Search for a strategy
Ken Dyson does not seem the kind of man who pens corrosive comments. Friendly and conciliatory, Ofsted's specialist adviser for ICT takes pains to play down the harsh comments about ICT use made in the January report about LEAs. However, he says further comments about handling of government initiatives such as the national teacher training scheme and the National Grid for Learning (NGFL) are on their way this month.
"We have looked at them in greater depth than was the case in the LEA inspections. There will be an interim report into that which will say a little bit more about the reasons behind our views."
Dyson believes problems arise because "there are a lot of decision-makers in LEAs who are not au fait with the potential of ICT. Because of that the ICT support team is often too small to do what is needed. Then along comes NGFL and NOF and that soaks up the time of the team in admin and technical support, taking them away from the focus on teaching and learning. At the same time you have literacy and numeracy projects which are very much focused on the classroom."
He says what is missing is an ICT strategy, that would provide teachers with more support. "What we have at the moment are elements of an ICT strategy. We would like to see those bits joined up a bit more. We would like to see something like the literacy and numeracy strategies, although I wouldn't want to see quite that level of prescription."
After looking at over 100 LEAs, he believes variation in scale is the problem. "You can go into similar sized LEAs and find massively different support structures. If the LEA is one man and a dog they will struggle. Where they are putting ICT as priority there will be success. LEAs can look to sharpen up their priorities and provide more support staff."
He says bringing other advisers on board is important. "We talk about how far we have come but ICT is still an entity in its own riht with its own acolytes. It hasn't spread, infected other people - advisers, inspectors, officers - and that is what needs to happen."
Another problem is the weak school development planning for ICT, says Dyson. He says guidance from LEAs has not been good enough and the process for approving the plans has not been sufficiently rigorous. "When you look at school development plans they don't articulate the kinds of things kids will be doing with ICT. I have been in schools where there is good ICT and you look at the plan and are not clear where they are trying to go. It has to be more than additional computers and more able staff. They have to say what they want kids to do."
But Dyson is convinced there is reason for optimism. "The most recent HMI annual report has pointed to early signs of improvement in ICT: we are seeing it catch up with other subjects; there has been an impact from NGFL, the amount of equipment and access to the Web; we are seeing some movement in regular inspections; teachers are improving personal skills and developing basic skills from the NOF training. We haven't yet seen widespread impact in the classroom but there is a gathering momentum - it is almost inevitable.
"The best LEAs have engendered a climate of trust. Schools have to feel confident enough in their LEA to tell them what they need but the climate is set by the LEA. If you look at these reports, LEAs are in a difficult position - schools are supposed to be autonomous, with LEAs trying to establish a partnership role. There is a tension there so it is not an easy time for LEAs.
"What really comes out of these reports is that it (ICT's success) lies in the quality of the communications, the trust and the quality of the consultations. In the best LEAs you get a genuine sense of partnership. Any strategy adopted has to support curriculum and infrastructure, has to be focused on learning, has to link to other strategies and has to face up to the continuing costs of hardware and training. That is what schools and LEAs together should be working towards."