Someone, somewhere is going to look at the sums spent on IT in primary schools and conclude money is being wasted. And on the evidence in OFSTED's report on primary education, it would be hard to argue otherwise.
The report, which tackles the teaching of IT as a subject,makes grim reading. "In the majority of primary schools, information technology skills, knowledge and understanding are not systematically taught and almost never systematically assessed," it states. "There is considerably less good teaching in information technology than in any other subject. In only one school in five is the teaching of information technology judged to be good. But of greater concern is that, while in all subjects the percentage of primary schools with unsatisfactory teaching is in single figures, the percentages of schools with unsatisfactory teaching in information technology is, typically, four times larger, ranging from 23 per cent for key stage 1 to 29 per cent for key stage 2."
This indictment is backed up by the section on ICT. "Even basic skills do not seem to be well taught... a significant proportion of pupils enter secondary schools without sufficient fluency in locating keys, with a tendency to use one hand when working at a computer, or with no systematic approach to securing data, for example by regular saving of files and occasional printing."
The report notes that schools have increased their spend on IT but points out that for every pound;8 spent on hardware, less than pound;1 is spent on staff training in IT. This short-sighted approach has been noted before and blamed on the delegation of funds to schools, which are not investing enough in staff, methodology and pedagogy. It will not surprise teachers that pupils are motivated by IT - indeed the report claims some teachers fail to see much further than that - but in spite of the superior equipment available in many schools pupils often produce work of modest quality. The report finds: "In some schools, the work done in previous years, with the software and facilities available on older equipment, may have looked less impressive but offered at least comparable challenge and often higher levels of achievement in terms of national curriculum level descriptions."
So what is the solution? One pointer is in the section on whole-class teaching of ICT. Primary schools now tend to spread resources throughout the school and the report finds "initial indications are that the grouping of (ICT) resources into areas that can be readily supervised following a whole-group introduction eases lesson planning, delivery and appropriate intervention".
The challenge for teachers is to harness the positive points noted by OFSTED. Pupils' attitudes towards IT are positive and they are attracted to modern technologies. Irresponsible behaviour is rare and pupils are happy to learn from mistakes, "to persevere, to take risks, to teach themselves new facilities and skills, to consult and to help others" - all characteristics of good learners.
No one for the New Opportunities FundTeacher Training Agency training has thought to take a snapshot of ICT levels in schools in 1999 so this report is the only baseline we have. Admittedly, NOFTTA training is not aimed at IT as a separate subject, but it will be interesting to see if it has an impact on the teaching of ICT in the primary school. Only subsequent reports will tell.