Before the last election the English and New Technology Committee of the National Association for the Teaching of English met with Labour Party front bench representatives to promote what English teachers needed to empower themselves and their students in the use of ICT.
NATE felt that more thought and research was needed into "screen-based texts", which operate differently from their paper-based cousins; a clear view of the use of the internet in classrooms; and teacher access to hardware in the form of personal lap-tops. That last suggestion caused a sharp intake of breath as the financial implications of teacher entitlement to PCs was calculated.
The Government was elected with a commitment to integrating ICT into classrooms. The ENTC committee was heartened to see many of its suggestions enshrined in Government policy but disappointed that the "lap-tops for teachers" initiative had a tax downside. The political view of the internet remained one dimensional.
Shortly after that election the QCA started its work in revising the English curriculum. But it refused to allow our suggestions for media and ICT to enter the new Order, particularly in key stages 1 and 2. There was more reference to ICT in KS3, with the assumption that pupils had acquired these skills in KS1 and 2 by osmosis.
Pupils were embracing the new medium in large numbers. PC ownership and internet access meant street credibility in the eyes of their peers, yet there was no formal guidance from the education world. Enter New Opportunities Fund training with all teachers being given the opportunity to incease their ICT skills in their own time, with or without adequate access to hardware.
Schools were invited to choose from a bewildering array of training providers with no help or guidance. Evidence from schools suggests that teachers are finding that the training materials are beneficial for improving personal skills but not referenced enough to teaching in the classroom. The model of training is flawed. English teachers are expected to undertake this in their own time with online mentorship that is at best patchy, and it is assumed they all have access to a computer. Those who have purchased their own equipment or who work in enlightened schools that have made hardware available for teachers to use at home have had more success.
Pupils are ahead of the game and possibly learning bad habits, given the lack of steer from their schools. This question from the Virtual Teacher's Centre English talkboard is typical of many posted to the BECTA site: "As a second year English BEd student, I have noticed a tendency for e-mail and text messaging to sneak into formal writing. Is this a trend that others feel will continue and should be stamped out? Or should it be encouraged as it is a more realistic use of language?" The debate has started too late for pupils, who are waiting for their tutors to jump through the ICT training hoops and struggle to convert decontextualised skills into a meaningful English pedagogy.
Martin Tibbetts is head of Cheslyn Hay primary school, Staffordshire and chair of NATE's English and New Technology Committee. NATE, 50 Bradfield Road, Sheffield, South Yorkshire S8 OXJ. Tel: 0114 2555419. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: www.nate.org.uk