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ICT teachers defend against Royal Society criticisms

Government's curriculum, not teachers, are why children find ICT boring

ICT teachers have reacted more positively to the Royal Society report on how computing education can be improved, than they did to education minister Michael Gove's proposals on Wednesday.

Gove had announced a consultation to overhaul the ICT curriculum from September, but many teachers were concerned that he did not address the crucial issue of training to equip them with the skills needed to deliver a new, refreshed ICT curriculum.

"Helpfully, the report recognises the concept and need for digital literacy, rather than simply dismissing ICT as worthless and computing as the way forward, which is how many will have interpreted Mr Gove's comments earlier this week," said Robert Berry, director of ICT at Royal Grammar School, Worcester.

However, some teachers have taken issue with the Royal Society's premise that the teaching of ICT was the reason why pupils find it boring.

Dr Mike Reddy, lecturer in future technology, games development and artificial intelligence at the University of Wales, said: "I'd argue that the reducing relevance and interest in ICT is despite talented teachers, rather than because of inexperienced educators.

"The downward spiral of ICT is laid at the door of schools interpreting curriculum and poor allocation of resources. However, government were responsible for setting, monitoring and resourcing this, as all subjects, including science and maths, which are also seeing a decline."

Kevin McLaughlin, ICT co-ordinator at Old Mill Primary School in Leicester, agreed.

"In my opinion, the present curriculum is to blame as it hasn't adapted to the changes that have occurred since its inception 13 years ago.

"Teachers of ICT have adhered to the curriculum as that is what they are legally bound to teach. However, many ICT teachers have adopted the curriculum where they have seen fit and this has led to innovative approaches to the use of technology in teaching and learning. The report does acknowledge this, but only briefly," he said.

The Royal Society report called for the UK government to boost the number of specialist computing teachers in order to improve the quality of IT education in schools, but McLaughlin believes that all teachers need ICT training.

He said: "What this government needs to be careful of is the lack of specialist ICT teachers available to schools nationwide.

"Some schools are very lucky in that they have staff who are comfortable with using technology and promote its use in their classrooms. Other schools maybe have one member of staff who has been appointed ICT co-ordinator not because of skills, but because it was the last co-ordinator subject going. Training is going to be essential for all staff, not just ICT subject co-ordinators."

To remedy the uneven spread of skills, McLaughlin suggested that schools with specialised ICT staff should share their skills with those in the local area that lack them.

Phil Bagge, a teacher at Abbotswood Junior School and ICT advanced skills teacher for Hampshire County Council, writes his own ICT teaching plans and posts it online, making it available for other teachers to use, for example.

"What we need is collaborative curricula, where universities, industry and forward-thinking teachers combine to write courses," he said.

Despite his criticisms of the Royal Society report, one initiative that McLaughlin approved of is the recommendation that schools should be given more control over access to online content in a way that is balanced with network security.

"Many schools want to use YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and games, but their network providers have either blocked access to these tools or have created barriers that render their use quite limiting at the best of times," he said.


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