LP+ and Capita – A collaboration 35 years in the making

LP+ and Capita. A collaboration 35 years in the making

The history of educational technology in the UK goes back a long way. I’m fortunate enough to have been around for most of it. Back in the early 1980s – a long, long way before the Internet, I was enjoying working with the government’s Microelectronics Education Programme (MEP). One of a number of our exciting projects involved taking the magic of what was then called Electronic Mail, and combining it with the colourful Teletext information screens of Prestel, to provide a community learning platform for Essex and Hertfordshire schools. It was fearfully complex to build, but the moment we let teachers and children loose on the final system their imagination and ingenuity began to turn it into a wonderful and sometimes mischievous community of learners. At various stages the power of that community surfaced to generally amaze politicians and the public alike. In a Tomorrow’s World programme (TW was the BBC’s flagship programme looking at futures, back then) we showed emails from a community of research engineers, teachers, with primary and secondary school children. We challenged viewers to say who was who, by studying those emails. No one could tell – the youngest children had stepped up their contribution to a level where we simply had no idea who was young and who was old in this on-line community. Of course, that evolving pathway of learning communities supported on-line by technology platforms has gone on to change the world through bulletin boards followed by social media and beyond.

In parallel to those evolving learning community tools, an equally complex world of school data was embracing new technologies too, and heading towards the also-world-changing power of Big Data. Also in the early 1980s, Philip Neal was busy building a data tool to help schools collect, interrogate, and make sense of their data and information. I think it was then Bedfordshire County Council who embraced Philip’s work, built on it and began to share it with other schools – the beginning of the SIMs data system. It is worth pausing to reflect on how imperfect school data was at this point. As a senior teacher in East London, I remember a fraught parents’ evening where a parent came angrily to me to complain that our head of physics had told him that his boy did not attend our school. “What is your son’s name?” I asked and was then able to confirm that, indeed, he was not on our roll. I knew all the names, and indeed the birthdays, of our students and he was not one of them. But the shock was when the parent said he had already spoken to two teachers who had reassured him about his son’s progress. The systems were so bad that some teachers had no idea who they were teaching, and some parents had no idea which schools their children were attending!

More than 30 years on, SIMs has grown up to become part of the Capita group. Those early learning platforms have evolved through a period of generous government support to become the “glue” joining up a range of functions within learning communities, from inter-school Skype collaborations to mentored homework. I’ve been chairman of Learning Possibilities + since its foundation in 2007, and there hasn’t been a month without progress and change. No doubt at SIMs / Capita that progression holds true too. Now, rather excitingly after 35 years, our Learning Possibilities + group and Capita have buddied up to show that, as Aristotle apparently said, the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts; in Education this really matters.

As we follow Health into a world of more complex and personal formative data, we need the tools of community and collegiality to allow everyone to make the best of the information pouring from our Internet of Things and our personal devices. In short, making better learning needs both the community tools and the data engines to be joined at the hip – from October 2017 they finally are and that is an exciting prospect.

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