Tony Parkin explores a new model for curriculum development
Take a group of passionate, Twittering primary educators seeking ways of improving a tired curriculum, a local authority ICT school improvement team and schools they support, and add in a commercial educational publisher and an exciting new model for curriculum development can emerge.
Teachers will soon be able to check out the product of this collaboration between educators in the London Borough of Havering and publisher Rising Stars with the publication, in March, of Switched On ICT.
Dissatisfaction with the primary National Curriculum that led to the Rose Review has not gone away, even though that review is no more. A number of primary educators have been using Twitter and blogs for some time to share their concerns, but also their passion and excitement about potential new approaches to the primary curriculum. At the same time Andrea Carr, of Rising Stars, had been exploring the possibility of producing new materials to support a more exciting curriculum with some well-known teacher pioneers. A common thread emerging in the tweetstream and blogs was the safe and effective use of free web 2.0 tools and existing classroom software to allow pupils to undertake projects that are more engaging, relevant and inspiring than those often undertaken.
'A forerunner of new ways of working that benefit all?'
Now a partnership between schools in Havering, the authority’s ICT school improvement team, Rising Stars and a number of high profile educators in the web 2.0 world has led to a new curriculum resource, Switched on ICT, aimed at delivering ICT at key stage 2. At a time when the ICT curriculum is perceived by many as being dull and boring, this interesting approach to curriculum development could be the forerunner of new ways of working that benefit all.
Dave Smith is a member of the Havering School Improvement Services’ ICT Team which won the Becta ICT Excellence Award in 2009 for Support for Schools, and he's one of the key movers behind the project. The team's award recognised its focus on collaboration, not only with schools but also with commercial partners so they were perfectly placed to work with Rising Stars.
“Curriculum changes had been inspiring discussion in Havering schools about the need for new materials," says Dave Smith. "The old curriculum was seen as being dated, and children were already going way beyond what they were being expected to do to meet existing requirements.
'Teachers no longer prepared to wait'
"The Havering ICT team had many discussions with teachers who all wanted to know what was coming, but who actually also indicated that they were no longer prepared to wait while others decided. The change of government, and the disappearance of what had been anticipated in the Rose Review, only heightened the awareness and urgency of the issue, as schools realised that there would now be another delay as the incoming government considered the curriculum afresh.
"Staff at Havering local authority were already working with Rising Stars on another project, so we put our heads together with Andrea and the Rising Stars team to organise a brainstorming session to see if we could map out an alternative and more exciting curriculum to meet the learners' ICT needs while also satisfying the official requirements."
There was no specific scheme in mind, just a strong desire to fill the curriculum gap with a set of "by teachers, for teachers" resources. "But we also wanted the commercial quality and credibility that an educational publisher would bring to a scheme," adds Dave Smith.
"Many people were involved in the evolution of the scheme that has eventually emerged. These included the Havering School Improvement Team (Penny Patterson, Amanda Jackson, Dave Smith, Nesha Sadheura), Nicola Maher of Brookside Infants in Havering, Tom Barrett of John Davies Primary School in Nottingham, Terry Freeman, of ICT in Education, and Miles Berry of Roehampton University, plus of course Andrea and her team at Rising Stars.
"We also bounced ideas of other teachers we knew on Twitter, such as Oliver Quinlan, from Robin Hood School in Birmingham. Some people weren’t able to get to meetings, and not everyone had time to contribute to all the writing and development, but everyone had an input to the final programme. As indeed did the 10 focus schools in Havering representing the 30 schools who helped us pilot and develop the whole scheme."
The priority for the scheme was flexibility. It would have to work with whatever ICT facilities and software was available to school users, particularly in time of budget cuts. "The focus therefore is very much on the topics," says Dave Smith. "These can be adapted for a wide range of software, and they can be integrated into different creative curricula that schools may already be following. In Havering we have schools following a number of commercially sourced curricula and also schools evolving their own creative curriculum models. We wanted and needed to create something generic that would fit effectively into each and all of them."
Once the first materials were produced, the Havering team, working closely with the schools, had the main job of trialling, developing and suggesting ways to improve them. "Working with Rising Stars, who played a key part throughout, has been superb – they are a good listening company, and are very creative," says Dave Smith. "There has been a constant exchange between us that has helped a lot in improving the quality and effectiveness of the resources."
Dave Smith believes there are significant advantages to working this way: "It means that our schools will get the best quality materials available, that are crafted to meet their specific needs – with schools maintained by Havering School Improvement Service receiving the complete scheme free of charge under the arrangement. Schools get high-quality resources they may not otherwise be able to afford, and the local authority gets some revenue for the team’s input. It's a real win-win all round because, of course, Rising Stars has the benefit of knowing that its resources have been shaped and developed by leading educators, then scrutinised and improved by a large number of teachers in real classrooms."
Switched on ICT (£99 per school year – 3-6) was launched at BETT 2011 and will be published by Rising Stars in March (it will be reviewed on this website by Chris Drage shortly). There are plans to extend the scheme to foundation and key stage 1, and possibly to secondary.
Switched On ICT
ICT in Havering blog
@haveringict @risingstarsedu @mberry @terryfreedman @davesmithict @andreacarr1 @penny_patterson @oliverquinlan @tombarrett