Sally McKeown sat in on BESA's BETT Keynote Panel presented by Agent4change.net
The Coalition Government has announced that schools will have more autonomy and more control over what is taught in schools. But what will this mean in practice?
Answers from the Department for Education to ICT questions that writer John Galloway submitted to schools minister Nick Gibb MP (see below and "Education ministers wobbly on ICT – 'don't get it'?") were the context for presentations from four leading innovative educators – Dawn Hallybone, John Davitt, Carol Allen and Ollie Bray.
The occasion was the annual BESA keynote session at the Bett Show at Olympia, London. Agent4change editor Merlin John shared John Galloway's work to give more detail to what is known about the Government's position on schools' ICT. Here are the questions posed to schools minister Nick Gibb MP, and the replies that came back from the Department for Education, in full:
John Galloway: "Does ICT have a significant role to play in our classrooms?"
DfE: “There can be no doubt that ICT has a significant role to play in supporting good teaching and learning. Becta's Harnessing Technology Survey in 2010 showed that 97 per cent of teachers use a computer in class, the highest position in Europe.
"We also know that there are high levels of learning platforms in schools - these connect the classroom to pupils' homes and increasingly allow online communication, discussion, and sharing of resources between teachers, pupils and parents. We want schools to take the decisions and make the choices that help the frontline as far as possible, rather than telling them centrally which ICT they should use and where they should use it. They are best placed to decide what works best for them.”
John Galloway: "What is the place of ICT in a curriculum for the 21st Century?"
DfE: “We believe that ICT is now well-embedded in teaching through a wide range of subjects. Use of the internet as a learning tool for example, is generally now second nature, and we know that over 99 per cent of all schools now have access to broadband internet.
“It is our intention to restore the National Curriculum to its original purpose – a core national entitlement organised around subject disciplines. A slimmed down National Curriculum will allow schools more freedom and time to build on the core entitlement to provide a rich educational experience for all their pupils and to continue to use their professional judgement to organise
learning as they see fit.
“We plan to consult a wide range of academics, teachers and other interested parties to ensure that our core curriculum can compare with those of the highest performing countries in the world. More details about our plans to review the curriculum will be announced shortly.”
John Galloway: "Is there a role for government in assisting the development of the use of ICT for teaching and learning?"
DfE: “Ministers see technology as playing an important role in schools, and that a successful institution is probably one which increasingly uses technology well, in raising standards; tackling disadvantage; improving efficiency; supporting e-safety; and communicating with the wider community. But we want there to be more choice and decision-making at the frontline wherever possible and, in particular, it is for school professionals to decide where and how technology can add the greatest benefit without a prescriptive view from the Department on what it sees as best deployment of technology.”
Dawn Hallybone (left) led the BESA keynote with a brief but detailed presentation called "Are you Game?" She talked about secret learning and playful learning where children are using the tools and skills they use at home but within an educational context for purposeful activities.
"At Redbridge Games Network [in east London] schools are collaborating because they cannot afford all the games and consoles they need," she said. For literacy work a game can act as the text with pupils controlling the action. One class went on safari while another set up a vet's surgery. She hopes the new freedoms will lead to more collaboration with free online tools opening up worlds where pupils can enjoy problem solving and learning through exploration.
Dawn quoted Einstein: "Imagination is more important than knowledge."
John Davitt (right) was introduced as "a cross between Sir Ken Robinson and the comic Dave Allen. It wasn't hard to see why. John Davitt deals in the poetic rather than the prosaic, and he presents learning and teaching as a kind of performance art rather than the result of curriculum and government direction,
"Silos of content" have been created in the name of education when what we should have been doing was exploring the subtleties and nuances. As an innovative educator he was able to show exactly what he meant, demonstrating his Learning Event Generator , available free on his websitewhich combines a learning challenge with a tool or new medium. Can you 'do peristalsis as a proverb'? Or contour maps as an origami? There's also a commercial app for iPhones and iPods, the RAG, available in the iTunes Store, guaranteed to bring unpredictability, creativity and fun into lessons.
Carol Allen (left) showed a YouTube video (see below) of Mike Philips a young man from Tampa, Florida, USA, is an accomplished games aficionado, journalist and author. He has spinal muscular atrophy and can only use one thumb. But thanks to a proximity switch he can write, control his operating system and play games online.
Mike Philips' story is deeply inspirational but Carol Allen's position was to bring the implications of the story directly back into everyday UK classrooms. If we have evidence that the technology can support and enable those with the most profound disabilities, why on earth can' t we use simpler technology properly to support the many more learners who have less severe difficulties.
Carol Allen pointed out that available technology can take a Word document or a pdf file and turn the text into large print, Braille or an MP3 file, so why do some teachers still insist that learners copy down text using pen and paper and then wonder why they cannot revise from these notes?
Low-tech solutions also have a role to play and Carol showed that the buzzer from Britain's Got Talent can have as many useful applications as a voting pad.
Ollie Bray, a seconded depute headteacher from Musselburgh Grammar School, has responsibility for emerging technologies in Learning and Teaching Scotland. He wanted to see technology:
- drive forward the economy;
- make pupils happy and safe;
- speed up the sharing of data and good practice;
- drive forward effective formative assessment;
- bring real-time data into classrooms;
- provide access to real authentic audiences for young people.
"Technology will not make teaching easier but it will make it different," he said. "Technology has changed the way we play, the way we do business and the way we shop. We now need it to deliver the skills for the jobs and the life which lies ahead for our learners."
Sally McKeown is a freelance writer and is an expert in special needs and inclusion
The BETT 2011 Keynote Panel was hosted by Merlin John, founder of Agent4change.net on behalf of the British Educational Suppliers Association. Texting technology for the question-and-answer session was kindly provided by Steve Sidaway of Edutxt (www.edutxt.com).
PC Pro report on BESA Keynote Panel at BETT 2011