NC24: Memorandum submitted by Naace
Naace is the professional association for those who are concerned with advancing education through the appropriate use of information and communication technology (ICT). Naace was established in 1984 and has become the key influential professional association for those working in ICT in education.
Naace believes that the Committee's enquiry is timely and wishes to make a brief submission. Members of Naace would be willing to appear as witnesses to expand upon any of the topics included in our submission.
· Naace endorses the ongoing work of QCA to share a "big picture" of the curriculum.
· The National Curriculum has established ICT as a subject in its own right in schools and has helped to provide a baseline entitlement for all children.
· The National Curriculum framework for progression in ICT has helped many teachers to support and extend children's learning in the subject more effectively.
· The study of other subjects in the National Curriculum can be improved through the use of ICT and we believe that use of ICT should be embedded in all learning and teaching.
· ICT capability is an essential attribute for citizens in the 21st century and mechanisms are needed to ensure that it is developed as part of the education of all children.
· Testing and assessment in ICT continues to be a challenge and can distort educational priorities.
· Many but not all children adopt new technologies very rapidly, and there is a risk of the National Curriculum failing to keep up with the new opportunities they are already exploiting.
· ICT itself challenges the ways in which learning currently takes place and is organised, and will put at risk a National Curriculum which is not relevant and vibrant.
2 The Big Picture
2.1 Terminology such as "The National Curriculum" may result in a narrow or fixed interpretation of the teaching requirements in our schools. Naace endorses the ongoing work of QCA to develop and share a holistic "big picture" of the curriculum in which required subject content is merely one component and serves broader and widely-agreed aims. We encourage the Committee to take this into account during its deliberations.
2.2 At present there is a danger that schools, and the young people who attend them, are judged on the basis of a more limited view of the curriculum, i.e. performance in relation to a selection of National Curriculum attainment levels. This narrow focus colours the view of some Naace members, who worry that the National Curriculum does not adequately exploit the opportunities which ICT creates. Naace would never deny the importance of standards of attainment and we emphasise the particular importance of improving attainment in ICT. Nevertheless, assessment and evaluation measures which take more account of the wider purposes of the curriculum will make it easier to persuade innovative educators to engage more enthusiastically with the notion of a National Curriculum.
3 An entitlement curriculum
3.1 When the National Curriculum was first designed and implemented, computers were already used in the majority of schools, but children's access to and experience of ICT was extremely variable, and in many cases depended upon the interest and capability of individual teachers. The introduction of a National Curriculum has established ICT as a subject in its own right in all schools and has helped to provide a baseline entitlement for all children. Pupil's experience of ICT is still too variable and there continues to be an ongoing need for high quality ICT training within the school workforce.
3.2 Nevertheless, the National Curriculum for ICT has undoubtedly extended the amount of school time during which children use ICT at both primary and secondary level and it has significantly broadened the range of activities for which ICT is used. Without a statutory Programme of Study for ICT, it is highly unlikely that ICT would be adequately covered within the curriculum of many schools. The challenging scope of the PoS for ICT has helped to move schools away from a narrow and superficial view of the role of technology in classrooms.
4.1 In both primary and secondary schools, there are too few teachers and teaching assistants with a specialist background in ICT. As a result, many staff involved in teaching the subject are poorly equipped to understand what progress in ICT might mean. The National Curriculum framework for progression in ICT has helped these teachers to support and extend children's learning in the subject more effectively by indicating what the next steps might be in order for them to achieve more.
4.2 For ICT specialist staff as well, the progression framework has been of benefit in their planning, teaching and assessment of the subject. In a comparatively new and developing subject such as ICT, there will always be some debate about what should constitute a particular level. The level statements have provided a degree of definition and coherence, without which the provision for learners would be yet more variable. This is another area in which the National Curriculum has been of benefit in ensuring an adequate level of provision in schools.
5 ICT in the wider curriculum
5.1 While it is not a legal requirement for schools to organise teaching on the basis of subjects per se, the division of the National Curriculum into a set of subject-based programmes of study can reinforce traditional silos and serve as a deterrent to the kind of connected learning needed for success in the 21st century. The study of individual subjects in the National Curriculum can be improved through the use of ICT and Naace believes that use of ICT should be embedded in all learning and teaching. At the same time, ICT has a possibly unique ability to encourage learners and their teachers to make connections between different topics and different aspects of their learning. Naace wishes to emphasise the importance of ICT as a learning environment serving all areas of a reinvigorated curriculum, giving learners access to an ever-widening range of information, materials and people and, as a result, promoting coherence and continuity in the experience of learners.
