"I have great faith in ICT's ability to raise standards"

9th March 2001 at 00:00
Ken Dyson, Ofsted's new specialist adviser for ICT, believes that technology in the classroom will help raise standards but, he tells Chris Johnston, there's still a long way to go

Ken Dyson, Ofsted's new specialist adviser for information and communications technology (ICT), has a hard act to follow. Gabriel Goldstein was well known and highly respected by many in education since becoming IT inspector in 1983 and Ofsted's ICT adviser since the organisation's inception in 1992.

After working with his predecessor for 13 years inspecting ICT in schools, local education authorities and initial teacher training courses, Dyson, 54, knows he has to do the job his way. However, he is quick to pay tribute to the networks created by Goldstein and says they will make the job much easier to slip into.

The position involves pulling together the evidence on ICT from school inspections and the range of Her Majesty's Inpectorate's (HMI) other activities and then summarising it all for the Chief Inspector's annual report. He also represents Ofsted and discusses policy with the Department for Education and Employment and other bodies such as the Teacher Training Agency, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and the New Opportunities Fund (NOF).

More importantly for schools, Dyson influences how inspectors assess ICT provision in schools. He says the primary and secondary guidance has recently been updated and adds: "Keeping ICT inspectors well-briefed is an important part of the job because the technology and materials and software change so quickly."

As ICT breaks out of its ghetto and starts to permeate every aspect of schools, Dyson hopes that more inspectors will become involved in it, and that those inspecting English, for example, also look at how technology is being used in English classes. This should be the situation, and he certainly believes it is at primary level.

An IT inspector for Nottinghamshire LEA for six years before joining HMI as an IT specialist in 1988, he is no stranger to an ICT inspector's lot.

Dyson's interest in technology goes back to the start of his teaching career in the early Seventies. A maths teacher in a rural comprehensive, he recalls travelling 30 miles every week to the closest mainframe computer to let a group of sixth formers use the facilities.

The arrival of microcomputers in schools had a more profound effect, however. Dyson was "dumbfounded" by the way they excited and motivated pupils, particularly those who were not enthusiastic learners.

Over the years he has seen many teachers converted and dismisses the idea that some cannot be excited by the potential of tehnology for learning. However, if this is to happen they must have access and good technical support in "the right curriculum context" and be clear about why they are using a computer.

One of the aims of the NOF training programme is to help teachers know when to employ technology in the classroom. Lord Puttnam said, in his speech at the BETT exhibition earlier this year, that the NOF training was not nearly enough and Dyson agrees that it is "a stage on the journey - schools are going to have to think about what they do post-NOF".

Giving teachers personal access is something he agrees is very important if they are to become confident and competent users of technology in the classroom, and he supports any initiative that helps more staff to get their own computer. The new e-Learning Foundation is one that appears to be "a very promising model if it's replicable".

The foundation's aim is to provide every student with personal access to technology, and while that is clearly some way off, many pupils are using computers extensively for their school work. As student Internet use rises, Dyson warns that teachers have to be more wary of plagiarism - lifting chunks of text or even entire essays takes just a few mouse clicks.

However, he goes on to stress that technology has a key role to play in inclusion - something high on the agenda of both Ofsted and the Government - to help pupils with special needs, the disaffected, those not attending school and even boys uninterested in reading. "ICT motivates kids enormously and improves the quality of teaching and learning," explains Dyson.

Despite the lack of hard evidence about the effect of technology on raising pupil achievement, he would like to think it could be singled out as a key factor. "I've seen so many kids develop their writing through the use of word-processing, for example. I have a great deal of faith in ICT's ability to raise standards and I think a lot of inspectors make that link."

Ofsted's finding that unsatisfactory pupil achievement in IT ranges as high as 39 per cent in key stage 2, and falls no lower than 27 per cent (for key stage 3) makes Dyson's comment that "we've made huge strides but we still have a long way to go" pertinent indeed.

"Shifting a culture, which is what we are trying to do here, is always difficult," says Dyson, "and it's always struck me that it's going to take a generation of teachers to really start to bite." If that is the case, at just three years into the National Grid for Learning strategy, some are certainly expecting too much change far too quickly.

Office for Standards in Education www.ofsted.gov.uk

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