About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Will technology solve teacher workload?

We’re excited to launch the EdTech Innovation Testbed, England’s first EdTech testbed, to support schools and colleges to try out technology and carry out evaluations to find out what works. Part of a partnership with the Department for Education, we will connect the education sector with industry and help identify products that work to support teaching and learning, with a particular focus on reducing teacher workload.

This comes in an announcement from the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, alongside this year’s findings from the Teacher Workload Survey. The findings suggest there has been a reduction in workload for both classroom teachers and senior leaders due to less time spent on non-teaching tasks, such as marking and lesson planning. This is great news, but you don’t have to speak to many school leaders and teachers to know that workload is still a major issue in most schools.

Many factors contribute to high teacher workload - accountability pressures, behaviour and safeguarding, and admin burdens all play their part. And fixing it isn’t simple. But there are ways technology could help reduce some of the burdens on teachers and leaders. Through our work with EdTech organisations, we have seen how products can:

  • Reduce marking time by automatically marking and analysing student homework.
  • Support with lesson planning by giving curriculum-linked content for a range of subjects.
  • Help teachers keep track of student data and give them insights into progress and achievement.

There are a huge range of products on offer that could help, but there are still many barriers to effective use of technology. Again, you don’t have to speak to many educators to hear horror stories of using digital tech in the classroom. A recent Twitter thread perfectly outlined some of the challenges of trying to use technology with students, from battery fails to forgotten logins, technology is not always simple to implement into the classroom. On top of this, there is a lack of evidence for what works, whether it’s trying to tackle workload or boost attainment, making it difficult for schools and colleges to select what’s right for them.

We hope the EdTech Innovation Testbed will help with some of these issues. We will give schools and colleges the opportunity to try out technology products suited to their needs for free, while being part of a robust evaluation that helps educators understand what impact technology is having, and how it can best be implemented. We will match schools and colleges with products that can help with assessment, parental engagement or timetabling, with a focus on reducing workload and supporting teaching.

Crucially, we know that technology is only impactful when it’s used effectively. We’ll be evaluating how technology is implemented - how often it’s used, how easy it is to embed, what training is useful - so that we can then share that learning with schools and colleges around the country.

It’s not enough to understand whether technology works in an ideal setting, we need to know how easy it is for teachers to use it with students and help tech organisations make changes if it’s not.

Alongside this, we also want to make sure that educators involved in the Testbed learn through the process and are able to connect with other schools taking part. There is an opportunity for teachers to work with an independent, world leading evaluation partner (to be announced soon) who will support teachers through the process and offer professional development on how to carry out research in schools. We will then share this learning with schools and colleges around the country to support more effective use of technology.

So will technology solve teacher workload? An overworked teaching profession is not going away overnight just by introducing new technology. Workload problems demand improvements in lots of areas, from reducing accountability pressures and inspection practices to attracting more teachers into the profession for longer. But technology can and should help reduce the burden and support teaching, as long as we can better understand what works.

Interested in taking part in the EdTech Innovation Testbed?

Find out more and apply

Edu rebooted WEB 1088.jpg


Nancy Wilkinson

Nancy Wilkinson

Nancy Wilkinson

Senior Programme Manager, fairer start mission

Nancy leads Nesta's work on technology and education, overseeing a partnership with the Department for Education to help schools make more effective use of technology.

View profile
Toby Baker

Toby Baker

Toby Baker

Mission Manager, A Fairer Start

Toby worked with local governments to develop and pilot improvements to services that support young children and families.

View profile