Skip to main content

Daniel Stucke

Respect, Independence, Creativity & Drive

1 min read

What videos or other resources would you use to share these values in a school?

These are the four key values that we share as a school. We’ve spent a great deal of effort working as a school to develop and agree upon our core values and aims and from them a school improvement plan.

I’d like to collate a bank of videos and other talking points on these four key areas.

Have you got any suggestions of quality resources to include?

Ken Robinson is always a good place to start:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG9CE55wbtY&w=420&h=315]

What are the core values in your school?

Daniel Stucke

Primary Digital Leaders

1 min read

Great to hear that the Digital Leaders concept is taking off at Primary level.  With Dawn’s enthusiasm this was a given.

My own team have been on hiatus as exams have taken over their lives and mine.  Time for a relaunch in school and to find a helper or two. The concept is fab but I do struggle to find the time to meet with them.

For more on Digital Leaders see the main man Kristian Still or the SSAT programme page.


Primary Digital Leaders

Daniel Stucke

Mobile, Personalised Learning - The Essa Academy

6 min read

These are my notes from a fascinating day at the Essa Academy, courtesy of Apple. We were treated to a tour and talks by a number of staff including the Principal - Showk Badat, Abdul Chohan & Jeff Ellis.

I was fascinated by not just the integration of mobile technologies (they are famous for giving every pupil an iPod Touch, and now, every teacher an iPad), but also their innovative New Basics Year 7 curriculum and their elective personalised curriculum for years 8-11. I was also impressed by the fantastic pupils and the excellent learning that we saw.

Below are basically my notes as I took them, I hope they're of interest to some people and I will reflect on them further in relation to my IT Provision Plans.

Essa Academy - http://www.essaacademy.org/

Story over past 3 years:

- Stop doing the wrong things well. Start doing the right things better. e.g. running a 3 Year KS3 when no need - one year costs £1m+ and adds what?

- Abandon 'nonsense & rubbish'!

- Remove barriers to creativity

- Translate or transform learning & pedagogy - especially with tech - focussed on transforming, not just translating the old way of doing things to the new tools.

- Motto: All Will Succeed

Built on 3 pillars, all supported by a bedrock of Technology For Creativity:

- Personalised Learning

- Professional Practice

- Social Capital

Technology breaks down the barriers to learning. Massively increases the creativity of staff and students. Improves communications and efficiencies. e.g. students in habit of emailing staff questions as and when they come up wherever they may be. Students 'notes' app is a thing to behold - completely embraced as their number one knowledge storage place!

Year 7: New Basics Curriculum

- Much like our Project 7

- Based upon Queensland's New Basics Project, but tailored for Essa.

- Eng & Maths separate (25%)

- Everything else in New Basics projects (75%)

 

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="303" caption="New Basics Structure - from http://education.qld.gov.au/"]New Basics Structure - from <a href=http://education.qld.gov.au/" width="303" height="150" />[/caption]

- 4 Rich Tasks per year. e.g. Being British, Science & Ethics.

- Classes of 50! with 2 staff. One stays with, one project specialist who rotates through all groups through the year doing the same project.

- Big room with smaller break-off space

- FANTASTIC learning, enthusiasm, confidence - really impressive!

- Staff only teach this and have the 25% time for planning

- Built on key questions:

- Who am I? Where am I going?

- How do I make sense of and communicate with the World?

- What are my rights and my responsibilities

- All work is assessed against 'Repertoires of Practice' - a list of learning outcomes

- These are not dumbed down - impressive language for learning used - pupils understand it perfectly well!

- All planned and matched against ECM & Functional Skills competencies

Personalisation:

- Year 8-11 all choose 2 'electives' from a bank of 4. From: WEB (work, enterprise, business); Arts; The World; Social

- Electives last 6 months

- Taught in mixed year group classes.

- Every 6 months pupils choose to continue & deepen knowledge or change and broaden

- Timetable is 9 'sessions' (as opposed to 25 lessons!)

- All learning built on 5 core pedagogies.

- All learning is on Level 2 qualifications.

