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Trying to get to grips with the IT order

Niel McLean (right) outlines the problems of taking IT forward in the national curriculum.

The School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA) is planning to produce a booklet aimed at helping primary teachers develop a shared understanding of what children can do with information technology. Several schools sent in examples of children's work to illustrate the booklet. I was struck by the variety of work, the children's obvious enthusiasm for IT, and the quality of their thinking. In one example, seven-year-olds extended their understanding of shape and space by exploring tessellations. In another, 10-year-olds produced a sophisticated leaflet on life in Victorian Britain, incorporating scanned, retrieved and original pictures, with original, well-researched text. But what can be done to ensure that the quality of teaching received by these children is available to all?

The review of the national curriculum raised the status of IT. It recognised the need to teach IT as a subject and the need to support other subjects through IT. Schools have been teaching the new requirements for key stages 1, 2 and 3 since September 1995.

First, there is widespread agreement that IT should form part of all pupils' experience at all key stages. Teachers, parents, industry and commerce recognise the value of IT as a key skill for life, learning and future employment. Second, the increased emphasis on IT has encouraged schools to plan for, and teach, IT explicitly. In primary schools, IT is now more likely to feature at an early stage of curriculum planning, with opportunities for IT teaching clearly identified. In secondary schools, IT is now more likely to appear on the key stage 3 timetable, or as a set of linked, clearly identified teaching activities in other subjects.

This increased focus on IT appears to have strengthened teachers' concerns about training and resources. The recent report from Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools highlights the problems that arise when staff who lack the necessary expertise are timetabled to teach IT. While schools feel they are starting to get to grips with the requirements of the national curriculum order on IT, many feel that the use of IT to support learning in other subjects is underdeveloped. SCAA's key stage 3 IT leaflets provide examples of subject-based work. And subject groups, run by the National Council for Educational Technology (NCET) with the subject associations and supported by the Department for Education and Employment, have provided useful guidance in a number of areas.

Teachers at key stage 3 are preparing for statutory teacher assessment of IT. In schools where IT is taught solely through other subjects, the main concern is bringing together the necessary information to arrive at judgments. SCAA's exemplification-of-standards booklet has been well received. Individual teachers have used it to clarify their understanding of the levels.

Our discussions with teachers about the specific content of the programmes of study and level descriptions for IT have raised some interesting points. The five-year moratorium on curriculum change promised by Sir Ron Dearing when he was chairman of SCAA has been well received. However, the authority had to decide how to specify IT in a way that would stand the test of time. Our approach was to concentrate on the broad skills of working with information. The IT curriculum places people and the things people do with IT at the centre of the curriculum, rather than the techniques of operating specific software or hardware.

The authority is also considering how the curriculum should recognise and respond to the changing world of information and communications technology. At a SCAA conference last summer, delegates heard how IT is transforming the workplace, opening up real possibilities for life-long learning and supporting innovative work in teaching French and English. A number of key issues emerged: * How do we ensure that the skills of information handling and critical thinking are properly representedin the curriculum?

* How do we ensure thatIT resources are used to support priority areas such as literacyand numeracy?

* What is the balancebetween generic skills and specific knowledge?

* How do we supportthe production of software that addresses schools' particular needs?

The authority's report on last summer's conference will expand on these issues. I often receive thoughtful and thought-provoking letters discussing these issues, and would be pleased to hear from anyone with views on how to take IT forward in the national curriculum.

* Niel McLean is the professional officer for IT with SCAA; e-mail:

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