Saturday, November 5, 2011

Radio Times Logic

I don't normally do short blog posts but couldn't tweet this in 140 characters and it's something that is bugging me.

Spot the difference competition:-

Fact - older people are more likely to buy the Radio Times

Fact - Older people are more likely to die

Self evident fact - The Radio Times kills people

From the TES this week quoting OFSTED:-

Fact - 'Some schools have outstanding or good teaching'

Fact - 'Many of these schools have good or outstanding behaviour'

Self evident fact 'Therefore good teaching leads to good behaviour'

Quote from my 11 year old daughter:-

'If you behave you get exciting lessons, if you don't behave you get boring lessons'.

I'm working at what could be described as a challenging school. We failed OFSTED last year and were given notice to improve. OFSTED are due any day now. If we fail this inspection it's special measures. 

I moved to my current school 12 months ago to take up the post of ICT Subject Leader. Prior to this job I was half way through the AST process. I tried loads of new and engaging stuff in the classroom and thought I had it sussed. At my current school I've had 12 months of trying to engage students and found myself adapting my teaching to manage behaviour as the primary focus. I'm gradually trying to get back to the teaching I was delivering at my last school but it has been a massive struggle. Real life fact - you cannot deliver exciting, engaging lessons if student behaviour is poor. You close down lessons to minimise opportunities for disruption. Out of the window goes group work and interactive learning. In comes strictly controlled tasks and very directed teaching. I hated it but it was the only way to survive.

I am sick and tired of being told it's teachers' fault if students don't behave - we haven't prepared lessons well enough, entertained them sufficiently or jumped through enough hoops. I plan all my lessons, mark all the work promptly, give feedback as constructively as I can, constantly research and update my skills but if a student decides not to engage or to kick off there is little I can do about it other than follow my school's behaviour policy. 

Briefing this week from SLT re final OFSTED prep:-

'Remember it's not about how well you teach, it's about about how well students learn'

Final quote from my daughter:-

'So your whole career is on the line because of how children behave? God you are in trouble!'

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Just Like That

I've had quite a good start to the term. True we have an OFSTED inspection due imminently and everyone is a little on edge but overall the students seem much more settled and motivated and I've been enjoying my teaching. I've stuck around for a second year which seems to be helping and our behaviour for learning policy is also starting to have an impact. 

Then an email that I almost deleted without reading has turned everything upsidedown again. The email was from the Edexcel ICT subject advisor which I subscribe to for BTEC updates. The email in question concerned DiDA, a course I've not taught for several years.   As I was glancing through it make sure there were no references to BTEC I came across this paragraph:-

As you know, DiDA qualifications are 100% internally assessed. This means that in their present form they will cease to be counted in performance tables from 2014. You will need to bear this in mind when deciding which ICT qualifications to offer in Key Stage 4 from 2012 onwards. If you teach DiDA over 3 years you need to be aware that your current Year 9 pupils’ results will not contribute to your school's league table results when they reach the end of Year 11 in 2014.

Now while we do not teach DiDA we do teach OCR Nationals in year 9 and 10 (with no core ICT in year 11). OCR Nationals are 100% internally assessed in the same way that DiDA is. I knew that the current specification was being replaced at the end of the school year to fit with the new government requirements but the final accreditation date for the current specification was summer 2014 and I had no reason to think that the results would not still count in the league tables. The new specification is not yet available and is for first teaching in September 2012 so all year 9 have started on the current specification. Despite my personal views on the OCR Nationals course I have built the course up to the students stressing that they are working on GCSE level coursework and that they would get their first GCSE by the end of year 10. They have responded well and are working hard and producing work of a good quality. Suddenly, just like that, the rug appears to have been pulled from under us.

One of the driving reasons for the introduction of the ICT OCR Nationals as a core subject at KS4 at our school was to improve our 5 A*- C results. We are under notice to improve, to a large extent, because of our current 41% 5 A*-C GCSE results. A qualification not contributing to these headline figures would be hard pushed to justify it's curriculum time. Added to which, what message is sent out to employers / colleges if the course is not a 'proper' GCSE. OK the students would still get a qualification but what would it be worth?

