This morning I awoke to the news on Radio Four that Michael Gove had a significant announcement to make at the BETT show in London around the teaching of ICT.
I always find it interesting when Gove talks about ICT because the first eighteen months of his tenure as Secretary of State have not shown a great desire to engage with the full potential that ICT brings to learning and teaching. Indeed apocryphal tales abound that his personal experience (as a parent) of his children’s use of ICT at Primary school have led him to believe that it doesn’t necessarily have a role to play in Primary education. I am also someone who has struggled with many of the public utterances made by Gove as he is undeniably an ideologue and a supreme orator who has the ability to infuriate and frustrate those whose vision of education is different to his.
I find myself in the strange position of feeling both broadly in agreement with much of what was originally leaked out and then actually said in his speech. That’s right I agree with Michael Gove!.His intentions seem largely positive and plausible. If you look at what was released to the press this morning it is impossible to argue with his assertion that the majority of ICT lessons are boring. My son gave up ICT as soon as possible and argues that he never had a lesson in which he did anything that was of interest to him – something I have heard repeated many times from other parents. Many children’s experiences at Primary are largely similar to many being stereotyped as the Microsoft curriculum with control missed out because it is hard to teach if the teacher is not a confident user of IT.
I am a keen attendee of Teachmeets and love the fact that watching other colleagues challenges me to change my practice. In fact it was a Kidsmeet which changed my view on programming thanks to the children of Bowling Park School who talked about their use of Kodu (an application which had previously left me cold). This should mean that the promise by Gove that schools would be free to make their own decisions about ICT should have me jumping for joy as I have been calling for schools to be brave in their use of technology and have been privileged to do some exciting work with schools in recent years using ICT.
So as a positive response I feel that we are in a position where we have massive opportunities particularly when Gove stressed the importance of ensuring that ITT institutions equip trainee teachers with the necessary skills and attitudes to move children towards becoming confident, informed and independent IT users and programmers.
The freedom which is vaunted also means that there is the potential for us to create our own vision of what we want ICT to look like in Primary away from the pressure of the exam curriculum. Obviously with this great freedom comes responsibility to ensure that we develop our schemes of work to avoid a rollercoaster of experience depending on the IT confidence of the teachers and that children get what they need as well as what is exciting.
So why am I feeling a mixture of excitement, impatience for this to happen and fear, cynicism and apprehension?
Here are my concerns:
1) I genuinely believe that are many teachers in schools are already making a massive effort to bring ICT teaching to life within their classes – what about the schools where nothing has happened for years? How can we assume that if they haven’t had the foresight or ambition to change their curriculum in the last few years when there has already been some element of carte blanche? If you look at the way in which people presenting at Teachmeet are teaching then it doesn’t look as though there has been an issue with being innovative in Primary ICT.
2) The power of the technician – I am struck by the problems that many Primary schools I visit face in terms of having one morning a week where the all powerful technician visits and acts often as a benevolent dictator mending problems and deciding whether applications can be used. What does autonomy look like to them? I would fear that they would see it as an emasculating force for evil.
3) How can you innovate when the kit won’t work? Many of the schools in which I work complain about the kit they are using. The main issues seem to be around getting a teacher laptop which can work effectively for more than a year and to get the school tech to work on a regular basis so it doesn’t matter whether they are being innovative or not if the wireless system crashes every twenty minutes or laptops take 20 minutes to fire up! This is a mixture of lack of forward planning – I lament the lack of breaking down IT investment into the old suggestion of thirds for procurement, training and replacement.
4) The power of the RBC / LA firewall blocking things – the biggest complaint at the recent LincsHub training was that the teachers felt completely frustrated with the fact that the pace of change is dictated by the unblocking policy of the internet provider. We have schools which can access Twitter and other which still have it blocked, schools which have seen practice in other areas only to find the computer tells them that the site may be dangerous. What does innovation look like in a world where someone else can dictate what you are allowed to look at?
5) Is kit acquisition the same thing as developing ICT? I do have a concern that there is remains a core of schools who are too easily wowed by the lure of technology and buy either to “keep up with the Joneses” or because they have been seduced by the potential. I think of some schools which are buying iPads because they are undoubtedly a great tool. However a tool which costs £500 needs to be guaranteed to have a significant impact for me as the same money could buy a lot of resources. A class set could pay for a TA for a year. There are schools which have emphatically made the decision to purchase as an informed decision looking clearly at how they want them to move the children on. This is not an anti innovation comment but one requiring people to be absolutely clear on why they are buying tech and how they will use it. I have a fear that schools may be wooed by clever marketing by IT companies keen to cash in on the renewed focus on school IT.
6) The fact that many schools which were critical of the strait jacket of the National Strategies and were unable to develop consistent whole school practice in the 2000s have leapt into buying schemes for literacy which are even more structured and leave less room for pedagogical freedoms and autonomy makes me ponder whether they will cope with this freedom. What will those schools do in the light of ICT autonomy? I suspect that they will buy the best scheme. I am not having a go at ICT schemes or publishers as there is some very good stuff out there and some advanced ICT use in them. My concern is that we will simply be moving in some schools from unthinking use of the ICT SoW from QCDA to unthinking use of A.N.Other company’s scheme.
7) Will we see a curriculum of independent ICT use –based around blogging and using Web 2.0 applications? I am a little concerned that we will end up with a transfer of the Microsoft curriculum to one using different tools to do exactly the same thing.8) What is not clear from Michael Gove’s comments is whether we are looking at a revolution in the teaching of Information and Communication Technology in Primary or whether we are throwing out everything we have done in that with complete freedom to do what we like and a requirement / aspiration to teach programming or computer studies.
9) Who will do the training for schools? I am convinced that there will be some incredibly exciting models of school to school support which come to the fore within the next few years. I also see that NAACE has a huge opportunity to step out of the shadows in terms of supporting mainstream primary practice. I have attended NAACE conferences in the past and applaud them for much of their previous work but feel that they are unknown in too many Primary schools.
I hope that Teachmeets will become even more central to people’s thinking – as someone who lives and works in a large rural authority with a significant number of small schools I see them as more important to the development of exciting and meaningful ICT practice than traditional whole day training. But how will we train up schools when there is no apparent funding for extra training.
10) What is the background to this decision? I know that there have been some very high profile comments made by Google executives and luminaries such as Ian Livingstone about the lack of pupils coming through to university with sufficient knowledge of programming. I also know that most of the people I know and respect in the world of Primary ICT have been critical of the lack of direction within many schools and so we should be celebrating this development.
My fear is that is has been driven by a mixture of pressure from the well informed (those in education) such as those who moved from BECTA to the Department in 2010, business who know what they would like coming in the workplace and then an untested set of apocryphal tales and truisms. I would like to see the research around where we are going rather than the reasons for the departure from the present
11) My greatest concern is that this is actually driven by the commercial considerations rather than necessarily pedagogical or academic ones. Has this been driven by a need to change the curriculum in Primary ICT or by a need to ensure that companies supporting schools based ICT do not go to the wall in the current climate. I was not alone in believing that the e-learning credits were £330 million of wasted opportunities but an absolute field day for commercial providers. The irony for me is the fact that there are as many exciting free Web 2.0 prospects for Primary ICT available as those which will shore up the tech providers in this country.
I am not being deliberately negative. As I said at the start I do welcome the announcements but I want to see the details of what it looks like and the research it is based upon.