Does the Government need a policy or strategy for learning with ICT? It seems not
Michael Gove MP at BETT 2012Michael Gove MP at BETT 2012How strange that, so soon after education secretary Michael Gove MP finally acknowledged the importance of technology for education, and pledged a shake-up of the ICT curriculum and computer studies in his speech at BETT 2012, the Department for Education appears to have disbanded its Technology Policy Unit,

It's understood that unit team leader Vanessa Pittard, who also had responsibility for science, has moved to cover STEM (science, technology and maths) and her four other team members are to be redeployed elsewhere because a DfE review of the unit considers there is "no business need in year ahead".

It's now unclear who at the department will conduct its own current consultation on ICT and computer studies  launched by Michael Gove at BETT. At the DfE’s behest Naace and ALT also hosted a "conversation" (at about ICT in teaching and learning which used stimulus questions provided by DFE. This attracted some 150 responses, most of them lacklustre. Naace and ALT are now pulling together the conclusions for the department.

The Coalition Government is flying in the face of international trends. UK experts in learning with technology are in demand all over the world, helping governments develop their strategies and investments – for example the work of Imagination Education's Baldev Singh and Dan Roberts in the Middle East. However, the Coalition Government appears to have no interest in involving some of the best educators of their generation in national leadership for ICT, and is actively cutting its existing capacity.

Nick Gibb pledged 'continued expertise to support this very important area'

Nick Gibb MPNick Gibb MP advises Hong Kong studentsOnly last year schools minister Nick Gibb MP, previously known for his lauding of old-style public school education, pedestrian views on phonics and ignorance about ICT, started improvising his public tune on technology. His response, via a spokesperson to a policy query from ICT teacher Brian Sharland, shared on his blog, actually highlighted the work of the unit: "We continue to support such good work, that is why following Becta's closure we set up the Technology Policy Unit within the Department and brought some of the Becta functions in house to ensure continued expertise to support this very important area.

"The department is currently developing its thinking and strategies on technology in schools, engaging with a wide range of stakeholders including school leaders, professional bodies, educational charities, industry, academics and other experts. The strategy will aim at enabling schools and teachers to take advantage of opportunities presented by technology to deliver technology and improve effectiveness and efficiency including around the purchase of technology."

Who will be doing all that important work for the DfE is now a mystery. Ironically, Nick Gibb's spokesperson advised Brian Sharland to collaborate and share ideas and best practice – and named as his contact one of the very civil servants who is losing his position.

How the DfE will be able to advise schools on issues like its new Management Information Systems (MIS) Framework for school purchase of digital management systems is another conundrum, particularly as vendors like RM are setting up their own advice sites for potential school customers while there is precious little available from the Government. An early draft of the framework reportedly advised schools to use local servers rather than go for cloud services which is now a clear market trend. Apparently its density and lack of clarity resulted in it attracting 279 requests for clarification (see Crispin Weston's "Stop the IMLS Framework" blog post).

'Adapt to and welcome every new technological advance that comes along'

Michael Gove’s BETT speech revealed a gushing, new-found enthusiasm for technology for learning, full of detail provided by the DfE advisers in the now-axed unit. He announced changes to the ICT curriculum and promised new, meaningful developments for computer studies – possibly for the English 'Bacc' – even though there are not enough sufficiently skilled teachers to provide the lessons.

“We want a modern education system which exploits the best that technology can offer to schools, teachers and pupils," he said. "Where schools use technology in imaginative and effective ways to build the knowledge, understanding and skills that young people need for the future. And where we can adapt to and welcome every new technological advance that comes along to change everything, all over again, in ways we never expected..”

How this can be achieved without objective ICT expertise for leadership at the heart of government remains to be seen. Who will advise ministers: real experts i pedagogy and technology or their friends in the likes of News International, Pearsons and Apple? The words that come to mind for the cynics include “emperor” and “no clothes”.

One insider commented: “We need to look at what the politicians are actually doing rather than simply respond to what they are saying. Right now they are the weakest link. Their real agenda has been to privatise England’s state schools and hand over responsibility to the private sector. That has, in effect, already been achieved – now they are already on to the National Health Service – and schools have to get used to that and work out the strategies that suit them best.”

So, despite the blandishments of the politicians, "Don't wait for Westminster" continues to be the best advice for school leaders and teachers on curriculum use and purchase of ICT. Maybe the private sector is expected to fill the void.

Picture credit: Photo of Nick Gibb MP courtesy of UK in Hong Kong Flickr photostream

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