New Technologies Advisory Board starts schools ICT capability audit with Vital
Paul HaighPaul Haigh: 'work to do'The announcement by education secretary Michael Gove MP at the National College’s Seizing Success conference, that he will swiftly shift the bulk of teacher training from universities to teaching schools, confirmed the worst fears of higher education providers of initial teacher education.

That makes it crucial that teaching schools can ensure that teachers are equipped to prepare children for a digital world when their own training and experience may have been largely analogue. And Paul Haigh, director of the Sheffield Hallam Teaching Schools Alliance, is convinced that, with support, they are up to the challenge.

“We have a lot of work to do,” he says, “but the existing models for preparing teachers to use technology effectively to improve teaching and learning are clearly in need of reform”

In order to meet that challenge Paul Haigh, who also runs the teaching schools’ New Technologies Advisory Board, has been using his contacts in education and the technology industry to make sure the growing network of teaching schools (currently 200 approved, rising to 500 by 2014) get the best possible advice and support.

'Difficult for schools to get good objective advice'

“With the demise of local authority ICT advisory services and the closure of BECTA it is difficult for schools to get good objective advice,” he continues. “That is why I formed the New Technologies Advisory Board to make sure the teaching schools are giving appropriate guidance and support.

The need for this support has never been greater. Education minister Michael Gove MP, after 18 months of silence on technology for learning, clarified the Government’s hand-off ICT approach in his speech at BETT 2012: “We will encourage and support schools but we will not dictate what they need to do.”

This was emphasised last week when Vanessa Pittard,formerly head of the DfE Technology Policy Unit (now disbanded) said at the Westminster Education Forum, "The Department [for Education] is less in charge of ICT than it ever has been." (see “Not about ICT or computer studies, but engagement”). This followed the DfE’s announcement that it was dissaplying (scrapping) ICT curriculum programmes of study and attainment targets subject to a further, official consultation.

Vanessa Pittard was at pains to say that this was a good thing, in that ICT remained a National Curriculum foundation subject that would continue to be inspected, even though teachers would now be in the dark as to the benchmarks of the Ofsted inspectors.

But this policy vacuum holds advantages for organisations attempting to fill it in that they are not encumbered by as much institutional baggage. The NTAB is confident and ambitious and is meeting ‘virtually’ most of the time thanks to the National College’s online community which is providing support for the group. It also has most of the technology industry’s key players on board as well as all the major education stakeholders including professional bodies, academies, headteacher unions,higher education, CPD (continuing professional development) providers and the Training Agency.

True to Michael Gove’s word on “not dictating to schools”, the DFE and the National College are not represented on the group which is led by “teaching schools for teaching schools” although both organisations are very supportive.

There are now five teaching schools with particular expertise in ICT, and these initially form the core of the group – Notre Dame High (Sheffield), Bishop Stortford High School, the Hammond Academy, Kibworth Church of England Primary School, and George Spencer Academy Nottingham. But this core is certain to be expanded when the total number of teaching schools reaches 500.

Vital commissioning research 'to make informed decisions'

The DfE has made £200,000 available to support Teaching Schools for ICT, and although this has yet to be distributed the NTAB has already commissioned its first piece of research, thanks to support from the Open University’s Vital CPD programme. The board is conducting an ICT capability audit of its own schools and their collaborators to identify their strengths and the weaknesses which require attention.

Peter TwiningPeter TwiningVital director Peter Twining explained: “It is really important that if teaching schools are going to drive up standards of teaching and learning using technology that we know exactly what ICT strengths they do have and where they need help and support. That is why we are commissioning this work so we can make some informed decisions.”

The data will allow the New Technology Advisory Board help to prioritise where help is needed and where expertise is and, most important, how it can be shared.

“When the DfE money has been distributed [17 schools have bid for a share] our first job is to try and bring some coherence and co-ordination to to our efforts,” added Paul Haigh.

The Michael Gove decision to scrap the National Curriculum programmes of study for ICT will certainly create some anxiety among teachers although they are still free to continue to follow the existing programmes if they so wish, and this issue led to a lively discussion at last Friday's New Technology Advisory Board meeting

“It is really important that we are clear about terms,” said chair of the New Technology Advisory Board Bob Harrison, education adviser with Toshiba Information Systems, who has trained and coached headteachers for the National College for the past 10 years.

”While there has been raised awareness about computer science thanks to the work of Computing at Schools and the British Computing Society, there is a lot more to the ICT issue than computer science. In fact a bigger challenge for teaching schools is how the use of digital technology is embedded right across the curriculum, in all subjects, as well as the critical issue of the digital literacy of all pupils.”

More information

The list of designated teaching schools 
Computing at Schools
Vital CPD programme
Michael Gove speech at Seizing Success 

See also: 

"Computing at School sets brave targets for GCSEs"
"Not about ICT or computer studies, but engagement"

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