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The Leading Role

As schools emerge from a period of change, leaders need to focus on strategies that exploit technology for the benefit of learners, teachers, schools and the wider community.

Over the past 18 months, we have seen the demise of central direction and guidance around ICT at a national level, the disappearance of direct and indirect funding, troubled times in the market for some key players and, in some areas, the loss of support from local authorities.

These changes could have caused schools to put ICT on the back burner, to consider its issues too complex and simply not prioritise funds to maintain or extend its use. Fortunately, this has not happened and I the main schools remain positive about the potential of technology albeit wanting to ensure a return on investment.

It is reassuring to see schools recognising the real value of technology to improve learning, improve efficiency and extend their reach to parents and the wider community. Schools want to bridge the gap between the level and type of access to technology learners have in school and the experiences they have out of school, and they want staff and parents to have the necessary tools to maximise learner opportunities.

The conundrum is how to exploit technology when schools feel cast adrift from clarity, advice, support and help. Over the past six months, I have spent time in a number of schools and local authorities, meeting teachers and support staff from a range of schools, settings and circumstances. While welcoming increased freedoms around ICT – were there really any restrictions? – many colleagues are concerned about what they perceive to be a lack of direction and coherence around education and technology.

Many schools, irrespective of their status with ICT, have indicated they are rethinking their approach. Schools that are confident that their ICT is well established, well resourced and well supported want to be sure they have the right technical and pedagogical strategies in place.

Those where technology is stable, but not leading edge, express concerns about advice and consistency, and they, too, want to ensure that their leadership plans and strategies lead to continuing development and improvement. Those who know their provision and use of technology needs attention are mostly concerned about the lack of support and independent advice they are receiving and, therefore, the risks if they get things wrong.

In all these scenarios, regardless of the level of ICT confidence and provision, there are challenges emerging for our school leaders. They range from issues of direction and resourcing to operational day-to-day decision making.

Direction

Questions here include whether schools can develop a clear view of if, how and where technology should be deployed and how strategies and plans can be developed that work for learners and staff.

From the point of view of learners, is technology being exploited within schools’ curriculum offerings and does implemented technology really help to deliver outstanding learning and teaching? If we take a view of what learners will experience in three, five and seven years, are we equipping them with the right learning and technology mix? Similarly, are we doing enough with technology to bring learning experiences within and beyond school closer together and engaging the community?

In terms of technology, do we recognise that the technology we have now may be dated and do we understand current and emerging technologies and their relevance for learners and staff? Are we using everything we have to hand, ensuring fair access and planning the right changes at the right times? And do we really know how much technology is costing, is it offering best value and are we using technology to improve efficiency?

Turning to safety, how do we help learners handle technology safely and are we serious about protecting information? Is our focus on data determined by what others want, or is it at the heart of intelligence about how we support our learners?

Critical attention

It is easy to produce lists and bullet points, but there are compelling arguments that technology transforms learning, engagement and efficiency, meaning it deserves critical and careful attention. Young people need to be equipped with knowledge, skills, understanding and competence in the use of technology. The education workforce deserves the technology that befits a respected profession and it should be confident and competent in exploiting technology to support learners. Schools need effective, efficient and economically viable technology to support the workforce, learners and those beyond the school.

Having witnessed the reduction in support, funding and focus for ICT, help for school leaders is more important now than ever before and we must be careful not to lose the gains already made from technology and the potential it has to offer. Organisations across the education sector need to work closely with leaders in schools to help them take a professional, balanced and informed approach to making the most of technology. It is critically important that school leaders take time to reflect, understand key ICT issues and discuss with each other approaches that may work before developing their own strategies.

Many years after its demise, I still hear colleagues in schools speaking fondly of the SLICT programme, of how it opened eyes and made connections, how it focused on impact and not technology, and how it set schools off on the ICT journey. I now hear they are at the crossroads. The time has come for another leadership focus on ICT.

This article was first published in ICT for Education magazine in November 2011.

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Independent Education and Technology Associates Limited is a company registered in England and Wales. Company registration number 07441632.

Registered Office: e-Innovation Centre, University of Wolverhampton, Telford Campus, Priorslee,Telford, TF2 9FT

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