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When will I, will I be famous? September 26, 2010

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings.
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Caught a tweet halfway through a thread earlier this week which was asking for examples of people who had become successful, having attended comprehensive schools (state secondary 11-16/18). I think it was trying to make the point that attending a comprehensive school didn’t prevent you from becoming successful and that there are plenty of examples out there.


A widening gap?

from loop_oh on Flickr


I’m not sure whether this thread was prompted by a recent TV programme discussing the widening gap between the educational achievements of those in fee-paying, independent schools and those in state-funded comprehensives?

I’m still trying to resolve why I felt a little uncomfortable about this. I think my concern probably stems from what we mean by “successful” and on whose terms? I suspect that the Twitter discussion was exploring people who are successful in society’s terms: high income, top of organisational ladder, entrepreneurial, famous(!), professional, academic high-achievers? Although I don’t have the data, I’d guess that a larger proportion of people who could be classified in this way enjoyed a private education, but that there are also plenty of examples of people with a comprehensive education who went on to be successful. To be honest I don’t care, at least not beyond the fact that an independent education appears to buy you better life chances.

My metrics for success would be rather different. Anyone should be considered successful if they ‘exceeded their potential.’ It doesn’t matter whether that person became a doctor, lawyer or professor, a firefighter, receptionist or assembly line worker . . . provided they made the most of their capabilities and the opportunities with which they were presented. I guess it’s about whether the education a person receives adds value; when they become an adult in society, do they enjoy a better set of circumstances than their parents? Now how you measure that fairly I wouldn’t dare to presume, but (and I know I’m not just out on a limb, but a rather spindly looking twig) can I suggest that on these terms comprehensive schools probably do quite a good job . . . maybe better than private schools?

Oh and if someone could brush that chip off my shoulder as they’re passing I’d be grateful. Thanks.

And if anyone recognised the title of the post as certain song lyrics, you should be as ashamed of yourself as I am for using them.

Is IT really necessary? September 18, 2010

Posted by IaninSheffield in Management, Resources.
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A couple of years ago, a friend and Head of IT in another school asked my opinion of ICT as a discrete subject in KS3. He was under pressure to have it removed from the timetable and distributed within the rest of the curriculum. At the time I couldn’t provide a compelling argument either way, much to his chagrin. This topic has raised its head once more and I was wondering whether two years further on, the arguments have changed at all?

By IaninSheffield

Let’s take a step back for a moment and look at ICT in the primary phase. At our school (ages 4-18), ICT is taught across and is embedded the curriculum in KS1 & 2; there are no discrete ICT lessons. The philosophy is that ICT should be used when and where appropriate to support learning, thereby ensuring that it is used in authentic situations, rather than being studied in its own little box. At KS3 however, ICT gets its own ‘slot’ on the timetable and becomes a discrete entity. Here it is felt that it can be explored in greater depth, is as worthy of study as other KS3 subjects, that pupils need a solid grounding for study at GCSE and beyond (should they so choose) and that subject specialists are better placed to provide for those needs. I think I’d be right in saying that our ICT in the Juniors section is similar to that in the majority of primary schools (but am happy to be corrected) and similarly our KS3 provision to that in the majority of secondary schools.

In addition to the above points, there are other factors which come into play:

  • The expertise of the teachers in embedding ICT within the broader curriculum. Primary teachers are perhaps more adept and certainly more experienced at using thematic cross-curricular approaches. Colleagues in secondary are often keen to play to the strengths of their subject disciplines, leaving other elements to those who are more capable.
  • Literacy may be integral to English lessons, but it clearly cuts across all other subject areas too, demanding that all teachers address it when necessary. Similarly numeracy may arise predominantly from the study of Maths, but it too is a touchstone to which all subjects will refer at some time. How far then should skills associated with a particular subject need to surface elsewhere? How about ‘carteracy?’ Understanding the information that maps provide us with is crucial in Geography, but many other subjects refer to maps too; another cross-curricular skill, if not less explicit. So where does ICT sit? With the other ‘…eracies?’ Or at the same level as History, French etc?
  • Resourcing. ICT taught as a discrete subject demands greater resources, invariably in the form of ICT suites/labs. ICT covered across the curriculum may allow resources to be deployed in a more distributed way, perhaps meeting the needs of subject areas more effectively in their own environments. The former is more manageable, the latter more flexible.
  • Ownership. It is increasingly apparent that mobile devices of various flavours are becoming more commonplace in the pockets and bags of our students. Supported by more cloud-based applications, schools have the opportunity to consider a completely new model for surfacing ICT in lessons, one in which ownership of the devices (and the learning they support?) transfers to the hands of our students. How might/should this affect ICT within the curriculum? (The issue of equity of access is for another post perhaps?)
  • Apprenticeship. Some would argue that learning with and about ICT occurs daily and nightly as our students interact with one another to explore ways to ‘get things done.’ Purists (some ICT teachers?) might say that this only serves to get them into bad habits; formatting text rather than using styles, spaces instead of tabs, images ‘poached’ from the Internet rather than correctly referenced etc.
  • There is much concern at the moment about the decline in the numbers of students studying computing and the ramifications for the nation’s future economy. Do ICT and Computing actually require more emphasis on the curriculum?

So I’ve singularly failed to answer the question whether ICT should be entirely embedded or taught discretely. I’d be really interested therefore to hear your views, both ICT subject teachers and non-specialists, primary and secondary. What works for you? Which directions ought we perhaps to be moving? What issues have I missed? All musings much appreciated.

State of the Nation? October 10, 2009

Posted by IaninSheffield in research.
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BESA Report 2009

BESA Report 2009

BESA (British Educational Suppliers Association) recently released their annual report on the state of ICT provision in state secondary schools.  They gather their information from views submitted through an online questionnaire, completed by ICT Co-ordinators and Heads of ICT in state schools.  770 primary schools and 572 secondary schools responded.

The summary of the report is available for download here – http://www.besa.org.uk/besa/news/view.jsp?item=1957

This summary provides figures in a variety of categories taking in infrastructure (desktops, laptops, IWBs & other peripherals, wireless provision, bandwidth), tools used (software, learning platform), ICT budgets and teacher confidence.  These data allow you to make a somewhat rough, but nevertheless informative, judgement about how the provision in your school compares with the average.  Though it can hardly be considered robust (we compare academic data of ‘like’ schools when trying to establish our performance), at least it provides a starting point.  For example the average ratio of pupils to computers is 4.2 in secondary schools and 6.9 in primaries.  Another useful feature is that you can look at year on year trends – the summary itself highlights a few examples, but previous reports are also available from BESA.

So what does it all tell us?  Well when colleagues suggest that our provision of particular aspects of ICT, or the budget we provide to support it, or the access to ICT professional development opportunities are inadequate, the report can provide a starting point for discussing whether that actually is the case.  We can also see whether we are following or bucking national trends.  But then what?  Do we then use that information to review our provision and perhaps take appropriate action?  Well maybe . . . but there are other questions to answer first.

Computer/pupil ratios have decreased over a number of years now, so what have been the outcomes?  The number of IWBs in schools have increased – what effect has that had?  Teacher confidence with ICT continues to improve – with what results?  These are the difficult questions we need to address if we are to try to ensure the half a billion pounds spent annually on ICT in UK schools is to have an impact.  So ‘impact’ then?  I feel a future post has taken seed.