Who's still scared of mice?;Computers

15th January 1999 at 00:00
While some schools are racing up the information superhighway, others are left limping along Luddite Lane. Which oneare you? Martin Whittaker reports

For two days of the week, Steven Rawlins teaches at a primary school. For the other three he puts eight laptop computers in the boot of his car and travels to schools in Gloucestershire and Bristol to teach information and communications technology.

As a former computer programmer who then trained as a primary teacher before finally going freelance, he is finding his skills - and his laptops - increasingly in demand. Not just in teaching children, but in training teachers.

"There tend to be three types of school," he says. "Those that are well up on ICT and have made the investment; those that haven't got the skills or the equipment, but are doing something about it; and those where it is not a priority, and they're only going to do something about it when they're forced to. There's a fairly even split between these three categories."

Steve finds some teachers relying on their own pupils, some of whom are way ahead of them in ICT skills. And when he trains teachers he often has to go back to basics. "A certain minority of teachers don't know how to use a mouse. Those beginners need bringing up to scratch."

The primary school sector lags well behind. A survey of 111 Bristol primary schools by the University of the West of England found that 79 per cent said they lacked the hardware to teach the ICT national curriculum, 77 per cent lacked the software, and 63 per cent lacked staff training.

In the Government's Green Paper, "Teachers: Meeting the Challenge of Change", key proposals include new national tests in ICT for all trainees. Teachers will have a contractual duty to keep their computer skills up to date, and the Government's vision includes greater use of information technology to cut down on bureaucracy.

The Government has allocated pound;230 million of National Lottery money to ensure that within the next three years all existing teachers acquire the same computer skills as expected of newly-qualified teachers entering the profession from this year. Funds are equivalent to pound;450 per head.

The Teacher Training Agency has commissioned new training programme materials, and The New Opportunities Fund, a non-departmental government body administering the Lottery windfall, is expected to announce service providers for training in the spring. Individual schools are expected to establish their own needs and then choose the relevant providers.

Some schools are already ahead of the game. Cheslyn Hay Primary in Staffordshire has been heralded as an example of good practice. The school has just run a project called El Ni$o, based on the devastating fires in Indonesia. In schools throughout Staffordshire, groups of 11-year-olds play the roles of Far East timber harvesters, firefighters, ecologists and trade and industry officials, and are encouraged to interact and do presentations using the Internet.

Headteacher Martin Tibbetts says: "The whole thing is designed to address what I see as the politicians' soundbites: 'Connect everybody to the Internet and everybody's going to be an Einstein'. Well, it never worked with reading by sticking kids in a library. It's what you do with the books that's important, so it's what you do with the technology that's important." He is a self-confessed technophile, but how do his 16 full-time teachers keep up? "They take the computers home for the holidays," he says. "That's been a key developmental area. Also, there's less chance of them being nicked if they take them to their own houses."

At Walmore Hill County Pri-mary, a small village school in Minsterworth, Gloucestershire, head Lois Lipington can onlydream of such luxury. She felt she was keeping ahead as a teacher when the first BBC computers came into schools. "I was quite happy with that until computers moved on and we were suddenly into PCs," she says. "In all that time I have been teaching and using computers, I have never had any training from the county. The only training I have had has been what I have found myself." She managed to badger the education authority into giving her a laptop which she uses to work from home and to run the school administration. Of her three staff, only one has had ICT training, and the 60 pupils rely on three out-of-date computers, two of them salvaged when a local business threw them out.

"And once you get the PCs, what do you do when they go wrong?" she asks. "None of us has the expertise to take out a hard disk or CD-Rom and see what's happening. That's a huge cost implication."

Niel McLean, director for schools at the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA), says teachers have to embrace a different culture that says schools are institutions that change, develop, grow and improve - and that ICT is part of that. "One of the things that teachers should be thinking about is their own employability, their own skills, and taking some ownership of that," he says.

"It's about enhancing your professionalism as a teacher, as opposed to seeing it as 'I've to do this because the school wants me to'. It's about getting teachers to see themselves as modern, developing professionals who need to extend and increase their skills."

Subject of the week: Career development, pages 18-25 and on January 29: Computers for Beginners

'We have enough PCs, but I still felt we weren't delivering. So I brought in Steven'

Stone with Woodford Primary in Gloucestershire is one of a cluster of six schools to call in freelance ICT teacher Steven Rawlins (see main piece), both to help pupils meet the ICT curriculum needs and to help staff brush up on their own skills.

The schools earlier this year won a bid for 12 laptops from BECTA for heads and deputy heads, but they felt they weren't given enough training to use them.

There only two full-time members of staff, so head Valerie Bishop brings in specialists for various subjects, including PE and music. Now she has extended this to ICT with lessons from Mr Rawlins for the children one morning a week, and staff tutor sessions after school.

"I have always made a point of learning about computers," she says. "The school is well equipped, with two computers in each class and a spare one in our literacy area. But I just felt we weren't delivering it.

"Steven comes in, sets up his laptops and works with key stage 2 children, offering national curriculum in ICT.

"He also works with the teachers in various subject areas. It's working out very well."

'I'm a bit out of date when it comes to the PC side of things'

Whitstone Community School in Shepton Mallet, Somerset, has a dedicated ICT room with 30 PCs. The 530-pupil secondary has just appointed a technician to run its network, and nearly all the teachers have been trained and are computer literate - apart from the head, Steve Chaudoir.

"I used to teach it in the old days of BBC computers," he says. "But I'm a bit out of date when it comes to the PC side of things. It's just having the opportunity really. There's a computer in the office but I don't touch it any more. My PA is very competent, so she does it - and that's the problem.

"But it's not an issue for me. I would suggest my word-processing skills aren't up to scratch compared to most of the staff. But I have access to all the information I need. I write the timetable on the computer, so it's just a question of updating really."

"In terms of training our own staff for ICT we are well down the path laid down by the Green Paper."

'Things change so fast , we're always running just to keep up'

David Williams, headteacher at The Grove Primary School in Stafford, says the biggest headache for his staff is keeping up with the pace of change.

"The hardware is constantly being updated so we're always running to fall in behind. And the software keeps changing as well.

"You think you've got your staff up to speed on it, and you turn around andit's all changed again. And then you haven't got the hardware to run the latest software.

"So you end up in a school such as ours where we've got machines that range from two- to 12 years old. That makes it very difficult to use a programme throughout the school that will meet the demands of the new ICT curriculum."

Staff manage to keep up with ICT skills by practising out of hours, he says.

"OFTSED said we did quite well on ICT, but staff cope by taking computers away with them and spending time on them at home."

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today