"Four nine eight annexe B" might not mean much to you, but it means a lot to thousands of trainee teachers. It's the official name of the ICT curriculum all trainee teachers have had to follow since September 1998 in order to reach QTS (qualified teacher status). The new curriculum is designed to ensure that all newly-qualified teachers have a minimum level of ICT competence before entering the classroom.
The curriculum was developed by the TTA, and Frankie Sulke, the TTA's head of initial teacher training, says it was an important innovation: "It will have an enormous impact on how teachers use ICT in schools. It's too important to be left to chance and every child can expect their teacher to understand how technology can help their learning."
Around 30,000 trainee teachers a year follow the new curriculum, and the TTA says it has put a lot of resources into helping initial teacher training institutions (ITTs) deploy it. Frankie Sulke says the TTA has given ITTs pound;13 million, pound;7 million of which was earmarked for ICT. Training courses to support ITT tutors were also set up, although only 550 tutors used this facility, and Sulke adds that a telephone helpline received only 50 calls during a nine-month period.
All this suggests that ITTs are well-prepared for the new curriculum, but is this the case? Warwick University is one of the country's largest ITTs, with around 1,000 students. Year one and two students attend a total of 60 hours of ICT courses at the university's Centre for New Technologies Research in Education (Centre). "The new curriculum has forced the issue which is great in one sense, but the level of detail is a little over the top," says Michelle Sellinger, Centre's director.
Sellinger adds that she was fortunate as the university was able to upgrade its ICT equipment to ensure it was using up to date technology, but adds:
"Students need the opportunity to familiarise themselves with educational software and not just generic packages like word processors." Centre now has over 250 educational software titles, but not every ITT is in such a fortunate position, says Sellinger.
Jan Stannard, strand leader of the English PGCE course at Nottingham Trent University, says: "Student teachers arrive with a varied level of basic skills but nearly all have positive attitudes to ICT. We have a skills audit on arrival and our department's IT specialist looks at a range of ICT skills to compensate for any weaknesses. It is demanding to fit the ICT curriculum for subject teaching in alongside the other standards, but it does provide a clear baseline. The ICT requirements can get pushed down on the list of priorities, especially this year, as students are worrying about the summer numeracy test."
The main thrust of the new curriculum is to help trainee teachers learn when to use and when not to use ICT in the classroom, rather than how to say, set up a printer, says Avril Loveless, chair of the association for IT in Teacher Education (ITTE): "It's trying to focus on a meaningful context. It requires trainees to have an understanding of ICT and how it makes a contribution to learning. It's a complex interaction of experiences for the student." This means that much of the learning takes place in a classroom with real pupils, and that can be a problem. Sellinger says: "There is so much variation n schools. Some schools have got NGFL money and are moving their ICT programme ahead; others are still waiting for the funding."
Loveless adds: "There is not only tremendous variation between schools, but within schools, with some departments using ICT much more than others. ICT challenges the pedagogical method and we are trying to encourage students to be innovative, but that isn't always possible." In some cases the problem is the school's ICT policy; in others it is the lack of ICT equipment (which may be linked to policy). "Some students are going into schools where they are still using Acorn computers and so students are de-skilled because they are used to more sophisticated ICT hardware," says Sellinger.
Noami Richardson, a fourth year QTS student at Warwick University faced a similar problem when she did her teaching practice: "A lot of children had not experienced ICT before I used it with them, and it was difficult to incorporate ICT because the school only had one computer between three year groups." But not every student has such a hard time.
Diane Perry, head of English and professional mentor at Lordswood Girls' School, Birmingham, co-ordinates the induction programme for newly qualified teachers and acts as a mentor for trainees on placements at the school. This year she is working with seven newly qualified teachers (NQTs) from English, science, religious education, PE and music departments:
"Although they all trained with different HE institutions, this year's NQTs all arrived with basic ICT skills and experience of integrating ICT into their teaching. The ICT curriculum does seem to provide a good framework that we can all work to. Trainees on placement and NQTs generally show very positive attitudes to the use of ICT. They can often act as a catalyst to departments who are still thinking about integrating ICT into lessons."
She adds that at her school, much is done to encourage the use of ICT by NQTs: "Trainees have worked with the ICT co-ordinator looking at how the Birmingham Grid for Learning can support them. They are encouraged to take calculated risks in their preparation and delivery." And many ITTs are taking steps to improve links with schools. Jan Stannard says: "We run joint mentorstudent sessions with an outside trainer to consider strategies for the delivery of the subject using ICT. These sessions are supported by work in the subject seminar sessions. The school-based mentors who attend the sessions are extremely positive."
The British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA) is working with the University of Bristol to pilot the use of a contributory database with trainee teachers and tutors http:contribute.ngfl.gov.uk, designed to help teachers develop and share ideas for activities and resources. A discussion group for modern foreign language tutors on the Virtual Teacher Centre aims to encourage NQTs to participate in the contributory database http:vtc.ngfl.gov.ukvtcmeetingmeeting.html The ITTE, with some assistance from the TTA has set up seminars, courses and workshops designed to bring mentors and trainee teachers together, and also enable students to see good models of practice. As Loveless puts its:
"It's about forming good partnerships with schools."
George Cole is a freelance journalist and a former teacher