BETT – Mr Gove’s Speech

It was interesting to finally get to an opening keynote at BETT and it turns out to be Mr Gove, Secretary of State for Education. Having read a few newspaper articles over breakfast most of us knew the basics of what the speech was going to say, but we all know and appreciate that, short of publishing the whole speech in a newspaper, there will always be some element of selective editing … and some important bits can be missed.

I did video the whole speech and will probably do some selective clips in a later post to highlight certain points but the key things (for me) can be drawn out of the full text which is available on the DfE website, which also has a copy of the video.

Over the last few months we have seen a bit of softening from Mr Gove on some parts of technology and ICT. The initial lack of any comment or ideas on technology were disconcerting for many, and the rawness of the demise of Becta, coupled with the scaling back of LA involvement, had hit a nerve with many. Whatever the good reasons for such a rapid change, it was detrimentally viewed due to so many other issues it was causing. The political flags waved on all sides and some tended to forget a key fact … lack of information and unsure direction was having a detrimental effect on schools who were delaying adopting good use of technology often because they were waiting for the next hoop to jump through.

Well, the core of the speech helped solve some of that. Some of the hoops are going. The Programme of Study is going under consultation with a view to being scrapped by September 2012. No hanging around waiting for alternatives to be formulated, discussed, dissected, tested, implemented and reviewed … but a quick change to let schools get on with doing what they know best. There is still a requirement to teach ICT, but no prescription about what / how.

And for the schools who still need help and support? There are plenty of folk who can help with this, ranging NAACE to fellow schools, commercial suppliers through to consultants, and a number of special interest groups. Comments from others at the speech ranged from “About time, we have been giving examples of where it could be better for ages” through to “Oh yes, another chance for people to profit at the expense of schools!”

Of course, it is worth saying that some of what Michael Gove was saying raises even more questions. The repeated bashing on about the ICT curriculum being poorly taught to bored children seems to a little away from demonstrations I saw at the show, from what I saw at the TeachMeet, with what I see in local schools. I am not saying there are not times when it is boring and mundane, and is merely hoop jumping for tick box curricula … we all know that some courses and work can be done that way, but it doesn’t mean that it is *all* done that way … and the knocking of ICT by some to promote other agendas (including Computer Sciences) seems to have been jumped on by our political masters. Of course, we can argue that this would not be done without evidence and cause, but I worry about the good being thrown out with the bad. At least now, after the speech, I can hopefully say that those schools who are still doing good stuff with ICT will continue to do so.

But Computing … that is the next big thing. Lots of reports abound about how we are missing the skills for this and the various groups working on dealing with this are coming from different positions. Ian Livingstone spoke at the recent Microsoft Partners in Learning event about the role of computing and creativity (linked in with the games and creative industries), with STEM ambassadors stressing the link with science … and naturally you will come across many IT Professionals who will push computing / computer science with a greater understanding on the use and management of computers.

I am not saying that any of these are wrong or any is more right than others, but it does come across at times as a bit fractious and people are grabbing for control … sometimes losing some of the benefits of joined up work. Recent discussions on the Computing at Schools group have shown this too me … people annoyed at the perceptions about others possibly charging for access to a robust curriculum, in spite of this being something that Mr Gove was clearly promoting … buying in resources, expertise and structure …

And so we get back to the core of the Speech. Mr Gove says that Computing is important … because lots of notable people and some important reports say so. No direction will be given on exactly how this will turn out but references to work from BCS (actually from CAS, which BCS are helping to co-ordinate, but supported by Microsoft, Google and others), mention of NAACE and talk about commercial firms providing knowledge and expertise.

Nothing on Open Source, other than an oblique reference in a section heading … no real mention of what it means and even possibly mis-representing how open source products can be collaborated on with developmental forks and code being rolled back into a single project … in fact the opposite of what he says about things being in a single document. Nothing explicitly about examples of collaborative sharing. In fact … you could say that this opportunity to mention the Big Society seems to have been missed as well …

So where does this leave us? Or rather where does it leave IT Professionals working in schools?

If computing is going to have a larger role in schools then we have to make sure that schools have ready methods of allowing computer studies / computing / coding to take place. There have been a number of comments to me that teachers in some schools (thankfully a small number but still over 100 in the last 2 years) have experienced problems with their IT Support staff blocking changes. Yet I know of many schools where teachers and children code on a regular basis. When asked about this at the NAACE conference last year I had to explain that there is no standard way of saying to schools, “this is how you do it” … because there is no standard for IT facilities in schools … not even in those with managed services under BSF.

And after the speech we know that there will be a number of different ways of enabling the different options for computing to take place in schools … in fact it is an important part of the speech … no central prescription … schools choose what they think is best. So the only way it will work is if IT Support staff and companies become even more flexible. It means ensuring that you are actively talking with other staff in school now about what they are planning, it is all about instead of saying ‘no’ to something tying to explain what the issues are, what compromises can be made and making people aware of the legal requirements which you have to comply with no matter how important the educational needs are. It is about talking to other schools in the same position. It is about taking part in the planning of the curriculum as well.

One comment that has stuck with me, from Miles Berry (Senior Vice Chair of NAACE), was that IT Professionals in schools are in a pretty unique position to work with teaching staff. Their wide experience of technical expertise, planning, scripting and understanding of UI almost makes them perfect to help develop what happens with computing in schools …

So I look forward to the next 12 months and what it brings to IT Professionals in schools and the impact of Mr Gove’s speech. hopefully it also brings more professional recognition as well as fostering closer working between them and teaching staff.

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