On Wednesday 11th January the Education Secretary opened this year’s BETT conference with his keynote announcing that ICT lessons were harmful and boring to name just 2 sound-bites. The full transcript of his speech can be read here with other reports for example on the Guardian website who interestingly were promoting a digital literacy campaign during the same week. The speech understandably sparked a number of responses on twitter, other social media outlets and made headline news in the national media.
Already there have been a number of interesting and thought provoking blog posts from people i have great respect for with their initial take on the announcement including Dan Stucke, Gideon Williams, Zoe Ross, Ivan Langton, Bill Lord and Josie Fraser.
This blogpost is devoted not just as a response to the announcement but to other developments that have, do and will affect my subject as a leader and teacher. Things have been simmering for a long time re: the “quality” of both learning and teaching of ICT and things appeared to gather pace in the summer with Eric Schmidt’s speech which decried the current teaching of ICT in this country with a call to improve the content of what is delivered in schools. Pete Bell wrote a great blog post shortly after the speech which is well worth a read. Of course at the end of the same week of Mr Gove’s Speech, the Royal Society released their report on the teaching of ICT. As with most things related to ICT teaching and publicity, the headlines are not helpful and in my view wide of the mark in LOTS of ICT classrooms.
There are already great and innovative practices being demonstrated not just at secondary level with the #ictcurric movement and the Moodle resource site to highlight a movement i have been a part of but also at other Key Stages with Ian Addison to name just one who has created the great ictplanning site. Others have been working towards defining a new “curriculum” such as Brian Sharland and Chris Leach. There are some wonderful resources out there such as the Switched ICT by Rising Stars to name just one which is for Key Stage 1 and 2. ICT and Computing is not just about programming as Josie Fraser and Zoe Ross have rightly pointed out. There is much more than that and which is currently being delivered such as animation, graphics, web design, modelling and databases which are being taught well in schools.
I have taught ICT for over 10 years now and in that time i have seen ICT become compulsory at all Key Stages; seen the introduction of the ICT National Strategy; whilst at Key Stage 4 delivered AQA Long and Short course GCSE, Edexcel Applied GCSE, GNVQ ICT, AQA GCSE, DiDA, OCR Nationals and BTEC IT; at Key Stage 5 the list includes AQA Computing, AVCE ICT, Edexcel Applied ICT, OCR Applied ICT and BTEC IT. This list isn’t meant to be a resume but an indication that in only 10 years things, have been changing constantly not just dictated by exam boards but the desire to deliver a curriculum that is right for the students and to prepare them for FE / employment / FE and beyond. However we am yet to settle on a solution which best meets the needs / wants of the students. The new BTEC looks encouraging compared to the current whilst the Computing GCSE pilots look interesting.
I have heard from a number of HOD’s that they don’t consider certain courses due the skill set of their departments. Surely it is our role to provide a curriculum to fit the needs to the students and their futures.
The National Strategy while raising the profile and cementing ICT’s place in amongst the core subjects was dry as sticks, too prescriptive and I have to agree, boring to deliver. However things ARE and HAVE been changing not just in my school but across the country. Mr Gove laments the teaching of Office skills to students and the need to deliver 2D animation / Scratch etc. We and many others are ALREADY doing this and have been doing so for a few years. Some excellent practitioners Mark Clarkson and Andy Field to name just 2 have been at the forefront of developing some excellent resources which have been adopted and delivered in a number of schools across the country. These are of course just 2 pioneers but there are countless others who are carrying out and delivering excellent work in an out of ICT classrooms. As David Mitchell has quite rightly pointed out in this blog post the twitter community only accounts for a very small percentage of the teaching profession. With respect to ICT teaching, i don’t doubt that there is a lot of good teaching and practice going on in ICT classrooms across the country which is not on the social media radar.
So what do we do?
At Key Stage 3 as with a lot of schools we have working to develop units of work to include e-safety, social media, blogging, Google Earth, Google Sketchup, Scratch and Kodu to name just a few. As we look forward the Digital Creator is one option and while extending looking to develop students programming skills and scripting; databases and modelling still have their place and rather than taught discreetly can be used to underpin higher order thinking and programming skills with the development of relational databases and VB scripting to name but a few.
In a crude world of numbers and Key Stage 4 options, we are currently at an impasse of what to offer students. For years ICT has been viewed subject counted on to deliver qualifications which offer students to gain X amount of GCSE’s in order to adhere to the league tables. This isn’t and hasn’t been the answer and clearly impacts on the quality of teaching and learning with students “jumping thorough the hoops”.
We need to be preparing our students and allowing them to learn not just the skills but the application of these in a wide range of contexts. We can expect to educate a generation of just computer programmers but digital natives. The IT industry is vast and the number of roles are wide ranging. A group of my students a couple of years ago created a video for Sunderland Software City to look at employability skills in the IT skills sector and the number of career opportunities available from web design to marketing to technical support to name but a few.
I welcome the raised profile and the challenge of the governments proposal but reject the dismissal of ICT as a subject when from my experience, their are a lot of hard working HODs and classroom practitioners who are working hard to deliver engaging and stimulating lessons in ICT.
Our challenge, not just from within the bubble of #ictcurric but also as a subject, is to respond to this challenge but deliver a subject content which will prepare students for the 21st century as digital natives.
If i had a £ for every parent / friend / family member who has said to me “well all kids love ICT” i would be a very rich man. It encourages me at nearly every Year 9 parents evening, the number of parents who say “Computers are everywhere and you need them in most jobs”. Of course we need to offer a subject matter that stimulates and engages students to WANT to study ICT.
The next Year 9 options evening is going to be interesting and I expect an increase in the numbers wanting to know more about ICT/Computing. In September we are hoping to offer BTEC IT Level L2 (new spec) and also OCR GCSE Computing. Our numbers have declined slowly over the last few years and i do believe we need to step up to the mark and deliver engaging, relevant and worthwhile qualifications for our students. Hopefully this will be one step in this direction.
I do think their are a number of element of Mr Gove’s speech misdirected and misinformed as their is GOOD teaching and learning going on across ICT classrooms across the country. I see this as a call to arms and a great opportunity to grasp this with both hands and move forward by “keeping up the good work” and continuing to develop an engaging and relevant curriculum which includes computer programming and the OTHER relevant skills. Whether this is under the heading ICT remains to be seen, but i am excited about the challenges we face. We need to respond very quickly and strike while the iron is hot and ensure we do not lose this opportunity to move “ICT” teaching forward.
This post was written some 2 weeks ago but sat in drafts as i hung off posting after such a long hiatus from blogging.