ICT in UK Schools: Contents page

1 Two key conclusions dominate our recommendations.

First, is that whether or not we are ahead of the world in our ICT in schools (likened in the main report to being in the lead after 500m of a marathon!), the state of ICT in our schools is primitive and not improving. Much of the hardware in schools is technologically behind the times. This is illustrated in the McKinsey analysis which identifies, for example, that nearly 50% of desktop computers in primary schools are over 5 years old(1). Penetration across schools is also extremely variable. Whilst over 50% of secondary schools have a pupil to computer ratio of around 1:10, there are still a number of secondary schools and over 30% of primary schools where the ratio is more like 1:30(2). The experience, skills and even attitudes of teachers vary widely(3); very little software is directly related to the curriculum(4); and the way ICT is used varies considerably(5).

Second, therefore, we believe it to be a national priority to increase the use of ICT in our schools. Complacency could cause both Government, and the schools themselves, to fail to set in hand the necessary strategic planning.

This view is based partly on results emerging on both sides of the Atlantic showing the improvement brought about by ICT on post school careers, on school learning and, indeed, on school administration as well as the evidence of the sometimes startling help that it can bring to children with severe disabilities. It is also partly based, however, on our collective best judgment and on a common-sense act of faith - analogous, the report suggests, to realising in the aftermath of its invention that electricity would be applied across all aspects of society.

Our recommendation to Central Government is that they must make the act of faith and encourage the education sector to start using technology rather than talking about it!

More specifically ...

2 First and foremost, Government must take the lead and proclaim it a priority to increase the use of ICT in schools. A Government that believes ICT is important should say so loud and clear.

This is less a matter of finding substantial extra resources (see below) and more a matter of ...

Making it plain to the main national agencies and organisations in the education service (including the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority [SCAA], the Teacher Training Agency [TTA], the Office for Standards in Education [OFSTED], examination bodies, the National Council for Educational Technology [NCET], the Scottish Council for Educational Technology [SCET], etc and also the teacher associations, governors organisations and the local authorities) that they need to co-operate in realising a strategy which is spelt out to all interested parties in a coherent way; and ...

Encouraging every school to formulate, implement and report back on its own policies on ICT across the whole school, with support from local education authorities [LEAs] and the local community in general.

3 The nature of a Government strategy

There is no "instant fix" (ie. one large scale centrally driven initiative) - and in particular hardware proposals of the sort beloved by commentators and politicians alike are not the answer for reasons described below (which is just as well because in reality they are not instantly affordable by Government!).

A realistic Government strategy for ICT will consist of mainly small and low key initiatives which, if consistently sustained, will over a 5-10 year period lead to comprehensive progress all over the UK.

Thus ...

4 The main elements of a Government strategy should be:

First, announce that addressing the issue of ICT is one their top priorities, that a Government strategy exists and a departmental minister is appointed to drive it, that the national agencies in the education service are complying with it and that every school will be encouraged to formulate, implement and report back on its own ICT policy across the whole school.

Second, formulate and launch a set of initiatives that will ensure that teachers in training and in schools have the support they need to use ICT effectively in schools.

Several measures (all within the current system) could go some way to helping teachers achieve the necessary competencies, eg:

Both initial and in-service training need to take fully into account the need for confidence and competence in the application of ICT in schools. For example, the 20 to 30 hours typically spent on ICT during initial teacher training courses at the moment is less than half the amount of time that teachers actually need to become truly proficient(6).

Ways should be found of making computers available to teachers to facilitate thelearning process. Teachers rapidly become enthusiastic once they have regular hands-on access to computers. It could also potentially reduce some of the costly training hours required(7).

An external network should be set up so that teachers can learn from each other. It would, for example, allow teachers to exchange their views and experiences relating to different teaching approaches(8).

Advisors and inspectors should receive special training, both so as to enable them to support teachers at a local and national level, and to secure a better national evaluation of schools' use of ICT. There is, as yet, no recognition in the OFSTED system for ICT proficiency(7).

A third priority for Government is to provide a major stimulus to the development of educationally relevant software. This is a lot easier said than done but is likely to involve:

Urgent attention given to ways in which Government can "seed"/stimulate greater development of software by the UK software industry. Some failures are inevitable but such an initiative is crucial to the development of packaged curriculum related software; this will in turn raise questions about the longevity of curricula, the levels of demand for packaged software from schools, etc.

The teachers' network, advocated above, should itself be a powerful stimulus to developing software. An educational Website on the Internet would not only allow teachers and others to swap ideas, but also create a "virtual marketplace" for software; a place where software could be freely available, advice could be found and the opportunity provided for teachers to adapt and contribute collectively to the development of software packages(9).

Setting up a national award scheme and/or rating system(9) to encourage the production of software in all educationally relevant categories, as well as examining other ways in which schools can be advised about software.