Obviously the first step was to find out whether OCR Nationals were affected in the same way as DiDA. So I checked the DoE website and the OCR Nationals website - nothing mentioned on either. So I contacted fellow ICT HoDs and tweeted out to my PLN. General feedback was no I must be wrong, surely the qualification would still count or we would have heard about it. People seemed pretty confident but I was having trouble identifying a definitive source for this confidence. I contacted my OCR Nationals moderator who passed by query up the line. The response was as follows:-

'My understanding is that the Government, cannot change the
rules once the qualification has been accredited and this will only
come into effect after 2014, however, I do not know for sure and this
is not something that we should be giving advice on, this must be left
to OCR.  Please suggest to your team member that he/she directs the
Centre to contact OCR directly to find out the position this way no
wires get crossed.'

However as a friend pointed out:-

It’s true they can ‘t change the rules regarding GCSE equivalence points for already accredited qualifications BUT they CAN change which qualifications they will or won’t use in league tables at any time.

So we phoned OCR directly to find out. Only it turns out they don't know either and may not know for sure until January. However it was not sounding hopeful. Our supplementary question about which units are likely to stay the same under the new specification could not be answered either. We are promised a call back in the next few days but are left in limbo. Are we teaching a course which will have little or no value, either for the school, or for the students themselves?

So I am left weighing up the options with little hard information to go on. Carrying on with a course whose results will not count in the league tables is not feasible for a school in our position. I have only 1 hour a week for two years so am well short of the 180 hours required to deliver a traditional GCSE.   Short courses and other 1/2 GCSEs such as Functional Skills will no longer count in the tables either so they are not an option. So I seem to have only two options:-

  1. Try and guess which units under the current specification will be largely unchanged under the new specification and switch from teaching unit 1 (which is the core unit and will have to be externally assessed) to a unit which could be entered for the new specification. My choice here would be the website unit (although it could end up as a controlled assessment unit). Then register the cohort for the new specification next year and do the externally assessed unit in year 10. However if I guess wrong I will not have time to get the students through the course as we do not have year 11 to fall back on.
  2. Scrap core ICT and revert year 9 back to KS3. The school is looking for more core curriculum time for English and early discussions indicate I could trade core time for an additional options block offering Computing GCSE and a level 1 ICT course. This together with my two existing BTEC groups would offer a fully differentiated ICT options choice and allow the majority of students to gain an ICT qualification suited to their needs. However this would mean telling the students that their hard work so far had been largely wasted and that they would not after all be working towards a GCSE in year 9. It would also leave a large hole in my year 9 SOW.
To give me a breathing space to try and decide the best way forward I have decided to switch all students to working on the OCR Nationals website unit. If I had a KS3 year 9 I would be teaching website design, it may count towards the new specification OCR Nationals and for any student choosing the  BTEC course as an option it would not take much work to convert it to the BTEC website unit. 

However as curriculum planning and options choices are well underway I do not have more than a few weeks to make a decision. Whether I have any firm information to help me make the decision by then is very much in doubt.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Reviewing Year 8

Having spent yesterday looking at year 7 I next needed to review the year 8 curriculum. Again it had been written piecemeal last year and I needed to get a handle on the big picture. I'd also run the same topics for year 7 and 8 for part of the year. There were several reasons for this. From a pragmatic point of view it cut down the amount of resources I had to write. It was also less new material for non-specialists to get to grips with. Finally I needed to make sure that year 8 did not lose out on covering topics such as Scratch programming and Rafi-ki. However this means that I have a lot more work to do with year 8 then year 7. I was also very aware that we had not done any data handling in year 8 last year and therefore had only covered the sequencing criteria of AF2. However I had covered more of the impact of IT on society criteria from AF1 and gone into more depth on the internet research criteria for AF3.

Once again I started by mapping out the different topics. There were six, each lasting approximately a term:-

  • Web-sleuth ( research/ reliability / bias )
  • Rafi-ki - online communication
  • Presenting info - tied in with producing a leaflet for Bristol zoo which the students had visited that term.
  • Scratch programming
  • Impact of IT - social media / digital divide
  • Web creation - google apps / research project
This mapped out as follows:-

The topics in red are those that the students have already covered in year 7. When mapped against the APP criteria it showed clearly the main gap was the AF2 data handling section:-

I've decided to start year 8 this year with the Impact of IT topic and to update it to include a lesson on the role of social media during the recent riots. As part of this I'm going to get students to produce a presentation arguing for or against increased regulation / control of social media. I'm going to use this ppt which I found on Nick Jackson's Use of IT SOW on #ictcurric:-

Death by PowerPoint
View more presentations from Alexei Kapterev

And also this one from the same source:-

How to make effective presentation
I'll follow it with a beefed up Web Sleuth unit and then web design which I'm going to revamp and make more of a web campaigning unit rather than have students create a website on a subject of their choice (this can move to an extended homework project). 

