A new report from the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) on ICT in schools concludes that the Government's initiatives have had a significant impact. The report, ICT in Schools: the impact of government initiatives five years on, released today, was the result of HM inspectors' visits to more than 300 secondary schools, 100 primary schools and 40 special schools, as well as contact with local authorities and Regional Broadband Consortia (RBCs).
Ofsted notes that the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) funding of ICT in schools through the Standards Fund has vastly increased since it began in 1998. In the year 20023, funding totalled pound;510 million, compared with pound;657 million over the years from 1998. During this time, there have been a number of initiatives, including Laptops for Teachers, Curriculum Online and the Testbed Project. In addition, pound;230 million from the New Opportunities Fund (NOF) was used for ICT teacher training in England.
Oftsed reports that ICT competence among students and teaching staff has increased dramatically since 1997 and that schools' ICT resources are at record levels. By July 2003, 50 per cent of all schools and 90 per cent of secondary schools had broadband.
But Ofsted also says this positive picture conceals variations in both the impact of training programmes and hardware provision.
Ofsted notes that the gap between the best and worst ICT is unacceptably high and that the quality and diversity of pupils' experiences vary widely among schools. In the most outstanding examples, ICT is starting to have a pervasive impact on the way teachers teach and children learn. However, the outcomes of the initiatives are more evident in pupils' achievements in ICT than in other subjects.
The report adds that the NOF training programme was disappointing:
"Expected outcomes were not met in about a third of schools." In-house staff training was generally more effective than NOF-funded training.
The report also states that while ICT is widely recognised as an essential tool for learning today, it is still not at the heart of our education system. As yet, theGovernment's aim for ICT to become embedded across the curriculum is only a reality in a minority of schools.
The report includes several case studies of schools that have successfully implemented ICT throughout the institution, including Eggbuckland Community College in Plymouth. Dan Buckley, the college's vice-principal, says: "If you have a clear vision of where you are heading, you can be sure everyone is pulling in the same direction."
Commenting on the report, David Bell (pictured), Her Majesty's chief inspector for schools, says: "If our latest report tells us anything, it is that ICT can make a unique contribution to improving education." (David Bell gives his views on page 30.) The report recommends the DfES continues earmarking funding for ICT resources in schools and develops a range of initiatives to bridge the gap between the best and the worst practice.
Owen Lynch, chief executive of the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta), adds: "Clearly a great deal of satisfaction can be taken from the improvement in schools' ICT infrastructure, but more importantly from the improvement in teachers' capability and the quality of teaching."
ICT in Schools: the impact of government initiatives five years on is downloadable from the Ofsted website at www.ofsted.gov.uk