Ofsted’s latest subject survey: ICT 2008-2011

Dec 14, 2011

Miles Berry

Quite some media coverage this morning for the publication of Ofsted’s triennial survey of the state of ICT in UK schools. The report gives an authoratative, and in some ways challenging, overview of the state of ICT teaching in the maintained sector.

The report reinforces the sense of there being two sorts of school, ones in which there is a clear vision for ICT’s contribution to learning and teaching and where all pupils are challenged to develop a comprehensive portfolio of digital skills and their understanding of technology, and others where technology is marginalised and pupils entitlement to a rounded ICT education is, at best, patchy.

A key finding seems to be that the picture in primary schools is, on the whole, more positive than that for secondaries – roughly 2/3 of primaries were graded good or outstanding, but only 1/3 of the secondaries. Factors such as topic based approaches in which ICT is studied in meaningful, curriculum-related contexts, a culture of peer support, a genuine sense that working with technology should be enjoyable and a clear vision for the role that digital technology can play in all aspects of school life all might play a part in this. The report includes many excellent examples of effective use of technology within and beyond ICT lessons, including a nice case study on a primary school’s use of Scratch, although it paints a somewhat less rosy picture of how this toolkit gets used in at least one secondary school.

In good and outstanding schools across both phases, the importance of teachers’ subject knowledge and pedagogic understanding seems key for the most effective teaching.However,  Ofsted’s discussion of training and courses doesn’t reflect the transformed environment for networked knowledge sharing through forums, twitter and teachmeets, which have become the principle locus for professional development for Naace members and their colleagues. Similarly, many of the criticisms levelled at schools’ assessment of ICT can be addressed through innovative uses of technology, such as blogs for self- and peer assessment, virtual learning environments for recording and sharing achievements and analytic mining of integrated databases.

I find it interesting that Ofsted don’t, this time, blame teachers for the inadequacies of pupils’ achievement in secondary schools, but note that “weakness in the curriculum was the main factor contributing to poor achievement in schools”, and that “an inadequate curriculum was almost always a consequence of failure to provide the full National Curriculum programme of study”.  All pupils have an entitlement to develop a broad, rounded ICT capability, taking in essential digital literacy, the creative use of software and the understanding of technology which the study of computing provides.  Such a curriculum, studied by all up to the end of Key Stage 3, would allow pupils to make informed choices between challenging courses in new media, computer science or business uses of IT at 14-18 and beyond, enhancing both their career prospects and the countries long term economic well-being.

There is a clear message in the report about the efforts schools are making to get best value whilst simultaneously looking to make effective use of technological innovations. One key message appears to be the need for schools to maintain a flexible approach. It’s good to note the significant improvement in the use of virtual learning environments, as well as Ofsted’s recognition of schools use of laptops, tablets and handheld technology, including pupils’ own devices.