The Department of Education has moved swiftly to counter the fears expressed by teachers and others during the consultation that schools would use what they may perceive as a fallow period between the removal of the existing Programme of Study in September 2012 and the new National Curriculum (2014) to retreat from ICT altogether.

 

Schools staging a ‘tactical retreat’ from ICT and fears that there would be a loss of momentum was a key concern of the Next Gen Skills submission – in common with many others.

Responses to the consultation reflected this.

- Just under half (47%) of respondents expressed concern that dis-applying Programmes of Study and Attainment Targets would result in some schools reducing their commitment to teaching ICT or withdrawing from the subject altogether.

- Over a third (36%) believed that dis-application could have a negative effect in schools where ICT was currently poorly managed or seen as low priority.  Some said that these schools were more likely to be situated in disadvantaged areas and that the impact was potentially greater on pupils from low income families as they were less likely to have opportunities to learn to use ICT at home.

- Several respondents stated that some schools are already reducing their ICT provision and numbers of teachers as a result of the announcement.

 

The DfE’s Dr. Vanessa Pittard moved to correct this today at a Westminster Forum Conference at Church House. Pittard, who is the the Head of the Technology Policy Unit at the DfE, led on the consultation for the Department – set out the official view on yesterday’s documents:

 

- From September 2012 schools do not have to use the existing Programme of Study (PoS), but can if they want to.  They are also free to adapt the PoS or use or develop another one.  There is no need (as now) to follow schemes of work.

- ICT now forms part of the bigger review of the National Curriculum from September 2014.  The aim of this is to establish an internationally respected, slimmed down National Curriculum benchmark of achievement that will raise expectations for all children.

- There has been a shift in emphasis on ICT from the Expert Panel review last December.  This proposed that ICT should be in the Basic Curriculum (i.e. it was compulsory, but schools are free to decide what to teach) as opposed to being a Foundation or Core subject (see how the school curriculum is set up here and what is being considered here).  After the Government’s response, ICT will now be considered a Foundation subject.  However, taking the lead from the National Curriculum statement on primary education announced on 11 June, future Programmes of Study will be much shorter in order to allow for innovation.  One rumour is that civil servants have been told to keep the new Programme of Study to one side of A4 only. 

- Schools should not interpret the headlines as an opportunity to retreat from ICT at all:  it will be included on the National Curriculum in September 2014 and a Draft Programme of Study for ICT will follow for consultation later in 2012.  Schools should use the time to assess, develop and innovate in this area.

 

Finally, the Department is keen to plug the issue of accountability as a driver for change.  Next Gen Skills notices that primary schools will be required to publish what they teach.  In his letter to Expert Panel Chair Tim Oates, the Secretary of State writes:  “I want schools to have high expectations for all subjects – regardless of whether they are tested nationally – and set these high expectations out in their own school curricula, which, from September, must be published online and lay out what is taught year-by-year.”

Next Gen Skills asks:  if this is the case for primary schools from September, is it also the case for ICT at GCSE level given its place in the vanguard of curriculum reform?

It is unclear whether this is the full intention of policy at the moment, but what better way to ensure that the Government’s message that ICT is not being ‘ditched’ than to ensure all schools publish their ICT plans and studies online from September this year?  Surely this is a good driver for reform?