IT is made to seem more complex than it really is, says the woman in charge of preparing the next generation of teachers. Anthea Millett talks to Jack Kenny.
The Teacher Training Agency took a high profile on IT from its inception, says Anthea Millett, the agency's chief executive. "we see ourselves on the case as far as information technology is concerned, both in initial teacher training and in continuing professional development."
The agency has a crucial role to play in bringing IT into schools. With will, energy and commitment it could change the whole scene. But it has its work cut out. In a recent investigation by the Office for Standards in Education, as many as 45 per cent of primary and 31 per cent of secondary newly qualified teachers reported that they were not well prepared to use IT in teaching and learning.
The Department for Education and Employment Statistical Bulletin in February 1995 pointed out that only 34 per cent of secondary and 56 per cent of primary teachers regularly use IT. And the review of inspection findings in information technology conducted by Ofsted noted that in both primary and secondary schools most teachers are not qualified to teach more than a limited range of the programmes of study for IT.
So what is the agency doing? "As far as initial teacher training is concerned," says Ms Millett, "this year we have separated IT from design and technology because we feel that we need to focus on IT as a specialist subject. We are working with the National Council for Educational Technology on a survey to establish a clear outline of the current IT scene in the full range of initial teacher training in order to inform the TTA's policy work, to establish clear areas for further research and development and to provide information about current and future needs of trainee teachers.
"The findings will underpin the development of a national strategy for IT in teacher training. The questionnaire will be distributed in October. The first report will be in January next year, the second in March and the third and final report will be in June 1997."
In addition, the agency has co-produced with the NCET a television programme on IT in teacher training, transmitted in May this year. The title of the programme is Networking Teacher Education. The agency hopes that the programme will show viewers the potential of IT to enhance both pedagogy and communication.
"Overall, the picture is mixed in initial training," says Ms Millett. "There are two sides to IT: using it in your own work - and that side is well developed - and using IT to deliver a subject. That is the side that we are pushing on. The TTA is developing national standards for newly-qualified teachers that will clarify the competencies required at this level, including the IT-related knowledge, skills and understanding required." Ms Millett insists that good work is going on. She cites the Open University (see pages 10-11): "The OU has been a good example of the use of IT in training. In addition to supplying students with a micro that eventually goes to the school, there is also work that will continue the relationship with students even after they have qualified. We do our best to foster that approach."
Considering the curriculum has - for several years - required teachers to use IT, during which time the problems have become clear to most educators concerned with teacher education, some of Ms Millett's views seem curiously naive. "The issues for continuing professional development are very different from the issues with initial teacher training," she says. Ms Millett thinks that too many teachers see IT as a problem. "Too many teachers have become frightened off. I think that many are not confident and are steering clear. The trouble is that, if we say there should be hours of in-service training, that confirms teachers in their view that there is a problem. We have made the acquisition of IT competence seem more complex than it really is. We need to be trying a different tack like showing them super programs that go to the heart of what they are trying to do and then say to them: 'Do you like this software? We will show you how to use it.' " Continuing professional development will be moved forward through the national standards that are being developed for teachers, says Ms Millett. Standards are being developed at three points in the profession: expert classroom teacher, subject manager and school leader. "The agency has met with the IT in Education Associations Liaison group on two occasions to consider how the standards might become IT-specific. We are working with the subject associations to turn those generic standards into standards for an English department, a science department and an IT department. You then drive right into the heart of thecurriculum" IT issues are taken into account in the development of the National Professional Qualification for Headteachers (NPQH). This will set a national standard for headship. The agency is consulting on options for the qualification, together with a draft standard for new headteachers, and hopes that the qualification will be ready for the academic year 1997-98.
The agency is also aiming to have elements ready for 1997-98 for work in support of "the use of IT to improve pupils' achievements", identified as a national priority area for teachers' continuing professional development. This will involve developing criteria to help teachers identify their training needs, establishing ways to secure the quality of the training provided and helping schools to measure the impact of that training in the classroom. This will help schools totarget and make best use of specific grants.
"Really, I suppose I am looking to the next generations of teachers to come in confident in IT, competent and also willing to use it," says Ms Millett. "We should be identifying people at the start of their training and say to them, 'There is a course for you that will enable you to work with IT.'" Training institutions have great difficulty in keeping up with the technology; many are not as well-equipped as schools. No problem, says Ms Millett.
With an insouciance liable to infuriate university schools of education, she says: "Many training institutions are part of large universities and there is no reason why the facilities of the university as a whole cannot be used. They do not need to be replicated."
She has little sympathy for the complaint from training institutions about the amount of time trainee teachers are spending in schools.
Staff say that the use of IT in many schools is not highly developed and schools are not the best places for improving their students' standards. "Was it better in the past when they were in college or university for a longer time?" she asks.
None of this is likely to go down well with critics of today's situation, particularly having to wait a year for a survey to identify problems that many people in IT and education are already keenly aware of. They want a fresh look now, not next year - IT and ma$ana do not go well together.