What is happening in the schools sector

There is a great deal of aspiration within this sector.


Politically there has been a sense that the Labour government has spent many years talking about significant change through technology but now has limited time to deliver it.


One must not forget the principal driver for this sector……….. the re-enforcement of ‘personalisation’: understanding each individual child’s needs so that education can be ‘bespokely’ tailored within a safe and secure environment.


Systems that join up data from children services, probation services and other agencies that engage with families are being developed. If linked up through the Unique Learner Number with details of educational attainment, then comprehensive data to support teaching and learning and Information and Guidance will be available to both the professionals within the classroom and the support staff within Connexions or the local authority. The 14-19 prospectus agenda that will attempt to link up a child’s aspirations and goals with educational opportunities using a UCAS style application system will complement these initiatives.


Within HE one often neglects the experience of individual staff and especially the students in exploiting technology to support teaching and learning. Electronic whiteboards are common within school and FE classrooms. It is not now uncommon to find schools and colleges that have installed a whiteboard in virtually every classroom. Teachers are adept through their communities to find appropriate content and innovative use of proprietary (generally Microsoft) supplied tools to engage their classes by using this technology.

Commercial content is commonly available within schools. The elearning credits system gave schools free materials. Initially a good deal for suppliers, the best are recognising that once they have to compete for future school resources they will have to raise their game with both individuality and assured interoperability. The suppliers’ trade organisation Besa, is recognising this through its renewed interest in standards and particularly ‘common cartridge’.


It was apparent from Becta’s recent Harnessing Technology conference that a child’s ability to use technology to support their education has to be recognised. Children are adept at using the internet, communications tools and social software, The challenge is not to try and institutionalise these tools but to provide facilitation mechanisms to point children in appropriate (and safe) directions that enhance both their studies and knowledge of progression opportunities. Connexions are already piloting such systems to get students to share their knowledge from work experience of employers and careers.


(Institutionalising the tools for teaching and learning? A big debate is needed).


Becta are hedging their bets with much work being performed on delivering Learning Platforms for every secondary school through the Building Schools for the Future programme alongside the recognition of the power that most children have in their mobile phones and computers to support their education.


The Diplomas for 14-19 year olds will be the first qualification that needs the Unique Learner Number. The first students will register for this qualification next September by which Minerva, the tool that aggregates the necessary achievement components from different awarding bodies will have to be ready.


So, what are we seeing from this part of our educational community: standardisation of enterprise data (XML based data models are rife…don’t forget the IT requirements to support the government’s target culture or schools); the development of SOA based solutions to facilitate user driven enterprise systems; innovative bottom up use of technology (and increasingly Web 2.0 tools) to support teaching and learning and information and guidance; online assessments for an increasing number of qualifications; online marking and quality assurance (Edexcel scanned in 11 million scripts for online marking last summer); more innovative online content and the adoption(ish) of common cartridge; pragmatic use of metadata and vocabularies for content (focussed on IPR); an increasing recognition that eportfolios are no more than the results of aggregated content (and another enterprise system)……..


Most importantly the school’s sector possesses millions of users (teachers and students) who now (and increasingly will) have the confidence and knowledge of computer based tools and systems to develop exciting new pedagogic approaches to teaching and learning.


In the introduction, I mentioned the urgency on behalf of the government for action and implementation on its personalisation agenda. Many of these IT based initiatives in support of this goal could fail. The government has not a good reputation for IT projects (and data security) but many will succeed and, fail or succeed, many will require support from the academic learning technology community.


Over to you JISC.


Clive Church, 29th November 2007





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