Students have had a grounding in programming via Scratch in year 7 so it's time to delve deeper using this Stanford University site:-

We will then move onto using Python via this site:-

By having this after Christmas I will have more time to provide CPD to non specialist teachers and also ensure that we have Python installed on the curriculum computers.

So the curriculum is shaping up as follows:-

I've got data handling down as the fifth topic but at the moment it's there because I feel it ought to be rather than because I want to do it. More thought required on what that's going to be. I'm going to finish the year with a Google Sketch-up project based on the SOW by Mark Clarkson, again from #ictcurric.

Finally I came across this video last night on @theheadsoffice's blog. Got me wondering what would happen if we allowed students, say a lesson a month, to work on whatever they want to. Would we get learning or just playing on games? Might experiment and find out.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Reviewing Year 7

This is a thinking aloud post following on from the previous post. My ethos in designing the KS3 curriculum is to get the students engaged and challenged and to get away from a MS office training mentality. At the same time I have to cover some of the basics of modelling, data handling etc and the use of MS Office applications which will support the students across the rest of the curriculum. My aim is to incorporate web 2.0 applications as appropriate to support learning and to push the boundaries re computing as opposed to ICT by introducing programming and impact of IT topics. I don't really follow the national curriculum but I do try to cover the ICT APP levels as we have a statutory duty to report levels and I also feel APP gives a good structure around which to build a curriculum.

This is my SOW for year 7 (changing quite a bit at the moment)

Year 7

I started by reviewing the current year 7 SOW for ICT. The SOW had been written piecemeal last year and I needed to have a look at the big picture and see what had worked / not worked and where the gaps were. I had 6 topics which were broadly a half term each:-

Getting Started - logging on, networks, e-safety, presenting info e.g. e-safety poster, Wordle, editing images
Rafi-ki - online learning community - online communicating, home page design
Presenting Info - house-style and target audience - Time magazine front page, leaflet for Zoo
Scratch Game programming
Digital storytelling - Storybird, interactive ppt, image editing using Fireworks, stop-go animation
Dream holidays - google apps, spreadsheet modelling, glogster, publisher leaflet

These topics mapped out like this:-

I ringed the times I used MS Office applications in orange and other applications in green.

Mapping the topics against APP levels gave me this coverage

Overall I'd covered all level 3 and 4 APP criteria. For level 5 I hadn't covered 'Identifying benefits and limitations of using ICT both inside and outside school'. For level 6 I hadn't covered 'Exploring the impacts of of the use of ICT in work, leisure and home' or 'Devising a data handling solution to test hypotheses that use technology to reduce input error'. I hadn't covered level 7 or 8 at all. In general students had only one opportunity to meet AF2 criteria whereas they had multiple opportunities to meet most of AF1 and AF3. The presenting information and digital storytelling topics didn't really cover any criteria that hadn't already been covered by other topics. In the case of the presenting information this was a bit of a filler topic, which, if I'm honest, was recycling old material while I was concentrating on KS4 resources. Digital storytelling was a fun topic using some of the applications I'd come across online such as Storybird and Pixlr. Storybird had gone down particularly well and had been picked up by the English department and incorporated into their SOWs. 

At the end of the summer term I had conducted a student voice google form to get feedback on what students had enjoyed / not enjoyed, a self assessment on how confident they felt about the different topics and what else they wanted to find out about. From this it was clear that the Dream Holidays topic had been particularly well received (although as it was the last topic it may have been that it was the only one some students could remember). Storybird and Scratch also got the thumbs up and to a lesser extent Google Apps and Rafi-ki. However for Dream Holidays several students mentioned enjoying creating a PowerPoint of their dream holiday which was not part of the SOW and raises questions re the consistency of delivery. On the negative side lots of students disliked Scratch and / or Dream holidays with the feedback for Scratch in particular being that it was too hard. I need to review the differentiation for the Scratch SOW and also possibly need to look at the CPD needs of some of the non-specialist teachers. In terms of what students wanted to learn more about creating websites and more on games programming came top of the list along with Sketch-up and video editing (I'm ignoring those who wanted to do more PowerPoints).  

