The silence that has descended on this blog has partly been down to another little change in direction for me as I have taken over leadership of our ICT & Business Studies department. As a Mathematician by nature this has been an interesting few weeks!
Out top priority is to try and deliver an ICT curriculum that is fit for the year 2011. Something that enthuses our pupils with the subject of ICT and offers them valuable qualifications that will stand them in good stead for their futures.
This seemed a simple task - how wrong I was!
Current ICT Curriculum:
We have traditionally put all our students through the OCR Nationals in Year 9, picking up the equivalent of 1 GCSE for each of them (well most of them). I'm no great fan of this qualification, in particular Unit 1's trudge through Office products and folder structures. ICT is an optional subject at our school, those pupils who choose to continue it at KS4 complete the full OCR Nationals Level 2 course picking up the 'equivalent' of 4 GCSEs. I know there are some good units in there, but we're increasingly finding that students are then having issues with our local colleges who do not value the OCR Nationals.
I must have read every specification out there for ICT based qualifications at Level 2 - not the most exciting of tasks I can assure you!
Other key reading this week has included two new reports:
The Next Gen report from Nesta "sets out how the UK can be transformed into the world’s leading talent hub for video games and visual effects". Written by key players from both industries it's a wide ranging review of the educations system from Secondary School through to University. It's quite critical that our education system is not providing these industries with people with the required skill sets, and that this runs all the way back down to the skills we are providing pupils with at school.
Some key excerpts in relation to school based ICT:
"Primary and secondary schools should provide young people with the knowledge that can be developed into industry-relevant skills later in life.14 We must ensure that young people are taught the essential Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) knowledge, including computer science, that they need to work in the high-tech industries of the 21st century including video games and visual effects. We need to set in motion a virtuous circle where video games and visual effects help draw young people into maths, physics and computer science, and improve their learning outcomes, in turn enlarging the talent pool for these industries in the future. Schools should do more to encourage cross-curricular learning. Careers guidance needs to reflect the growing employment opportunities in high-tech creative industries like video games and visual effects."
"Although in theory one might expect ‘Information and Communication Technology’ (ICT) instruction to provide young people with the essential knowledge required for high-tech industries like video games and visual effects, in practice, as currently taught this subject is not teaching the knowledge and skills these industries need."
"Recommendation 1: Bring computer science into the National Curriculum as an essential discipline:
A growing number of voices including the British Computer Society, Computing at School, Institute of Physics and the Royal Academy of Engineering argue that ICT, as it is currently taught, fails to prepare young people for those demanding programming-intensive courses from which high-tech industries like video games and visual effects recruit.
ICT literacy is of course an important skill, but there is an excessive focus in ICT lessons on the use of everyday office applications with which most young people are already familiar. This wastes valuable time that would be more fruitfully applied to the teaching of rigorous computer science knowledge."
An interesting and timely read, I think this reinforces some key facts that many staff in Secondary Schools have been well aware of but avoiding:
- GCSE ICT, OCR Nationals, DiDa et al are not fit for purpose, not fit for the students wanting to move into the ICT industry.
- These qualifications have too much focus on soft skills such as Office, where our more able pupils already have sufficient skills. These are 'Basic Skills' not real ICT skills.
- There has been too much chasing league tables points, and not enough thinking about the future of our students.
Next on the reading list was the Wolf Review of Vocational Education:
This was nowhere near as damning as I thought it may be on Vocational Education in general, which is promising in the days of Mr Gove's push towards Latin for all.
But again there were some snippets to form my thinking on our ICT provision:
"First, our system has no business tracking and steering 14 year olds, or 16 year olds, into programmes which are effectively dead-end. Any young person’s programme of study, whether ‘academic’ or ‘vocational’, should provide for labour market and educational progress on a wide front, whether immediately or later in life."
"Second, we should tell citizens the truth. That means providing people with accurate and useful information, so that they can make decisions accordingly. Good information becomes more critical the more important the decisions. For young people, which vocational course, qualification or institution they choose really can be life- determining. 14-19 education is funded and provided for their sakes, not for the sake of the institutions who provide it. This may be a truism; but it is one which policy too often seems to ignore."
"young people change jobs very frequently, within a labour market which is also in constant flux. So students need general skills; and the educational system needs to respond quickly and flexibly to change."
"Only those qualifications – both vocational and academic – that meet stringent quality criteria should form part of the performance management regime for schools."
"However, schools should also be free to offer whatever other qualifications they wish from regulated awarding bodies. Performance measures should also reinforce the commitment to a common core of study at Key Stage 4"
"The DfE should distinguish clearly between those qualifications, both vocational and academic, which can contribute to performance indicators at Key Stage 4, and those which cannot."
I think there are some key messages here for the other end of our provision, not those pupils who will be aspiring to lead the UK in the special effects industry, but those who will need core ICT skills throughout their working lives.
- All pupils need basic ICT literacy skills, to be able to use any Office type product, use the Internet safely and effectively, have transferable skills for the many careers they may have and for the technologies that don't exist today but may be key to their job 10 years down the line.
- They need qualifications that hold weight not just at College, but with employers too.
- They don't need to be driven away from the subject by 'evidencing' their skills.
- OCR Nationals, BTECs etc will have their 'worth' reviewed, I suspect this will remove much of the league table value that has made them so tempting to Head teachers. This will also lower their value yet further to our pupils in the future.
ICT Curriculum 2011:
So where does this leave us? I've identified three qualifications that I would like some of our students to leave with over the next two years.
The Microsoft Office Specialist certification is an industry recognised qualification at around Level 2. Students would complete an online assessment to show their proficiency in Word, Excel & Powerpoint. Now I'm all for Open Source, but lets get real, these are key skills for working in any business and I believe our lower end pupils will find these genuinely useful on their CVs when they leave our school.
These are not accredited on the national qualifications framework as they stand, but can be converted to the equivalent of 1 GCSE Grade C by way of the OCR ITQ qualification with the aid of an additional piece of work. I think we will probably end up doing this for some of the students - the league tables will bite me one way or another!
I'm envisaging working through this over the course of Year 8 / 9, interspersed with the more interesting bits out our subject.
The OCR Creative iMedia course stands out in the middle of the field of available qualifications as one that looks genuinely interesting. 100% coursework/evidence based like the OCR National, but this has some much more enjoyable looking units, and none of the Office work that we can cover above with MOS. This has been reviewed this year and I'm particularly looking forward to teaching a unit on Game Design Concepts.
We also have a strong Media department within our school and it will be good to develop some stronger links across the school with this qualification. We are also fortunate to have Media City being built 1/2 a mile down the road, there should be great possibilities for collaborating with industry.
This will be offered as a Key Stage 4 option and we will aim to get pupils through to Level 2 Diploma level.
GCSE Computing, again by OCR, has been in pilot nationally this year. I've been talking to a number of leaders of ICT who have been teaching it this year and they have all been unanimous in their praise:
We'll be offering this as another KS4 option to any pupils who have an interest in moving into the industry in the future. The programming aspects look challenging, but great. We have plenty of time available as things stand on the timetable, so we'll be able to ease in with something like Scratch, before moving onto a traditional language.
What do you think?
I'm keen for feedback. I realise I'm a Mathematician moonlighting as the leader of a new subject here, even if it's one I'm fairly knowledgeable about. I'd be really interested to hear about people working in FE & HE, we often work in isolation from colleagues at other levels.
What are you planning to offer your students next year? Have you experience of the qualifications I've mentioned?
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