EXCLUSIVE: Steel City goes digital – Sheffield set to become global edtech hotspot as major firms move in

Sheffield is set to become one of the world’s fastest-growing education and technology hotspots as major firms move in.

Tes Global, one of the world’s largest digital education firms, announced this week that it will be moving to the Steel City, where it will create up to 200 new jobs.

Home to both the Times Educational Supplement and Times Higher Education, Tes Global will open a new office at 3 St Paul’s on Norfolk Street, which will be the company’s second largest office in the UK.

Inside Tes Global’s new Sheffield HQ

Rob Grimshaw, CEO of Tes Global, said: “We are delighted to be opening a new Tes operation in the heart of the country, and have been thoroughly impressed by all that Sheffield has to offer.

“At Tes, we believe in the power of teachers to change lives, and are proud to provide services that help teachers spend as much time as possible doing the most important part of their jobs – teaching children.”

Founded in 1910, the Times Educational Supplement is the longest-running education magazine in the English language, and its readership is still growing.

“Tes is now truly global – we have offices in the US, Dubai, Singapore and Australia, and we aim to help teachers all over the world,” said Mr Grimshaw.

“We are a trusted partner to schools, helping them find staff even when talent is scarce, and we emphasise value for money compared to the headhunter recruitment agencies with which we compete.”

Rob Grimshaw, CEO of Tes Global

 

Asked why Tes Global chose the Steel City, Mr Grimshaw said Sheffield is already an outstanding city for education, and its tech sector is growing rapidly.

“The future for Tes looks bright in Sheffield. We will be at the heart of a city that has birthed 173 start-ups, and a city that has the potential to see 70 percent growth in the tech sector,” he said.

“Sheffield is a great city of education with two leading universities. It has a multitude of edtech companies, and there is also a Department of Education presence here.”

Mr Grimshaw points to statistics from Tech City, the UK’s largest tech economy survey, which found that Sheffield is already home to more than 18,000 digital jobs, with an average advertised salary of £46,278.

What’s more, 11 percent of Sheffield’s digital tech businesses are classified as ‘high growth firms’ – businesses with 10 or more employees that are in the top 10 percent of all UK companies in terms of growth.

Rob Grimshaw speaking at Regent High School for Tes Global

 

One expert who has watched the Steel City grow in digital potential is David Patterson, lead consultant at Learning Light, a centre of excellence for e-learning since 2005.

“I absolutely agree that Sheffield is an edtech hub. I think Tes will find it a really interesting and useful move to come to Sheffield, and as a global player, Tes will bring a new dynamic to the education sector here,” said Mr Patterson.

“There’s an awful lot going on in this city, so I think Tes will be very welcome.”

The new Tes Global logo

Another entrepreneur who has seen the Steel City go digital is Paul Hilton, managing director of Can Studios, which started in Sheffield almost 20 years ago.

Can Studios builds customised e-learning platforms and digital authoring tools, and was an early arrival to Sheffield’s edtech economy.

Mr Hilton says much of Sheffield’s edtech sector was “thinned out” in the late 90s, but a revival is now underway.

“Twenty years ago there were lots of companies trying to get education online, but when the first dotcom bubble burst, a lot of e-learning companies went under,” he said.

“What we’ve seen since then is a resurgence, and we’re getting quite a lot of big companies moving in, as we’ve seen this week.”

Mr Hilton says edtech will play an increasing role in teaching, as school budgets are stretched and technology becomes more deeply embedded in our lives.

“Teachers are essentially a fixed cost, and schools have a limited budget for them, so they’re trying to find ways that they can get more from their teachers,” he said.

“It’s becoming more affordable for smaller businesses to make use of educational technology now, so I think the market will continue to grow, and that means there’s going to be more jobs in edtech.”

For some readers, the words ‘educational technology’ may conjure images of human teachers replaced by algorithms, or face-to-face lectures replaced by impersonal, inanimate screencasts.

But for Mr Hilton, the edtech industry is about helping teachers do their jobs better, not replacing them.

“Teachers have always been concerned that technology is there replace them, but we’ve always maintained that that’s not our approach,” he said.

“Teachers are an important part of the classroom, and what we want to do is help them.”

One way of helping teachers is, of course, electronic marking, which could potentially save teachers hundreds of hours in overtime every year.

“A lot of the technology we build helps to take the pressure off teachers, so they can get back to teaching and improve pupil’s results by spending time with them one-to-one, rather than marking the same quiz 20 times,” he said.

“That way teachers can be less stressed in the evenings, because projects can mark themselves.”

At Tes Global, Mr Grimshaw also sees huge potential in Sheffield’s edtech sector, both in terms of helping teachers deliver knowledge and saving valuable time.

“The edtech sector is full of innovative ideas, not only to reduce teacher workload, but also to make teaching more interactive, and teach children the skills they need in today’s digital economy,” he said.

“Tes has a platform that allows teachers to share resources with their peers all over the world, which can save them precious time.

“We also have companies helping schools with seating plans to get the best out of students in the classroom, and we have start-ups teaching children how to code using playdough.

“It’s really fascinating to see all these innovative ways technology can help solve the challenges in education and make teachers’ lives better.”