Tag Archives: ICT IN SCHOOLS


Curates egg, maybe, so far-but Nesta sees huge potential

Nesta believes that, through its past work, it has come ‘to recognise an innovation deficit at the intersection of technology and education; students today inhabit a rich digital environment, but it is insufficiently utilised to support learning’.

The education sector has invested heavily in digital technology, ‘but this investment has not yet resulted in the radical improvements to learning experiences and educational attainment’. Something of understatement here- part of the problem is that ICT has  , rather too often. been oversold, or miss sold, to schools by suppliers whose motivation is their profit margin rather than the needs of pupils. They have also exploited the lack of technical knowledge and procurement naivety in some schools. Too many schools have invested in technology and software that they don’t need that ties them into a long term financial commitment  and which has little  demonstrable effect  on outcomes. The BSF programme must carry some blame for this too.  When the BSF programme was operating schools  complained that they have lost freedom over their IT budgets, and were  forced to buy expensive equipment through designated suppliers.  Armando Di-Finizio, the head of Brunel Academy,at the cutting edge of ICT schools use,  said that millions of pounds were being wasted on “white elephant” technology in schools. He said that his school — the first to be rebuilt under BSF — had on-going technical difficulties. “ We suffered with the ICT that’s the one area of the school that… it’s been very, very difficult and you do need your back-up plans. The school was designed to be completely wireless, it went for all the gimmicks and gismos and it was going to be fantastic. I have yet to see a school that works really effectively wirelessly.” (the wireless network had, indeed, fallen over under the strain of hundreds of students trying to use it at once). He suggested a fixation with constantly updating classrooms with the latest gadgets. To be fair, doubtless leant on by the department, he sought to qualify his remarks later and stressed some of the positives but he was not the only Head to have worries and concerns. There are, of course, positives but we must remember that policy and practice should be evidence based, and led. This has not always informed the approach to ICT in learning and schools.

This is what Joe Nutt said, in the CFBT Education Trust report ‘Professional educators and the evolving role of ICT in schools – Perspective report’:

‘Claims for how technology can improve educational performance in schools are widespread and  influential yet the research evidence is extremely weak and the discourse is often clouded and  confused by the motives and interests of some key individuals and organisations. Nonetheless, huge investments have been made and continue to be made across the developed and the developing world.’

An Ofsted report on ICT in schools found ‘ only a few had evaluated the effectiveness of previous investment  (in ICT)or developed costed plans for rolling future investment’

This Nesta report confirms that ‘adopting new technologies can be expensive, especially when considering the total costs of ownership that include installation, training, upkeep, and (ultimately) replacement.’  In 2011, the Review of Education Capital found that maintained schools spent £487 million on ICT equipment and services in 2009-2010. Since then, the education system has entered a state of flux with changes to the curriculum, shifts in funding, and increasing school autonomy. Nesta, though, is pretty optimistic about what the future holds for ICT in schools.

‘This report sets out where proof, promise and potential lie for technology in education.  It then identifies the contextual factors and actions needed to ensure current and future opportunities for school children take full advantage of technology for learning.’

Crucially, it observes that ‘over recent decades, many efforts to realise the potential of digital technology in education have made two key errors. Collectively, they have put the technology above teaching and excitement above evidence. This means they have spent more time, effort and money looking to find the digital silver bullet that will transform learning than they have into evolving teaching practice to make the most of technology. If we are to make progress we need to clarify the nature of the goal we want to satisfy through future innovation. Much existing teaching practice may well not benefit greatly from new technologies. As we continue to develop our understanding of technology’s proof, potential and promise, we have an unprecedented opportunity to improve learning experiences in the classroom and beyond’

Note  Nesta is the UK’s innovation foundation.: ‘We help people and organisations bring great ideas to life. We do this by providing investments and grants and mobilising research, networks and skills.’

Decoding Learning:  The Proof, Promise and Potential of Digital Education-Rosemary Luckin, , Brett Bligh, Andrew Manches,  Sharon Ainsworth,  Charles Crook, Richard Noss  November 2012


A cautionary note. This is what a World Bank report said in 2005:

‘The impact of ICT use on learning outcomes is unclear, and open to much debate. Widely accepted, standard methodologies and indicators to assess impact of ICTs in education do not exist… Despite a decade of large investment in ICTs to benefit education in OECD countries, and increasing use of ICTs in education in developing countries, important gaps remain in the current knowledge base. In addition, there appears to be a dearth of useful resources attempting to translate what is known to work – and not work.’

