Several new topics are covered in the first teaching materials for the new ICT key stage 3 strategy, published last September. The materials currently consist of five units (the latest was published last month), and cover selecting and organising content for presentation (using Microsoft's PowerPoint), making a leaflet, using a spreadsheet, data-handling, and control and monitoring. The units consist of sample lessons (each lasting 60 minutes), guidelines and resources, and are available for downloading from the internet. A lot of work has clearly gone into producing the materials (some files are substantial - almost 3 megabytes in size), so has all the effort been worth it?
Three teachers based in Reading, who were involved in the pilot project that helped develop the materials, were canvassed for their views. Anthony Falkus, ICT co-ordinator at Reading School, says: "The materials are great.
Obviously, the original pilot materials needed to be revised and the final version shows that a lot of the feedback has been taken on board."
Dominic Tester, ICT co-ordinator at Blessed Hugh Farringdon Catholic School, says: "ICT is being taught by a number of non-specialists and, while some of the resources seem long-winded, they do help less experienced teachers a lot."
Stan Johnson, head of business and ICT at Reading Girls School, adds: "The turnover of ICT teachers is high and this material provides guidance for new teachers coming into a school."
Dominic Tester is impressed with the quality and range available: "Some units include vocabulary lists and key words which can be printed out and stuck around the classroom."
Anthony Falkus reckons that the standard of materials is very high: "Some of the stuff is of a higher level than some of the GCSE materials I'm teaching." He thinks this is useful because it will give KS3 students all the basic ICT skills they need for the world of work, but Stan Johnson is not so enthusiastic: "The target group for the materials is higher than our pupils, even those in our selected stream. There's an assumption that pupils have particular skills at the end of KS2, but that isn't always the case."
Stan Johnson would like more materials to be aimed at lower-ability pupils ("It's often harder to produce this type of material") and he is concerned that some of the language is too difficult for some pupils. Dominic Tester would like to have seen stronger links between the work and ICT assessment.
Some have criticised the materials for being too prescriptive (see page 30) and not giving enough scope for teachers to customise or adapt them, but the three Reading teachers disagree - they think you can change things to suit your teaching style or group. Another complaint is that the PowerPoint exercise is not imaginative enough. Dominic Tester agrees that the unit is "a bit bland", but adds that it is "a good starting point".
Another criticism is that the materials are too "Microsoft-centric".
PowerPoint is used for the presentation module and screenshots of Microsoft software are used throughout the units. Not all schools use Microsoft applications.
Dominic Tester has some sympathy with this view, but Clare Johnson, ICT strand director for the key stage 3 strategy, says: "We are only using Microsoft because it happens to be the common platform - and you will have noticed that we always refer to generic types not specifics. Anything we have done could be done with many versions and makes of software." Anthony Falkus agrees: "For the web design module you can use different software for the exercises - we used Macromedia's Dreamweaver software rather than Microsoft Front Page."
The general consensus from the Reading teachers we spoke to is that the new KS3 materials are useful and flexible, and Clare Johnson notes: "All the responses to the work so far - including that from Ofsted - have been excellent. We are pleased."
The new ICT KS3 strategy materials are at: www.standards.dfes.gov.ukkeystage3strandspublications?template=downamp;pub_ id=2193amp;strand=ict