ICT4C discovers just how much more schools will have to collaborate for curriculum reform
“There are more questions than answers” sang reggae star Johnny Nash. It could have been the theme tune for “Assessing - the way forward”, the conference staged in Leeds by the regional education support group ICT4C for school leaders and advisers across Yorkshire and Humberside
Not only are schools facing the uncertainties of a new curriculum in September – the 14 secondary schools in Hull have only two teachers between them who can teach the Computer Science element of the new Computing curriculum – but baselines do not yet even exist in some areas to help with assessment.
One ICT4C delegate voiced a lament echoed by so many other leaders and teachers when he said that he attended conferences in an attempt to get direct answers to his questions about the new curriculum and assessment arrangements. However, although he felt he had learned some things, he didn’t have straight solutions to share with colleagues back in school.
Lack of teachers and candidates could hit Computing
The response from discussion panel member Sion Humphreys, policy adviser for the NAHT (National Association of Head Teachers), reflected the reality of a workforce and leadership reeling under the weight of a welter of reforms: “I think you have summed it up perfectly because that is the environment in which we are working, and we are trying to influence by taking those questions back and saying, ‘These are the concerns of the people who are actually in schools trying to implement this.’”
Hull's problem with Computing is one that is reflected in other communities across England that have been disadvantaged by the new curriculum's foregrounding of computer science at the expense of other elements of the former ICT curriculum such as digital literacy and IT. The dangers of clumsily realised reforms like this are obvious.
Here are two: a shortage of teachers qualified to teach Computing; not enough student candidates to make Computer Science GCSE a viable course. A combination of those two would mean that results would not have a favourable impact on school league tables. Put these together and the affected schools are likely to take a route not anticipated by the reformers. Avoid Computer Science as an examination subject and simply "embed" the other parts of Computing across the other subjects. Goodbye Computing.
The intention of this reform was to increase the uptake of computer science but in some areas the changes may well have the opposite effect, as was clear from the conversations at the ICT4C event. Add to that a further negative factor – a lack of confidence in exam boards to provide suitable Computing qualifications (see “OCR assessment shock hits GCSE Computing students”) – and the worries deepen.
Then consider the other subject reforms – maths is another topical cause for concern – and you begin to see the scale of the challenges facing school leaders in England. Of course all this amply demonstrates the relevance of "Assessing – the way forward" and the support strategy being developed by ICT4C (the trading arm of YHGFL – the Yorkshire and Humber Grid for Learning). In fact the Computing break-out session was only attended by three people which gives an indication of the subject priorities of these school leaders.
Delegates shared the significant feelings of unease in schools
The response from education leaders from across the local authorities and schools that make up ICT4C's constituency more than justified setting up the conference, said its chief executive Phil Moore, "Our rationale for putting on the event was, I believe, entirely right: the delegates shared the significant feelings of unease in schools about the lack of coherence in the Department for Education’s changes to the assessment system.
"It became clear during the day that schools have no option but to develop their own responses to the new arrangements. The conference therefore provided a very timely opportunity for delegates to meet, discuss and reflect their own and others’ approaches to assessment. The feedback shows that they valued this aspect of the conference very highly. And ICT was very much in its rightful place – supporting critical teaching and learning processes rather than being a focus."
“Assessing – the way forward” delegates were treated to a full range of views, expertise and practical solutions from the invited speakers. There were analyses of national politics and policy-making, of the approaches and first principles required for approaching assessment and examples of products and services that schools and local authorities used to support classroom practice.
Demonstrations of assessment support from Raise Online, the Fisher Family Trust and the Essex Tracker impressed one of the speakers, James Park, author of Detoxifying School Accountability, with their sophistication. “The message that I was bringing today was that if you want to stand your ground and stand by your true purpose and avoid being overwhelmed by the onslaught from the DfE you have to collect a different sort of data,” he said, “data that centres on the kind of experiences staff and students are having at school, and how that is affecting their capacity to teach and learn.”
The services he saw demonstrated “ensure that you can have access to sufficiently rich tools to really stand your ground “, he added.
A number of years to work through changes
However, despite the challenges facing schools, there are also opportunities, and there was a consistent thread that spoke of the need for schools to hold firmly on to their visions and values and ensure that the new systems that would emerge would support them. This would take a number of years to work through, said Heidi Leung, who had been demonstrating the Fisher Family Trust’s new FFT Aspire system which launches in the autumn.
She added, “Today taught me that education isn't just about numbers, systems, trackers – it's the whole experience for pupils and teachers and staff in schools. Isn't that what we do? Get up every day to improve the life chances of pupils and young children.”
ICT4C now has enough feedback to build on its strategy of supporting school communities that work and share together physically and online to best deal with their challenges and opportunities. Phil Moore is confident: “Events such as this clearly demonstrate that, with the increasing lack of capacity at local authority level, our ability to develop and support communities of schools is of increasing importance.
"We are in a unique position, given that we have expertise both in teaching and learning and in the technology that is increasingly becoming integral to the life of schools. Our aim is to develop a coherent solution for schools: making the ICT just work and allowing schools to focus on the important issue: how to use ICT effectively to promote teaching and learning outcomes which allow schools, teachers and learners to achieve all that they can.”