Truncano, M. (2005) Knowledge Maps: ICT in Education ,Washington, DC: infoDev/World Bank,



New report claims that  evidence in short supply  on ICTs influence on  educational outcomes

And  questions whether Digital literacy is  really a new skill


A new report  by Joe Nutt, a senior consultant  at CfBT Education Trust,  says that while  claims for how technology can improve educational performance in schools are widespread and huge investments have been made  worldwide in ICT in schools  the reality is that influential research evidence to back these claims  is extremely weak and   ‘the discourse is often clouded and  confused by the motives and interests of some key individuals and organisations.’ Nutt  explains that one of the major reasons why  this has happened is because of an alliance between influential individuals, technology companies and government agencies. A small group of enthusiastic writers and  researchers – ‘ICT Gurus’ termed in his  paper ‘techno-zealots’ – have allied themselves with the  suppliers of ICT equipment and convinced many policy-makers of the remarkable, transforming  power of technology. However, and here is the  nub ,the reports and publications produced by these techno-zealots and their allies  often fail to meet high standards of scholarship and evidence.  Nutt  claims ‘Typically the likelihood of impact and  better educational outcomes through technology is simply asserted without a remotely compelling  evidence base.’  There  is also  a new drive for pupils to acquire a new skill ‘digital literacy’. But Nutt issues a warning on this.  He writes ‘One of the myths propagated by enthusiasts for technology is that the nature of learning has  fundamentally changed as a result of wider technological change. They call for a new range of  skills, sometimes referred to as ‘digital literacy’. The rise of ‘digital literacy’ as a concept, loose  as it is, has also exerted considerable pressure on schools and teachers to change fundamental  aspects of their practice and schooling. On closer examination though  ‘digital literacy skills’ appear to be ‘  no more than the higher order enquiry and synthesis skills that teachers of traditional subjects  have long taught.’

This report really amounts to a health warning for schools to think carefully about what they buy, how they utilise it and  how they  evaluate its use in the classroom and  the effects on outcomes . Nutt is a technology expert and values the contribution that ICT can make to education and learning. But he   urges schools and teachers  to put themselves in a position to defend themselves against these  complex and powerful pressures, if they are to ensure that the technology they do invest in and  deploy brings meaningful educational benefits and improvements.  Nutt concludes ‘The argument is not that  technology is of little value to schools. Grandiose claims obscure the real benefits – at school and  classroom level – that arise when technology is used properly and seen as one of several useful  tools that can assist the work of teachers.’

Professional educators and the evolving  role of ICT in schools ; Perspective report; Joe Nutt 2010; published by  CfBT Education Trust





Bectas demise may not have much of an impact


On 24 May 2010 the Government announced a package of measures to reduce expenditure in the public sector. This included the planned closure of Becta.  So Becta is on its way out  with its web site closing at the end of  this month  and the quango gone by April 2011 . Becta provides  universal support for ICT in schools. Its demise though  will not generally be much  lamented. Becta did  a service  though by pointing out that just one in five schools use computers effectively and far too many seem to think that computers can only be used to assist with exams and tests  rather than  more creatively. Schools spend £1.65 billion a year on information technology, with one computer to every three pupils in secondary schools, and one to six in primary schools. Yet as the Times pointed out  not long ago some heads, particularly those who were  involved with the BSF programme, complain that they have lost freedom over their IT budgets, and are forced to buy expensive equipment through designated suppliers.   An Ofsted report in 2009 found that  only around half of the schools visited showed that they were systematically evaluating the impact of ICT resources on improving learning.

The  mastering of   Microsoft Word programmes , spreadsheets  and data input  seems to be the main priority in too many cases. Why Microsoft was allowed to gain  such a virtual stranglehold in our schools is largely down to Bectas  initial relative inaction . Becta started off very close to Microsoft  and became slowly estranged .It  only acted with robustness very late in the day. It did ultimately  refer Microsoft to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) alleging that the software giant was benefiting from abusing its dominant position in the market but Becta  had looked slow on its feet with the  drawn out negotiations suiting Microsoft. Becta  focused on getting deals on expensive hardware and software  paying little attention to other  cheaper or free options. It then began to understand the benefits of open source  access but was then heavily criticised   by the  open source community following its  decision in 2008  to award its open source schools project to a little-known assessment  firm AlphaPlus Consultancy tasked with  setting  up and running   the open source project  . The aim was  to support ‘ schools with awareness, adoption, deployment, use and ongoing development of their use of Open Source Software…. And to complement existing OSS community initiatives within schools and elsewhere. ‘…

Open source software is developed using an open and collaborative approach where the outcomes of this joint effort are made available to users without charge. The program code is not kept closed, but is published for others to study and improve as part of this spirit of openness and collaboration.

