ISC: Getting the right information

The Independent Schools Council’s ICT Strategy Conference focused on three areas schools need to consider when implementing ICT

The ISBA Ovum Survey published in March this year found that 42.3 per cent of ISC schools do not have a strategic plan for ICT – the ISC ICT Strategy Conference hosted at Berkhamsted School could not have been more timely. The conference theme, ‘Big Money? Big Mistakes? Big Difference?’, sought to explore questions about the impact of technology on teaching and learning, to share best practice, to debate the likely future direction for education in a world of technological change and to discuss the cost effectiveness of the investment.

Ian Yorston, the director of digital strategy at Radley College, in the opening address emphasised the importance of coding as it will underlie all we will do in the future: “In the world of Downton Abbey, people (‘upstairs’) got things done by giving clear instructions, which were carried out by their staff. In future, we will get things done by giving instructions to computers and robots in the form of code.” Echoing Douglas Rushkoff’s book, ‘Programme or be Programmed’, Yorston cautioned that we are likely to be heading for a divided world of the very well paid who control the code doing interesting jobs and the rest who will perform menial tasks that can’t be done by robots.

The conference explored three areas of ICT strategy: the leadership strand looked at ‘first steps in ICT strategy’, discussing the fundamentals of putting together a digital strategy; a second session outlined how schools should develop their strategy to enable the introduction of one-to-one tablet devices; and a third posed ‘10 questions to ask your network manager’ (a session based on the popular ISC ICT strategy paper). The teaching and learning strand shared best practice and innovation in each of the key stages, while the technical strand looked at the use of Microsoft apps on iPads and cloud computing.

The leadership panel discussed a range of lessons learned. Tricia Kelleher, the principal of the Stephen Perse Foundation, cautioned against rolling out one-to-one iPads without knowing why you are doing it and thinking through all of the issues: “Unless wi-fi and teacher CPD programmes are in place, one-to-one iPads are not going to make a difference to teaching and learning.” She went on to emphasise the importance of having a clear vision for ICT and of having the team who can deliver it. Her greatest ICT success was “the change in the mindset of what can be achieved if technology is used properly”.

Bruno Delacave, bursar of Abingdon School, warned not to underestimate how much work goes into changing a school management information system (MIS) and to ensure that any additional costs incurred from meeting difficulties are built into the contract from the outset and thus don’t fall on the school. Perhaps reflecting both a bursar’s perspective and the difference between education and industry, Bruno commented: “I want to know that every pound spent leads to an extra A*… Colleagues have informed me that’s not how it works.”

Mark Steed, principal of Berkhamsted School, advised schools installing wi-fi, not just to consider the area of coverage but also to take into account issues of wi-fi density.

Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, from the Institute of Cognitive​​​Neuroscience at UCL, explored the impact of technology on the developing brain. Drawing on research on infants (Kuhl 2004), Professor Blakemore outlined the evidence that the ‘social brain’ has a significant part to play in education and that “for some forms of learning,​​​learning from a real-life teacher is likely to be more efficient than learning from video or audio”. Discussing the impact of social media, she said: “We are pretty sure that adolescent brain development –including gaming and social media – is influenced by the environment, but we don’t know how (yet) (Mills, 2014).”

The conference was closed by Barnaby Lenon, the chairman of ISC. 

The ISC ICT Strategy Conference Report took place at Berkhamsted School on Wed 5 November W:

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