Scope for a skills upgrade
This fits well with the aims of the ICT strand and the purpose of the work we have been doing for the past two years. The ICT strand of the KS3 strategy was launched in October 2002, following on from work done in other core subjects. Its prime focus is to improve the standards of ICT capability achieved by pupils at the end of KS3, through support and training for ICT teachers, enabling teaching and learning to improve whatever the school's circumstances.
We have been clear about the focus of the strand from the early stages.
Pupils' ICT capability is described by the curriculum and their standards of achievement are judged through the level descriptions. The support offered through sample teaching units, and the support and training delivered by LEA consultants, have been designed to develop ICT teaching to high levels.
There are considerable constraints: large numbers of non-specialist staff teach one or two lessons a week; and there is some misunderstanding about the relationship between ICT as a curriculum subject and its use as a teaching and learning tool. The lack of subject knowledge remains the obstacle to effective practice; optional training units and the sample teaching units were designed to help teachers gain a better understanding of ICT as a subject. These should move us beyond simple skills teaching, something that most pupils can pick up.
The key to higher levels of attainment is the link with higher-order thinking skills that enable pupils to judge if their use of ICT has been effective. Pupils need to be able to examine a problem and decide what information they will need, what ICT is required to gather, and to develop that information and how it is to be communicated. Their sense of purpose is linked to the audience for that information.
The materials focus on teaching of these aspects and have generally been very well received. Those schools that used the sample units and developed them for their classes are reporting better planning, greater pace, improved discussion about work, increased attainment and greater motivation.
Initial scepticism about the difficulty of the ICT in the units has been dispelled by those who have adopted and adapted the units. There remains an issue where teachers have low expectations of pupils.
There are still further gains to be made. While many teachers are able to judge pupils' achievements in ICT, some are still failing to make consistent judgements. This problem is exacerbated when ICT is taught by non-specialists who may not have access to training and who lack high levels of subject knowledge. It remains a key aim of the strand to discuss teaching, learning and assessment in ICT with such teachers.
The KS3 strategy has just published materials to support and develop the use of formative assessment, which should enable teachers to develop their use of the sample ICT teaching units beyond the current early adoption.
Ofsted found that more than 90 per cent of schools have increased their ICT provision. Effective ICT lessons should enable pupils to find further opportunities to develop their ICT capability in other areas of the curriculum. The publication of guidance on such opportunities will be published in September.
Clare Johnson is ICT strand director for the KS3 strategy