High quality Freeware and open source have been available for ages . It  means the system and the programs do not require proprietary licenses. For example OpenOffice.org is a free suite of Office tools. It has the same core components as proprietary options, such as a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation builder. Indeed, there is an open source alternative to most of the major applications.

This means that there is not only a lower cost overall, but also students can use the same programs on home computers. There is less threat  too  from viruses,  and if used efficiently  less memory is needed . The widely used Linux system claims to be   as flexible as Microsoft  and  in some  respects easier to  use.

John Spencer, former teacher, turned blogger, thinks things are going to change fairly quickly on the ICT front  as more schools become academies. “Say goodbye to: outsourced services; any unsexy software (such as Microsoft Office that they could get just as good for free); interactive whiteboards; GCSE and A2 ICT examinations (it’s about £100 per pupil per exam),” he writes on the IT website Computerworld. And what is going to take their place? “Fast broadband; anything Apple (special educational deals on iPads); lots of videoconferencing kit; vocational ICT qualifications (from Cisco, RedHat, Microsoft).”

Spencer believes it  may be that the frustrated school governor is going to see life become easier — at least in procuring IT equipment and software. And it may turn out that removing Becta  a body that was meant to make it cheaper for schools to get computers,  actually allows them now  to get a wider variety. And for children preparing for a computer-driven world, it might well  be a boon if it can bring a more creative approach to how they use the machines in schools.

Meanwhile the challenge remains  to harness the enthusiasm and expertise of young people in gaming , surfing the internet and social networking   so that this  brings greater  benefits  to their personal  learning and education.

Joe Nutt, a senior consultant with CFBT Education Trust, will be releasing a report  this month  which looks at ICTs use in schools ‘ Professional educators and the evolving role of ICT in schools.’

Note  also that the BETT Show is 12-14 January 2011



Evidence of cause and effect?  Becta now under fire


In 1997 Tony Blair pledged “By 2002 every one of the 32,000 schools in Britain will have modern computers, the educational programmes to go on them, the teachers skilled to teach on them, the pupils skilled to use them, connected to the superhighway.” In 2000  his pre-election education pledges include £710 million for new technology in schools, five pupils per computer in secondary and eight pupils per computer in primary schools within four years. From 2009 all primary schools in the UK were compelled to provide learning opportunities through the effective use of technology. The recent Rose Review of the primary school curriculum committed primary schools to “strengthening the teaching and learning of ICT to enable [pupils] to be independent and confident users of technology by the end of primary education”. The DCSF spends £1.65 billion annually on IT for classrooms, which accounts for a significant share of the £55 billion BSF programme.

A just completed, year long study, by the Institute of Education, of over 600 pupils in primary schools across England asked children how they would prefer technology to be used in their learning. It reveals pupils’ concerns over ‘low-tech’ primary schools, but suggests that only minor improvements are needed .Despite demands from many industry professionals to rebuild and restructure schools to suit upcoming cohorts of “digital natives” the vast majority of children reckon that only minor changes would be required to make their schools’ use of technology more engaging and exciting. “While we expected children to be making radical demands for virtual classes or robot teachers, the majority simply wanted the occasional chance to bring their own devices into school”, said  Dr Neil Selwyn from the University of London’s Institute of Education.   More than half of the 7-11 year olds in the study had their own mobile phone, and nearly 90 percent had their own games console at home. The study found that more than 80 percent of children regularly play computer games, and more than one-in-five make regular use of social networking sites such as Bebo, Habbo or MySpace in their spare time. In contrast, the most frequent school ICT uses were word processing and internet searching. The study also found a continued need for schools to work with children on issues of internet safety. Only one third of the pupils surveyed were knowledgeable about staying safe when using the internet. Similarly, more than 60 percent wanted more help from their teachers in terms of learning about ‘e-safety’.

This is against the backdrop  of a widespread belief that ICT can empower teachers and learners, transforming teaching and learning processes from being highly teacher-dominated to student-centered, and that this transformation will result in increased learning gains for  pupils  creating and allowing  more opportunities for learners to develop their creativity, problem-solving abilities, informational reasoning skills, communication skills, and other higher-order thinking skills and help develop too  learner  autonomy. Many teachers also think that using ICT in class offers capacity to change the very nature of pupil learning.  Key to the Governments support and investment in schools ICT is the assumption that it helps raise standards though causal links remain difficult to prove.  This, of course, is not just about asking ‘Does ICT have an impact on educational outcomes?’, it is also about understanding the nature of any impacts, the factors associated with them and the conditions which enable positive change.  Surprisingly, given the scale of investment there are currently very limited, unequivocally compelling data to support this belief.

