A new ICT benchmarking scheme has been launched for schools in an attempt to drive up the standards of ICT provision and practice in UK schools.
Known as the NAACEmark, it has been developed by the National Association of Advisers in Computer Education and is being championed by the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta). NAACE makes no charge for administering the scheme and will train and accredit ICT consultants throughout the UK for schools to use. A list of these is promised by June and charges for their services will vary.
But will schools be attracted to this new "kite-mark"? Will the promise of a certificate, permission to use the NAACEmark logo and a mention on the NAACE and Becta websites be enough to tempt schools to apply?
NAACE professional officer Pam Winn is confident the scheme will succeed, claiming that "the whole school approach to the development of ICT will lead to overall school improvement".
If the experience of the Cambridgeshire schools in the pilot is anything to go by, NAACE has come up with a winning idea. Monkfield Park Primary School certainly found the process worthwhile. Deputy headteacher Paul Slater says: "The audit has enabled us to formulate a tailor-made action plan to ensure ICT within our school continues to be of a very high standard. This has certainly been an award which we value highly and feel very proud to have received."
Mim Edge, head of Hartford Community Junior School agrees. "The process is a valuable tool. It consolidates good practice by giving the opportunity for reflection. It highlights developmental needs but also allows for the recognition of achievements so far. It is a thorough and close scrutiny of a curriculum area in its entirety and involves input from the whole school community."
So how do schools gain the NAACEmark? NAACE is keen that the award should be about recognising success in ICT, not creating additional tasks for staff, though Mim Edge points out: "It was a hard task gathering all of the information together for the award."
There are 10 requirements, which fall into three main areas - documentation, methodology and commitments - though NAACE is very clear that commitment alone will not suffice.
The ICT documents needed are a three-year action plan, a policy and a scheme of work. The methodology required is a planned approach to using ICT across the curriculum and the use of ICT tools to assess pupil progress and provide performance data. The commitments schools should have are for targets for improving performance and resources, whole school staff development, developing communications between the school and wider community and shared development with partner schools.
Of all the requirements, providing access to facilities for the wider community is likely to prove most challenging, not least due to security issues, and schools will need procedures in place to protect pupils, staff and equipment.
But for schools already well on their way to exploiting ICT to its fullest, as well as those keen to learn and improve, applying for the NAACEmark makes sense. Governors will no doubt approve of their schools seeking to be even more appealing to parents and pupils by achieving this seal of approval, which will need to be renewed every three years.
To oversee this and ensure consistency of judgement on schools, NAACE will be using its own assessors and reserves the right to withdraw the NAACEmark if a school fails to maintain the quality criteria. The threat of losing this prestigious award will presumably be adequate to ensure it happens rarely, if ever.
Indeed, achieving the NAACEmark is, not least, useful for developing future strategy. Margaret Leverett, headteacher at Brampton Junior School, explains: "ICT in our school is managed by our ICT strategic group, composed of staff, governors and parents. This has given the ICT group a very useful review and information with which to continue building and planning."
Margaret believes her school gained much, enthusing: "I would certainly recommend the process to other schools as an excellent self-evaluation tool."
If NAACE's vision proves correct, there will be plenty of other schools who feel they could achieve the NAACEmark and plenty of help for those wishing to try.
For further information visit: www.naace.org
Pam Winn (professional officer) Email: email@example.com