- Examined when ready e.g. 500 pupils sat Maths last year, 25% of Y8 got C+

[caption id="attachment_1425" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Essa Curriculum Structure"][/caption]

- E&M will be timetabled in 3 hour blocks - up to subject leaders how that time shared out

- Allows personalisation to individual pupils needs.

 

- Each child has Personal Vision Plan

- Supported by Significant Adult (tutor)

- Significant Adults everyone from Teacher to Head's PA to Site Staff

- 5-12 pupils per staff member

- 'Tutor groups' chosen carefully and matched to staff e.g. small challenging boys group have caretaker - and have been brilliantly behaved ever since!

 

- Assessment recorded every 4 weeks in every subject.

- 5 target review days each year with parents and significant adults

 

Student Voice:

- Students integral part of leading school

- School Senate made up of 53 pupils - one per tutor group - elected

- School Ambassadors sit above this group

- All meet every week

- Behaviour Panel run by students - restorative justice doled out by the pupils

- Technology is the common denominator that breaks down the barrier between staff and students.

- Relationships have never been stronger, learning has never been more mutual. Student will sit and check all facts and figures on iPods and feed straight back to staff if they aren't right!

 

iPod Each:

Creativity - a new literacy. Everyone has one. Parents pay 12.50 a year for insurance. All other costs covered by Academy.

Children will try and fail and try again. Staff less so. Students run iPod clinics. Creativity ideas come from the students and are sent back towards the staff.

Sims accessible. Info direct to staff pockets. Massive efficiency savings. This leads to more time with pupils. No notices etc in form time - quality conversations instead. Form time can be outside - just email form to let them know - instant communication.  Streamlined, productive, gives everyone a voice - (dinner ladies even have one!). Massive impact on quality of work of caretakers etc. Caretaker input to learning - first to tell everyone about iplayer app. Food better as catering team email menus and kids feedback what they don't like!

GCSEPod (http://www.gcsepod.co.uk/subjects/#) - podcasts, subscription based resource. Searchable by exam board, download straight to iPods. Don't need wifi at home then. E.g. Listen to podcast for homework, tap answers into notes, email back to staff. 900 downloads last year.

VLE - was Frog. But why? Email on iPod more powerful. All dept resources now on Dropbox (http://dropbox.com) so shared between staff and students and available anywhere. Each dept has a 50Gb account. The device is the vle. Frog no longer used.

Edmodo (http://edmodo.com)- used across the school. Excellent communication tool for each class and free. Anne Marie Duffy joined the GCSE English group's Edmodo and helps them with their homework and revision!

Ipads for teachers: Each teacher given one this year.  Massive impact on creativity. Freedom to teacher. No technicians etc needed. Finance director gifts the app to staff and students. Reviews help assess quality. Direct communication to the developer - most happy to help.

Costs: Textbook outlays slashed. Financing has to change. Less money to depts. Printing costs halved in first year with no efforts to reduce - happened naturally and continues to fall.

Policies etc handed out on podcasts. Done in multiple languages for parents.  Audio is massively increasing as a resource.

Macs bringing massive increase in the quality of digital production. Slowly replacing PCs with Macs - especially for staff.

Interactive whiteboards all removed. Artificial 'interactivity for one or two' replaced with truly interactive learning.

Results:

2007: 37% 2008: 58% 2009: 67% 2010 99% 5A*-C.

28-55% 5A*-C E&M in same period.

Costs 7p a day over 5 years. 18p over 2 years. Going to run own insurance.

 

 

 

Daniel Stucke

IT Provision in Secondary Schools in 2011

18 min read

Another what's the best way forward? blog post where I try and dissect my own thinking on what IT provision should look like in a Secondary School in 2011.  Continue the current mix of laptop trolleys and IT suites or move towards a 1 to 1 environment of tablets or laptops?

[caption id="attachment_1375" align="aligncenter" width="252" caption="Are tablets the answer?"]iPad at age 2[/caption]

Financial Planning

This year so far has been all about planning ahead for me. We've " href="http://www.mrstucke.com/2011/03/07/an-ict-curriculum-fit-for-2011-ictcurric/">started the process of planning two completely new courses to deliver to our students in ICT, and I'm delighted that both GCSE ComputingCreative iMedia have enough students interested for me to run both courses next year.

