Glow: Questions and Answers

I was interviewed last week by Nicola More of White Light Media – the company that does the journalism, design etc for our award winning Connected magazine. The theme was Glow and Nicola asked me some questions that had been rasied by our readers. The full text will appear within our ConnectedLive site but for the meantime here is a preview:

You have been quoted as saying that Glow is the most ambitious education ICT project in the world. How are we doing so far?


We are putting in place the world’s first national schools intranet, and that’s a very ambitious programme. Glow is an attempt to provide a level playing field, so that whether you are living on a remote island or a big city, you will have the same access to high-quality ICT resources. It’s about equality of access, creating a national service that’s available to big, small, rural, urban – that’s really important.

I think every country in the world will connect schools like this – we’re just the first. Scotland has a long and proud record of building a high-achieving and high-equity education system. Part of that national tradition is to innovate and change. We were one of the first to have a curriculum that was not based on the Classics, and among the first to base education around universal literacy. Glow sits within that tradition. It’s not about having a backward education system that need updated; it’s about innovating part of a system that’s already built on very strong foundations. It’s not a technology solution – it’s an enabling technology infrastructure.

We are still in the foothills of realising the benefits of ICT in schools and this is supported by the findings of the 2006 HMIE ICT report. Our curriculum, assessment, CPD and infrastructure will continue to change as we seek to engage our children and young people in learning and give them the means to make a good life for themselves in an increasingly globalised economy.

Glow is just another step along the road of continuous improvement for Scottish education – a journey that has always tried to make use of the best available technology, from the slate to the pencil through the blackboard and the overhead projector, and of course in terms of ICT, from the stand-alone computer of the 1980s to the web-enabled device connecting to Glow anytime and anywhere of today.

One indicator of how we are doing is the level of international interest in Glow from across the world. Recent visits to schools in Singapore, USA, England, Wales and Northern Ireland suggest to me that education systems are all facing the same challenges. One of these challenges relates to how we make sophisticated ICT services available to schools. We expect cost-effective, sustainable and scalable services on the one hand (i.e. providing best value to the public purse) and on the other hand they need to be able to support personalised learning as well as collaborative learning, enable and facilitate the sharing of resources and the development of communities of practice, and much more (i.e. systems that are fit for purpose in the context of 21st century education).

I expect other countries to follow in Scotland’s steps as they attempt to connect their teachers and learners to bring their schools into the 21st century – or should that be to bring the 21st century into their schools!


The best part of £40m of taxpayers’ money has already been committed to this project. What do you think the return on investment will be for the country as a whole?


The return on investment has three dimensions. First of all it’s about economies of scale, secondly it’s about releasing teacher time from routine tasks, and thirdly it’s about investment in the future of our young people.

The numbers are big with Glow not only in terms of cost but also coverage: all 32 local authorities; 3,000 schools; 750,000 learners; 53,000 teachers; all trainee teachers and their lecturers; all local authority education staff; SQA; HMIe; LTS and others. Over time we also want to work with local authorities to provide access to parents, but that may be a few years down the line.

When you take that into account, £40m doesn’t seem as much. That’s not to say that I’m not conscious that it’s £40m of taxpayers’ money that could have been spent on health or other key areas, but you have to have a sense of scale.

We have gone through a rigorous European procurement process which generated fierce competition for the Glow contract and we have been able to secure excellent value to the public purse because we a talking about a country rather than a school, cluster of schools or local authority. The five-year £37.5m Glow Intranet contract with RM divides into two parts – roughly half to develop and integrate the systems with the other half to provide Glow as a service.

So, firstly there’s a sense of scale. Secondly, there are the savings. In the short-term, if every teacher saves even an hour a week by being able to access support, advice and high-quality resources through Glow, then it very quickly starts to pay for itself. If you assume a teacher costs roughly £20 an hour and only half of Scottish teachers save an hour a week you generate £500k of ‘savings’ every week through Glow. If every teacher saves an hour a week then it’s £1m a week – or the total investment in Glow every year. These ‘savings’ are not cashable, i.e. the Government does not make savings on teachers’ salaries, but rather teachers are released from routine tasks to spend more time on teaching and supporting learning.

Thirdly, and in the longer-term, it is about the overall quality of Scottish education as it continues to innovate and develop. Scotland has many natural resources but our most important resource is our people and Glow is an investment in the future of our young people. What do our schools look like in the 21st century? I think it’s unimaginable to have a school now without technology, just as it would be for a bank, hospital or just about any modern workplace.

Glow provides a trusted and safe resource to bring the benefits of social networking. It uses the power of technology in a learning context, making it much safer. That’s why the investment was agreed and that’s why it remained even after the change of administration at the national level.

In the same way that other countries are interested in the Glow model for education, there is considerable interest from elsewhere in the public sector in Scotland and it may be that another aspect of the return on investment for the country is in the development of Glow as a prototype for a wider public sector shared online service.

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