In addition, voice assistants can add an extra dimension for language learners to develop speaking and listening skills.
- Teacher workloads
Falling budgets for schools, resulting from austerity, mean teachers are being expected to take on more and more tasks for less and less money. In July, education secretary Damian Hinds admitted that too many teachers in England are overwhelmed by excessive workloads. He promised to tackle the issue, which he said was the number one complaint from teaching staff he had talked to.
Technology can help teachers in a number of ways. Firstly, software and apps can help report on the progress of students. Many online learning tools allow the creation of syllabuses which track the performance of individual students, allowing the easy identification of those who need more attention in particular areas. Other apps, at the click of a button, allow teachers to access information on attainment, attendance and punctuality, making the process of preparing for parents’ evenings a much less stressful task.
Planning lessons is one of the biggest burdens on teachers – particularly when newly-qualified. Technology allows teachers to create and store lesson plans and access them easily. In addition, the documents can be easily shared with colleagues to help them reduce the time their own lesson planning takes up. Some apps allow the uploading of relevant links and documents to assist teaching in the classroom.
Flexible working is not always a phrase associated with teaching, where classroom contact is so vital. However, teachers often need to access data, records and other materials while on school trips, or working in the evenings at home. Cloud apps can allow teachers to get the information they need wherever they are.
Meanwhile, tailored messaging applications can assist teachers communicate with pupils, fellow staff and parents quickly, providing information on who has received and read messages. This can save hours of time a year, compared to the process of wading through reams of emails and replies.
- Higher education
When students move onto university, the time students spend in the classroom reduces. They are given much greater flexibility and need to develop skills of self-reliance in order to make the grade. Many of the tools listed above can help with this – allowing remote communication and access to learning materials from student digs. Lecturers can also benefit from planning, organisational and achievement-tracking apps.
In addition, technology has allowed universities to expand their offering by enabling them to increase their distance learning offering. Lectures and teaching materials can be provided online, and community platforms can allow students to share experiences and ask questions of each other. In addition, one-to-one personal guidance from academic staff can be offered over video communication software, while student records can be updated and stored using cloud technology.
The depth of learning required in higher education often requires a more sophisticated and in-depth set of skills. In recent years, bespoke technological tools have been developed to allow training in complicated and specialised tasks. For instance, surgeons can now be more safely and cheaply trained to perform surgery in simulated online scenarios, before moving onto cadavers and humans. Similar technology can allow engineers to take apart and mend hefty equipment from the comfort of their desk.
Technology can also allow global knowledge-improvement through platforms allowing universities around the world to collaborate. For instance, the “Green Frontiers Initiative” run by the International Atomic Energy Agency, is focused on promoting joint working on research and development through communities and networks.
Top tips for selling to the education sector
The education sector is notoriously hard to sell to. It is hard to cold-call every school, and decision-makers are often overwhelmed with approaches – they have limited time or inclination to meet vendors. However, there are a few things you can do to increase your chances of providing educational institutions with solutions to meet their needs.
Firstly, join a scheme such as the National Register of Education Suppliers or the Institute of School Business Leaders, which many schools use to find and compare suppliers. Using the registration marks provided by these organisations can also help increase your credibility in marketing materials.
Developing an online presence is also important. Providing detailed descriptions of your products or services can be crucial when schools are researching a supplier. Make sure to also include testimonials from educational institutions who have been pleased with your product in the past.
Finally, make your presence felt at trade shows. A small number of shows are run exclusively for educational resources and school equipment, providing an opportunity to meet a large number of decision-makers from schools, colleges and universities. In January, the Bett industry show that deals exclusively with EdTech, was attended by 34,700 people from 131 different countries.