Next on my hit-list is managing & planning our IT provision across the whole site for the next few years. Our school has always been relatively cash-rich for a variety of reasons. This is not the case going forward.  Despite Michael Gove & the Conservatives' claims that they would not cut school budgets we are receiving less money this year than we have previously. This is after we take into account the pupil premium (and being situated in Central Manchester we have an above average percentage of Free School Meals). All of this at the same time as costs are increasing thanks to the Government's removal of the Harnessing Technology Grant. Historically the IT Support team has been given a fairly modest budget with which they maintain the existing equipment and add some provision each year.  Replacement of entire suites / trolleys etc have then been funded by 'Summer Projects' funded from surplus school cash. I am acutely aware that the surplus school cash may well not be here next Summer and it is time we plan and budget ahead carefully for the next 2-5 years.  And so I come to my current position where I am left impressed at the cost of continuing as we are, yet thinking there must be a better way....

The Status Quo

We have 750 students aged 11-16, in total we have approximately 300 desktop PCs and 250 laptops within the school. Pupil facing IT is mainly provided by:

  • 4 Computer Labs with between 20-30 desktop PCs.
  • 2 Trolleys of Macbooks bought last year primarily for use with Art & Media.
  • 6 Trolleys of (aging) laptops spread around other departments.
  • Some desktops in the Library.
  • 2 other mixed use rooms with approximately 12 PCs around the perimeter of the room.
  • 16 iMacs in the Music room.

This is an impressive list for such a small school, but it has been built on repeatedly in prosperous times with little thought for the total cost of ownership (TCOO).

This is also an impressive appearing ratio of Devices:Students of over 1:2. Or it is on paper. In reality the computer rooms are almost fully timetabled to ICT, Tech & Science. The laptops have batteries that often barely last an hour and where they are good then only one trolley to share between 6 concurrent classes. At best that's an IT ratio of 1 in 6 for students in the Maths department for example.

And then there is the reality of a lesson using IT.  Which begins with either moving your class to the IT suite and logging on (10mins gone at least) or wheeling the trolley in, handing out machines and signing the sheet for each pupil, logging on (slowly).  Again at least 10 minutes gone.  Logins take too long.  We have a wireless G network that strains to cope as we really need double the number of access points, it works great for a few devices but struggles when 30 laptops are logging on.  We also have an aging core network.  I wanted to replace both this Summer but funds won't allow.  We will be replacing the core network though, a new fibre ring and CAT 6 cabling to each room.  Spare points put into every room too.  It seems strange in this wireless world to still be spending on cables like this but it does need doing and should see us through for many years.  A wireless-N network will have to wait until next Summer if I'm lucky.

These practicalities mean that the pedagogical uses of all this equipment are fairly 'traditional'. Primary uses are Office needs and Internet research. Maths heavily use online resources from MyMaths & MangaHigh. Some departments have been increasingly using video and audio with Flip Cams, Audacity etc.. We have recently invested in RealSmartCloud as our VLE. This combines the excellent RealSmart suite of online learning tools along with Google Apps. This will be increasingly used by all departments next year.

From my experience I would suggest that this is a fairly standard situation compared to many secondary schools within the UK and elsewhere in the World.

Option 1 then would be to continue the status quo - planning ahead financially replacing the current machines as they reach their end of life.  I have been using the incredibly useful Becta (God rest their soul!) ICT Investment Planner to help with this.  This spreadsheet accounts for all of your current IT provision, factors in lifespan and replacement costs alogn with other annual costs to give you the total value of equipment, the annual cost to 'stand-still' and the ability to plan large scale replacements / improvements in future years.  It's a really useful tool and I've embedded a copy of it below as I'm not sure if it's easily available following Becta's demise.

ICT Investment Planner v.1.04

Class sets of Desktops & Laptops in 2011

Desktop PCs in 2011 are becoming cheaper and cheaper. For the last few years the average PC has been more than capable of coping with the demands of the average user, and it's only when you get into heavy video editing and gaming that more expensive machines are required. It's perfectly possible to use something as cheap as an Acer Revo for Web/Office needs.  We've been getting them for under £180.

