The first task was to look at the ‘Historical and Strategic Context’ in which our work is carried out. The most interesting thing for me here was to discover the massive change that has taken place as government has changed. Whilst I was aware that the Coalition goverment was making drastic changes, I was still rather surprised by the total lack of guidance and the fact that we are now seeking this guidance from other sources. I’m still making up my mind whether the lack of central direction is a good or bad thing……what do you think?
I work for an organisation called the United Church Schools Trust, a charity which manages eleven independent schools in England. A subsidiary of this charity is the United Learning Trust, the largest sponsor of City Academies in the UK. These are defined as being “state-maintained but independently-run schools… set up with the help of outside sponsors” (Shimmon, 2010). I will focus on the provision that we make at Secondary level for this task.
The Labour government (1997-2010) was hugely committed to the provision of ICT in schools. It supported schools in three key areas: the numbers of computers in school, Internet connectivity and support issues. This support was coupled with large amounts of funding and policy documents – from central government, from BECTA (British Educational Technology Agency) and at Local Authority level. The Government’s Harnessing Technology report stated that “We want every child to achieve their full potential by ensuring that every school in England makes full use of ICT for learning and teaching,” (Department for Education and Skills, 2005, p. 41) This led to some significant advances in the years that Labour was in power, but some would argue, that it also led to wasted funding. (See Alan Day’s statement in Hitchcock, 2011).
In May 2010, England gained a new coalition government. This brought with it two key changes in direction. The Importance of Teaching, the governement’s White Paper for Schools (2010) sets out the “decisive action to free our teachers from constraint and improve their professional status and authority”. There is no mention of any policy related to e-learning on the Department for Education’s website. Indeed, Valerie Thompson, CEO of the e-Learning Foundation, speaking to the Guardian said “I think if you ask education ministers for their views on ICT policy in schools, for the most part they will tell you they don’t have one.” (Hitchcock, 2011)
The second change is related to the Spending Review brought on by the financial crisis. This led to the liquidation of BECTA (April 2011), the removal of the funding for the Harnessing Technology strategy and the cancellation of many projects under the BSF (Building Schools for the Future) banner. These are all having a significant impact on many schools.
Within the United Church Schools Trust, the commitment to ICT and E-learning remains strong. Budgets are lower, thereby imposing some constraints on spending. However, “Central Office works continually to ensure that the latest, best quality resources are in place, regularly updated and new resources and applications reviewed so that we can deliver….improved teaching and learning.” (United Learning Trust, 2011) Within this context, the organisation works independently and with key organisations (such as NAACE) and individuals, to develop strategic policy. Important areas for development at present include: the ICT mark (an accreditation for schools who have reached nationally agreed level), e-safety, training on interactive whiteboards, with a particular emphasis on interactivity, hand-held response devices, VLE development and the Digital skills curriculum for staff and pupils (Photoshop, digital audio and digital video).
In summary, the current context for our schools is that we work to develop e-learning, which we believe to be of significant benefit to learning, freed from government constraints, but without the substantial financial support and guidance provided by the previous Labour government.
Department for Education & Skills (2005). Harnessing Technology. Nottingham:
Department for Education (2010). The Importance of Teaching: The Schools White Paper. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.
Hitchcock, G. (2011, April 5). What Future for ICT in Education? Retrieved November 8, 2011, from The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/government-computing-network/2011/apr/05/it-schools-england-future
Shimmon, K. (2010, May 26). What is an Academy? . Retrieved November 15, 2011, from The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/may/26/what-is-an-academy
Trust, U. L. (2011). Principles for Principals. Oundle: United Learning Trust .