The devil is in the detail

31st March 2006 at 01:00
Becta's Self-Review Framework is not a one-size-fits-all system. Schools can adapt it, writes Gerald Haigh

ICT is, or should be, embedded across the curriculum. So it's both a tool for improving learning in each and every subject, and is also a subject capable of improvement in its own right. It's against that background that Becta's Self-Review Framework comes into its own, because it's much more than an attempt at a straight measurement of ICT. Properly used, it's a way into every subject.

Under the heading "curriculum", for example, it raises such issues as whether ICT figures in curriculum plans and schemes of work across the curriculum, whether subject teachers are aware of the required standards in ICT, whether pupils experience a range of ICT opportunities or whether teachers are able to recognise opportunities to use it.

The implication is that in addressing the framework, every department and every individual teacher will be looking at his or her own planning, personal knowledge and classroom practice.

So, at Soham Village college, in Ely, Cambridgeshire, one of the pilot schools, assistant principal Martin Lewis was able to use the framework to look at the way ICT was being used to enhance teaching and learning across the curriculum. "Initially, David Lunn, the principal, and I took a proportion of the document and made our own initial judgments. It then became apparent where, within curriculum areas, we needed to find out more detail."

Seeking out the detail is going to be the key task for all schools wanting to use the framework as a developmental tool. Initial judgments may be relatively easy for a senior team that's on top of what's happening in school, but inevitably there'll have to be digging down into inner workings of departments and classrooms.

Martin began by adapting the framework document to the school's needs, producing an immensely useful and accessible working tool - in itself an object lesson in how any school can use the framework as a starting point for development.

His document uses the framework's existing headings, but provides space for the school's own assessment of its strengths on the one hand and areas for development on the other. He's also left a column in which the performance in each area is summarised into one of the framework's five levels.

The original framework document is long and detailed. There are no complaints, but Martin felt that he needed, for each of its sections, to draw out summary points. In his adaptation he decided to place, at the start of each of the framework's elements, a short list of the key things to look for.

So, for example, from the section called "planning, using and evaluating ICT in teaching and learning", which, like all the sections, is broken down into searching and closely focused objectives, he's drawn out "three examples of planning for different subject areas that include the appropriate utilisation of ICT" and "an example of the innovative use of ICT in subject teaching (SC1)". He's then added a list of what will count as evidence to support these two points - from schemes of work, named pupils' work and interactive whiteboard records.

The inspiration for his "key points" comes from the key stage 3 maths strategy. "That, too, is a detailed document with a clear breakdown of all the things to cover in teaching," he says. "But in terms of assessment the key objectives are taken out of that. The assumption is that if you are covering the key objectives, you are doing what's necessary. I think that's what was in my mind. I've said in my feedback that it might be worthwhile actually clarifying key objectives within each section."

Always, though, there's insistence on evidence. Defining what that might be, in detail, across all of the framework clearly involves more people:

"We had the ICT strategy group already. This consisted of the principal and myself, the ICT co-ordinator, the subject ICT co-ordinators and the network manager."

(The fact that the school has a subject-based ICT co-ordinator in each department - someone who monitors and helps with the application of ICT in the teaching of the subject - has been a significant factor in tackling self-evaluation at Soham.) Between them, the members of this group were able to define what would count as evidence for their judgments as to how well the school was doing in each of the sections of the framework. Here, the school's existing commitment to careful monitoring came into its own. "I tapped into such things as faculty reviews," says Martin. "They include records of lesson observations, for example."

It's clear that the school already has a careful "paper trail" (albeit often in digital form) of schemes of work, classroom observation reports, minutes of faculty meetings, in-service training evaluations, performance management records, pupil and teacher portfolios - the list goes on. The point is that, increasingly, a well-ordered school, aware of the trend towards self-evaluation, will have all or most of this in place. The task of a team such as Soham's ICT strategy group is then not to search for new evidence but to bring together and put in order what's there.

The SRF then becomes the ground upon which all of it is paraded for review.

"We have pretty robust systems," says Martin. "I deliberately did not introduce new ones." He sees the framework as part of a natural progression towards school self-review across the board. "It's part of a bigger picture. Schools are going to have to get used to it - and if the systems are in place it's not too daunting a task."

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