Hang ups

24th May 1996 at 01:00
Steve Virgin, IT co-ordinator at Corpus Christi High in Cardiff, says, "Don't try to convert the 5 per cent who are determined not to use information technology - you will never win." David Kennedy at Deerness Valley Comprehensive in Durham is equally cavalier in his dismissal of less-than- enthusiastic colleagues. "Don't waste time on the Luddites," he says. "Leave them to catch up later."

It wasn't like that in the old days, when computer folk were good shepherds dedicated to fighting the good fight until the last lost sheep was safely in the fold. But now there seems to be this new realism: a recognition that every school will always have a hard core of what Bill Bell at Ravens Wood in Bromley calls the "Unconvertibles". Some might be genuinely technophobic; most are too busy Q they can't find a window for Windows - or regard themselves as old dogs that are well past the new tricks phase. And there are a few Q odd balls, no doubt Q who cling to the old-fashioned belief that there are better things for children to do in lesson time than gawk at a VDU.

The Unconvertibles have, over the years, fought a brave guerrilla campaign to thwart the best laid plans of mice-wielding colleagues. They've done what they can to bring discord where they find harmony, to upset the apple (or PC) cart, and to chortle disparagingly whenever things go wrong. But these IT dis-co-ordinators are finding themselves increasingly marginalised and without a worthwhile role to play in schools that are rushing to embrace the new technology.

The latest publication from the National Council for Educational Technology will offer them little comfort. Delivering Capability in IT offers 10 co-ordinators (including the three already quoted) the opportunity to describe how they cope with the twin demands of promoting the use of IT across the curriculum, and of ensuring that pupils follow the challenging programmes of study spelt out in the Order.

At one extreme there is King Edward VII School in King's Lynn, which adopts an exclusively cross-curricular approach to IT, and, at the other, schools in which regular timetabled lessons devoted to teaching the basic computing skills complement the less formal work being done in the various departments.

Common themes emerge, of course. Any IT policy, it seems, is doomed if it doesn't have the active support of the senior management team. Regardless of the approach they adopt, none of the schools have quite enough hardware to do the job properly. Success, they all agree, ultimately depends on systematic planning, effective inter-departmental liaison and Q above all else Q a competent and confident staff. It sounds very civilised, but in reality it means a treadmill of hurried lunches, missed coffee breaks and dreary twilight sessions of in-service.

It's remarkable that so many teachers are prepared to stay on in school "when the gloom is soft and the light is dim" or that they are willing to make such a commitment to a subject which most hadn't heard of when they joined the profession.

At Henry Beaufort School in Winchester, teachers from various departments even went to the trouble of studying for RSA qualifications in IT. They then took on the responsibility of teaching the IT courses within their subject areas Q but they didn't do so alone. They were accompanied into the classroom by their "less enthusiastic" colleagues who were cunningly deployed as in-class support. "This ensured that they sat through IT lessons with students and received in-service training by default."

It might have won over a few agnostics, but it's a heartless trick to play on the Unconvertibles. It would make far better sense to respect their staunchly held views and to find, instead, some useful role they could play in the high-tech years ahead. During those long twilight sessions, for instance, it would be very nice to have someone on hand to make the coffee.

Delivering Capability in IT (Pounds 9.95), NCET, Milburn Hill Road, Science Park, Coventry, CV4 7JJ.

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