Naace Curriculum Review Think Tank


Today I attended a Think Tank organised by Naace. We were discussing the curriculum review, and ICT's role in education. I was invited along after Naace picked up on the blog post I wrote; Help keep ICT in our schools.

There was such a wide range of people there from different backgrounds, which made the discussions very interesting and informed. There were primary and secondary school teachers, Open University tutors, and people from various councils, local authorities, and academies.

Slash and burn

I was saddened to learn that many of the people in the room were in the process of being made redundant. Schools are already axing ICT from their offerings, before the government has even announced anything. Their whole budgets cut, they see the subject as expensive and expendable. The process was described as "slash and burn".

Learning centres shut down

Most worrying of all was the discussion around City Learning Centres (CLCs). These were introduced in 2001 and they're purpose-built state of the art computer and multimedia suites. They're available for schools and businesses to use. The centres have equipment that many schools can't afford to buy, which makes it more cost effective because schools can collectively share the facilities available. Students can make use of Apple Macs, specialist software and equipment, industrial sized printers, video and radio equipment. This not only helps supplement the current IT curriculum, but is also available for extra-curricular, training and business use, which is much needed in disadvantaged areas.

The funding for these facilities has been cut, and as a result, a significant number are being forced to be shut down. Questions were raised about what will happen to all the equipment; the Macs and video equipment, the printers and radio kits. Perhaps they'll be distributed to schools in the local area. Most likely they'll all be packed into boxes and auctioned off.

IT in the curriculum

For most of the day, we discussed IT's role in the curriculum, whether it should be a compulsory subject, whether it's best taught on its own or embedded in other subject, and what topics should be included in it.

No real commitment

The main problem cited was that the perception of the subject is very poor outside of the IT community. MPs don't think it's worth talking about, and schools see it as a tick in a box. Often, there's no real commitment to the subject in schools unless someone in senior leadership has an IT background. Another problem that educators mentioned are the network restrictions that schools have in place. There were worrying comments such as "I couldn't teach A-Level ICT because the coursework needed students to build Macros, which the school network blocked", or "My students were banned from using Dropbox because senior management thought it would encourage illegal file sharing".

Too much emphasis on Office

This was something everyone in the room seemed to agree on. Teaching Microsoft Office is too often the default. Students rely too much on their teachers to produce step-by-step software walkthroughs. As a result, students aren't prepared when they're presented with something new. They're not given the opportunity to explore and learn through trying things out and making mistakes. "We've been reduced to teaching the skills rather than the purpose, skills that aren't transferrable." This doesn't help the students, and it's not fun for the teachers either.

Topics that were suggested for the curriculum included:

  • Programming, even just basics using Scratch (teaches logic which is a skill that is useful for business.)
  • Licensing, understanding who owns content and when it can be used, including creative commons
  • Manipulation of data (mashing up and hacking data for different purposes)
  • Impact of ICT on society, inviting students to bring in news topics (such as wikileaks, internet blackouts)
  • Privacy (issues of privacy with social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook)
  • Digital rights (freedom of information act)
  • Legal issues (data protection act and disability discrimination act)

Discrete or cross-curricular?

One of the possible outcomes of the curriculum review is that IT will only appear as a cross-curricular subject. My gut feeling is that this will be the case. Many schools are already offering IT skills only as part of other subjects. The main concern the people in the room had about this was the lack of knowledge teachers have without dedicated IT training. If teachers aren't given training and support, they will try and shoehorn IT into lessons, often resulting in very low-level teaching, and a lot of repetition across subjects.

It also raised the question of facilities. If every subject has to integrate IT in their lesson, the school will need more IT facilities. There's no funding for this any more since it's all been cut.

Call to arms

Naace have asked everyone to respond to the government's call for evidence. They say the more people do this, the greater the message will be. We have until April to do this, so not long at all.