Technology can even free teachers from admin, leaving more time to devlote to pupils. Photo: Getty
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The latest learning technology can raise standards of education for everyone

To get the best out of it, investment in learning technology needs to be results driven.

Technology makes life better. It allows people from across the globe to collaborate as if seated around the same table, has allowed 3D printing to become a reality and makes it possible to master Guitar Hero from the comfort, and privacy, of our living rooms. As technology changes the world around us, it is also transforming education. Technology at its best can empower teachers and students, raise standards and improve outcomes for those who learn.

While we have seen youth unemployment dropping to its lowest level for five years, it is still too high. Yet employers with jobs to fill are saying that they are unable to fill entry-level vacancies as they cannot find candidates with the necessary skills. This is damaging to individuals and businesses alike. By harnessing the latest technology, we can develop innovative learning techniques and platforms to ensure those entering work for the first time are equipped with the skills employers need, and that those already in jobs are able to progress through their career.

Better still, evidence shows that the biggest impact of technology in education is on those who need it most. Technology has the power to break open the doors of learning, making education more inclusive and enabling it to embrace those learners that have for too long been marginalised. It is these individuals who can benefit the most from innovation. Traditionally, learning was constrained to classrooms and required students to physically attend set lessons. This immediately excludes those who are unable to make this type of commitment, whether because of disability or due to childcare or other caring commitments. If we take learning out of the classroom and put it online, or indeed make it accessible on a mobile phone, then suddenly those people that were previously excluded are able to make learning a part of their lives.

Encouragingly, innovation in digital education continues at pace. Just recently, online learning company Qualt launched a new platform that allows learners looking to develop their careers to study professional skills Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) via a free downloadable app on their smart phone. This is a prime example of how technology can offer people a flexible, low-risk opportunity to develop in a way that works around them and their lifestyle. This week also saw adult learning charity NIACE awarded ‘App of the Year’ in the Prolific North Awards for their Maths Everywhere app that helps adults build vital numeracy skills. 

It’s not just outside of the classroom that technology can make a difference. Technology can be effectively used by teachers to bring subjects to life within schools, colleges and universities. It can also assist teachers with their administrative and planning tasks, allowing more time to focus on inspiring and nurturing pupils.

Through embracing technology, students - whether sat in a classroom or on the sofa - can benefit from a bespoke education tailored to their personal strengths and weaknesses. Digital learning programs can be paced to suit the individual, meaning those who benefit from extra time on key subjects, or indeed those who are capable of racing ahead, are kept on-track and engaged. The digitally enhanced classroom has no disengaged back row, no struggling students too embarrassed to raise questions in front of their peers and no bright stars wasting their potential re-visiting topics they have already mastered.  Technology can help keep the de-motivated engaged just as it helps the best to soar.

While technology is a subject to get enthused and excited by, we must not lose our heads. Teachers should not fear technology. But to get the best out of it, investment in learning technology needs to be results driven. Success must not be measured on technical terms or spending commitments, but instead by its ability to drive up standards and outcomes for learners. Embracing technology does not simply mean writing cheques.  We have learnt the hard way that brand-new kit is only able to prove its worth if used effectively. This means making smart purchasing decisions and ensuring that staff and users are trained to take full advantage of their new devices.

By harnessing the latest learning technology, we can raise standards of education for everyone. Schools can offer students a more dynamic learning experience catered to their individual needs, employees keen to further their career can learn new skills online, and critically those previously left on the sidelines of education, can benefit from more opportunities to learn than ever before.

Matthew Hancock is Minister of State for Skills and Enterprise

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I was wrong about Help to Buy - but I'm still glad it's gone

As a mortgage journalist in 2013, I was deeply sceptical of the guarantee scheme. 

If you just read the headlines about Help to Buy, you could be under the impression that Theresa May has just axed an important scheme for first-time buyers. If you're on the left, you might conclude that she is on a mission to make life worse for ordinary working people. If you just enjoy blue-on-blue action, it's a swipe at the Chancellor she sacked, George Osborne.

Except it's none of those things. Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme is a policy that actually worked pretty well - despite the concerns of financial journalists including me - and has served its purpose.

When Osborne first announced Help to Buy in 2013, it was controversial. Mortgage journalists, such as I was at the time, were still mopping up news from the financial crisis. We were still writing up reports about the toxic loan books that had brought the banks crashing down. The idea of the Government promising to bail out mortgage borrowers seemed the height of recklessness.

But the Government always intended Help to Buy mortgage guarantee to act as a stimulus, not a long-term solution. From the beginning, it had an end date - 31 December 2016. The idea was to encourage big banks to start lending again.

So far, the record of Help to Buy has been pretty good. A first-time buyer in 2013 with a 5 per cent deposit had 56 mortgage products to choose from - not much when you consider some of those products would have been ridiculously expensive or would come with many strings attached. By 2016, according to Moneyfacts, first-time buyers had 271 products to choose from, nearly a five-fold increase

Over the same period, financial regulators have introduced much tougher mortgage affordability rules. First-time buyers can be expected to be interrogated about their income, their little luxuries and how they would cope if interest rates rose (contrary to our expectations in 2013, the Bank of England base rate has actually fallen). 

A criticism that still rings true, however, is that the mortgage guarantee scheme only helps boost demand for properties, while doing nothing about the lack of housing supply. Unlike its sister scheme, the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, there is no incentive for property companies to build more homes. According to FullFact, there were just 112,000 homes being built in England and Wales in 2010. By 2015, that had increased, but only to a mere 149,000.

This lack of supply helps to prop up house prices - one of the factors making it so difficult to get on the housing ladder in the first place. In July, the average house price in England was £233,000. This means a first-time buyer with a 5 per cent deposit of £11,650 would still need to be earning nearly £50,000 to meet most mortgage affordability criteria. In other words, the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee is targeted squarely at the middle class.

The Government plans to maintain the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, which is restricted to new builds, and the Help to Buy ISA, which rewards savers at a time of low interest rates. As for Help to Buy mortgage guarantee, the scheme may be dead, but so long as high street banks are offering 95 per cent mortgages, its effects are still with us.