It's been over a year since Techworld last spoke to Naimish Gohil, CEO and founder of edtech company Satchel. In that time, Satchel has been recognised as 'Edtech Innovator of the Year' at the annual Techies awards for the second year running and has launched a handful of new products designed to improve the education experience for both students and teachers.
It's also been a busy year for the edtech industry as a whole. In April, the government unveiled its latest edtech strategy, to the tune of £10 million, and it's been estimated that 40 percent of the €1.6 billion (£1.43 billion) that has been invested in European edtech startups since 2014 has gone to British companies. The UK government claims the edtech industry is worth £170 million to the economy.
Before Gohil was a startup founder he was an assistant headteacher, so he is acutely aware of the challenges today's teachers face on a daily basis.
"I think one [of the biggest challenges facing teachers] is definitely around their workload," Gohil tells Techworld over the phone. "Teachers today do so much more than just teaching literacy or numeracy. It's a very different world and I think the education system has to recognise that the world is changed."
Gohil believes teaching is one of the only professions in the world where such high levels of discretionary productivity exist. Although most of those who go into the profession know they're "not just going to do [their] nine to five" the constant expectation that teachers will do more work for the same pay impacts the staff who deliver the teaching, and the learning received by the children, which ultimately causes people to leave the profession.
"It prevents them from doing what they love to do, which is working with kids," he says.
Satchel was founded with the belief that technology can bring about a better educational experience for all those involved. After almost a decade in the business, the software-as-a-service (SaaS) company has proven its claim, with its first product, Show My Homework, now being used by over 30 percent of schools in the UK.
Helping schools to empower their staff
Having already improved the way homework is set, tracked and completed through its flagship offering, Gohil started thinking about the other admin tasks that take away precious time from teachers and how technology could redress this imbalance.
Satchel's seating plan tool – with its no-nonsense name 'Seating' – has also been very successful.
"Essentially, the tool is designed to help teachers create different seating plans," says Gohil. "It's a drag and drop way of being able to create desks and, because certain children may fit better with certain other children, if you want to create different environment you can create a seating plan based on the needs of the children.
"Historically, that's normally done on pen and paper, or in a Word document, which is quite painful. And so, what we've basically done is completely digitise that process, making it really slick for teachers to use and also share and learn from."
Including Show My Homework and Seating, Satchel now has five products in its portfolio, all of which have been rolled out to schools throughout the country. Kudos uses points, rewards and reasons to improve behaviour management; Content provides access to Collins' textbooks online; and Timetables hosts timetables online for teachers and students and is also accessible to parents.
When designing a series of products whose purpose is to make life easier, it's vital they don't exist in a silo. Although the individual product launches have been staggered, they all integrate with each other and from September, users will be able to access all of Satchel's classroom management apps via one, all-encompassing learning platform called Satchel One.
Throughout our conversation, Gohil reiterates the use case behind everything Satchel does: "All of these products are designed for school leaders to help them to help the staff."
Despite the Parliamentary back and forth about the current state of school funding, Gohil says he's noticed a real difference in how the Department for Education is working with edtech companies and embracing this new way of learning.
"There's definitely been a shift and a positive change," he notes. "And what's really nice is there are some tangible actions that have come from the DfE.
"I feel like what's happening right now in the DfE is sending positive signals to the tech sector. Which I think is really good. And that's probably the first time we've seen that in a long time."
Satchel has worked with the government on several occasions; attending events and partaking in discussions about how to improve the future of education. While Gohil stresses that any work they've done together is not on a formal basis – the government has to understandably be careful about endorsing private companies – Satchel has provided feedback and counsel where possible.
However, like with everything the UK government is doing at the moment, the ongoing political uncertainties mean there a question marks hanging over the long-term sustainability of any policy announcements: "Will all that good work keep going or just evaporate? Or are we going to really build on top of those pillars that have been set today? That's what I worry about and I hope things don't just fall away."
For Gohil however, the future of edtech is looking bright. He believes that the landscape will gradually become less fragmented and as procurement opportunities in schools improve, the sector will start to produce some "big winners", better contract values and companies which are more sustainable.
With customers across 23 countries already, Satchel certainly has its sights on being one of the big winners in the space:
"Our goal right now is to continue to grow. We've got plans to keep providing more products and services to both our existing customers and those in new markets. Watch this space!"