Take a byte of the computing action

16th November 2012 at 00:00

What a difference a year makes. Last autumn, use of the Glow intranet for schools plummeted. Education secretary Michael Russell had pulled the plug on funding for the next stage of its existence and plans were put on hold. Now, just over 12 months later, a pilot of RM Unify, the new launchpad for the education intranet, has won the approval of teachers with its app-driven approach, and user figures for Glow are on the rise (News Focus, pages 12-15).

Problem solved? Not quite. While progress has been made, there are still strong divisions between those in favour of a national, centrally controlled intranet and those supporting a more open environment with freer access to portable ICT devices and "new frontiers".

There are concerns too about a general lack of computing skills. Earlier this year, Professor Muffy Calder, Scotland's chief scientific adviser, called for computing to be recognised as the fourth science. Computational thinking should be taught from an early age, she argues, with programming starting in secondary schools.

Some are starting earlier, like Dalry Primary in Edinburgh, where children have been introduced to simple computer programming by external experts ComputerXplorers (page 22). But the prospects for secondary schools do not look good, with the number of computing science teachers having fallen steadily over the past five years.

In other areas of ICT, schools and local authorities are pushing forward the frontiers. One area is pupil profiles, which schools are now expected to produce at the end of P7 and S3. E-portfolios are proving popular with the pupils, enabling them to include videos, photographs and blogs as evidence of their achievements, but end-of-year profiles are still a concern for teachers (pages 18-21).

Most authorities have gone down Education Scotland's Glow route, with 60,000 pupils creating e-portfolios and tagging comments and reflections throughout the year; these can now be linked automatically to their profiles. East Lothian has developed its own independent approach that is more work for teachers but has greater benefits for pupils' learning, it says.

Where do we go from here? The ICT in Education Excellence Group, convened by Professor Calder, is due to report to Michael Russell next month and RM's contract runs out in a year's time, so an announcement can be expected in early 2013. There will be no simple solutions, but one thing is certain: with an education secretary who is a fan of the latest gadgets, teachers' calls for greater access to new devices will not go unheeded. But as his row over the past week with Kirk Ramsay of Stow College, over the secret recording of a private meeting on a smartpen, reminds us (page 8), that freedom will require clear guidelines on applications and security.

Gillian Macdonald, Editor, gillian.macdonald@tess.co.uk.

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