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One body, one step beyond

The new Qualifcations and Curriculum Authority wantsa national debate on the roleof ICT in today's classrooms.

LAST October, the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA) combined forces with the National Council for Vocational Qualifications to form the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA). For the first time, one organisation has responsibility for the curriculum, assessment and all general and vocational qualifications outside higher education. This offers a unique opportunity to ensure coherence across education and training.

Too often, bold initiatives using information technology to support teaching and learning have come to little because an important aspect has been out of step. The job of the new authority's information and communications technology team is to help reconcile these different curriculum and assessment demands.

Next week's BETT show at Olympia is traditionally the time when the educational information technology community looks ahead. New products are displayed and new initiatives launched. Our views of the future should always be based on a firm grasp of where we are.

When SCAA started its work, the national curriculum was overloaded and in chaos, and the Internet was for academics or the military. Too often, I receive telephone calls from schools struggling with unnecessary, overly bureaucratic systems. But those of us who remember the early days of micros in schools, who mastered CPM and loaded programs from tape into a BBC model A, look with envy at those now growing up in a world of multimedia, the Internet and electronic communications.

While it is still the case that too few pupils are reaching the expected standards at age 14, as last summer's teacher assessment results show, we have received clear signals from the Government about the importance of ICT and a commitment to the training and resource issues that must be addressed. It took 30 years for tape recorders to become fully established within foreign language teaching. In less than half that time we will have moved from a single computer in a school to the national grid for learning.

Over the next few months the QCA is seeking to initiate a national debate over the place of ICT in the curriculum, how its use can support teaching and learning and how the skills of using ICT are best assessed. Those skills will increasingly become essential for lifelong learning and employment and even for full participation in society.

These are all difficult issues. Our monitoring of the national curriculum indicates that most teachers are not asking for fundamental changes to their subjects. But it is also clear that without some further specification of how ICT fits into those subjects, its use will remain patchy.

The need to givepriority to literacy and numeracy in primary schools must be balanced with the breadth of experience that ICT offers. The assessment and qualification system plays a clear role in determining what is taught and how. If ICT is not recognised in assessment, it will not be used. Yet, the difficulties of assessing work done using ICT must not be underestimated.

But while we consider what role the IT key skill should play and how to ensure that worthwhile content, essential if the national grid for learning is to deliver its promise, is produced and distributed in a way that meets teachers needs, let's marvel at the latest technology and prepare for a future in which ICT will play a greater part.

Niel McLean is principal manager for information and communications technology at the QCA.

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