The whole of the national ICT teacher training programme, funded with pound;230 million of lottery cash from the New Opportunities Fund (NOF), has been predicated, especially in England, on the basis that schools have a choice of trainers. The TTA manages the quality assurance of the programme and its main advice to schools has been that they should exercise that choice, and sound out other schools that have completed the training about their experiences to help weigh up the options.
The TTA has seconded civil servant Tim Tarrant from the DFEE to join Frankie O'Brien to work on the management and implementation of the quality assurance.
Schools and teachers acting as consumers is what the TTA would like to encourage. "Occasionally, when we go into schools we have to convince teachers that they have a choice and that if they are not happy with the training they should talk to the training provider about that," says Tim Tarrant.
"These training providers are providing the service and the vast majority are doing it effectively. It is up to the provider to meet the contract. If the schools are not happy that they are getting a reasonable service they should complain to the training provider. There is a contract and each of the providers has to have a complaints procedure. One of the things we look at in quality assurance is how well these complaint procedures are working. We also want to see that the procedure is open and transparent to the people in the schools. Given the size of the programme the number of complaints is not high."
The large number of providers itself has resulted in some criticism that choice is difficult. However, it does mean that a range of styles is on offer, making it easier for schools to find the type of training that suits them. "When the programme started, we thought that the medium should be the message," says Tim Tarrant. "It seemed logical that ICT should form an important part of the training. That doesn't mean that there should not be face-to-face training or face-to-face support. Now it seems from our experience that the training that works the best is training that uses a bit of each of those. We do know that there are clearly schools and teachers who are not yet ready to go into a distance-learning mode of training. They feel more comfortable in having someone come in to talk to them. Teachers are social animals, so it is not surprising that many of them feel comfortable with face-to-face training."
Most of the trainers are operating somewhere between total distance learning and total face-to-face. The feedback is that these styles cannot work on their own - they have to have the right mix. "Training provider websites have to be good - it is no good telling teachers that they can only log on at 10pm," says Tarrant. "Face-to-face training is not good if there is no quality control on those who are doing the face-to-face sessions. The idea that you can pull someone out of a classroom and put him or her in front of colleagues does not work. However, it doesn't matter in the final analysis how good the provider is or how good the trainer is if the school is not ready or willing to organise it properly."
For training providers using distance learning, it is crucial to make sure that their hardware and software systems are both suitable and absolutely robust. The TTA was "surprised" by the number of problems suffered by one or two trainers that should have known better: "The ICT has to work if teachers are sending emailto mentors or taking part in a conference. Teachers who are beginning will often lose confidence, and blame themselves if it doesn't work."
The TTA has learnt some important lessons since the project was designed three years ago. "We have learnt that any distance learning model of training has to be well supported. The idea that that you can create some distance learning material, set up a conferencing website and then wait for things to happen doesn't work. Providers have to monitor activity and have to start the process of people engaging with it. The provider has to be the catalyst for it. There has to be effective support within the school; the school has to have someone or a group of people who will take control and make it happen within the school. It will not happen unless the school is directly involved."
There has been criticism that the choice of training providers for schools has been complicated by the fact that no public qualitative information on the providers has come out of the TTA's quality assurance programme. The TTA said that it would not publish anything until all the providers had been examined. That process, however, will be completed next month, so we can expect publication soon.
And the TTA is aware of the possibly conflicting issues of the trainers' commercial sensitivities and the rights of schools and teachers, "in the spirit of open government", to meaningful feedback on the qualities of the trainers.
The long-term impact of this training will not be measured by the TTA quality assurance programme, which is looking at the quality of the training as it takes place in the classroom. Ofsted has been asked to undertake the evaluation of the whole programme. "We saw what they were doing for the Literacy and Numeracy strategy. The DFEE asked for an in-depth study from them of NOF and for the roll-out of the NGFL. However, from the NOF perspective and the NGFL perspective it is still relatively early. It is quite obvious talking to schools that the impact of this programme will not be within one or two months of finishing training; it is much longer term, at least a year."
Will the programme be completed on time? The TTA is reasonably confident that it will. "The take-up indicates that we are on target. At the moment we are still on track and the take-up is robust."
Jack Kenny is a freelance writer, and chair of examiners for English for one of the major GCSE examining boards.
GETTING THE MOST OUT OF YOUR NOF TRAINING
* Schools should exercise choice
* The local network is likely to be the most effective way of learning about providers
* If a school buying a service is not happy with the training, it should protest and complain to the training provider until the contract is fulfilled
* Choose the type of training carefully - there is no one model that is suitable for every type of school.
* The training issue is a whole-school issue and should be debated across the school, not seen as the responsibility of one person
* The school has to have someone, or a group of people, to take control and make it happen within the school.
* The training that works the best is training that uses a mixture of online and face to face.
* The trainer and provider must understand the issues within each school.
* Planning is important, as schools have to be ready. They need the kit from the NGFL funding, and ICT in the development plan so they know what they are going to do next.