One of the most respected figures on the UK edtech scene, Ian Fordham, is leaving the twin organisations he set up to join Microsoft. Across five years, Fordham has helped put UK education technology on the global map. Julian Blake says Fordham’s success has been built on his ability to convene educators, startups and government alike.
Fordham, an ex-teacher, set up the Education Foundation five years ago with Ty Goddard after the pair had worked together at the design-focussed British Council for School Environments. They established the Education Foundation as a cross-party think tank dedicated to education reform, technology and innovation.
In 2015, Fordham took the helm at Edtech UK to help accelerate the UK’s education technology sector and become a voice for edtech, in much the same way that Innovate Finance had done for UK fintech.
A convenor and an educator who can draw on the knowledge of tech innovators, Fordham has become a highly respected figure on the UK digital scene. He has helped to bring the word ‘edtech’ itself to a common centre ground for UK educators, policymakers and startups alike.
Goddard, currently Edtech UK’s chair, becomes chief executive of both the Education Foundation and Edtech UK. Fordham will keep a role with his former employer by sitting on Edtech UK’s advisory group.
Over five years of work under the pair’s joint leadership, the Education Foundation has built a reputation of its own as a convenor and thought leader – working with policymakers, education leaders and startup businesses.
Key achievements include the foundation setting up the first edtech accelerator programme with the government’s Tech City UK, and running the UK’s first education reform summits, in partnership with the Department for Education.
In 2015, on the back of that work, Fordham launched Edtech UK as a strategic body to accelerate the growth of the sector in the UK and beyond. Its education and advocacy work in the past year has helped put UK edtech on the global map, through running international trade missions, including to the White House, supporting the fastest-growing edtech startup and scale up companies like Kano, Technology Will Save Us and RefMe.
In November just gone, the organisation ran its first Edtech UK global summit, at London’s City Hall, to help UK edtech businesses scale and take a bigger share of a global market set to hit $250bn in value. At that summit were two government ministers, international edtech leaders, the UK head of Google for Education, three of the UK’s highest-profile tech VCs, a whole range of startup innovators and, of course, teachers.
Fordham said: “I’m extremely proud of what the Education Foundation and Edtech UK have done in the past five years to accelerate growth and innovation across the education and edtech sector.
“A lot has been achieved but there’s much more to do. That’s why I’m very excited to be joining Microsoft and to be asked to lead the UK education business. Britain is a world leader in education innovation and I look forward to working with education institutions and leaders across the system, to empower every learner to achieve more.”
He said he was “delighted” that Fordham would be joining Edtech UK’s advisory group “and continue his pioneering work supporting education startup businesses and entrepreneurs across Britain and beyond.
“It’s been a pleasure to work with Ian over the past eight years in this and other organisations,” said Goddard. “We have achieved a lot; we both feel that our journey to positively support education in Britain has just started”.
On a personal note, I met Ian in 2013 when he guided me through a podcast on edtech and the EF accelerator, alongside two UK rising edtech stars in Code Club’s Clare Sutcliffe and Night Zookeeper’s Josh Davidson. We’ve worked together since on events and content to help push forward UK edtech innovation. That’s something we plan to continue here at DigitalAgenda.
The establishment of Edtech UK has been the logical outcome of Fordham’s passion for building an ecosystem for improving the delivery of education through technology, whether it be apps or online learning like MOOCs. He’s driven by a belief that education technology business can scale if it meets a need and has the right backing.
He’s also wise enough to see that challenges remain, including building the digital skills of teachers and the wait for the first big innovation that takes UK edtech truly mainstream.
Though Fordham remains an advisor, Edtech UK’s loss is Microsoft’s gain, as well as the vast numbers within its reach, and I’m looking forward to seeing what emerges from the tech giant through Ian’s work.