"At all key stages, information technology (IT) elicits interest and enthusiasm.Levels of attainment are largely satisfactory or better, but modest compared to overall standardsin all subjects."
So says the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED) in its Review of Inspection Findings in IT, 199394 (HMSO, Pounds 3.95).
Despite a general optimism, the inspectors - who visited 240 secondaries and 34 primaries - do have serious reservations. At key stages 1-2, for example, most pupils experience only part of the programme of study. They are very likely to miss out on classroom activities which focus on the areas of Control and Application and Effects.
At key stages 3-4, most schools seemed doomed to get IT wrong. If they opt to teach the subject across the curriculum, "there is frequently a mismatch between the intentions behind school policies and their operation in practice. " If, instead, they choose to treat IT as a separate subject, they run the risk of providing "insufficient opportunities to apply the IT skills so acquired to work in other subjects."
Whichever approach is adopted, assessment in most schools falls behind the requirements enshrined in the national curriculum. Many teachers, it seems, are content merely to report what pupils do as they don't have sufficient confidence in their own abilities to pass judgments on pupils' attainment. This should not come as a surprise because - as the inspectors wisely put on record - "the needs of such staff for training in teaching and assessing IT are rarely met".
The inspectors are also concerned that staff often don't do enough to "differentiate" in their teaching. Even in lessons, where computers are being used purposefully, children are given little opportunity to broaden their range of skills.
Although the inspectors observed many excellent lessons, they also realised that there is a "great variation in teachers' ability to deliver IT". It means, of course, that too much of a burden - especially in primary schools - can fall on the shoulders of IT co-ordinators, who simply don't have the time to provide colleagues with the level of support required. In secondary schools, an efficient co-ordination of IT only occurs when "there is a serious commitment from school management".
The report says that for key stages 1-2, there is usually "an adequate provision of equipment", but it is not always being deployed wisely with machines remaining idle or being used for drill exercises which do little to foster competence in IT. At key stages 3-4, "resources issues are not limiting the work", but the report draws attention to the negative effects of inappropriate software, peripheral breakdown, the lack of manuals and the difficulties caused by too many pupils having to share a work station.
The OFSTED teams compared pupils' performance in IT with an average for other areas of the curriculum. Their findings must give heart to teachers struggling with a subject that is notoriously fraught with difficulties. At key stages 1-2, 71 per cent of pupils were at a level described as "average or better", compared with 77 per cent in other subjects. At key stage 3, 75 per cent achieved this standard, compared to an overall score for other subjects of 81 per cent. At key stage 4, 75 per cent did so, which is about 7 per cent below their performance in other subjects.
Although the inspectors counsel the inevitable "must work harder" - especially in assessment and differentiation - these findings are confirmation that all the headaches and heartaches suffered by teachers in their efforts to integrate computers into the classroom are proving worth it.
* OFSTED reports are nowavailable on the World Wide Web at: httpwww.open.gov.ukofsted.htm