6 ICT capability
6.1 From the first introduction of the National Curriculum, the notion of ICT Capability has been at the heart of the subject. Skills and techniques have to be acquired, but the focus is on children's ability to use technology in order to find things out, develop ideas and communicate. Progression involves being able to do more complex things with ICT, rather than knowing how to use more complicated hardware and software. It implies being able to learn continuously and to apply knowledge and experience in new and unfamiliar situations.
6.2 Naace fully supports this view of ICT's place in the curriculum. ICT capability is an essential attribute for citizens in the 21st century and mechanisms are needed to ensure that it is developed as part of the education of all children. Should the National Curriculum be removed or significantly changed, Naace would seek reassurance that education in ICT would not be undermined and would continue to require much more than skills training.
7.1 In paragraph 2.2 above, we referred briefly to general worries among education professionals about potentially damaging aspects of the present assessment regime. In the workplace, in academic life and in leisure, use of ICT typically involves collaboration, experimentation and individual effort and flair. It is a practical activity which also requires thought and imagination. It is not necessarily easy to provide robust evidence that school leavers possess all these attributes. Recent work by NAA to support formative testing of ICT at Key Stage 3 through on-screen tasks has demonstrated an encouraging recognition of the need to find more effective ways of assessing ICT. Nevertheless, the development has been fraught with difficulty in spite of the substantial sums of public money and school workforce time which have been invested in it.
7.2 In schools, testing and assessment in ICT continue to be a challenge and can distort educational priorities. This can be caused by an over-reliance on written tests or even on practical tasks which place disproportionate demands on pupils' literacy. These tests rarely reflect the reality of ICT in the wider world, and the current assessment climate reinforces an approach which rewards specific ways of working at the expense of others.
7.3 Other approaches to assessment, including the use of portfolios, presentations and vivas, and peer-evaluation, have all proved worthwhile in the field of ICT. The challenge therefore for a statutory curriculum incorporating ICT is to ensure that high-stakes assessment is not at odds with the spirit of the subject. This theme is pursued in our remaining paragraphs.
8 New technologies; new opportunities
8.1 It has become something of a cliché to talk about the speed of technological change and about the difference between digital natives and immigrants and their ability to embrace new developments in ICT. Without necessarily accepting this stark division between the generations, we can all recognise the explosion of opportunity which ICT has generated. While the fundamental concept of ICT Capability described in paragraph 6 above remains sound, the range of innovative tools available to learners expands at a remorseless pace. For many, this creates exciting new opportunities, and there are countless examples of children and young people using developing technology imaginatively and purposefully with very little input from their teachers.
8.2 Many but not all children adopt new technologies inventively and very rapidly, and there is a risk of a statutory curriculum failing to keep up with the new opportunities which significant numbers of children are already exploiting. This is partly, but only partly, a matter of ongoing professional development in ICT for the school workforce. If a National Curriculum is to represent children's entitlement to desirable learning experiences, it will need to be agile enough to accommodate innovation in the tools and activities which many children will be embracing routinely in their lives outside school.
9 New ways of learning
9.1 ICT itself challenges the ways in which learning currently takes place and is organised. Via the internet, learners now have access to both formal course materials and less formal resources published by experts and enthusiasts in every conceivable field. Similarly, specialist interest networks spanning the globe can provide rapid responses to almost any enquiry. Online forums, wikis and blogs enable any statement to be reinforced, modified or challenged by other users in a dynamic process of collaborative knowledge building. Peer comment and peer evaluation of learners' work become readily available, and their "peers" are not necessarily in the same location or even the same age group as they are. Learning can now fit an individual's timetable rather than an institution's.
9.2 Naace members are very close to many of these developments and have regular opportunities to consider their implications for the education system. They are enthusiastic about the excitement and determination which young people display when they are exposed to these new ways of doing things. Technology is personalising and transforming virtually every aspect of business and the public services, and education inevitably needs to respond to the challenges it brings. It is increasingly clear not only that ICT should continue to be a key component of any statutory framework for learning, but also that its ubiquitous presence and impact will put at risk a National Curriculum which is not personalised, relevant and vibrant.