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Ofsted critical of pound;230m training

A new Ofsted report is again critical of ICT competence, but is deemed as "unfair" Jack Kenny reports

The New Opportunities Fund (NOF) is smarting over serious criticisms of the pound;230 million training scheme it is running for UK teachers and librarians by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted).

The criticism comes in the Ofsted report ICT in Schools: the impact of Government Initiatives (An Interim Report April 2000). One conclusion is that one in five primary schools, half of secondary schools and most special schools still do not comply fully with national curriculum requirements for IT. Data was collected by inspectors in the latter half of 2000. HMI visited128 primary schools, 44 special schools, 401 secondary school departments and 10 local authorities.

A NOF spokesperson said that some of the comments were unfair and made too early: "We have to be realistic about how long teachers unfamiliar with the technology will take to develop pedagogic skills and work imaginatively. The training was intended to set teachers on the road, not to take them all the way."

The National Grid for Learning (NGFL) has consumed the vast part of the pound;657 million spent on ICT since1998. The most immediate initiative has been the pound;230 million NOFTTA training scheme. Ofsted acknowledges that some advances have been made and that teacher confidence in using ICT has been improved. However, Ofsted finds the training for those teachers who have received it has contributed to an increase in use of computers, but only rarely to the pedagogic expertise to help them make the most effective use of ICT in their lessons.

Materials used by the approved training providers were also criticised. Ofsted feels there is a lack of a subject-specific focus in the training programmes; subject materials are often last to be introduced and their quality remains very mixed. Subject applications are referred to, but matters of pedagogy are generally not sufficiently explored.

The TTA's spokesman points out that it has already discussed with the DFEE, Ofsted and NOF how it might improve the subject relevance of the training at secondary level. It will meet the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) and the relevant phase and subject organisaions.

LEAs were heavily criticised in its earlier report and this time Ofsted observes that the levels of LEA support for ICT vary greatly and are often too low to meet the full range of schools needs. Senior officers have often underestimated the level of funding required. It is common to find small ICT support teams fully stretched to meet the additional technical and administrative demands of the initiatives, and therefore unable to support teachers adequately in classrooms.

Steve Bacon general secretary of NAACE (the National Association of Advisers For Computers in Education) accepts the report is fair, but points out that there is some good practice. Some LEAs have been diverted into generic support rather than subject-specific work. As a result, in many cases, the advisory service has not had the capacity to support ICT. NAACE agrees with the role the report outlines for LEAs.

The report is particularly concerned about the discrepancies in resourcing across the country. In the primary schools visited by HMI, the pupils to computer ratios varied from 30:1 to 5:1 and in secondary schools from 20:1 to 4:1.

The problems with Government touted managed services are also reviewed (ICT services are out-sourced to private firms to free teachers to teach). The report notes that schools have been very cautious about using NGFL managed service arrangements, often being put off by the apparent high costs involved. Ofsted observes that the real costs of ownership of ICT hardware and other resources, have generally been underestimated by LEAs. It believes that few headteachers and their governors manage budgets sufficiently well to sustain ICT developments in the longer term.

Becta is aware of the problems and is consulting with the ICT industry to see if viable managed services might be achieved more rapidly.

Ofsted will report again next year on the NOFTTA initiative. Meanwhile the TTA has yet to publish information about the performance of the approved training providers and has just written to providers to consult on this.

Teachers will hope for a better conclusion from Ofsted than the current:

"Much of the NOFtraining is not on course to fulfil its potential."

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