I feel the strongest elements of the current year 7 curriculum are the Scratch and Dream Holidays topics which just need a little tweeking. The initial Getting started topic needs reviewing. It needs to cover the new VLE and it does not have any internet researching included. I would also like to including blogging and maybe give an overall theme. I'm going to look at some of Nick Jackson's (@largerama) CSI Skoolies SOW from #ictcurric to cover internet research. I would also like to give an overall theme to this SOW. Digital Storytelling needs to move to be run at the same time as the English department's storytelling SOW and I need to work with English to ensure that we are dovetailing the resources. I'm going to drop the Presenting Information topic as I don't think it's adding much. Rafi-Ki is the difficult decision. I've used the site for the last 3 years and really like it. However it has cost £750 per annum and I've struggled to get other departments to use it. It now has a new site which I've not fully got to grips with. The basic functionality is now free but the communication tools cost £495 per annum. I have been given agreement for funding for this year but it will take a strong case for next year given financial constraints. I need to weigh up whether it is worth the money given the alternative online communcation tools available. My current thinking is to scale down how much we do in class and use Rafi-ki more for extended homework projects.

2 areas I definitely need to address are homework and assessment. Homework has been very hit and miss over the last year and I feel it is a lost opportunity to encourage independent learning. I liked this post by Pete Bell:-

and would like to incorporate some of the ideas from it. I also want to build extended tasks around Bloom's Taxonomy to give a range of different activities. This from James Greenwood (@jpgreenwood) is great:-

I'm planning on making the first extended homework the impact of IT on day to day life. This would start at the knowledge level by collecting data on how often and for how long the student used IT in a week. This could then be extended into an analysis on how this usage differed from how their parents / grandparents spent their time and an evaluation of the impact of IT in wider society. (While I'm thinking about it I'm going to create some Wordle posters based on the key words for each level). 

Assessment is the second area I need to work on. My school is focusing more and more on the progression data for KS3. This gives me several issues. We start OCR Nationals in year 9. As this does not cover much in the way of APP criteria, the end of year 8 levels are what tends to be used for end of KS3 reporting. Progression is based on the first levels reported in year 7. This is in November when we have covered very little other than the basics and e-safety. Additionally the level are assessed by non specialists who up to now have had very little guidance. I'm giving a lot of thought to a levelling test taken by all year 7 soon after they arrive to try and get a more accurate first level which can be used as a reliable baseline. I also need to develop a more robust tracking and feedback system.

I'm working on getting Google Apps for Edu sorted out so that the students don't have to set up individual accounts which was a pain last year (particularly as we don't have student email accounts). I also want to do some work with English and Geography using QR codes based on this blog post:-

Finally I want to get the students blogging and get the school taking part in quad-blogging. 

Right - a fair bit to be getting on with - now I need to have a look at year 8. 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Firing up the work brain

Got back from my holiday in Cornwall yesterday and the new term is looming. Time to crank up the work brain again and finish off that very over-optimistic To Do list I compiled back in July. I need to make sure I've got everything possible sorted as it's going to be a very challenging term. The school was given notice to improve last October and one of the main targets was to improve our A*-C including English and Maths. The target was 50% - our results came in at 41% - hardly any change from last year so it looks like the writing is on the wall re Special Measures. The fact that a massive amount of work has been done in the last year and the results hinged on less than 20 students cuts no ice.

That said, the only thing I have control over is the department I manage. We have made real progress in the last 12 months. If I'm playing the numbers game Year 11 results have improved from 74% to 98% for 1 GCSE equivalent and from 14% to 38% for 2 GCSE equivalent. However this is OCR Nationals options groups and students had 5 hours a fortnight for 2 years. Practically all should have achieved the 2 GCSE. Unfortunately when I started 12 months ago very little of the course had been completed in year 10 and we have had to cram most of the course into one year. A similar clear-up had to be undertaken with the year 10 core ICT groups who do not have ICT in year 11. So far 75% of the cohort have passed - not bad seeing as we have have had only around 35 hours to cover the whole course.

I've had less success in trying to find a replacement for the OCR Nationals. I've researched thoroughly and discussed endlessly and thought deeply  and blogged repeatedly and in the end I'm doing nowt this year. I can't find a KS4 course which meets the needs of my core ICT groups and given that the government have still not come up with any concrete decisions in response to the Wolf report there seems little point in compromising and spending time and energy developing a course which may need to be scrapped in twelve months time. I thoroughly dislike OCR Nationals and desperately want to see the back of it but for the next year at least stability and regrouping is more important than a knee jerk lurch to another unsuitable course. I found I couldn't overcome my embarrassment at the thought of delivering ECDL training and other qualifications I have considered would require a massive amount of work to make them into meaningful and engaging courses. So for now I've tidied up my new spec resources and am concentrating on ensuring that students have as meaningful a course as possible and are achieving the best they can within the constraints we have.

