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Passport to the future

An online assessment scheme is raising ICT standards in in primary schools in Tameside. Dorothy Walker reports

When children at Hollingworth Primary and Nursery School prepare for the important move to their next school, they check that they are carrying their computer passports. The prized documents are proof of their proficiency in ICT and are part of an assessment scheme which has done much to raise standards in the Manchester borough of Tameside in the past four years. Now the scheme is going online, with the completion of a new system aimed at achieving ambitious targets for key stage 2 attainment in ICT.

Due to be launched in June, the system has been funded by pound;119,000 from a local Public Service Agreement (PSA) between Tameside council and the government. Local PSAs were introduced to hasten the achievement of key goals in areas such as education, social care and transport. The majority of children are expected to reach Level 4 in ICT attainment by the time they leave primary school, and currently 83 per cent of Tameside's pupils achieve Level 4 or above. The authority is aiming to raise this figure to 91 per cent in 2006, then 93 per cent in 2007.

Phil Davies, headteacher at Hollingworth Primary, says: "That is an extremely high target, but we will certainly be aiming for it. The passport scheme has been a great success, and I wouldn't like to try to assess ICT proficiency without it. Not only is it motivational, it makes it straightforward to pinpoint exactly where children are in their learning.

In ICT you are offering more subjective opinions than in areas such as literacy, numeracy and science, and you don't have Sats to provide a measurement of achievement."

The new online system covers more ground, and begins at the planning stage.

Cheryl Nelson, senior consultant in Tameside's e-learning team, who helped design the software, says: "It is based on the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority scheme of work for ICT, which most teachers use, and we have done the work of converting the scheme into lesson plans. Each plan comes with a range of teaching and learning resources, which can be downloaded or printed for use in the classroom."

Teachers will be able to log each child's progress through a unit of work, noting whether the pupil has or has not achieved or exceeded the objectives for each lesson. At the end of the unit, pupils tackle a task to be assessed by their teacher. In the multimedia presentation unit, for example, the task is to put together a presentation that includes text, pictures and sound. Pupils are provided with guidelines which explain what the teacher is looking for, encouraging them to take a part in their own assessment.

The task complete, teachers go online and are guided through the assessment. For each of the assessment criteria, the system offers three ways of describing the work that has been done, and the teacher chooses the option that best applies to a particular pupil. The system then calculates the child's level of attainment for the unit. Teachers can check the result against national curriculum attainment targets and change the level if they disagree. They can also refer to marked examples of Tameside pupils' work which are to be published online.

The children can print their own award certificate for the unit, and log on to the system for feedback on how they have done. Cheryl says: "We try to offer praise and positive reinforcement. If a pupil achieves Level 5, the system might say: 'Congratulations - you have done really well here.' If there are areas where a child is struggling, it will say: 'When you do your next presentation, think about ...' or 'You might need to work on...'"

All the information will be stored in SIMS, the schools administration system used in Tameside. A KS1 system is also planned, and the aim is to build an individual profile which will move with a pupil through primary to secondary, for use in a KS3 passport system introduced late last year.

Cheryl says: "Secondary teachers can see the levels that children come in at, and they can look at particular areas such as literacy or numeracy-related aspects of ICT. Looking at how children scored in the presentation unit could help identify where additional support is needed in literacy."

The software was created with the help of development company Rare.IT, and Cheryl says much thought has gone into making it child-friendly. "Every time we add something that can be assessed we also add guidance for pupils.

Rather than a teacher reminding them of things they should do, pupils have a checklist. That frees children to be more creative. They know what they need to include to achieve the best result and yet they don't feel they are being directed down certain paths. We are focusing not only on learning objectives but on learning outcomes: what the teacher wants the children to get out of an exercise. For instance, one learning objective is to use software and a control box to control devices such as lights and buzzers.

The learning outcome is to recognise that a device can be controlled by a computer, and recognise the need for precision when writing simple procedures."

Extensive support is planned for schools, with ICT consultant Adrienne Carroll funded to work full-time on the project for the next two years. All teachers of Years 5 and 6 will receive a half-day training session on the software.

Cheryl says: "We will also identify those who need more help, and Adrienne will go along and offer training on the curriculum. Teachers might be having problems with certain units - the control units, for example, which demand an understanding of specialised control language and the ability to write programs. Adrienne will run 'booster' sessions, teaching the unit alongside a teacher, and further sessions will be offered at summer camps."

A pilot group begins using the software in March, and teachers will advise colleagues through forums on Tameside's virtual learning environment.

Norman Crawford, head of Tameside's schools ICT service, who initiated the scheme, says: "Schools don't have to use the software - there is no statutory requirement to report on levels at the end of key stage 2, and we wouldn't dream of strong-arming anybody, but we hope to convince everyone of the benefits. Schools outside the borough will be able to purchase the software with e-learning credits."

At Hollingworth, Phil Davies says: "Our children are already becoming very proficient with ICT, and we hope to achieve even more with the help of this system. It will encourage pupils to drive forward their own learning and give them a tremendous advantage when they go to secondary school. I hope we will be one of the schools piloting the scheme - if we are asked, we will definitely say yes."

Tameside ICT in Schools

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