The New Opportunities Fund

12th March 2004 at 00:00
Eighty per cent of the UK's 450,000 teachers have now completed the New Opportunities Fund's (NOF) pound;230 million programme on information and communications technology (ICT) training, undertaken by 47 approved training providers (ATPs), which began in 1999.

The programme's planners broke new ground in three ways: commercial companies were invited to link with university education departments, local authorities, independent advisers and teachers to provide training; the programme was to cover classroom applications of ICT, not basic skills; and online learning was emphasised, to introduce teachers to the National Grid for Learning (NGfL).

Controversy around the programme began when The TES questioned the quality of courses, and Ofsted began to question the learning outcomes. In fact, these early warnings triggered substantial improvements.

Because of this controversy, the MirandaNet evaluation, completed during 2002-2003, aimed to present a balanced report, reflecting the multiple perspectives of teachers, teacher leaders, trainers, inspectors and policymakers.

A key issue was the significance of school culture and leaders' attitudes towards ICT. No progress could be made unless the professional vision was agreed within the school, and positive action taken to embrace the programme, including effective, whole-school needs analysis.

The choice of trainer and the working relationship with the school were also central. Some schools and trainers had to work at this relationship; a few parted company. Also key was the quality of training. Inspirational teaching helped teachers to feel they had achieved significant learning, but some trainers, particularly from business, were less well received.

Face-to-face training was essential for beginners and the less confident.

Some experienced users preferred self-paced learning using CD-Roms or online support; overall there was little evidence of online learning and e-mentoring as the NGfL infrastructure was not complete, and those web-based learning environments that were used were overloaded.

Measuring achievement was difficult. Accreditation was neither required under NOF regulations, nor popular among teachers. Trainers operating rigorous accreditation lost out when teachers only completed four-fifths of the course, and accreditation standards, where they existed, varied considerably.

Collegiality began to emerge later in the evaluation, reflecting newer thinking about the building of learning communities and knowledge bases, and one form of accreditation involved web-portfolios from which other teachers could learn.

The evaluation's statistical survey questioned a cross-section of 1,000 teachers. Three-quarters of responses indicated successful learning, some saying participation had been essential for individual growth and for school development. Several found the training enjoyable, made progress and gained new ICT knowledge. Specialist training, both in SEN and subject disciplines, was valued, and classroom-based ICT projects stimulated fresh ideas and approaches. Increased collegiality was mentioned, including the involvement of teaching assistants, supply teachers and students.

Criticism characterised one-fifth of the responses. Teachers wanted more about classroom management, greater flexibility in the programmes, with varied teaching styles and differentiated learning, more ideas for lesson preparation, time to explore new ideas, and more meeting and sharing with colleagues. Time for learning was an issue, as the rules excluded payment for supply cover. Other complaints from teachers included: inadequate needs identification; rush to completion; accreditation being too easy or too hard; poor value for money of CD-Rom-based courses; and content irrelevant to the classroom.

The evaluation found examples of mismatches between individual teachers'

learning styles and their programmes. The survey provides information about the kind of ICT programme that teachers prefer, but one size will never fit all, and flexibility is key. Many ATPs had not anticipated the range of teachers' skill levels, and policy makers had to accept requests to allow basic skills training, as many participants did not know enough about computers to follow suggestions for classroom use.

Much has changed since the programme was conceived in the 1990s. Evidence of these changes, such as transformational learning, new leadership approaches, whole-school ICT development, practice-based research, creativity, ownership of learning, communities of practice, and long-term CPD, appears in the report on emergent trends drawn from 15 successful school case studies.

Despite the criticisms of aspects of planning and delivery, an 80 per cent completion rate is a major achievement for all concerned. Access is also now much improved, and the evidence suggests that the majority of teachers made progress by using the programme as a springboard for further development. The next step should now be to move from an instrumental view of ICT "training" for teachers, into a transformational mode of learning which seems to be the way that teachers really want to go, both for themselves and for their students.

Part One: Summary, Part Two : Emergent Trends and Part Three: The Full Evaluation of the NOF report can be downloaded in pdf from www.mirandanet.ac.uknof

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