Educators across the UK have hailed the decision to include Microsoft’s digital skills programme in teacher training courses, saying it will “enhance learning” and benefit schoolchildren.
The company’s Microsoft’s Student Teacher Education Programme (STEP) will offer courses in communication and collaboration in a digital world, as well as how to code and use Windows, Skype, Office, OneNote and Outlook to ensure teachers can use tech in exciting ways that benefit their students.
It is hoped that by giving future teachers the knowledge of how to use technology to organise lessons, improve learning and increase pupil engagement, they will be more creative as well as feel lower levels of stress and pressure, which cause so many newly-qualified education professionals to change careers.
Ian Fordham, Director of Education at Microsoft UK, said technology is now prevalent across society and teachers need to be equipped with new tools, such as knowledge about artificial intelligence, cloud computing and machine learning. “Our education strategy is made up of four pillars – engaging students, empowering educators, optimising schools and accelerating learning,” he said.
Teachers from England, Wales and Scotland praised Microsoft’s initiative at an education event at the company’s London office recently. The digital skills learnt during the training courses would “support good education”, they said, and be passed down to schoolchildren, preparing them for a world where technology such as robotics is the norm in offices and homes.
Tracy Atkinson, a Teaching Fellow at the University of Strathclyde, said she was delighted to be involved.
“I can’t over-emphasis our enthusiasm for this,” she told other teaching professionals at the event. “This is a paradigm shift.”
STEP will be split into three sections totalling nearly 41 hours of learning – pedagogy, technology and professional productivity. Upon graduating, teachers will also gain a Microsoft Certified Educator certificate to prove they are qualified to use technology in the classroom.
“We offer a four-year undergraduate Bachelor of Arts degree in primary education, focusing on digital citizenship and teaching with technology basics in the first year; Microsoft in education in the second year; coding and apps in the third year and Microsoft Classroom and Skype in the fourth year. We also offer a postgraduate diploma in education,” Atkinson added.
“There will also be a trickle-down effect from the students to their pupils, as well as other staff members. A lot of schools in Scotland will see that this is how we futureproof ourselves.”
According to the latest Department for Education figures, the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) qualified entrants who entered teaching rose from 44,900 in 2014 to 45,810 in 2015. However, the number leaving the profession climbed from 42,050 in 2014 to 43,070 (or 10% of FTE teachers) in 2015. Figures for 2016 will be released in June.
Teachers blame this high turnover rate on the level of pressure they are under. A TUC survey of safety representatives working in the education sector found that nearly 90% cited stress as one of their main workplace health and safety concerns. That followed a Government study on workloads in the education sector last year that revealed class teachers and middle leaders work an average of 54.4 hours a week. UK law states that no one should more than 48 hours a week.
Anne-Marie Duguid, head of teaching and learning at the independent educational membership organisation SSAT, said: “The mental health and wellbeing of teachers is as important as it is for pupils. STEP is giving people tools.”
Leeds Beckett University has embedded STEP in all its teacher training courses, including an undergraduate programme that attracts around 350 students each year. All of them record their progress and development in OneNote, which is shared with their tutors and mentors.
Damian Page, Dean of the Carnegie School of Education at Leeds, echoed concerns over workload, and was also worried that teachers were using out of date technology.
“We want graduates to speak to headteachers and try to change things in schools; tell them: ‘we have tried these new things at Microsoft and should we try it here’. It’s about making sure the students achieve on their own terms rather than just employing a tick-box method [of testing].”
Wales is trying to drive the best talent into the teaching profession, with Education Secretary Kirsty Williams announcing a bid to strengthen ties between schools and universities.
“The teaching profession can only make its proper contribution to raising standards of education in our schools if our initial teacher training offers our future teachers the skills, knowledge and appetite to lead the change required,” she said in March.
Bangor School of Education oversees students who are already working in schools across the country, providing support and feedback as they work towards a qualification. Owen Davies, a lecturer at Bangor, said the STEP programme was a good opportunity for his students to be associated with one of the world’s biggest companies – Microsoft.
Rhys Jones, headteacher at Treorchy Comprehensive School, said: “The opportunity is huge. It’s what’s needed to ensure students become well-rounded citizens. But it’s not just about collecting the qualification, we want to see technology supporting good education. It’s helping to enhance learning. We want leaders of the future.”