Back to the future

3rd February 1995 at 00:00
Information technology co-ordinators have a lot to be happy about. They work at the frontiers of education and IT. They get to play with all the latest high-tech toys. Their pupils have fun, and learn quickly. And it's useful you can get a job using IT. At least, that is what it used to feel like when schools controlled their own curriculum.

With a local curriculum you could modify it quickly for changing circumstances. The future of IT has never been predictable, which always put IT co-ordinators on the edge. But being on the edge was exciting and putting the curriculum in a strait-jacket took out the fun.

The delivery of IT across the curriculum has been, at best, of a variable standard and, at worst, an organisational nightmare. Only a very few did it and survived with their optimism intact.

The problems associated with the cross-curricular delivery of IT have been considerable. IT is not content-free and can never be taught independently of its applications. What we need is a model to take account of the problems.

Effective delivery of IT involves three components: teaching IT skills; applying these skills in realistic contexts; and assessing pupils' abilities. The teaching and assessment of IT skills across the curriculum is more problematic than the application of pupils' IT skills in other subjects. If IT is taught and assessed in special classes, many of the problems associated with cross-curricular IT are resolved, leaving other teachers to concentrate on their subject.

Let me propose a model for a programme of IT studies that is affordable and which meets the needs of all pupils, with a basic skills programme for all and further specialist study for those who require it.

The model is based on a school with 1,050 pupils in Years 7 to 13 and a 40-period week. For simplicity, I shall assume there are six classes of 30 in each of Years 7 to 11 and 150 pupils post-16. In Years 7 to 11, pupils are taught core IT, in classes of 30, for two periods a week, throughout the year. Core IT is almost entirely practical work. It covers basic IT skills and covers and extends national and GNVQ IT. Pupils work in IT rooms with 15 or more computers, with up to two pupils sharing a computer. In Years 10 and 11, two groups of up to 30 pupils may choose to extend their studies in IT by two periods per week of theoretical studies in GCSE information systems. Post-16, assuming average admissions, the practical components of A and AS level computer science and any GCSE or GNVQ courses, can be catered for in up to 10 practical sessions per week. This requires only two IT rooms and three specialist teachers.

Many schools see this model as unattainable. However, the resources are not beyond the means of a 1,050-pupil school. Before schools directed their resources into worthy attempts to deliver IT across the curriculum, as recommended in the old non-statutory guidance, many were within reach of achieving such a programme.

Implementations of cross-curricular IT have been generally too complex and resource-hungry. It is time to return to a model that is simpler and cheaper, where pupils are taught and assessed by IT specialists. The best practice was almost always founded on what best met pupils' needs and was practical and possible within realistic constraints on staffing and resources. In this golden age IT co-ordinators were enthusiastic, happy teachers. Wouldn't you like to see your IT co-ordinator smile again?

Roger Crawford is a senior lecturer in education at the University of Huddersfield and a chief examiner for GCSE information systems. The views expressed here are his own.

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