How can educators keep abreast of ICT? The New Technologies Advisory Board will help
ICT at Essa AcademyMobile ICT at Essa Academy: how does the profession keep up?As UK educators meet the next wave of technology – call it ICT for Schools 2.0 – England's new teaching schools have created their own advisory body and support network.

Teaching schools, seen by the Government as the engine to drive up standards for teaching and learning, now have the Teaching Schools New Technologies Advisory Board (TSTNAB) made up of educators, government bodies and industry.

There are currently 100 teaching schools, with another 100 about to be announced. The aim is to have 500 of them by 2014. However, of the first 100, it is understood that only a small proportion currently hold the ICT mark which is seen as an objective indicator of a school's ability to make the most effective use of technology.

The TSNTAB, which has the support of the Department for Education (DfE) and the National College, will act as a beacon for the teaching profession as it comes to terms with the increasing pace of technological change and the new pedagogical opportunities new technologies provide.The group,led by teachers for teachers,will try and ensure that it supports new innovations like digital tablets and the cloud  and cheaper and more pervasive technology which is  offering new challenges for initial teacher training,teacher CPD, student engagement,and collaborative working both in and out of schools.

'Leadership, clarity and vision for ICT are desperately needed'

Paul HaighPaul HaighWhile the prospects are favourable, the schools community in England is more fragmented than ever and there is a “schools know best” approach from the Government. This means that leadership, clarity and vision for ICT are desperately needed, and that is what sparked the full-day inaugural meeting of the new body at the National College in Nottingham last week.

“I was hugely encouraged by the first meeting of the board,” said Paul Haigh, director of the Hallam Teaching Schools Alliance which is based at Notre Dame High School in Sheffield. He was instrumental in setting up the new body, and has an impressive record as the ICT leader at Notre Dame when it was the only school in England to be allowed to opt out of a BSF ICT managed services agreement.

“I have never before experienced a coming together of schools, universities, industry partners and educational agencies who have so clearly and quickly united around a common aim and have agreed to work together to co-ordinate an approach. It makes a fresh change to the old way of one group imposing its strategy on another.”

Those attending the first meeting included representatives from the four lead ICT teaching schools (Notre Dame High, Sheffield, Bishop Stortford High School, the Hammond Academy, Kibworth Church of England Primary School – plus George Spencer Academy Nottingham), higher education institutions for initial teacher training, the Department for Education (DfE), the Training and Development Agency for Schools (the Teaching Agency from April), advisers’ association Naace, the British Computer Society (BCS), Computing at School (CAS), Vital, the Open University teacher education outfit, headteacher trade unions and the National College. Industry supporters included Toshiba, Intel, Google and Microsoft and Apple.

Bob HarrisonBob HarrisonBob Harrison, the National College tutor and Toshiba Education adviser who chaired the meeting, commented: “There is a clear consensus that we need to ensure that this, and the next generation of teachers have the capacity and capability to support learners at every level and stage of their learning.

“While I accept there is a pressing need to bring some creativity and clarity to the teaching of computer science I also think there is an equal need to ensure all teachers use technology effectively in all subjects and all pupils have the opportunity to develop their own digital skills to thrive in a digital economy and as a digital citizen”

There was a fairly comfortable consensus on the key priorities (see “Teaching schools get a grip on ICT with new group”) but the group also intends extending representation (from local authorities and Ofsted for example), prioritising new recruits to the profession and holding engaging events, possibly a “bar camp” event at the National College in the summer to demonstrate to its community what great use of technology for learning and teaching looks like.

Lord Jim Knight asked to find consensus on the new role of 'computer studies'

However, it was felt that the issue  of computer science requires further attention. Currently the subject of enthusiastic press coverage, and often erroneously positioned as a solution to an outmoded, “boring” ICT curriculum, computer studies, or science, is currently the subject of a number of rival and possibly conflicting agendas.

Most leaders knowledgeable about ICT would like to see outmoded or unworkable parts of the curriculum dropped and the successful ones maintained so that the very bottom line of ICT would see it used effectively right across the curriculum. For example, could anyone envisage art and design being taught without the involvement, where appropriate, of digital technologies.

From that point there should be a clear progression path for students that would like to develop the skills required for technician-level jobs in the industry for example, or on to the higher level design and programming skills for industry creators and leaders. There’s a distinct concern that too much focus on computer programming will disrupt the prospect of that smooth progression for learners up to higher order skills.

Lord Jim KnightLord Jim KnightIt’s not a simple “either-or” but a logical, clear progression between two points, and the new body asked former schools minister Lord Jim Knight, who was present as a critical friend rather than in one of his current roles as a consultant for Apple Inc, to help tease out the important elements of computer studies and to find a consensus.

He will be working with NAACE, the BCS and CaS, higher education institutions and the teaching schools and has been asked to report back on the groups progress to the next meeting in June.

"I am delighted to have been asked to lead the working group exploring the curriculum issues in computer science,” said Lord Knight, “and will work closely with BCS, CAS and NAACE to bring some coherence and clarity for schools and colleges following the government's more hands-off approach.

“I also want to ensure this fits in with the wider work of ensuring teachers training through Teaching Schools are confident to effectively use technology across the curriculum, will build digital literacy and provide opportunities to develop the technical skills the technology industry requires."

The rhetoric is about to become reality

There is a fear that, as UK education moves into ‘ICT for Schools 2.0’, a sudden lurch driven by vested interests could send schools in a direction that cannot currently be supported by most teachers (who lack sufficient skills) and which ignores some of the valuable lessons learned so far. For example, the much vilified “boring ICT lessons based on Office programs” appear nowhere in the National Curriculum which actually supports pragmatism and creativity.

The clear priority for teaching, and other, schools is to understand that they shouldn’t wait for guidance from the DfE or any other organisation. The curriculum and procurement changes that are part and parcel of ICT for Schools 2.0 are already under way.

“It is still very early days for teaching schools,” said Bob Harrison, “but they appear to have the potential to make a step change in the professional development of new and existing teachers. There seems to be a coalescing of views, a consensus on what needs to happen, growing momentum and the support of the key players and stakeholders.”

The rhetoric is about to become reality. The next generations of learners and teachers are getting in line. 

More information

Teaching Schools   
Hallam Teaching School Alliance    
Paul Haigh’s blog 
Paul Haigh’s Guardian article about becoming a teaching school  
Bob Harrison    
British Computer Society    
Training and Development Agency for Schools     

Twitter – Paul Haigh, Bob Harrison, Jim Knight

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