Finally, we suggest that bodies in receipt of Government or Lottery monies above a certain threshold that are capable of providing useful content on the Internet should be required to do so.

A fourth priority for Government is to find a way of making the cost of usage of external networks by schools easily affordable and predictable; this is a matter of negotiation between the Government and the telecommunications industry and may involve changes to the current regulatory framework. (The recent announcement from the cable industry that it will be offering special low tariffs to schools shows that there are good intentions in this vital area for ICT in schools, and it is to be hoped that the rest of the telecommunications industry will follow suit).

To give both symbolic and substantive meaning to the use of external networks...

Government should aim to give every teacher and every child over, say, nine his or her own e-mail identity.

This will be a straightforward and low cost initiative; it will, for the most part, consist of a small number of people centrally allocating, indexing and coordinating e-mail identities for every child on an ongoing basis.

It will enrich the learning process considerably by motivating children to communicate with counterparts and experts all over the world and, from a purely practical point of view, make it easier for them to do so

  • giving them their own identity will make the communication process direct (ie. a one to one, rather than a school to one, relationship) and, therefore, much more appealing
  • individual identity will make it much easier for children to gain access to the e-mail facilities within the Internet wherever and whenever they are in proximity to the right hardware
  • Finally, we do not advocate Central Government ordering large amounts of hardware for schools.

    A sudden explosion of hardware at the moment would be counter-productive in view of the current state of skills and confidence among many teachers and the lack of relevant software available.

    Much better ...

    To allow the growth in demand for hardware, both within the education system and within private homes, to go at its own momentum at a local level as Government establishes initiatives to solve the key bottle neck problems, ie. software and teacher support.

    The fact that Central Government should not be putting its hand into its pocket to make massive equipment purchases should not divert its attention from a number of other ...

    Hardware-related problems which it has a responsibility to solve.

    First and foremost Central Government needs to evolve a strategy that takes account of the huge growth of computers in the home. McKinsey analysis of industry estimates of manufacturers shipments to the domestic markets, suggests that 22% of UK households have a home computer (excluding those bought before 1989) and their extrapolations show that this figure could well rise to 44% by the year 2000/1(10).

  • On the plus side Government needs to encourage the development of imaginative policies which use external networking to ensure that the growing population of home computers complements those in the schools.

  • On the minus side Government - as its predecessors did before it on books - must address the hugely important topic of lack of access to ICT for the "have nots" (see the final paragraph under this point).
  • Second, notwithstanding our view that it is wrong for Government to make major funds available for purchases of computers, it has the responsibility for ensuring that schools, that by their nature may be relatively ICT starved, are kept up to speed (in particular smaller schools and, more widely, primary schools which have a substantially lower per capita funding compared to secondary schools (11)).

    On the issue of access raised above ...

    Access for the substantial minority of children who, by the year 2000, will not have home computers is crucial. McKinsey analysis suggests that availability of computers in homes already exceeds availability in schools(12).Government, we recommend, must encourage local authorities to use their available resources to tackle this (we set out in Hardware a number of suggestions) as in times past society tackled lack of access to reading through public libraries.

    5 On funding we have been told that an incoming Labour Government would look for no net increases in funding. It is not our job to make political judgments on trade offs between ICT and other budget heads whether within education or not. However, we do believe that this is such an important issue, both educationally and for the long term prosperity of the UK, that the level of funding allocated must be whatever it takes to get it right. Our judgment is that developing students competence in ICT is now an essential part of the nations infrastructure and, in the national interest, Central Government cannot afford not to do it.

    In the current circumstances, the good news for Government is that we do not see the need for major changes in expenditure ....

    As explained above we do not see it as desirable for Central Government to hypothecate significant expenditure on equipment.

    The initiatives we are suggesting in teacher support, software development and access are clearly capable of being implemented with budgets that are available to a Government that has a serious intent to implement an ICT strategy in UK schools eg: via funding mechanisms such as GEST. This will be supported by an already increasing willingness at local level to spend more of the total budget allocated on ICT (13). The theoretical models worked up by McKinsey demonstrate that there are realistic solutions (14).

    In addition there are other sources of funding and involvement that are consistent with the decentralised initiatives - including industry sponsorship, local fund raising initiatives, community activities ... not to mention the Lottery!

    Cross references to McKinsey:
    (1) Exhibit 8, (2) Exhibit 7, (3) Exhibit 30, (4) Exhibit 33, (5) Exhibit 10, (6) The need to train and support teachers, (7)Engaging teachers, (8) New opportunities - computer networks, (9) Improving software supply, (10) Exhibit 20, (11) Exhibit 4, (12) Exhibit 36, (13) Exhibit 4, (14) Exhibit 47-54

    © The Independent ICT in School Commission 1996/7. All rights reserved. Contents page


    Summary of our conclusions
    & recommendations