Free to do what I want: That is the challenge!

Dave Smith, ICT Adviser for the Havering School Improvement ServicesDave Smith, ICT Adviser for the Havering School Improvement Services, offers his view on the changing world of ICT in education. 

It may be an overused phrase, but when it comes to ICT in schools the times certainly are a-changing. In fact there are probably more ICT challenges facing schools now than there have been in a whole generation.

Recent messages relating to the future of ICT in schools whilst making the ICT Programmes of Study and Attainment Target non-statutory, have certainly caused concern and excitement in equal measure. In addition, there has been a definite need for clarification and direction from the schools I have been working with.

Some schools are grasping the freedom to devise their own ICT curriculum; others are looking for structured materials to support it. Announcements and discussion regarding computer programming and coding means that many schools are looking at programming for the first time in at least a generation.

With this desire to refresh the ICT curriculum comes the challenge of ensuring that we still enable pupils to achieve future economic wellbeing. Changes to the English curriculum – a greater focus on phonics, spelling, grammar and punctuation for example is also causing schools and academies to focus on supporting ICT solutions. If we are to nurture pupils to earn well, our curriculum must offer them the necessary skills to do so.

It’s been interesting to observe Secondary ICT leaders adjusting to the changes in the Primary phase. Schools that were introducing Scratch software in Year 7, have to adjust their curricular offer to take account of children now being taught Scratch in Key Stage 1. Secondary leaders are also reviewing their exam offerings to put more emphasis on computer science.

In Havering we have worked with our partners at Rising Stars Publishers to develop a progressive scheme of work for ICT called Switched on ICT. From autumn 2012 it will deliver materials from Foundation Stage through to and including Key Stage 3. It is now being used in more than 1500 schools.

Budget restraints and the removal of ringfenced funding, is hindering ICT leaders in putting forward a strong case for further ICT funding, with learning platforms and online subscriptions often falling foul of the funding axe. Schools and academies also have to look more carefully at the equipment they already have, such as interactive whiteboards and visualisers, in order to make more effective use of them in teaching and learning. Interestingly, this means that there is an increased need for continuing professional development. However, refresh rates for hardware are not as regular as they once were. With RAM upgrades and reconditioned equipment being of interest to the more financially challenged. In addition, schools seem to be spending more on outsourced technical support to make sure their existing equipment works well. Cutting technical support is a perilous road to follow.

So, the challenges are there. Budgets may be tight, the support is different, the freedom is immense, and to some extent it is frightening. However, it is the educational establishments that show true impact on pupil outcomes that we need to look to. In the changing world of ICT, it is those that embrace the challenges that will be the leaders of the future. Those who close their eyes will be failing the leaders of the future. I’m ever optimistic and believe that we can build upon what we have and meet the challenges head-on. We owe it to our children and young people to embrace the present to secure a prosperous future.

For more news and views from Bett visitors and exhibitors, download 2013’s Bett Update

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