Standards by the double;Editorial;Opinion

12th March 1999 at 00:00
he annual report of the chief inspector of schools was pretty damning on schools technology. Those struggling to come to terms with 20th century systems once more detracted from the achievements of those already embracing the networked 21st century.

Chris Woodhead's report was released last month, the day before the annual conference of NAACE, the organisation for computer advisers in education. Talk at the conference in Liverpool was not really about poor performance, but the Government's pound;2 billion National Grid for Learning project - who was getting connected and who was getting in on the massive training scheme.

The advisers were not too surprised at the chief inspector's report because it reflected much of their everyday working experiences. For schools, success with ICT is a complex issue and there is absolutely no point in scapegoating teachers as the politicians and bureaucrats so enjoy.

Teachers are not totally innocent but they did not create the conditions in which they have to work. Successful ICT requires a number of policy buttons to be pressed simultaneously, most of which have been highlighted in The TES ad nauseam.

Perhaps the most important button that still needs to be pressed is that of leadership. The people who inspect and criticise teachers are also, they conveniently forget, the very people who should support them and inspire them to new achievements. These people should accept their own role in the failures they identify.

Outside their offices the world changes. Go into Dixons in the high street for batteries and you can leave with a free Internet account. Tesco now offers free Internet access to anyone with a loyalty card - your Web connection could soon save you money on your groceries.

The public sector is shifting too. Libraries (pages 10-12) are being transformed as they eagerly embrace technology to show the potential of the Government's concept of libraries as street-corner universities. And museums are metamorphosing into palaces of culture where the theme park meets learning without insulting intelligence and creativity (see pages 14-18).

These institutions not only embrace the technology but share their knowledge, interest and pleasure with potential visitors and the rest of the world on the Internet.

While it is pleasing to see education leaders mute their trumpets on the moral issues, they should take time to consider some other double standards.

As news editors summoned motorcycle messengers to race to Ofsted Towers to pick up copies of the chief inspector's report hot off the press, the technology correspondents were chuckling in the knowledge that the entire report should have been available simultaneously online. A quick trawl on the Ofsted website revealed nothing, but the press office kindly pointed to the HM Stationery Office website.

Here, however, we could get no further than the advert for the printed copy - no evidence of an electronic version. Again, staff kindly responded to an email to reveal the electronic text, presented in a totally unsuitable condition for downloading, but present none the less.

Persistence revealed its location, but that defeats the whole purpose of Web publishing. When it comes to its own technology, Ofsted does not seem to know what it is doing. Schools could do it better. If you think this harsh, bear in mind that NAACE advised its members (the people who are supposed to respond to Ofsted's observations) that the report was not on the Internet and should be bought by mail order. Even the experts could not find it.

Look for yourself. The website of the people who say schools are not coping is dreadful. Ofsted's rating has to be a D minus. And many other government departments look the same. The sad truth is that the mandarins who urge us forward into this hi-tech renaissance appear to be stumbling around in a low-tech Dark Age with hardly a candle between them.

Before you cry "unfair", think about the literacy and numeracy drives that roared off without sensible consideration of technology (schools are criticised for this in the annual report). And the first test of the Teacher Training Agency on ICT - the CD-Rom designed to analyse teachers' training needs - is still unresolved.

Teachers may have some way to go, but many of their leaders seem to be in far worse shape. For these people, it is no longer enough to talk the talk of the new technologies. They also have to walk the walk if they expect the people they are supposed to be inspiring to get moving as well.

Editor, TES Online

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