[amazon_link id="B004CQ460S" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Acer Aspire Revo R3700 Desktop[/amazon_link]

Acer Revo PC

Better spec'd machines based on the new Intel Core i3/i5 processors can be had for £250-400 with machines at the latter end of that bracket more than capable of performing any tasks we throw at them right up to editing in Adobe Premier Pro. LCD monitors last from one machine to the next (although some good do with a bump in resolution) so the upgrade costs are not too bad.

Laptops on the other hand don't seem to be getting much cheaper. There are two over-riding requirements for laptops that make up class-sets and they are build quality and battery life.  If they need charging 2-3 times a day or if you are constantly replacing keyboards, screens & hinges then they become increasingly costly and increasingly unavailable. We have a set of 30 Toshiba NB200 netbooks and whilst they have been a cheap class set the compromises in screen size, keyboard size and speed make them less than ideal for class sets.  Prices have increased on netbooks recently as well.

[amazon_link id="B003V4AQRE" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Toshiba NB305-10F 10.1 inch Netbook (Intel Atom N455, 1GB RAM, 250GB HDD, Bluetooth, Up to 11hrs battery life, Windows 7 Starter)[/amazon_link]

Toshiba Netbook

There's a wealth of cheap 15" laptops, but they often have poor build quality and awful batteries that then need upgrading to 6 or preferably 9 cell variants - that's £80 on the base price immediately. A decent laptop with battery life to last a day seems to cost close to £500. And don't forget to add £1-3k on top of that for a trolley.  We're yet to find trolleys that do everything that's expected of them, we have supposedly top of the line Lapsafe trolleys at the moment and they have a terrible habit of overheating machines and destroying their batteries.  Support is also expensive.

As you can tell I'm no great fan of laptop trolleys! From a cost, practicality and ease of use point of view they're not a great solution.

Using the aforementioned budget planner rough estimates for the cost of continuing our provision along similar lines are £50,000 per year. Software costs don't have much of an impact as the new Microsoft agreements based upon the number of Full Time Staff has reduced costs considerably to schools and the number of machines no longer affects these costs.

 

1 to 1 Options

I'm convinced that an effective and affordable one to one solution must be out their somewhere. Logically we're edging closer to that ratio in school as things stand, and yet as I've discussed the pupil use ratios are way below the actual machine ratios.

I'm also convinced that a 1 to 1 programme would transform teaching and learning within our school.  Staff would be able to plan confidently to use ICT effectively within their lessons. Pupils could access the web whenever they saw fit, using it to support their learning just like we all do in our lives. As we increasingly move towards the cloud pupils and staff would have access to all of their electronic lives wherever they happen to be learning. It would also transform the amount and quality of home learning that could take place, not only for the students themselves but also the rest of their families - a real positive impact throughout our community.

There are a few options to investigate here.  And again there are priorities:

  • Cost
  • Battery life
  • Time-to-online
  • Durability
  • Weight
  • Compatability
  • Management demands

Battery life and time-to-online are crucial, if these are to be embedded in every aspect of our pupil's learning then they need to be able to pull out their device whenever they choose, know it will work and be online within seconds. It has to be affordable and the software needs to be right.

In an ideal world the perfect current solution would be this:

[amazon_link id="B00486U20A" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]New MacBook Air 11 inch Notebook(Intel Core 2 Duo 1.4GHz, 2GB RAM, 64GB Flash Storage, NVIDIA GeForce 320M Graphics) - launched October 2010[/amazon_link]

MacBook Air 11"

But of course the first priority of cost ruins this option. That aside I love my Macbook Air. The SSD hard drive makes it much more powerful than you would imagine, the battery is amazing, it weighs next to nothing, it's incredibly well built and it turns on in about a second. Going back to something like the netbooks I discussed earlier seems like a trip to the dark ages.

Netbooks could work, but I'm just not convinced they are durable enough, they take an age to log on and they really don't have much of a 'wow' factor now. They obviously have an advantage over the current generation of tablets in that they will run Windows based software. Friends and colleagues that I have spoken to who have run 1 to 1 projects with netbooks have struggled to get buy in from all parties, often not actually reaching that 1 to 1 ratio.

