Every academic institution, senior leadership team and school board focuses on driving digital strategy. As well as giving all academic learners access to education, digital transformation also promotes digital fluency post-study, poses a great opportunity for upskilling staff, engages and empowers parents and improves reliance and sustainability for schools.
These trends are especially vital for Multi Academy Trusts (MATs) that see greater scope for digital strategy and can pool together resources to make it happen.
The introduction of remote teaching and blended learning has also helped push digital strategy along. This has been a large part of how governors have led from the front of a crisis in finding new and effective ways to deliver education and achieve expected academic outcomes remotely.
It’s not that coronavirus is the sole reason for digital change. It’s that disruption to education has brought digital strategies into focus. Now, we’re looking at digital strategy from a pedagogical perspective and a time-saving and wellbeing point of view.
Indeed, digital strategy isn’t only school-specific and it isn’t going away anytime soon. The Department for Education (DFE) has put its own strategy in place for educators to access more information. We’ve seen other emerging education frameworks appear set for as far into the future as 2030. So, now is the right time for a change.
The question is, where does a governor sit in all of this? What is their responsibility in advancing digital strategies? And how can they implement them so they remain effective and engaging for all affected by them?
The Role of a Governor in Implementing Technology and Driving Innovation
Governors have been called “the unsung heroes of the system” and that's likely because they often play a behind the scenes role in the institutions they represent. The same is true in advancing digital strategies where governors will be involved in overseeing the project but will rarely be seen actively leading it, a position the senior leadership team usually takes care of.
As a governor’s fundamental aim is to achieve academic excellence and raise the standards of the schools, colleges and universities they reside in, the same objective works in digital strategies. For this reason, governors play their role by asking probing questions to initiate change, delegating responsibilities to a local governing body (in the case of MATs) or a senior leadership team in other scenarios and monitoring the strategy's success from afar.
According to the National Governance Association (NGA), governance has four core functions:
- Ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction
- Holding executive leaders to account for the educational performance of the organisation and its pupils and the performance management of staff
- Overseeing the financial performance of the organisation and making sure its money is well spent
- Ensuring the voices of stakeholders are heard
These are also applicable to digital strategies. A governor, in this sense, will coordinate the project between leaders, pupils, educators and stakeholders, all while keeping an eye on its financial performance and its impact on educational outcomes.
There are tools to help governors with this transition, such as webinars supporting digital strategies and even course content aimed at governor roles. Overall, experienced governors should approach digital strategy in the same way they approach all other school matters.
Asking Thought-Provoking Questions
First and foremost, governors are expected to ask probing questions to the right people to make sure nothing is missed in the strategy and that all information is shared across every individual on the project. The right questions should contribute towards the right results and make sure everyone is aligned.
Some key questions to ask around digital strategy are checking if everyone understands the benefit of implementing technology, querying the current use of technology and raising concerns and room for consideration around digital training.
For governors, it can be as simple as taking a What, Why and How approach to challenge the logic of a strategy.
Mapping Effective Infrastructure
We can all imagine how an ideal digital strategy would play out; with the best technology, a smooth sailing transition from legacy systems and no digital skills gaps in sight. However, the reality of the project and its financial considerations show that governors need to be pragmatic to produce a plan that works.
Investing in IT that has the potential to grow at the same rate as your school’s digital progression helps keep your plan on track and take a sensible, strategic approach to digital evolution. The issue is, not many institutions are on top of this. For example, only 27% of primary IT leaders think their WiFi is good enough to support their school’s digital aims.
Critically, governors need to reflect on a school’s infrastructure to ensure each stage is feasible from a practical and financial standpoint.
In dealing with any change at the top level, reflection is the first port of call. Initial analysis in the form of popular external analysis models like Porter’s Five Forces and a PESTLE analysis, as well as internal observation, will help you to shape the conversation between senior leadership teams and stakeholders and provide an unbiased source of advice.
Governors often morph into mediators to create aligned objectives between leaders, stakeholders, and even parents and pupils. As a governor, the primary aim is to raise educational standards while other objectives can be debated to devise a concrete strategy.
The reality of a governor’s role is much time spent in meetings and liaising with others about organisational change. But this is needed to help carve a long-term goal everyone can get behind.
Siloed plans, rarely if ever, work. So, a governor will provide counsel to headteachers and other senior leaders on how to coordinate such an all-encompassing objective.
Revising Cultural Impact
No matter the secondary goals decided in the division process, governors will most closely monitor the cultural impact of the project to ensure there's no ill effect on academic performance as a result of new technology.
Visits might be made to the school as well as a review of performance data to assess this.
Ultimately, it’s up to the governor or governors to flag any anomalies or to question the pace at which a project is being rolled out. Governors, as well as others involved in introducing digital change, are responsible for mitigating the impact of change and actively reviewing the progress of a project, as well as changing objectives if required.
Considering Cyber Security
Although school governors are by no means expected to become experts in digital threats, they're required to understand its relevance in implementing any new technology.
From data privacy to remote access and more, institutions are ultimately increasing their risk profile by expanding their IT infrastructure.
Again, governors will need to spark a discussion about these concerns and make the relevant people aware of the action taken in response. The National Cyber Security Centre has collated some key questions governors should ask schools, split into Information Seeking, Awareness and Preparedness categories.
Building Digital Skills
Although governors aren’t expected to carry out, or even coordinate training, understanding, upskilling and usage are big areas of concern in digital strategies and need to be addressed early on in their adoption.
So much so, building digital skills warrants its own project. Although directly related to the digital strategy, this will likely be a long-term focus for all institutions encouraging the use of technology. By honing in on this, governors need to look at digital skills from all angles, be it students uptake of technology or upskilling staff to embrace things such as digital assessments.
In most schools, training is an afterthought, with 4 in 10 believing their school isn’t providing sufficient training to either students or teachers to employ mobile and other technology in the classroom. Yet, training can’t be put at the bottom of its pile as a digital strategy's success relies on its adoption rate.
As always, governors must make recommendations for Continual Professional Development (CPD) and recognise their role to empower others to implement the digital strategy vision.