By Bob Harrison
An Ofsted report published this week has mixed messages for schools about how effectively ICT is being taught as a subject and, more important, how ICT is used to support learning in other subjects.
“The importance of ICT: Information and communication technology in primary and secondary schools, 2005/2008" is based on evidence from inspections of ICT between September 2005 and July 2008 in 177 maintained schools in England, as well as other visits to schools where good practice was identified.
Part A describes the quality of ICT education in primary and secondary schools over this period. Part B considers how tackling assessment, vocational qualifications, value for money and resources might improve ICT provision.
In general it paints a picture of improvement, rising achievement and standards at KS1 where pupils “used ICT effectively to communicate their ideas and present their work' but are "less skilled in collecting and handling data and in controlling events”.
Not surprisingly they found there was a strong link between pupils' achievements and progress and the confidence of the teacher, and at best “teachers integrated ICT carefully into the curriculum and this was helping to raise standards in other subjects”.
Ofsted also (not surprisingly again) found that there was a strong link between achievement where the leadership and management of ICT had been made a priority.
Government ICT agency Becta will be pleased to note that the inspectors also found a positive correlation between self evaluation and progress and that use of Becta's Self Review Framework was thought to be a key driver.
In secondary schools the picture is patchy. "Good or better" in 41 schools in the sample, "satisfactory" in 41 and "inadequate" in 10 is hardly a ringing endorsement of the investment or the strategies and policies in place to support this.
'Too much software applications and not enough skills'
Again, using ICT to communicate and present work was identified as good as was manipulating a variety of digital media, but (shock horror!) “standards in databases, spreadsheets and programming remained low”, and “too much emphasis is given to teaching students how to use particular software applications rather than transferable skills”.
Teachers' subject knowledge was identified as being “mostly good” and had improved teaching (Phew!). However despite the heavy investment in ICT there was no evidence of the “systematic evaluation of the impact on learning” and “assessment was weak in 20 per cent of schools” with some pupils not getting their entitlement under the curriculum.
There was a positive contribution to personal development because of ICT, the report said; it was making a contribution to future economic well being and pupils were motivated and engaged.
Inspectors were anxious about the low take-up of ICT by girls post-16 and, while support for pupils with learning difficulties was “mostly good” and teaching assistants subject knowledge was” inconsistent but improving”, it was noted that: “Sometimes pupils' ICT capability was so good it outstripped their teachers' subject knowledge and this resulted in their progress not being sustained.”
In conclusion then it is a mixed report card for schools on the use of ICT. The development of workforce confidence and competence emerges as a major priority and there are questions about the return on investment when “Investment in resources has improved teaching but had still not made ICT a part of everyday learning.”
This is ironic since ICT is a part of most of the rest of children's everday lives, but as Professor Diana Laurillard recently said: “Improving learning through the use of technology is not rocket science... it is much more complex than that!" Or I suppose we could just ask the children?
Bob Harrison is an education consultant who works with the National College for School Leadership, the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency and Toshiba UK