Vanessa Pittard is Director of Evidence and Evaluation for the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta). Based on the University of Warwick Science Park, Becta is the Government's lead partner in the strategic development and delivery of its e-strategy for the schools and the learning and skills sectors.
What is your background?
A BA (Hons) in Psychology (1984!), then a Masters in Computer Studies. Then I was a research assistant, research officer and part-time University lecturer for a while. After teaching technology at a community training centre, I was lucky to land a full-time lecturing job at Sheffield Hallam University at the same time as doing my PhD (Psychology).
I moved to the Civil Service (Department for Education and Skills) as a researcher four years ago. Got promoted, then landed my current job, which is Director of Evidence and Evaluation at ‘Becta’, the Government’s lead agency for technology in education.
What initially attracted you to your job?
Not just salary, though it’s good for a research career. The idea of being in a leading role delivering research to support education was very attractive.
Define your job?
Leading a Directorate which delivers a range of research and evidence to support the development of technology in education.
Can you walk me through your day to day activities?
Meetings with project managers who are delivering research studies and other evidence (e.g. reviews) (in fact they commission academics to deliver all these) to pin down what we’re doing.
Reporting our findings to senior policymakers in the Department for Education and Skills.
Meeting with other senior managers in my organisation to understand how we best run the organisation and its people.
Lots of train journeys to and from London!
How has your job changed in the last 5 to 10 years?
I only started working in this broad area 4 years ago. But Govt is investing a lot in technology in education at the moment, so this work, to examine the use and impact, plus advise on what future education looks like, has become increasingly important over that period.
What are the key issues facing your sector?
Getting young people, and the workforce, well-skilled for a ‘knowledge economy’. Ensuring that socioeconomic group/disadvantage is less of a factor in educational attainment than it is currently.
How does government legislation affect your job?
Directly! We work to support Government strategy. The DfES ‘Harnessing Technology’ strategy is what we help deliver.
What impact has technology had on your job?
Enables me to work flexibly, which I need as I’m here there and everywhere. I have a Blackberry, which I couldn’t do without.
What are the best things and worst things about your job?
Best = making a difference and influencing education policy. Worst = Travelling – London and Europe – can be tedious.
Changes in policy which mean we have to change our direction quickly can be a pain, but also exciting.
Do you have any horror stories?
We once got a calculation wrong, and estimated double the amount of productivity gain from technology was possible than actually was. It amounted to hundreds of thousands. We backtracked quickly!
Advice to others looking for a job
What attributes do you need/what are you looking for when hiring someone in your role?
Smart. Good research skills and understanding. Able to use interpersonal skills to influence others in a collegial way.
What do you need to break into this industry/sector?
Good educational level. Some experience of working in education is very useful for this kind of education policy work.
What’s your tips/advice for those starting out?
Aim to become a mix – researcher, do-er (e.g. teacher) and good thinker. Demonstrate you are smart, can understand complexity and can think on your feet.