'Schools should draw up rules and encourage every teacher and pupil to agree to these rules by signing some sort of declaration which should be copied to parents so that it is absolutely transparent what is acceptable and what is not'
HEADTEACHERS have been given an uncompromising message that they must set the pace for the way information technology is used in schools - and stamp out misuse of the Internet.
Nigel Paine, departing chief executive of the Scottish Council for Educational Technology, said: "Schools should draw up rules and encourage every teacher and pupil to agree to these rules by signing some sort of declaration which should be copied to parents so that it is absolutely transparent what is acceptable and what is not.
"The declaration should include rules about how to use e-mail, the kind of language to be used and what sort of sites they might access."
The warnings, made to a conference of North Lanarkshire secondary heads, were given added weight because they came from the IT experts. Teachers are the key agents for change and must own the technology, Professor Paine said.
Tony van der Kuyl from the interactive IT centre at Moray House Institute stressed: "The imperative of designing content, network facilities and schools will be driven by the nature of teaching and learning."
The final heavyweight declaration came from Stephen Heppell, creator of the renowned "ultra-lab" at Anglia Polytechnic University, who told the Cumbernauld conference: "Teachers must make the judgments."
Reactions were less stirring, however. Colin Bulloch, head of Caldervale High in Airdrie, commented: "It is not an easy fix. We cannot quickly achieve the delight and excitement talked about when we are embroiled in old hardware, lack of resources and trying to make management savings."
Professor Paine had urged heads not to pass off their responsibility when it came to technology. "It is absolutely necessary for headteachers to be right in there, giving leadership and reassurance, and delivering implementation plans that go with the teachers rather than against them."
But his call for a "clear steer" from the top was answered after the conference by Mr Bulloch who said: "Headteachers are not yet the fully trained article and are in the position of having to make big decisions when we don't yet have all the facts."
Bernard Fagan, of St Ambrose High in Coatbridge, said schools still awaited the capital investment to deliver the technology.
But Professor Heppell warned that schools could end up as "the places children attend to get bored" unless pupils could express their creativity, using new approaches made possible by IT.
Pupil assessments were based on what children did five years ago when the modern tools and opportunities did not exist, Professor Heppell said. Teachers were not being judged sufficiently by how brave they are in fostering children's creativity "but by how anodyne they are against a set of prescribed skills".
He called on heads to "stand up for kids against the exam boards" and give them the freedom to "produce". The present exam system was damaging self-esteem.
Professor Heppell praised the clear political commitment to "world-class education" in Scotland. But he questioned whether a world-class system should involve testing and retesting, as happened in Japan, or be "crammed full of opportunity" and brave enough to sit back while children took up the challenge.
Mr van der Kuyl said new approaches to teaching and curricular structures were needed if the National Grid for Learning was to succeed. The Scottish Virtual Teachers' Centre, for example, must allow teachers to communicate with each other and go beyond developing subject-specific and learning-specific resources.