1988 was the year the National Curriculum (NC) came to being. It is a framework built upon the Educational Reform Act with the aim of providing a balanced and consistent environment for teaching and learning within all Local Education Authority based schools. The NC covers a wide range of subjects split into compulsory and optional, these are broken into 4 blocks of years called Key Stages (KS). The compulsory subjects are the same for KS 1 and 2 but change for KS 3 and 4. ICT is a compulsory subject at all KS’s. The NC also defines the attainment levels in these subjects and the skills and knowledge needed to achieve the levels. Previous to the Educational Reform Act 1988, schools were only required to teach R.E, this was based on the Education Act from 1944. The NC was revised again in 2000 to give schools the opportunity to raise their standards and to refine the clarity of the teaching requirements (Irvine 2008).

In 2008 a more significant change was made to the NC, the aim of this was to give greater flexibility to schools and teachers to enable them to tailor teaching to the needs of the students. It aims to move away from rigid and prescribed plans for all students and allow teachers to teach the students as individuals, the hope is for greater engagement and ultimately better learning. Another benefit is the scope for teachers to move with the times more effectively as changes happen in the wider world they can reflect this in their teaching while still adhering to the requirements of the NC (QCDA 2010). I see this as a good thing because it is important to make learning opportunities specific to the students rather than a system that sees all students as the same.

I will investigate the place of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the NC, and how this has changed over the years with a focus on Key Stage 3.

The National Curriculum states that due to the importance and high reliance of ICT applications throughout the modern world it must be a compulsory subject at KS3. At the core of ICT Programme of Study is the concept of processing and communicating information and how to use the technological tools appropriate to effectively achieve this goal (QCDA 2010). I agree completely with the view that ICT knowledge and ability is of crucial importance for everyone living in a modern society. This is because it is a core aspect now of our social and business lives and when used appropriately can bring huge benefits day to day.

The term ICT was introduced to the National Curricular 1999 it replaced the more common internationally recognised term IT and aims to teach students the ability and inclination to use a range of tools appropriate to control, process and communicate information. Because of the relationship ICT has with information, it has a special status within the curriculum and is very important with respect to all the other subjects. ICT can be summarised as accomplishing 3 aims within the curriculum, as a subject in its own right, as a key skill similar to literacy and numeracy and finally as a resource for students and teachers to support all subjects and learning. (Kennewell 2003).

ICT is also part of the Functional Skills framework, this aims to provide students with skills in literacy, numeracy and ICT that will help them to live confidently, effectively and independently. Functional Skills has just completed a 3 year pilot scheme on August 31st 2010 and is continuing as a fully fledged scheme.

There are multiple distinct factors which affect teachers of ICT not present in other subjects, the most significant of these include, students having access to better equipment and tools at home, the rapid evolution of ICT, the use of ICT tools throughout the school and other subjects. These can have both positive and negative effects on the students and teachers.

Speaking with a long term Advanced Skills Teacher, he has seen the enthusiasm and take up of ICT decline greatly over the last 5 years. He attributes this to the fact ICT in school hasn’t changed a great deal in this time relative to how it has changed at home. The children now having access to high quality hardware and software at home makes it much less exciting to see the older equipment in school.

Some of the exciting developments in ICT are also not available in most schools due to child protection issues, these include all of the collaborative web applications that have appeared in the last few years. There is also a crucial issue of many teachers not having the knowledge or skills to use and teach these new tools.

An example of using these collaborative tools is a class using Twitter to send out jokes, this attracted a stand up comedian who then messaged the class back and forth helping to motivate the pupils with their work as they were getting real feedback.

Another example is a class using a blogging system to publicise the work they were doing each week, for example artwork and music, from this their parents could see what they had been doing and comment on it. This is a major boost to the overall support and integration the children were receiving from all involved parties and it also encouraged them in their cross curricular activities by providing strong links to the other subjects.

In lessons I have observed, I have seen a clear indication of children bored with the work. Some of them play games with the justification that the work is too easy and they have finished it. Because I think ICT is very important I also think that the content in these lessons is needed, however there is room for huge improvement in the delivery of this content. By comparison, an English lesson I observed, the content was highly interactive, there were multiple episodes of learning and a clear plenary showing a good level of knowledge was gained from the activity. With ICT there often seems to be too much talking from the teacher and not enough whole class interaction or starter activities (Freedman 2010). There is a disjoint between the generally positive perception of computers and technology in life and the relationship most students have with the ICT subject as taught in my school. I have seen that some of them like it but few are passionate about it in the same way that many appear to be with Art or Drama.

