Digital revolution leaves schools five years behind

8th September 2000 at 01:00
SCHOOLS are so far behind in the effective use of information and communications technology (ICT) that they are to be given five years to come up to standard.

An HMI report published today (Friday) issues "a salutary reminder that effective practice is not yet sufficiently widespread or consistent in quality". Some good work is in place but "there is much more to do".

The conclusions will come as a blow to ministers who have set considerable store by a pound;60 million three-year programme to connect every school to the National Grid for Learning. This involves complete Internet access and e-mail addresses for all staff and pupils. "Urgent attention" is required if that target is to be met, HMI states.

Douglas Osler, senior chief inspector of schools, writes in the foreword that he hopes the five-year time-scale will allow investment in ICT and staff development to show "clear effects".

But the report makes clear that, even after schools are fully equipped, it is what they do next that is the bigger challenge. "In many schools, ICT was not used effectively as a means of addressing pupils' individual needs. Consequently, where pupils could have been working at their own pace on suitably challenging tasks, they were sometimes given undemanding work or work that failed to meet their needs or motivate them fully."

The Inspectorate also found that "there is still a long way to go" before secondary subject departments get to grips with ICT to boost pupil attainment, and only a very small number of secondary schools had good links between ICT courses and other subjects. There were "significant weaknesses" in the way ICT was provided and managed.

The report underlines the importance of the pound;23 million training programme for teachers and school librarians which is being funded by the National Lottery. Training by schools and local authorities alone is not seen as adequate.

"Many teachers," the inspectors note in a somewhat understated comment, "needed opportunities to reflect on the role that ICT can play in learning and to develop their skills in using ICT to enhance their teaching and improve pupils' attainment."

The most effective use was seen where the head and staff had a strong commitment to its use, with a willingness by teachers to experiment and share results. Lessons worked best where the rationale for using ICT had been thoroughly explored so that the technology was simply one of a range of devices.

There is also growing evidence that ICT is being used to deepen pupil understanding, increase the pace of learning and heighten the motivation to learn.

Future school inspections will place more emphasis on the use of ICT both in learning and teaching and in raising pupil attainment, Mr Osler announced. This will take in wider issues such as resourcing, staffing and the management of ICT.

The Inspectorate's conclusions were based on a sample of 50 primary schools and 49 secondary schools taken from the general inspection programme.

Another 10 primaries and 22 secondary departments from 16 education authorities were also included as examples of good practice. Their work, in an innovative departure for HMI, has been filmed and will be available by the end of the month on the Internet (www.ngflscotland.gov.ukteachersICTLT).

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