7 mistakes I made as an ed tech co-ordinator #3: Using a checklist
I’m a great believer in checklists. They can help you standardise a proceedure between colleagues, and are a very good way of guarding against forgetting a crucial step or component. But if the checklist is being used in the service of something that is inherently flawed, my experience suggests that it’s best to abandon it altogether.
Information and communications technology across the curriculum
One of the official requirements in England some years ago was that ICT had to be taught across the curriculum as well as or instead of a discrete subject. In one school I worked in as ICT-Co-ordinator and Head of Computing this approach was insisted upon.
As far as I know, the only times this has ever worked is in those few schools that have put in a huge amount of resources in terms of money, time and training, and even then I’m not aware of any proper objective evidence proving that it worked.
The reason is simple: teachers have their own subjects to teach, without having to teach someone else’s. It’s an attractive proposition to a government or a headteacher, of course: teaching another subject across the curriculum means that you get more bang for your buck — in theory.
Yet they’ve tried English across the curriculum, Mathematics across the curriculum, and even economic literacy across the curriculum. It just doesn’t work.
Trying to make it work
Nevertheless, I did my best to implement teaching ICT across the curriculum. I created help manuals, ran training sessions, offered to work with teachers in their classrooms.
And created a checklist.
This checklist was a grid containing all the ICT targets of the then Programme of Study. So when a teacher booked the use of a computer room I would ask her if they could let me know which of those targets she thought she would be addressing. Subsequently, I would enter the information in a master grid, where I could see immediately where the gaps were, and see what I could do to get them filled.
It sounds like a good system, and it was. The only thing wrong with it was that it didn’t encourage anyone to teach ICT across the curriculum, which is a pity because that was its main purpose. One teacher flatly refused to fill out the grid, on the grounds that it was superficial and meanlingless — and she was right, though I didn’t want to admit that to myself at the time.
The targets were covered overall, but not particularly well. In fact, I worked out, and read some corroborating evidence about it, that typically a subject teacher would teach or use ICT in their lesson at one level lower than their own subject. In other words, if the Geography teacher (say) was pitching his lesson at around what was then called Level 6, any ICT being used would have been a Level 5 or lower.
Part of the reason I went to such lengths was in case an inspector or someone wanted proof that ICT was being taught across the curriculum. As it turned out, I’ve been inspected three times in two schools and a local authority, and all I was asked was how much the technology was being used in other subjects, not whether it was being taught in them. I’ve not even been asked if it was being used well. So, in retrospect, my grid was a pointless exercise from a back-covering point of view.
Where trust comes in
In my subsequent school in the same role, I just let other teachers book the facilities as they wished. I trusted them as professionals, and although I kept a record of which subjects were using the technology, somewhere along the line I made a mental note to myself that if an inspector ever asked me if they were also teaching ICT I’d simply refer them to the head of department concerned.
In fact, the only time I ever restricted the use of the facilities was when a supply teacher continually booked her classes into a computer room to do what they liked. The room always looked like it had been used as a nuclear testing site afterwards, and after this had happened several times I asked the head of department to make sure proper work was set for the classes — but not in a computer room.
It’s awful having to enforce a system that is inherently flawed. You can’t flatly refuse to do so, because that would merely invite a disciplinary procedure. But I think a minimalist approach that will provide some useful information without creating an avalanche of work for yourself and everyone else is probably a good compromise.
And if you dare, it might be worth asking whoever is instructing you to make sure ICT is taught across the curriculum if there is any evidence that of any school having successfully achieved such a goal. If so, then what did that school do in order to ensure success, and can the same conditions be reproduced in your own school.