4 Reasons that the ICT Programme of Study “had” to go

The fate of the ICT Programme of Study could have been predicted accurately long before Judge Gove donned his black cap and passed the death sentence. After several years of what might be justly described as a “war of attrition”, the weight of the “evidence”, such as it is, made such an outcome unavoidable.

ICT RIPThis article is not, to continue the analogy, meant to be the beginning of an appeal process – although there is a Government consultation on the subject which could, in theory, lead to a reversal of the decision to disapply the ICT Programme of Study  – but an attempt to at least set the record straight with a few facts. If people wish to say the current ICT Programme of Study is not fit for purpose, that’s up to them, but my contention is that the arguments should be based on what the Programme of Study actually contains. As far as I can see, the reasons that the ICT PoS needed to go are as follows.

Pupils are required to learn Word and Excel

Actually, they’re not. Apart from the fact that these are proprietary names, pupils are not required to learn word processing and spreadsheets. Don’t take my word for it. Look in the Key Stage 3 ICT Programme of Study, and you’ll see that the only places the terms “word processing” and “spreadsheets” appear is in the Explanatory Notes – which are not statutory.

Interestingly, the Press Association, which obviously is concerned with what might be called one of the “creative” occupations, insists that would-be journalists need to know how to use spreadsheets, because they are expected to be able to interpret data and figures. I wrote about this in The Future Of Journalism.

I also have this vague recollection that the reason a lot of teachers emphasise office software skills in their lessons is that 25 or 30 years ago people from commerce and industry were complaining that school-leavers couldn’t use a word processor or a spreadsheet. Does anyone else remember that, or is my memory playing tricks?

I also think Ofsted have a lot of responsibility here. When I was an Ofsted inspector I was told to look for evidence of the use of ICT in other subjects, and obviously the only “evidence” would be print-outs of illustrations or word-processed essays. If the presentation looked good we were encouraged to rate ICT more highly. I was never instructed to ask the kids or their teachers about programming. Hardly surprising then that for years and years every Ofsted survey of ICT has said something to the effect that word-processing and presentation skills are taught well whilst programming skills are ignored.

Programming is not included in the ICT PoS

Hmm. The term “sequence of instructions” is used, which sounds a lot like programming to me.

What is quite appalling, in my opinion, is that the Key Stage 3 Programme of Study is just ten pages long, and easily findable on the web, yet researchers, academics, people from industry and even people from education have said it contains things it doesn’t, and that it doesn’t contain things it does. I haven’t made any of my facts up, and they’re not a matter of interpretation, as anyone can verify simply by reading that ten page document.

ICT lessons are boring

Well, a lot of ICT lessons are boring, which is why I wrote the seminal, best-selling, almost Pulitzer Prize-winning work entitled “Go on, Bore ‘Em: How to make ICT lessons excruciatingly dull”. But at least that was based on evidence and a fair amount of observation, unlike speakers, including so-called academics, who come out with statements like “The ICT curriculum needs to be changed because my 12 year old daughter tells me it’s boring.”

There are also lots of ICT lessons that are not boring – and they don’t all rely on computer programming to make them interesting.

Because people in industry say it’s not fit for purpose

See, for example, Eric Schmidt’s speech for the MacTaggart Lecture in 2011, page 8, which lots of people raved about enthusiastically. As far as I can tell, the industry view is that all pupils should be learning how to program computers and create games, for which reason they need to study computer science. Even if you thought that was a worthy goal or even a sensible one, surely you’d also need to consider issues like pupils’ mathematical ability? Not to mention the fact that the best games rely on psychology, ie understanding how people “work”, and brilliant graphics – skills that, to my knowledge, are not taught in computer science courses.

I thought Peter Twining, of the Vital programme, said something rather interesting in its latest newsletter:

I have to admit some admiration for the Education Secretary on this occasion as he has managed to pull off a very adept political manoeuvre in my view. In one fell swoop he responded to the growing clamour for the government to improve the teaching of ICT (let's not get tied up in the terminology debate just yet) and shifted the responsibility for improving ICT teaching AND the risk of failure to the very people who were clamouring for change. The question now is whether they are willing and able to work together to bring about the changes they argued for.

I’ve always thought that people who have bright ideas about what other people are doing wrong should take their jackets off, roll up their sleeves, and contribute to the work instead of carping from the sidelines. However, I happen to think it’s a mistake, in principle, to hand over to business and industry responsibility for what happens in schools. I’m all in favour of partnerships, but of equal partners, and I earnestly believe that those of us working in education, especially in or with schools, should display more self-confidence and assertiveness regarding our own expertise.

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