Netbook advantages: Cost, compatibility, battery life.

Netbook disadvantages: Power & speed, durability, screen & keyboard size, time to online, weight.

 

Tablets have seemingly sprung from nowhere to be the darlings of the computing world. The iPad has been an incredible success and the iPad 2 has built upon this. I love mine and think it's a device packed with potential.

[amazon_link id="B004TW8XHC" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Apple iPad 2 - 16gb WiFi[/amazon_link]

iPad 2 - A 'Magical' Device

Some pioneering schools have started 1 to 1 deployments of iPads.  Frasier Spier's exploits at Cedar's School in Scotland is perhaps one of the most well documented. He is a great advocate for the differences in teaching and learning opportunities that his students have enjoyed since the deployment. A few salient points from Frasier's writing:

"I can tell you some long-term big trends that I'll bet on right now:

  • Pupils and teachers will never wish they had fewer computers.
  • Pupils and teachers will never wish their devices had shorter battery life than the iPad.
  • Pupils and teachers will never wish that they had to queue up to get access to computers.
  • Pupils and teachers will never wish that their internet access was slower.
  • Pupils and teachers will never want a device that's harder to use than the iPad.
  • Teachers will never want to have to go to a special classroom to use The Computers.
  • Nobody will want a device that's more expensive and less capable than the iPad.
  • Nobody will want to carry around a device that's significantly heavier than the iPad all day.
  • Pupils will not want to use a special "education device" when the market is going elsewhere.
  • Schools will not want to deploy a device that requires more tech support than an iPad."

And on things like voting systems & the effect of the App Store:

"Put simply, if you're in the business of making discrete hardware for the classroom you are in very serious trouble. Your business is about to be replaced by a $5 download from the App Store and the rest of your company's existence will be about trying to sell a refresh to your existing installed base."

I genuinely believe that an iPad per pupil could transform pedagogy within our school. Yes the lack of Flash & Windows programs is a problem. But the pace of development in the App Store is amazing and the move to the cloud & HTML5 mean these are issues that will shrink over time. The ability to output the screen straight to your projector makes it a great teaching tool now.

I've had initial discussions with our local Apple supplier. Discounts are sorely lacking for schools other than the obvious VAT saving. Apple Financial Services have started to run a finance package called iStudent. This allows parental contributions which is something we would need to do to even approach affordability. Unfortunately when you start to add on Apple Care and insurance. This takes costs right back to around £400 minimum per machine spread over a 3 year lease.

Other issues to overcome are the management of 750+ iPads. Central management would become impossible at this scale. It would seem logical to allow students to manage their own device - they are intensely personal devices after-all. But what about ensuring certain apps are present - gift cards or app gifting would probably be required. And what about those students who don't own a PC to sync their device to? Staff training and perception would also be a big challenge - but not insurmountable.

I'd love to be able to do this but initial funding calculations suggest I'd be coming up £40-50k a year short. Even factoring in the various savings we'd make elsewhere around the school such as on printing and paper planners. This also includes factoring in parental contributions of around £6 per month. I think this would be possible, and in a world where every pupil seems to have their own blackberry, not unreasonable.

iPad Advantages: Time-to-on, flexibility, weight, battery life, durability, wow-factor, App Store, other cost savings, hold value well, OS updates.

iPad Disadvantages: Cost, App & sync management, staff training / mind shift, Flash support, no keyboard, no USB/SD card options, theft & pupil safety off-site.

 

Apple of course do not have a monopoly on the tablet market, and the other manufacturers have been playing catch-up ever since the release of the original iPad a year ago. Largely based around Google's Android operating system it's fair to say that comparison reviews have not rated the first generation of alternatives. My limited experience of them has reinforced this view. However the latest version of Android has been written with tablets in mind and some machines are starting to look more competitive. Although it also has to be said that Apple's dominance has allowed them to beat almost everyone on price as well as quality.