However, one survey -The big picture: The Impact of ICT on Attainment, Motivation and Learning (2003) helpfully summarized and discussed  some large-scale studies on  the impact of ICT. The key findings from this review appear to be that:

• Generally something positive happens to the attainment of pupils who make (relatively) high use of ICT in their subject learning

• School standards are positively associated with the quality of school ICT resources and quality of their use in teaching and learning, regardless of socio-economic characteristics

• Use of ICT in class generally motivates pupils to learn

• Achieving positive impact of ICT on attainment, motivation and learning depends critically on the decisions of schools, teachers and pupils on how it is deployed and used

The  study suggests that ‘ Overall, the weight of evidence presented here suggests clearly that ICT provision and pupil ICT use do in fact impact positively on pupil attainment and on school standards – though there is no definitive study demonstrating causality’,

It also found that the effective use and impact of ICT varies, considerably, between subjects.

But it’s an expensive business and once you invest in ICT you have to constantly maintain the ICT infrastructure, regularly updating both hardware and software to keep pace. And there is a strong suspicion that that there is huge wastage and unscrupulous over selling by at least some providers.  Some schools are over a barrel, wishing to be seen as progressive with state of the art ICT   but ending up purchasing equipment and indeed software that has little demonstrable educational value.

Schools spend £1.65 billion a year on information technology, with one computer to every three pupils in secondary schools, and one to six in primary schools. Yet as the Times pointed out this week some heads, particularly those involved with the BSF programme, complain that they have lost freedom over their IT budgets, and are forced to buy expensive equipment through designated suppliers.  Armando Di-Finizio, the head of Brunel Academy,at the cutting edge of ICT schools use,  said that millions of pounds were being wasted on “white elephant” technology in schools. He said that his school — the first to be rebuilt under BSF — had continuing technical difficulties. “The school was designed to be completely wireless but I have yet to see a school where wireless works well. He criticized the millions of pounds being spent on technology in schools, and suggested that there was a fixation with constantly updating classrooms with the latest gadgets.

Until very recently Microsoft had a virtual stranglehold on the UK education market. Becta, the government ICT education procurement quango has recently reformed its procurement regime to break the software giant’s hold on schools, and launched a programme to get schools to adopt open source software. However, its decisions and preferred suppliers have prompted a heated debate in the blogsphere about the quality of its decisiomaking. And, more generally, Becta and its boss Stephen Crowne, formerly a senior civil servant in the Education Department, have been under fire, as a popular target in the press’ pre-election ‘quango shooting gallery’. Crowne for his part is one of those quango chiefs who is paid more than the Prime Minister, on £220,000 a year. He also made £30,000 of expense claims last year too, including £388 for a TomTom Sat nav for his car-not the best of timing.  Becta has been named in yet another report – this time a government-sponsored one – as an education and training agency that should be merged or abolished to rationalise services and save millions of pounds in public spending .The report Towards Ambition 2020: skills, jobs, growth” by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) pulls no punches.

Its authors believe there are at least 30 too many Government-funded bodies. And with each having its own different rules and requirements, they have made the UK training system too complex and cluttered. The solution put forward includes the merger into one body of all quality improvement agencies that have overlapping responsibilities “including Becta, the Learning and Skills Improvement Service, Standards Verification UK and the non-SSC elements of Lifelong Learning UK”. The report says this should be followed immediately by a 50 per cent cut in their collective budgets and a progressive transfer of “the remaining quality improvement and workforce development funding to providers within three years to create sector accountability and better value for money”.

With a couple of think tanks also identifying Becta as prime target for culling, its future  looks anything but assured.  In the meantime, as funding cuts loom on the horizon there will be much talk of where cuts  to ICT programmes will fall , and rationalizations occur. Schools should use this opportunity to have a long hard look at whether they can afford the burgeoning costs of keeping their systems up to date. Some will have moratoriums on new purchases. But a pause might be beneficial. Too many have come to view ICT as an end in itself rather than as  a useful tool to supplement and complement good classroom teaching and in some  cases costs are out of control . A time for reflection and some cost benefit analysis is surely called for.