From education to employment

ICT in the new National Curriculum for schools in England

Seb Schmoller, Vice-Chair of the Governing Body of The Sheffield College

The National Curriculum for both primary and secondary schools is currently undergoing a major review – launched by Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, in January. This begs a key question: What place will learning technology have in the new order?

Gove has made it clear that he will reach out to all who have ideas and – more to the point – evidence of what works; and the expert panel that Gove has appointed (Tim Oates Director of Research at Cambridge Assessment, Andrew Pollard who has led the £43m Teaching and Learning Research Programme since its inception in 2000, Dylan Wiliam who is one of the UK’s foremost authorities on formative assessment, and Mary James from the University of Cambridge) has weight and credibility. That is one reason why the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) has responded to the call for evidence with a submission drawn in part from our experience in further and higher education.

One thing is clear: when it overhauls the National Curriculum for schools in England, the Government should give active encouragement to the judicious use of ICT to support all subjects. This must involve radical reform to ensure that subject content is preserved and extended around the latest technologies.

In our submission, we stress that prime consideration has to be given to technology if the curriculum is to reflect changes in society and to equip young people for the modern world and for further study. The National Curriculum must take account of the way that ICT can enhance the work of teachers, making learning more productive, more adaptive, more social, more stretching, more flexible and more inclusive.

We draw on a wide range of evidence, including from the Technology Enhanced Learning Research Programme (TEL), part of the ten-year, £43m Teaching and Learning Research Programme, which has signposted a series of reforms to improve learning through more effective use of ICT. The director of the programme, Professor Richard Noss, who contributed to the ALT submission, makes the point strongly: “The National Curriculum review is an opportunity to ensure that research into Technology-Enhanced Learning can make an impact on what children learn and how they learn it. The demands of our educational system simply cannot be met unless the latest findings of research in the field are exploited”.

So too, Professor John Cook, Chair of the ALT Research Committee, which prepared the ALT response, talks of the primacy of technology in the modern world. “The pervasive use of ICT is a prerequisite of the future knowledge society. This is not to abandon essential core bodies of knowledge, understanding and skills that a national curriculum obviously needs. Rather, it is to encourage the Government to acknowledge the fundamental importance of ICT as a “power for good” in the delivery of an overhauled national curriculum, and as a vehicle to support the learning of analytical, systems, and abstract thinking.”

The ALT response emphasises the skills and aptitudes pupils need to acquire for work, for further and higher education, and generally for participation in society, making the point that technology can make teaching and learning more flexible, so that study no longer has to have such an exclusive focus on the classroom or laboratory. In our submission, we make a serries of points that will be familiar to many in FE.

For example: “To be effective in the changing environment requires that the designers of the National Curriculum understand the implications of the technologies that are driving changes in society, and from which education is not immune. One way to think about these changes is in terms of customisation, interaction, and control:

  • Customisation, which refers to providing people with the knowledge they want when they want it and to supporting and guiding them as they learn.


  • Interaction, which refers to the ability of computers to give learners immediate feedback and to engage learners through simulation in accomplishing realistic tasks.


  • Control, which refers to putting learners in charge of their learning, so they feel ownership and can direct their learning where their interests take them.”

And, of course, there is a message to FE colleges generally during the passage of this major review. Are you doing all you can to help foster these developments in your feeder schools, to ensure that new arrivals at 14, 16, 18 and beyond are equipped for the broad flexible curriculum you have to offer?

Seb Schmoller is chief executive of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT), an independent membership charity whose mission is to ensure that use of learning technology is effective and efficient, informed by research and practice, and grounded in an understanding of the underlying technologies and their capabilities, and the situations into which they are placed.

Dylan Wiliam’s “Assessment, learning and technology: prospects at the periphery of control”, a keynote speech at the 2007 ALT conference will be of deep interest to many readers of FE News and can be accessed in the following formats:
Slides and video of the talk, captured as an Elluminate Live! session [~75 MB];
Text transcript [75 kB PDF];
Slides [400 kB PDF];
MP3 recording [12 MB].

Alongside ALT’s response to the Review of the National Curriculum, readers may be interested in those from NAACE (a broadly equivalent body to ALT with a focus on the schools sector) and from Intellect (the membership body for the UK’s technology industry). The ALT and Intellect responses have considerable similarities.

Read other FE News articles by Seb Schmoller:

Conditions for successful innovation – a baker’s dozen checklist

The problem with Balkanisation

Making sense of a new year for technology in learning

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