Opposition politicians are expected to be critical of the Coalition Government’s failure to exploit technology for learning and teaching or for making savings, and shadow schools minister Kevin Brennan MP and Lord Jim Knight didn’t disappoint at “The Future of Technology in our Schools: What Next?”, organised by NAACE and the Policy Exchange.
The surprise came when James Groves head of education at the Policy Exchange, the ‘think tank’ jointly set up by education secretary Michael Gove MP, admitted that the Government had made a mistake by ignoring ICT.
James Groves had responded to a final question asking where the substantial insights into ICT and education shared at the meeting would be directed – “Who is listening?” – by saying, “I don’t think all the elements of the Government are a hundred million miles away from you on this,” and suggesting that the meeting’s focus on classroom practice had “linkage” with the Government’s policy of autonomy for schools. This brought a robust reply from leadership consultant Bob Harrison: “If you don't see there's a massive gap between what this community believes and what the Government is saying then I think you are deluded.”
'I can see room for manoeuvre' - James Groves
James Groves replied: “There's a massive gap at the present time, yes, I understand that, but I don't think that gap is insurmountable. I do think that the Government have not moved on this issue in the past year. They have ignored it. That has been a mistake in ignoring it. I can see room for manoeuvre and I can see that there is progress that can be made.”
The Policy Exchange would like to write an in-depth study on the issue, he said, pointing out that assessment could be a difficulty. And he jokingly conceded that the Policy Exchange had much to learn about ICT as he thanked his audience for their patience in putting up with the ICT and PA failures that had marred many of the morning’s presentations. Even the Department for Education’s ICT policy Vanessa Pittard had been unable to share her presentation slides.
Despite the shortcomings, however, an impressive line-up of teachers, learners, expert practitioners and policy makers had demonstrated a broad consensus among UK educators on the potential of ICT for supporting learning and teaching (Videos of the presentations are available on Leon Cych's Learn4Life blip.tv channel). Even the chair of the proceedings, Conservative Lord Lucas of Crudwell and Dingwall, was impressed. He said that top-down initiatives would never be as effective as bottom-up, and said that he was happy that schools minister Nick Gibb MP had given “permission” to those addressing the shortcomings of the ICT/computing curriculum to think freely and even be “disruptive”.
He was possibly the only person in the room requiring permission. Even the children from Westfield Primary School in Hampshire talked about taking control of their own learning with a confidence resulting from successful pedagogy rather than just technology. But they were clear that they see themselves as digital learners ("natives") who "speak the language of computers, video games and the internet". Their video, when we were eventually able to see it, amply demonstrated the point, including a clever adaptation of footage of a Michael Gove performance in the House of Commons.
The direction of travel – 'more learning, less teaching'
Their headteacher Karine George left no one in any doubt about the direction of travel for schools: "more learning and less teaching". This has become a popular theme for those wanting to unlock learning, increasingly seen as the important driver for teaching and learning. And technology is seen a a highly potent tool for this purpose.
Another powerful advocate for learning and teaching with ICT was Ollie Bray, visiting from Scotland where he is adviser for emerging technologies in learning for Education Scotland. It was time to move on again, he said, and drop "the continued focus on kit", and stop putting the "e" in front of words like "learning", "safety" and "assessment". If we are going to have any success at all in convincing governments that we need to get more ICT in schools we need to change what we are talking about and put that focus on learning.Because if we can demonstrate that we are improving learning with technology then that's something no one can argue with. It's 2011 and technology has infiltrated every part of our lives apart from schools it seems."
It should be technology in learning. he said, and research should be conducted into how ICT can support developments that have been shown to improve learning, like formative assessment and the work of Dylan William for example. It was also time to bring experts into the classroom and change the outputs expected of learners – not just handwritten or printed texts. but digital video too. Creating audiences for young people's work – for example on the web – has been proven to be effective too.Visiting a school in Scotland he had come across a parent located in Afghanistan commenting on child's work displayed on YouTube
Ollie Bray concurred with the views of the DfE's Vanessa Pittard (above) who said that it was crucial that good practice was shared by networks of teachers. These should be "cross-curricular and cross-sector". he said, to break down silos between departments.
