Every school in England will have access to high speed internet services by 2025, the Education Secretary announced on Wednesday 23rd March.
Over the course of the next three years, the Department for Education (DfE) will reach out to schools in priority areas to facilitate the introduction of faster and more reliable WiFi connectivity using a newly announced £150 million budget.
The guaranteed provision of high-speed internet in every school in England will enable a transition to digital-first activities across many aspects of pedagogy and school life.
However, it is likely to be particularly important for the future of assessment – both formative and summative (high-stakes) – as both continue their transition to digitally-delivered modes of testing students.
In fact, the Secretary of State used the same speech to note that he was keen to work with Ofqual and the Standards and Testing Agency and explore digital assessment in more detail:
“Other countries have been experimenting in this area and it's possible we can learn from what they are doing.
We have already made some progress in our primary assessments with our multiplication tables check and I have asked the STA to continue this work.
We have also made progress in vocational and technical qualifications.
It's possible that more digital assessment could bring significant benefits to students, teachers and schools and I want to start carefully considering the potential opportunities in this area.”
The speed and reliability of Internet connections have long been a source of concern in debate around on-screen assessment.
Research conducted by the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) indicated teachers’ top three concerns were “connectivity and infrastructure, ICT training, and a lack of funding”. AQi identified similar concerns among school leaders.
Ofqual's research published in November 2020 asked a range of UK stakeholder groups how they feel about the concept of digitising examinations. Ofqual found concerns about the quality and availability of technology, the 'digital divide' and technical issues that would be faced with any digital assessments.
Such concerns are understandable.
However, it is equally important to remember that these concerns and practical considerations are not insurmountable. As AQi explored previously, Finland managed to digitise their matriculation examinations (the main exams at the end of schooling, taken when students are 18 or 19) in only six years.
Therefore, the DfE’s ambition for high speed internet in all schools by 2025, and targeted funding to help schools most in need of support, should be seen as an important step towards improving our education system’s digital infrastructure – as well as facilitating the transition to mainstream on-screen assessment.
By emphasising that all schools should have access to high-speed Internet services, the government also addresses pervasive concerns that differences in IT infrastructure and services among schools could lead digital assessment to widen educational inequalities, for example, in being to access cutting-edge formative assessment tools.
This is an exciting time for digitising our schools, and AQi will continue following all the latest developments.
 C. Wright, Director General at British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) cited in Department for Education, Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport & The Rt Hon Nadhim Zahawi MP. (2022, March 22nd). All schools to have high speed internet by 2025 [Press Release].
 AQi (2021, December 20th). Qualifications and Assessments 2021- Year in Review [Blog].
 Ofqual & YouGov (2021). Perceptions of AS and A levels, GCSEs, and Applied General qualifications in England – Wave 19 [Research Report] pp.65-66.