This appears to be the perception of the National Curriculum ICT subject as opposed to ICT in general, a questionnaire I provided to my year 8 boys form group (24 students) showed the following:

  • 1 said ICT was their favourite subject
  • 3 said ICT was their least favourite subject
  • 6 said ICT was the subject they most needed help with
  • 12 said the reason they didn’t like ICT lessons were because they were boring

Several of the students said that the lessons were boring because the teacher talked too much, others said they were boring because they were being taught things they could already do and were not challenging.

The finding that supports the idea that ICT subjects are boring as opposed to ICT is, when asked if they liked technology and computers 19 said yes. I suspect from this they are mainly thinking about games, this would make a good follow up study to see exactly what aspects of technology and computers they like when it is asked outside of the context of ICT lessons. If the answer is mainly games then this is an area that could potentially help ICT regain some enthusiasm from students, if the lessons had at least some aspect of game based learning:

“Government supports a dialogue between the games industry and the education sector to identify opportunities for the benefits of game-based learning to be evaluated in educational environments” (Byron)

This idea has been reviewed by Becta which suggests that although evidence is limited, there are some examples of innovative projects which show some potential for computer based games to support educational engagement and learning. The main difficulty seems to be the integration of this into the school based institution (Becta).

Another point supporting the idea that ICT subject as it stands is not engaging enough was that I offered 10 pupils the opportunity to attend a lunchtime computer club based around website design and I got 10 interested pupils immediately. This shows that certain aspects of ICT are very exciting to them. Website development is available on the NC but it is not a highly used topic area in all schools often due to a lack of appropriately skilled teachers.

All of this evidence is supported by recent figures from the Joint Council for Qualifications stating:

“There was a 33% fall in pupils sitting ICT GCSEs between 2006 and 2009, a similar decline in A Level ICT from 2003 to 2009 and a massive 57% drop in those taking A Level Computing between 2001 and 2009.”  (Microscope)

Speaking with a Computer Science professor from the University of Exeter he has also seen this firsthand that students taking Computer Science has dropped by the same percentage. Steve Furber a leading technology Professor compares the current situation in ICT to English and Maths, stating:

“It’s as if maths was just arithmetic or English was taught as just spelling. It’s not unimportant that you can do arithmetic or you can spell, but it certainly doesn’t open up the whole world of interest and challenge, if that’s all you do.” (PC Pro)

This is supported by the UK Computing Research Committee in their study Computing in Schools: the state of the nation which summarises the problem as:

“Our current educational provision at school focuses strongly on the use of computers (“ICT”), but fails utterly to study how they work, or their underlying principles (which we will call “Computing”). ICT is like learning how to read; certainly a skill that everyone should have. Studying Computing is like learning how to write by engaging in the creative process of understanding, designing, and building new systems. Everyone should learn to write, even though only a minority will become professional authors.” (UKCRC).

I agree with this, ICT as it stands is important but far more worthwhile is learning about the engineering side of computing and IT. This would make it more rewarding and would help to engage the students and give them something more valuable at the end.

To sum up all of this it really seems to be coming down to two overarching themes, the content is not as engaging now in relation to how it used be and the way in which it is taught is also not as engaging as the methods used in other subjects.

The typical ICT coursework lesson is log on, continue where you were from last time then a often used acronym POLO for print out and log off to describe the usual plenary. In non-coursework lessons it can still often follow this kind of plan.

I asked several students on the ICT GCSE course why they took it, all of them answered because it is an easy course to get them extra GCSE’s, none of them showed much interest in continuing it afterwards, only one boy said he was interested in programming so was disappointed that he wouldn’t be taught any of it on the GCSE. When I spoke with students in the A-level class the common response seemed to be “I got a good result at GCSE so figured I would get a good result at A-level, but I plan to become a lawyer”. Not all of them wanted to be lawyers, but none showed any enthusiasm for taking a computer science degree or choosing a career in IT. The sample sizes were very limited but it does fit the information from the other studies I have seen,

We recently changed to Edexcel GCSE course which appeared to be using much more modern content, however after 5 lessons all about the features and functions of mobile phones and who they are aimed at the children are again saying that it is not very exciting and it probably could have been covered in a couple of lessons. This could be the department getting to grips with the new content themselves but we need to be aware not to try and teach the students the same things over and over.

I would conclude my analysis of the perception of ICT by saying that it came along as the cool kid in town, but after years of using the same tricks they are no longer able to beat the ICT tricks used in many other subjects, just having computers is not enough when the computers in other departments are outshining yours and you have no substance to back it up with. I think a step away from the focus of learning to use Microsoft products and a step towards the more challenging engineering side could help to reinvigorate ICT.

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