Vanessa Pittard confirmed that a policy for ICT would be forthcoming shortly, but that it wouldn't be along the lines of a Harnessing Technology and wouldn't carry a substantial budget.
Lord Knight: 'We've got to keep the momentum going'
One of the most effective government advocates of ICT in his former role as schools minister, Lord Jim Knight said that he was “trying to reflect forward in a positive way”. He felt that future policy should bring in mobile devices – banning them was "bonkers" – and consumer technology, along with pedagogies like peer learning and assessment and connecting the workforce online.
He regretted that the last government had not been more effective in tackling disadvantage, but felt that the Home Access scheme had shown itself to be effective and had sparked a lot of interest. "We have to keep going at it," he said. "People are asking about home access around the world at the moment and asking me and others to go and talk about it. They are still coming over for BETT and the World Forum that goes alongside it in January to learn from what we do here. But we've got to keep the momentum going whether or not the Government wants to come with us.
"Actually I'm quite optimistic. Vanessa's work, now she has come into the department, is starting to persuade Michael [Gove}. I think Nick [Gibb] has a long way to go but hopefully he'll get there in the end or he'll move on, one thing or the other."
Shadow schools minister Kevin Brennan MP, himself a former teacher, raised a point often not realised by Westminster outsiders, that most MPs are "not best equipped" for ICT (a quick stroll around the Houses of Parliament can quickly underline that point). Even Tony Blair didn't need a mobile phone when he "had flunkeys", he quipped.
However, there was a feeling that at the highest levels of this Government that ICT was though of as something "namby pamby". At the same time there were opportunities from developments like cloud computing and collaborative software, but good practice requires good leadership and there was a fear that "if heads don't understand what is possible they won't get the efficiencies that ICT can bring".
"I don’t think the Government is doing enough," he added. "It is stuck with outdated view of classrooms and schools and needs to wake up."
NAACE, which is working on a white paper on ICT issues for school leaders with The Schools Network (formerly the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust), has just issued a press release listing the recommendations from its event with the Policy Exchange. They are:
- Research is required into how teaching and learning strategies, and thus workforce CPD and standards, need to be shifted in order to address the current mismatch between human web-influenced behaviour, and educational practice;
- Research is required into ways in which lessons can be learned from consumer profiling practice, in order to make education technology realise corresponding benefits with consideration for pupil data protection issues;
- Facilitation and support is required for the sharing of practice between schools of how to effectively and safely use students (and other stakeholders) own devices as part of their everyday learning practices;
- Facilitation and support is required for the sharing of practice between schools, of how to effectively engage parents in meaningful ways, through the use of technology, which directly support and impact student standards;
- Facilitation and support is required for the sharing of practice between schools of how to use technology effectively to reduce costs, emissions and workload;
- A single, clear, overarching vision should be articulated by Government that positions the centrality of technology as a vehicle for achieving much broader educational success.
NAACE general manager Bernadette Brooks, concluding her Policy Exchange talk, said: "Let's ensure that the use of technology in our schools is world class, that it's leading edge and a source of national pride and achievement. Let's use our might to convince policy makers that technology can and will make a difference. Let's just make it happen." After more than a year of trying, during which time Harnessing Technology cash was taken for free schools, an English Baccalaureate was announced without a whiff of technology, and teacher standards that don't require ICT capability, that could be a much harder task than James Groves implied. Perhaps the Policy Exchange can broker the conversation.
NAACE and Policy Exchange will continue their discussion of ICT for learning and teaching. A further meeting is scheduled for October.
See also FT's "Students learn to reap benefits of high-tech networking skills" for more on unlocking learning with ICT (free registration required).
James Groves photo courtesy of Policy Exchange.
NAACE press release on outcomes from "The future of technology in our schools. What next?"
Videos of the presentations are available on Leon Cych's Learn4Life blip.tv channel
An article based on the presentation of Fiona Aubrey-Smith, head of educational development with UniServity, will appear on this website shortly.