A new framework at Warwick University is helping teachers get to grips with ICT and its practical use. Gerald Haigh takes a look at its progres.
Teacher training is increasingly being done in, and by, schools. As one head puts it, "The same government which says that schools need to pull their socks up is demanding that the next generation of teachers be trained in these schools."
There is a particular issue here for ICT. The Initial Teacher Training National Curriculum sets some high standards for ICT, both in terms of students' own competence and in their familiarity with ICT as a tool for teaching and assessment. You would expect nothing less, given the importance of the subject. At the same time, the ICT revolution in schools has hardly started. NGFL funding is only just arriving, and the training in ICT for teachers funded by the New Opportunities Fund is still being written by the providers. How, then, does a teacher education institution square this circle?
Michelle Selinger, director of the Centre for New Technologies and Research in Education (CeNTRE) at Warwick University's Institute of Education, has been addressing this question for the past year. She came to Warwick from the Open University: "It was quite frightening how poorly equipped some schools were. I had to find a way of dealing with that."
The first principle, she says, is to give students "a solid foundation in basic skills across the 'three Ps' - personal, professional and pedagogic. Each student does an audit, to identify his or her own areas of weakness."
Building on this, students have up to 60 hours (depending on the course) of face-to-face teaching in ICT - a considerable amount given that PGCE secondary students, for example, spend two-thirds of their time in school.
In addition to the teaching, students have a series of supported self-study packs on areas such as word processing and data-handling. To back this up, there are well-equipped computer suites with support available from the CeNTRE manager. Students are also introduced to ICT in their specialist subjects, and part of Selinger's role is to help and support subject departments in this, and to put the focus on using their knowledge in the classroom.
"If they do spreadsheets in maths," she says, "we will look at the use of interactive spreadsheets in the classroom." Much still remains to be done in school, and Selinger is very conscious of the differences between one school and another. "When we have meetings of school mentors, they sometimes look askance at what we expect," she says.
CeNTRE's aim, though, is to give students the confidence to make the best of whatever is happening in a school. Students are given a detailed questionnaire, for example, directing them to look closely at the use of ICT. "They do sometimes come back despondent," Selinger says, "but we can talk it through."
At Brookhurst Primary in Leamington Spa, students do not have to search hard to find ICT in action. As well as having PCs in each classroom, Brookhurst has 80 laptops. I watched Cathy Hayward, a third-year Warwick student working with a group of five Year 2 children on Apple e-Mates as they explored different ways of emphasising words by point size and font format. Another student, Sarah Penfold, was working with five children on a desktop machine, looking at ways of displaying data they had collected about the cars on the car park. "Now what sort of graph are you going to choose?" she asked, and when a bar graph was displayed she carefully helped the pupils to understand what they were seeing.
Both students clearly knew the ICT basics. What was significant, though, was that as the result of this they were comfortable about going with the children into areas they were not so sure about - Hayward needed to fiddle somewhat with the e-Mates, for example, to get them to do what she wanted, and Penfold spent several seconds clicking and highlighting before the spreadsheet disgorged its information. Neither the students nor the pupils were worried by this. Perhaps a teacher's willingness to plunge in and have a go, using basic principles, is in the end a better measure of ICT confidence than how much ICT they actually know.
Both students confirmed the quality of the work in ICT being done. "It does give a basic grounding," Hayward says. "When we go into school we know the principles, and we can cope when there are different types of computer."
The students have to do three particular ICT activities on their third year teaching experience. They first audit the school's ICT resources, then work with a group of children on an ICT task planned by the teacher, before teaching a whole-classlesson based on ICT. Both students were mindful of the need to show reasons for using the computer. "We're very keen on that," Hayward says. "There are some things where you're better off not using the computer at all."
If these students are typical, it really is starting to look as if heads and governors can rely on the ability of their newly qualified recruits to bring good, imaginative ICT practice into their first appointments.