Tech matters

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What most parents want from a school is a place where their children can learn and develop in comfort and safety, and where their own wishes are respected and catered for.

But behind the veneer of any school lie the highly charged elements of UK life. Social class, gender and race all infuse what has to be the number one priority for any parent – the quality of teaching and learning. In recent years a new element for parental purview has emerged – information and communications technology (ICT).

Michael Fullan, a globally respected Canadian expert on system change in education, has said that everything he advocates “is accelerated by good ICT. It accelerates the instructional practice; it accelerates the access to data. It accelerates the sharing of practice through digital means of what’s working and what’s not.”

So if we walk through the door of any good school we should see that in action. If only it were that simple.

Try a Google search for press coverage of Essa Academy in Bolton, near Manchester. The headlines are mostly about the technology: iPods, iPads and anything “high-tech”. There’s relatively little about the bigger story: the highly personalised curriculum that has made it one of the best performing and happiest schools in England.

If ubiquitous technology can dazzle hard-bitten journalists, how can parents handle their quest for suitable schools? Should banks of shiny screens and “iPads for every child” reassure or concern them?

Parents need to think holistically as well as keep their feet on the ground. “Inclusion” is a good watchword. Does the teaching and learning cater for their child’s needs? Is it supported by appropriate technology?

They need to find schools where teachers and other staff are comfortable with technologies used for teaching, administration and communication. They should be able to see appropriate use of a range of technologies, including mobile and handhelds, even games, across curriculum subjects. And they need to check whether good use of technology is reflected across the school and not just confined to one teacher’s innovative classroom.

Merlin John writes on learning with technology,

Questions to ask:

• Is the ICT embedded in classroom and extracurricular work?

• Is there is an “acceptable use” policy for ICT that highlights e-safety and enables learners to use their own technology where appropriate?

• Is learners’ access to ICT equitable, with the school filling the gaps?

• Is the school’s ICT, including wireless networking, mission critical? (ie lessons and work are not disrupted by downtime)

• Are students supported to develop skills for independent and creative use of ICT?

• Can they (and parents) access relevant materials on the school network/website from home?

• Is ICT used for meaningful communications with parents, including assessment feedback? (Texting is probably still the most inclusive medium.)

• Does the school use ICT to help parents support their children’s learning, and improve parents’ own skills if desired?

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