Norfolk one step ahead for IT teaching
Information and communications technology – or ICT as it is better known – at schools has been branded 'a mess' by education secretary Michael Gove.
He claims it is boring and does not challenge pupils enough or tap into their interests effectively.
Radical changes, he says, need to be made quickly.
But when it comes to Norfolk, it is the minister who appears to be being a little slow – because teachers in this county are already one step ahead of him. They are already fully aware of the importance of computing and computer science – a discipline focusing more on programming than simply use – for pupils.
And a growing number are busy arming themselves with the knowledge they need to make their lessons better suited to a world where youngsters can operate iPhones before they can talk and see building websites as a way to relax in the evenings.
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One group aiming to help in that mission is the Norfolk Computing at Schools (CAS) Hub.
Neil Collins, a Wymondham High School governor and co-ordinator of the group, had worked in the computing industry for more than 20 years. He said: 'ICT teachers in Norfolk are very keen to do more interesting things in lessons – but they don't necessarily know about programming computers themselves.'
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Norfolk CAS is currently working with around 20 teachers keen to improve their skills.
They meet twice a term at the University of East Anglia, with a night class on Visual Basic Express – programming software from Microsoft – also taking place at Thorpe St Andrew High School.
Claire Johnson, who together with Said Inal is the subject leader for ICT at the school, said the session was already over-subscribed.
She added: 'It is really good to be able to get together with local ICT teachers on a regular basis to learn new skills and to share and build on current good practice.'
Organisers hope to eventually have someone from every high school in Norfolk involved with the UEA meetings.
Each teacher is giving up their own free time to take part. But that does not mean they agree with the education secretary's comments.
Ms Johnson said the hard work being done to learn new skills as part of the Norfolk CAS was not the same as 'improving ICT'.
'That implies ICT lessons need improving,' she said. 'On the contrary – we think that there has always been widespread good practice in delivering ICT, locally and nationally, despite Michael Gove's recent comments.
'Norfolk teachers joined the local Computing at School group because they are committed to keeping abreast of current thinking and developments in subject teaching.'
In fact, Mr Gove's comments last month were likely to have struck many Norfolk teachers as pretty unfair.
Jill Duman, ICT advisor for Norfolk County Council, said: 'I think he managed to annoy a lot of teachers who do fantastic work with ICT by branding all ICT as boring.'
She said learning the skills required for everyday use of computers was incredibly important and still needed to play a big role in schools.
'It will only ever be a small percentage who go on to do computer programming in their jobs but almost every body will need some skills linked to using computers,' she said.
But the ICT adviser admitted even that area could do with a bit of an update in some schools – something Norfolk teachers were once again already on to.
Miss Duman said the county council had been rolling out a set of online Google Apps for Education which allowed youngsters to develop more advanced ICT skills.
She said: 'They are all available online so as long as they're online, a pupil can access them. The key thing is the ability to collaborate. A Google document, which is a bit like a Word document, allows up to 50 people to contribute at one time on one document. They are quite cutting edge.'
Other apps allow students to experiment with building their own website.
Miss Duman said there was also good work being done in Norfolk primary schools, introducing younger pupils to computer programming.
But she said often the only opportunity to take that to a more advanced level at the moment – for example GCSEs in computer science or computing – was through teachers giving up their own time to learn more skills. The ICT advisor said that was something Mr Gove had failed to recognise.
'One subject that hasn't been addressed is how teachers are going to be skilled up,' she said. 'There is no lack of people realising it is not necessarily being done – but there is also a massive potential skills gap.'
Groups such as Norfolk CAS and others organised by Miss Duman are working hard to try to close that gap themselves.
The Norfolk Computing at School Hub meets twice per term at the UEA. The next meeting is on Wednesday at 4.30pm. Anyone interested in going along can register or find more details at www.groupspaces.com/ncas.