“The DfE policy on ICT is there is no DfE policy on ICT.”
Lord Sutherland, in his role of chairman at a Westminster Education Forum event earlier this month, gave this withering assessment of the opening keynote by Tom Goldman, deputy head of standards at the Department for Education (DfE), when he had to go immediately after his presentation and leave Stephen Rogers, the DfE’s head of STEM policy, to answer any questions.
This is not news to headteachers, schools and those of us who became hooked on top-down interventions, ring-fenced funding and national strategies – and who are now coming to terms with a “schools know best” mantra from central government.
Times may have changed, but the underlying issues remain the same as speaker after speaker reminded the 200 delegates at the Forum that schools need to pay more attention to the potential of technology to transform learning, as well as the seismic shift from ICT to computing within the national curriculum.
In his address, Mr Goldman highlighted the good work of some leading Teaching Schools who have voluntarily come together to share best practice (the National Teaching Schools New Technology Advisory Board), but he was unequivocal that the primary responsibility for innovation in this, and other, areas rests with schools.
He said: “It should be schools and colleges themselves that are at the forefront of exploring and responding to these opportunities. We should not be expecting that technology strategies in education will come from the centre.
“If we do, I have no doubt whatsoever that the Department, and central agencies, will act too slowly, in too flat-footed a fashion in a fast-changing world. It is vital that we see this as a bottom-up system, a system where it is the schools and colleges who are leading change.”
It will take time for schools to adapt to such a fundamental change in approach after years of dependency on local and national state intervention and control. While there are plenty of examples of confident schools helping themselves, there are an awful lot of schools who need help and support.
Dr Sue Timmis, a senior lecturer in technology-enhanced learning at Bristol University, has been researching technology in education, and sounded a note of caution: “The government wants to get away from top-down telling people what to do, and I quite agree that’s never going to work. But the comments that have been made about ‘letting 100,000 flowers bloom’ and how you join that up is also very problematic.”
Ofsted and ICT
Elsewhere, Rachael Jones, a former headteacher who is now head of education at Steljes, wants to see a greater role for Ofsted and changes in initial teacher education relating to ICT.
She explained: “When we consider how good teaching and leadership are in a school, we should evaluate whether we are making proper and effective use of technology as part of that.
“The Ofsted description for outstanding quality of teaching makes no reference to effective use of technology, it’s time for that to change. In a similar way we need to ensure that every single teacher starts their journey as an educator, equipped with those e-learning skills, and I would like to see a descriptor related to e-learning as part of the Teaching Standards.”
The head of ICT?
There was a dichotomy in the agenda which reflects the challenge schools and ICT teachers face.
The head of ICT in a school has usually been the centre of expertise for the use of technology across the curriculum, the national curriculum subject ICT, and (along with technicians) the technical infrastructure within the school. But now there is a new curriculum subject called computing, which is unrelated to the use of technology across other subjects – so what now for ICT as a term and the role of the head of ICT?
CPD and assessment
And what about teacher capability and skills? The second half of the Forum was focused on initial teacher education and in-service CPD and assessment.
David Weston, chief executive of the Teacher Development Trust, outlined the challenge, citing research suggesting that 99 out of 100 CPD experiences do not transform what teachers are doing, “it simply gives them some information which is usually then filed away and not used”.
He continued: “Better training needs to be not focused on changing what teachers do, but improving the learning of pupils.
“It needs to be collaborative – you can’t get teachers doing this by themselves, they have to work in small teams. They have to be tasks that are relevant to the classes they’re teaching this week, next week, the week after. It has to be sustained, you have to evaluate the impact of what’s going on.
“It has to be challenging, we can’t simply say, ‘hey look, this is really fun’, it’s got to be something that challenges what they’re thinking.”
Many ICT teachers do not have a computer science background and so the shift from ICT to computing is going to be a challenge.
Miles Berry, a senior lecturer in ICT education at Roehampton University, suggested that the existing and new generation of teachers are well-equipped and have a tremendous opportunity.
“We do have the best generation of teachers in our classrooms and entering our classrooms. They have that massive set of ICT skills.
“Teachers use and apply their ICT knowledge, skills and understanding confidently and competently in their learning, or their teaching, and every day context. Independent, discerning users of technology, recognising the opportunities and risks, and using strategies to stay safe.”
For those who may need some help in the transition to the new computing curriculum, more than 30 teachers and initial teacher educators who form the DfE Expert Group on computing have created a range of resources, including research background, a teacher knowledge and skills audit, and a wide range of links and information (see link below).
Elsewhere at the Forum, Lisa Featherstone, an advisor from JISCTechDis, an advisory service on technologies for inclusion, reminded schools about the need to consider the SEN dimension of the use of technology.
“Technology is enabling,” she explained. “If it isn’t enabling then there is no purpose for it. The first thing it can do is allow all pupils to access the curriculum in a way that is appropriate for them.
“Many students may struggle with traditional literacy but have a level of digital and/or media literacy which enables them to demonstrate an understanding of their work, (to) be both creative and analytical.”
The final session on assessment featured a challenging input from Dr Timmis who added: “So many internationally are arguing that assessment is not fit-for-purpose because it’s not keeping pace with the changing needs of society and the kinds of work and social roles will need to adapt to.”
She continued: “We also live in an increasingly digital world, and engaging the digital technologies as we’ve been talking around all morning is absolutely essential, but this seems to be something that is not taken up in terms of the role of assessments.”
Like all Westminster Education Forum events, the five-minute provocations from a variety of speakers stimulated a lively and informative debate but without any real answers.
So, in the absence of any policy or strategy, I suppose it is for schools to sort this out themselves!
Further informationAccess the DfE Expert Group’s resources for the new computing curriculum at https://sites.google.com/site/primaryictitt
Bob Harrison is education advisor for Toshiba, a teacher and school governor. He is also a member of the DfE Computing Expert Group. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bobharrisonset.