Dorothy Walker looks at the range of courseware and qualifications available for teachers and pupils wanting to boosts their ICT skills
For teachers and students who want to develop their ICT skills, there are more courses to choose from than ever. And any school considering broadening its range of ICT offerings now has an added incentive: if current proposals go ahead, a raft of new qualifications will soon begin to earn points in performance tables.
The Department for Education and Skills is proposing that from September, the full range of qualifications which are approved for 14 to 16 year-olds in the National Qualifications Framework receives credit in secondary school performance tables.
The two popular choices for developing ICT users' skills are the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) and Computer Literacy and Information Technology (Clait). ECDL, recognised in 125 countries, covers the most popular skills for business, in seven modules. The UK awarding body is the British Computer Society. Clait, the UK-recognised qualification from awarding body OCR, allows candidates to mix and match from a total of 14 modules, ranging from word processing to computer art.
Last year, educational training specialists Aston Swann launched ECDL for Educators, to help teachers learn ECDL skills in the context of their classrooms. Enterprising teachers began using the materials with their classes, and now the program has been expanded - and re-named ECDL for Education - to enable pupils to work towards the qualification, too.
Exercises have been adapted for pupils at key stages 3 and 4; older students would be expected to derive more benefit from a generic ECDL course.
Wendy Swann, director of the program, says: "One technology college has decided that by offering ECDL for Education before a fast-track GCSE IT, it could help students fast-track even faster." She has been inundated by enquiries from teacher-returners. "They are apprehensive about the new, high-tech environments, and learning in context is the ideal way to develop their skills."
Around 1,400 schools and sixth-form colleges are now approved as Clait delivery centres, and 20,000 under-18s are expected to take the qualification this year. Isobelle Hatrick, market strategist at OCR, says that schools are exploring how departments can deliver selected modules to complement their subjects. "We are working with two schools who want to deliver word processing to pupils learning French. A lot of teachers are devising Clait resources themselves, and sharing them via internet communities."
There is a wide variety of ECDL and Clait courseware, and study options range from using workbooks to working entirely online. They may be learning ICT, but some students are surprisingly shy about taking to the computer.
The latest software provides added encouragement. Training specialists Electric Paper offer packages which simulate the software the student is learning, but with added guidance and help facilities. Marketing manager John Kelly says: "Students work in a protected, supported environment, so they can engage in 'discovery learning' - they can explore and experiment, but they can't get lost or mess things up."
OCR's iPRO is aimed at the technical skills needed for developing and supporting systems, and includes qualifications created by Microsoft, internet technology company Cisco and CompTIA, the international industry association for IT companies. From September, a total of 14 new units will be available. Isobelle Hatrick says: "iPro was originally developed for adults at work, but we have had a lot of interest from schools, particularly sixth forms, and the new units are based on the feedback we have had from teachers."
ICT co-ordinators can learn the skills needed to manage a school's ICT infrastructure with the help of Eucip (European Certification of Informatics Professionals), recently launched by the British Computer Society (BCS). Eucip guides competent IT professionals through the processes of planning, specifying and maintaining systems.
The society also has two new courses aimed at beginners. Its equalskills is a 10-hour learning program which introduces basic skills in using computers and the internet, while e-citizen, due to be launched later this year, is aimed at making the most of online facilities ranging from e-commerce to electronic voting.
Pete Bayley (above), qualifications products director for BCS, says:
"Schools might offer equalskills in their adult education centres, and e-citizen could suit teachers who do not want to go straight into ECDL.
Teachers may also want to look at both courses for their pupils."
The British Computer Society, the industry body for IT professionals, was once aimed only at experts in the IT sector. Its structure has now been revised, enabling teachers with one year's ICT experience to apply for membership. Benefits include an online career development service, an extensive library of resources and discounted software.
The society's Pete Bayley says: "We want to encourage everyone in the education sector who deals regularly with ICT to join, and provide them with a vehicle for communicating with like-minded professionals."
* British Computer Society
* DfES www.dfes.gov.ukperformancetables
* ECDL www.ecdl.co.uk
* ECDL for Education
* Electric Paper