What is good practice in ICT and Computing?

I suppose this article will ruin for good my chances of a knighthood, but I am finding it harder and harder to keep quiet on this subject. I looked up the Ofsted guidance for subject inspections, because I wanted to re-familiarise myself with their criteria for various grades pertaining to ICT. However, a message on the site informs me that “These guidance documents are currently under review and revised guidance will be available in September.”

I accept that guidance needs to be updated from time to time, and it is possible that recent changes to the National Curriculum, such as the replacement of ICT by Computing, necessitate a review. But what concerns me is the changing of what is considered to be “good practice” simply because a framework of reference has changed or, worse, that some people may have simply changed their minds.

Perhaps I am not expressing this very well, so allow me to expand on this. I have been known to take vitamin supplements when I have been feeling run down. I enjoy a healthy diet, but occasionally I have thought there’s no harm in lending a helping hand in the form of a multivitamin tablet a day for a few weeks. Well, it seems that there may be harm in doing that, according to a report I read recently. So, until I read overwhelming proof to the contrary, I have decided to stop taking such things.

Now, hopefully that will seem to you to be eminently sensible. It’s a matter of changing what I do in the light of information received based on research. It may turn out to be flawed research, but for the moment I am erring on the side of caution.

But when it comes to matters of education, what is deemed to be “good practice” can change according to fashion, or who has the loudest voice, not research.

Back to Ofsted. What is wrong with the “old” criteria? The fact that the old criteria are no longer available while they are under review, as opposed to simply having a notice on them saying “These are under review”, suggests that someone somewhere thinks there may be something wrong with them. But I downloaded the criteria when they were available. Here are the criteria for “Outstanding” leadership and management in ICT:

  • Leadership is informed by a high level of subject expertise and vision which has a clear impact on the performance and practice of members of the department and on outcomes for pupils.

  • There is a strong track record of innovation in ICT. Subject reviews, self-evaluation and improvement planning are well-informed by current best practice in ICT education. This may involve participation in partnerships with other ICT providers in a wider area.

  • Subject leadership inspires confidence and whole-hearted commitment from pupils and colleagues. There are effective strategies to delegate subject responsibilities where appropriate and to share good practice and secure high quality professional development in the subject.

  • Continuing professional development is well-targeted and thoroughly evaluated for its impact. It includes up-to-date training for teaching assistants and technical support staff.

  • ICT has a very high profile in the life of the school and is at the cutting edge of initiatives to raise pupil progress. Access to ICT equipment is outstanding, and the school is likely to have promoted the use of mobile technologies. The ICT infrastructure enables pupils and staff to have very good access to their work and to the school’s learning resources at all times, and contributes to pupils’ achievement.

  • ICT makes an excellent contribution to whole-school priorities, including consistent application of literacy and numeracy policies.

  • E-safety is a priority across all areas of the school, with all teaching and non-teaching staff receiving regular and up-to-date training. At least one staff member will have received accredited training in e-safety. Rigorous e-safety policies and procedures are in place, written in plain English, contributed to by the whole school, updated regularly and ratified by governors.

  • Apart from changing “ICT” to “Computing”, what could possibly be wrong with any of this advice? Even if points are added or taken away as a result of the review, that advice is still pretty good. I worry that something daft will replace it – although I have to say that I have always found Ofsted advice to be excellent. What I am more concerned about is a matter of principle, which goes deeper than this guidance review.

    The Department for Education states somewhere on their website that examples of good practice will be made available in due course. I suspect that means once they have figured out what good practice looks like. How will they do that? Who will tell them? All schools are thinking about what they are going to do come September 2014 when the new Computing Programme of Study kicks in. There is a fantastic amount of vibrant discussion on the Computing at Schools website. There have been good discussions within Naace and various social media websites.

    But nobody has the answer. Perhaps there isn’t one. I think a range of very different examples of good practice would be extremely useful. I think reducing the many examples of practice to a set of generic criteria for “Outstanding”, “Good” and so on would be extremely useful too.

    What I am really hoping, though, is that fashion doesn’t take over. I regarded the old Key Stage 3 Strategy as pretty dire. It contained good materials and some great ideas, but I thought it placed too much emphasis on teaching rather than learning. But the pedagogic pendulum has now swung the other way. Will the new “good practice” stipulate that schools must have a flipped classroom and “guide on the side” approach to be considered “outstanding”? Will schools be expected to get kids “coding” even when not coding would be a better use of time? Or when there is no useful purpose in doing so?

    I am reminded of a story involving Mullah Nasrudin, a Persian folk character. There are a few slightly different versions of the story, but it basically goes like this:

    Mulla Nasrudin found himself in court because, as he had admitted, he had gone from village to village saying: "The so-called wise men are ignorant, irresolute, and confused." He was charged with being a heretic.

    Nasrudin conducted his own defence.

    "Let paper and pens be brought," he demanded.

    Paper and pens were brought.

    "Give some to each of the seven judges." The paper and pens were distributed.

    "Have them separately write an answer to this question: "What is bread?"

    When this was done, the papers were given to the Clerk of the court, who read them out:

    The first said: "Bread is a food."

    The second: "It is flour and water."

    The third: "A gift of God."

    The fourth: "Baked dough."

    The fifth: "Changeable, according to how you mean 'bread.’

    The sixth: "A nutritious substance."

    The seventh: "Nobody really knows."

    “When they decide what bread is," said Nasrudin, "it will be possible for them to decide other things. For example, whether what I have said is right or wrong. Can you entrust matters of assessment and judgment to people like this? Is it not strange that they cannot agree about something which they eat each day, yet are unanimous that I am a heretic?"

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