One new device that looks like it has real potential is the Asus EeePad Transformer along with it's keyboard & battery dock:

[amazon_link id="B004TB0EXY" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Asus EeePad Transformer TF101 10.1 inch Tablet PC (nVidia Tegra2 1GHz, 1Gb, 16Gb eMMC, WLAN, BT, Android 3.0) with docking station and keyboard[/amazon_link]

Initial reviews seem positive and this could be a great option going forward. Android tablets don't require a base PC to sync with, but then again their software and App Store don't offer the breadth and quality of the Apple alternative yet. But you could buy a tablet each and then have a stock of keyboards available to use within school when extended writing is required. They also offer USB & SD Card compatibility.

Android Tablet Advantages: Time-to-on, flexibility, weight, battery life, durability?, wow-factor?, keyboards, SD & USB.

Android Tablet Disadvantages: Cost, market fragmentation & OS update lifespan (many older tablets can't update to the latest version of Android for example), values drop more rapidly, staff training / mind shift.

 

Of course a more modest device could be used. The Essa Academy in Bolton have had great success using iPod Touches as their 1 to 1 device under the expert guidance of Abdul Chohan. Whilst it lacks the power and extra flexibility of a full tablet, it still has the App Store and is of course half the price.

[amazon_link id="B0040GIZTI" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]New Apple iPod touch 8GB (4th Generation)[/amazon_link]

iPod Touch

iPod Touch Advantages: Cost, Time-to-on, flexibility, weight, battery life, durability, App Store, other cost savings, OS updates, camera.

iPad Disadvantages: App & sync management, staff training / mind shift, Flash support, theft & pupil safety off-site, smaller impact on need for traditional PC & laptop provision.

 

The final possibility that is on the horizon is the new generation of netbooks from Google based on their upcoming Chrome Operating System. These devices have no hard drive, just a small SSD for the OS. They are cloud based machines that really need to be online to be much use. They will come with integrated 3G connections. The simplest way to think of them is a laptop that runs Google Chrome and nothing much else. Traditional storage can be used via USB or SD cards. We use Google Apps so they would actually integrate nicely with much of our current work. There would obviously be full support for flash. Issues would include what happens in student's homes without wifi. Could we get them with phone contracts? They should be available some time this Summer. There has been a pilot programme but it was only available in the US unfortunately.

[yframe url='http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vFeD3qGVsrM&feature=player_embedded']

Until production models are available for us to play with it is hard to judge if these notebooks offer a real alternative.

 

Conclusions:

It looks like, unless I can source funding for an iPad project the costs for a full tablet deployment in our school are just too prohibitive. We don't work in an area where we can ask for significant parental contributions, some maybe, but not to cover the full costs. Another issue that springs to mind with this or any device is the lifespan of the device and what you do at the end of it. We could start by buying all of our Year 7's a device this year. But then in 3 years time they'd probably need replacing. And we'd be up to 4 year groups worth of leases and serious issues continuing the funding.

I'm not wholly convinced that the current crop of netbooks are up to task, the investment required wouldn't transform our classrooms as I'd like.

Android devices are expensive and just don't have the accomplished finish of an iOS device.

iPod Touches would be do-able right now, but I fear they would seem outdated in just a year or two's time.

Chrome OS isn't here yet.

So perhaps a cost and learning effective 1 to 1 solution isn't here right now. But it feels very close. I am tempted to make do and mend a little this year, the forever downward trend of IT costs and upwards trend of power and portability mean that by September 2012 there could be a good solution. I'd rathe not invest heavily in old tech until then.

I'll also talk to my friends and colleagues at Toshiba and see what they have up their sleeves.

And cheeky as this is, if you work for Asus, Google or a supplier and would like to provide me with an Android tablet or Chrome OS notebook that you believe could fill our 750 device shaped hole then please do get in contact with me.

 

Do you work in a school that has a successful (or not!) 1 to 1 programme? Or do you have a traditional provision like we do now? Have you invested in iPads? I'd be fascinated to hear other educators views on this whole topic - I can't imagine we're the only school going through these thought processes in 2011.

 

Daniel Stucke

An ICT Curriculum Fit For 2011 #ictcurric

9 min read

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.

Essential Reading:

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:

[blackbirdpie id="44025214782291968"]

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?