The Future Of ICT

There has been much said about the subject of ICT in secondary schools since Michael Gove spoke at BETT. I wrote with some excitement the day after, actually praising Mr Gove for once in my life! Excited with the potential freedom and with an idea to leave National Curriculum levels behind and look towards a potentially badge based system based on mastery and application of specific skills.

Since then there has been much discussion, particularly revolving around the move towards Computer Science, including suggested curricula from the likes of Naace and reports from the likes of BCS. Meanwhile ICT teachers and leaders across the country have been formulating their own plans. From excellent sounding meetings like #RethinkingICT to the work on #DigitalStudies from Brian Sharland and co.

Opportunities and dangers lie ahead. There will be schools around the country who are not ‘connected’ to the works mentioned above, and there will be companies knocking out curriculum packs of crap to dump onto outmoded VLEs. For those schools and students I do worry. But there is also a chance to create customised, localised, exciting learning opportunities in our schools. We’re just starting to get our heads around this at our school.

So what next? We currently run successful Key Stage 4 courses in Creative iMedia and Computing GCSE. Our curriculum offer in KS3 needs to work towards preparing our students for these whilst preparing those who don’t take it on to KS4 level with the digital skills they will need for their future. We don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, we deliver some great ICT units at our school at the moment, but this is an opportunity to go right back to the basics of a school curriculum, look at our values and beliefs and tailor something specifically towards our students.

We are in the process of taking the National Curriculum that is being disapplied, the Naace curriculum, the ideas from the team at and elsewhere to create our own core curriculum. Online identities are in, databases are out, more visual programming is in, but not everyone needs to code in C, etc etc.. It’s liberating to have the opportunity to do this.

I’ve had many discussions with the team creating and have much praise for the work they’ve done so far. But my biggest criticism, for want of a better word, is the lack of a curriculum. A core curriculum consisting of a list of topics, skills and knowledge that a subject will deliver is still crucial in my humble opinion. Whether this is then delivered through project based learning, independent inquiry, traditional teaching, or better still a combination of all three – this should still all be built around a curriculum. We’ll probably end up with a little more than we can cover in little over an hour a week, but there’s a plan for that…

Assessment is broken. Broken in subjects such as ours with so little contact time on the timetable. Levelling students with National Curriculum sub-levels just about works in my native subject of Maths. We see the children frequently, there is a detailed curriculum and we all know what level each skill is. It’s still not perfect, knowing your level is one thing, knowing what to do to make the next step of progression is another altogether. As chief in charge of data and assessment in our school, several years of teaching ICT has made me realise how futile my request that every subject submits an NC level each half term is. If we’re being honest, do I know what a level 5c is in ICT? Does the learner? Does the parent? No? Thought not. Gove has recently suggested that Primary schools will no longer have to use National Curriculum levels in their assessments or reporting, I suspect the same will become true of the whole of KS3 over the course of the next few years. With all this in mind it’s time for a fresh idea.

Badges have been talked about probably as much as ICT over the past 6 months. Mozilla’s Open Badges project looks like a great idea and has captured the imagination of many educators, myself included. I fully support the idea of accrediting much of the informal learning that people do outside of formal educational institutions. But I also feel that there is an opportunity to use a badge system to accredit learner progress within schools. We are planning to develop a range of badges for the key skills and competencies within our new curriculum. These will probably take the form of Gold, Silver & Bronze levels for each area.

For example, awards/badges in:

  • using visual programming languages
  • online identities
  • research
  • presentation
  • etc etc

Learners will be expected to collate a range of evidence to support the award of each badge. We’re currently working towards fairly generic sounding badges, trying to avoid referring to specific tools (which frequently become out of date before learners have even finished school). I hope that learners will use a range of evidence not just from within our subject but from across their work inside and outside of school. I also hope that if we can get these right it will really help support other teachers and departments – pushing the dream of ICT becoming more integrated across the curriculum.

I believe that these will be a hit with learners and their parents. Finding out that your daughter has gained her Silver Presentation badge and her Bronze award in Publishing Online over the past term should be far more informative than being told they are working at Level 5a. I hope learners will have something valuable to take with them into later life, a set of badges they’ll be proud to display on their own professional blogs one day – this is after all effectively my online CV these days.

I’ve really enjoyed working with the team to thrash out our curriculum and plans for the coming years, it’s great to rip apart what you do and build it back up from core values and principles. It’s also been refreshing to see just how much of what we believe to be important we have been teaching already over recent years – we won’t have to re-write all the actual lesson content from scratch. We’ve also naturally headed into some interesting discussions about the purpose of ICT as a subject.

One thing we’re not quite set on… what to call the subject? Does ICT have a ‘bad name’ now that needs changing? Digital Studies is a great name – but somebody has got there first! We’re not teaching Computer Science so that won’t do (not that we don’t have elements of it, but the BCS curriculum suggests we should teach all 13 year olds what packet switching is – and that’s clearly nonsense!!). Perhaps ICT2.0 or something equally naff?!

Once we’ve tidied up our draft curriculum and worked on the badges a little more I’ll share it all here. We’re very interested in feedback from the ICT community and would be delighted to work with other schools who are heading in a similar direction.

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