The edtech industry had the chance to showcase its latest innovations to thousands of teachers and school leaders as Bett 2024 got under way.
The event, at ExCel London, began with Dame Darcey Bussell warming up the audience with some dance moves. She was followed by big-name guests including documentary maker Louis Theroux, hip hop star Loyle Carner and on day two, former England women’s footballer Alex Scott.
iplicit was at Bett alongside tech giants such as Microsoft, Apple and Google, demonstrating its finance software for schools and multi-academy trusts. We picked out a few of the key themes from the event.
Everybody’s talking about AI – including the Education Secretary
Artificial intelligence is everywhere at Bett, from debates about the future of learning to discussions of how AI could transform the management of schools.
The subject dominated a speech by the Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Keegan, as she opened the show.
She revealed new research which showed that, as of November 2023, 42% of primary and secondary school teachers had used AI in their roles – a dramatic increase on the 17% who said the same in April last year.
Generative AI is “saving hours and reducing workloads”, she said.
But she said the government was not ignoring the challenges that came with the technology. Rishi Sunak hosted last year’s AI safety summit at Bletchley Park and had established an AI Safety Institute. “A key principle of the institute will be to share its findings with the rest of the world, ensuring that we’re building a global response to both the opportunities and risks that come with AI,” she said.
“In education, we’re continuing to work closely with our regulators and the Office for Artificial Intelligence to make sure we’re using this technology responsibly and I want to reassure you that when new technologies are emerging, our top priority is the safety of young people.”
She added: “I also want to reassure those of you who think AI or any other use of technology is somehow going to replace our brilliant teachers. It is not. No technology can replace them. It’s about giving them the confidence they need to succeed. Even Bill Gates once said technology is just a tool and in terms of getting the kids together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.”
The minister ended with a tribute to the “wealth of innovators and leaders” in the UK’s edtech sector. “Keep innovating, keep sharing and keep learning”, she said.
Schools need the funding to keep up with technology
There have been no fewer than 10 education secretaries since 2010. Julia Garvey, Deputy Director General of BESA (the British Educational Suppliers Association), thanked Gillian Keegan for opening Bett for a second time, adding: “Most of your predecessors haven’t been in post long enough for a second visit.”
She issued a plea for more funding to ensure that schools could afford the best technology.
BESA’s research last year found that more than 80% of primary schools and more than 50% of secondaries were expecting to reduce spending – or spend nothing at all – on their IT infrastructure this year.
“This is not a sustainable position,” she said.
“We know from hearing from the Secretary of State today that she is committed to ensuring that our schools are well-equipped to adapt to the technological challenges of the future and we thank you for that commitment,” she said.
“On behalf of the educators and industry here today, I urge you to ensure that the Prime Minister and Chancellor also understand and act on this ahead of the spring budget.”
Education needs to value the ‘superpower’ of neurodiversity, hip hop artist Loyle Carner tells Louis Theroux
It may not have been directly about technology, but there were lessons for educators and innovators alike when a big audience heard Louis Theroux interview hip hop artist Loyle Carner.
The rapper told of his ADHD and his early experience of being labelled “stupid or not eager to learn or not capable of achieving the same things as my peers”.
He told how his ADHD came with an ability to “hyperfocus”.
“It’s like a superpower. When I see something as engaging or stimulating, that can take up my entire day,” he said.
“It’s a misconception that ADHD means you can’t focus on anything.”
He said of children with ADHD: “If you were living in a jungle, those kids would be the first to see a spot of orange that would be a tiger. If the world was to end and it was a zombie apocalypse, they would be on top.”
It may not be a good time to be a bank clerk – or work in data entry
The impact AI could have on careers was made clear in a talk by Lord Jim Knight – a former Employment Minister in Gordon Brown’s government – and Rowena Chung, Project Director for Education at GoodNotes.
They presented a list produced by the World Economic Forum of the fastest-growing and fastest-declining jobs.
AI and machine learning specialists,
Business intelligence analysts
Information security analysts
Data analysts and scientists
Agricultural equipment operators
Digital transformation specialists.
The fastest-declining were:
Bank tellers and related clerks
Postal service clerks
Cashiers and ticket clerks
Data entry clerks
Administrative and executive secretaries
Material recording and stock keeping clerks
Accounting, bookkeeping and payroll clerks
Legislators and officials
Statistical, finance and insurance clerksw
Door to door sales workers, news and street vendors and related workers.
Rowena Chung acknowledged that AI can have a “bad reputation associated with student cheating or job displacement in the sector – and that couldn’t be further from the truth”.
Lord Knight pointed to research showing that 30% of skilled tasks are likely to be replaced by AI. “That doesn’t mean necessarily the job is going to be replaced by AI but the things that we do are likely to be replaced,” he said.
He said the UK needed to be “more ambitious” about training children to be “better collaborators with machines and better collaborators with each other”.
His experience as chair of the multi-academy trust E-ACT had shown him how software can help schools make the best use of resources.
“When I can see more real time dashboards, more real-time representations of data, I’m absolutely confident that I can make the funding go that much further,” he added.
Sometimes technology needs to be “mundanely clever”
Tech can be exciting – but it’s not all about the next shiny new invention.
That was among the messages from a session presented by Shireland Collegiate Academy Trust in collaboration with Microsoft.
The trust has been technology-focused since 1997 and has worked with Microsoft for more than 20 years. Its Chief Executive, Sir Mark Grundy, said of that partnership: “It’s probably one of the best decisions we’ve made.”
Sir Mark said: “If we can remove pressure on staff and recycle that time to work within teams but more importantly to work with the children, that’s what we want to do.
“Very few staff leave, so we must be doing something right.”
Technology including AI is helping the school manage its estates, control energy costs and spot patterns in pupil absences, as well as transforming learning and reducing teacher workloads.
The trust’s approach is to make “mundanely clever” use of technology in its operations.
Lady Kirsty Grundy, the trust’s Director of Primary Education and Principal of Shireland Technology Primary, said she had to resist the temptation to sign up to too many impressive new inventions.
“We’re quite selective in what we put into our tech toolkit,” she said.
“It really is about that systemic, mundanely clever use, not that ‘heroic’ use.”
MATs will continue to grow
As we’ve noted, Bett 2024 is taking place among political uncertainty and the ever-present issue of school funding.
iplicit's Education Lead, Alex Middleton, was interviewed on the event’s own broadcasting station, Bett Radio. He expects multi-academy trusts to continue growing, which will make cloud-based technology essential.
“I honestly believe the future is that MATs will move to the cloud,” he told presenter Maria Caneda.
“Schools are academising every day. They’re joining MATs and forming MATs,” he said.
“I think the future is cloud-based software that has efficiencies, that has cost savings. I just expect us to go from strength to strength.”
iplicit was unveiled to the education world at last year’s Bett just nine months ago after three years of success with businesses and non-profits.
“The word is out now that there’s a new solution for them to consider,” Alex said of MATs.
“For so many years, they didn’t have anything else to consider other than the household names. Our objective is to become one of those household names so when you speak of MAT finance, you think of iplicit.”
Find out more about iplicit
Bett runs until Friday, January 26, at London’s ExCel, and iplicit can be found at stand SC60. MATs that miss us there can get in touch for demonstration. We’ll be donating £10 to Martin House hospice for every demo given this term.