The e-volution of the modern classroom

The annual BETT Show is the shop window for the UK’s education technology powerhouses. Gone are the days when scientific calculators were the most hi-tech gadgets in schools. In February 2013 the UAE declared that all textbooks would be replaced by iPads and the trend towards smart classrooms is growing worldwide.

In the decade 2001 to 2011, the average number of computers in schools rose from 19 to 49 in primary schools, and from 133 to 323 in secondary schools, with laptops accounting for 65-70% of those totals. By 2018, primary schools averaged 70 computers and secondary schools 411, but just less than half are laptops.

As new technologies have been introduced to the education sector, annual ICT budgets have levelled out to average around £16,000 in primary schools and £70,000 in secondary, meaning the competition between digital learning solutions is heated.

Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs)

These large digital interfaces first appeared just over a decade ago and by 2004 over a quarter of British primary schools boasted them. The Labour Government’s eLearning Credits (eLCs) could be used to buy software and other digital learning resources, but couldn’t be spent on IWBs or other hardware. Despite this, by 2007 BECTA reported that 98% of secondary schools and 100% of primary schools were using IWBs in lessons. Even with the phenomenal pace of digital technology, a BESA survey in 2010 saw 81% of teachers profess to IWBs bringing regular educational benefits to their classroom.

Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs)

VLEs are synonymous with distance learning, but have also become a key learning tool in the classroom. Schools may buy, access and share all curriculum content, lesson plans and pupil progress across the teaching staff within their VLE. As students carry out activities, their achievements are immediately stored and tracked.

Introduced around 2000, the take-up of VLEs was slow and relatively uncoordinated, leading BECTA to admit in 2009 that it hadn’t really assisted schools in adapting to the pace of technological change with particular regard to VLEs. At that time 22% of primary schools and 63% of secondary schools were using learning platforms. Perhaps of more concern is the use of VLEs once purchased, as Ofsted and BESA have highlighted time and again that under-usage is perhaps the greatest threat to VLE longevity.


A 2010 BESA survey presented the opinion from teachers that by 2015 around 70% of pupils would prefer using Netbooks over PCs and laptops. That was before Apple’s education seminar in New York in January 2012. The technology giant unveiled iBooks and iTunesU; no longer would students have to carry heavy textbooks around their schools and campuses now all curriculum content could be downloaded to their iPads. Subscribing to this technological solution, in February 2013 the UAE’s Ministry of Education announced that it would be replacing all textbooks with iPads. Of course, there are many alternative tablets available, but the two targeted most at the education market currently are Apple’s iPad and Rupert Murdoch’s Amplify.

According to BESA, tablets accounted for one-third of computers in primary schools and one-quarter in secondary schools in 2018. Around two-fifths of teachers prefer Apple’s iOS-based devices, but while that percentage rises in secondary schools, it is dropping at primary level.

The 2012/13 academic year saw the wider trialling or full adoption of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) initiatives, particularly in Australia and New Zealand. While this removes the hardware costs from a school’s ICT budget, it creates a support issue if teachers are required to learn the functionality of multiple platforms. There are also concerns that pupils without such technology at home, or without internet access, may be left behind in this digital revolution.

Adapting to the new curriculum

The curriculum changes in England prompted new learning resources, both printed and digital. In the same way that email hasn’t replaced physically posting a letter, textbooks and worksheets are still required. Around 30-40% of teachers in England sought new printed resources, while 50-60% were primed for new digital content. We can expect similar anticipation and demand as Wales prepares to introduce its new curriculum.