Memo to schools: must do better

12th March 1999 at 00:00
The chief inspector exposes poorteaching ofinformationtechnology inmany schools. Chris Johnston reports

Information technology is the subject least well taught in primary and secondary schools, the chief inspector of schools concludes in his annual report. Chris Woodhead says that about one-third of schools in both sectors show "substantial underachievement". "There is a huge gap between those schools which teach the national curriculum requirements for information technology effectively and those which, for various reasons, do not," he writes.

Much of the work in schools makes only trivial use of expensive equipment, which, Woodhead believes, means much of the investment in ICT for schools is being wasted.

However, he says ICT is a basic skill like literacy and numeracy and that continuing to focus on raising standards in these areas is vital: "These are the foundations upon which a culture of lifelong learning must be built."

The report says that more than 25 per cent of primary schools lack adequate ICT resources. In 50 per cent of secondary schools, access to enough computers to promote the use of ICT across the curriculum remains a problem.

Governing bodies are criticised for failing to ensure issues identified in previous inspections, such as ensuring there is a full programme of study for information technology. Governors are responsible for implementing a school's action plan drawn up after an inspection.

Teachers' ICT abilities also came under fire from the chief inspector: "In many schools teachers lack confidence and training to teach the subject well and other teachers are unable to apply ICT to the subjects they teach."

Newly qualified teachers in subjects where there are staff shortages - IT, mathematics and science - tend to teach fewer good lessons than those in other subjects, the report finds.

Mike Smith, professional officer for the computer advisers' association NAACE, welcomed Mr Woodhead's comments, calling them a realistic assessment of the situation. He says they echo some of the problems NAACE has been aware of for some time.

Although the report indicated that a great deal of progress still needed to be made, Mr Smith believes Government measures such as the Lottery-funded ICT teacher training initiative will address the issues it identifies. Mr Woodhead says his department will closely monitor the training programme.

Eileen Devonshire, assistant chief executive of the British Educational Suppliers Association, says many teachers do not use ICT effectively in the classroom because they lack the necessary training and experience. In light of Woodhead's comments about resources being underutilised, she says schools should consider auditing their ICT resources to assess current and future needs.

Chris Thatcher, vice-president of the National Association of Head Teachers, says the report reflects the state of ICT in British schools, which is the result of years of inadequate funding for computers and training for teachers.

He adds that many teachers were trained before the advent of computers and that the number of initiatives they have been expected to take on made it difficult to do anything else. "There is a limit to what can be done in the time available to them," Thatcher says.

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