Things are brighter with the BTEC level 2 course which I implemented as the option course. The new year 10 course is oversubscribed, despite students having experienced a year of OCR Nationals and I have been able to implement both the Designing Computer Games and Computer Systems units which have gone down well. I've spent quite a bit of time over the holiday finishing writing several units so that students have a choice of units and can work more independently.

KS3 is what I need to spend some time on in this last week of the holiday. I've had to completely rewrite the curriculum over the last year as most of the stuff being delivered was still based on the old strategy lessons and was totally focused on MS Office. Given everything else going on over the last year I've been writing it piecemeal and for some of the topics running the same lessons for both year 7 and year 8. With OCR Nationals starting in year 9 it was my last chance to teach year 8 some interesting stuff such as Scratch programming. Also the majority of teachers for ICT in KS3 are non-specialists and I didn't want to introduce too many new things at once. I've written google sites for year 7 and year 8 but I now need to go back and map out the SOWs against the APP levels and get the big picture - what is missing and what didn't work? Also the duplicated stuff for year 8 needs to be replaced.  

On top of all this is the increasing debate over the ICT curriculum. I've been involved in #ictcurric and the related moodle and google sites resource banks for a while and there has been much debate on twitter using the #ictcurric hashtag. This week Google's Eric Schmidt has raised the profile of the debate further. In his  MacTaggart lecture he said he had been 'flabbergasted' to learn that computer science was not taught as standard in UK schools'

and stated:-

"Your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software, but gives no insight into how it's made. That is just throwing away your great computing heritage,"

This has been picked up in this Guardian article today:-

Many blogs are being written looking at what can be done about the current state of affairs, these being two that have floated across my twitter stream in the past hour or so:-

But what does this translate into in a school like mine which is struggling to stay out of special measures and is desperate for the results that a course like OCR Nationals can deliver? A school that teaches KS3 ICT as a cross-curricular SOW with RS and PHSE, using non-specialist teachers? A school so under pressure from OFSTED that it felt unable to release me for the training required to run Apps for Good as an extra-curricular activity? A school that has yet to implement student email accounts? How do you implement the changes required, given such a background?

So far, step by step has been the answer. I've introduced game programming via Scratch in year 7 and 8 and the Game design unit in BTEC. I've introduced more impact of ICT topics such as one on social media:-

I have also introduced the BTEC Computer Systems unit. Budgetary constraints (ironically from having to pay for printing all the screen prints for OCR Nationals ) means that I unlikely to be able to fund the hardware necessary for the BTEC  Installing Computer Hardware unit that I'd hoped to run this year (unless some of my scrounging/begging efforts pay off). 

Going forward I'd like to run the BTEC software development units but my programming skills are very rusty - I was a programmer in the early / mid 90s but it's years since I programmed in anger. I've got my fingers crossed that I can brush my programming skills by getting onto this pilot:-

This link has also given me much to explore re introducing more programming into the curriculum:-

I already have Alice and Kodu installed on the currciulum desktops and just need some time to get to grips with the applications myself. However, given the staffing of KS3 ICT I think some of this is going to have to be extra curricular which will reduce the number of students I'm going to be able to reach. 

I have to get rid of OCR Nationals next year but am still no nearer to finding a replacement. I'd also like to introduce GCSE Computing but this would probably be at the expense of losing one of my BTEC groups.

So next step is to sit down with some flip chart paper and lots of coloured marker pens and start to map out what I'm aiming for next and how to get there. Hopefully by the end of the week I'll be able to blog about what I've come up with. Any ideas or suggestions gratefully received.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Why I'm Striking

I usually use this blog to reflect on my teaching practice and document my progress as I strive to become a better teacher. However tonight on the eve of tomorrow's strike I feel I need to explain why I feel so strongly about the issues involved that I am striking for only the second time in my life. 

First a little background. I'm 47, a widow and a single parent. I took my degree in Computer Science and Manufacturing as a mature student ( obtained a 2.1 if Mr Gove is interested ) and worked for HSBC for 13 years as variously an analyst programmer, process manager and project manager before deciding to retrain as a teacher in 1995. My reasons for doing were hopelessly idealistic - I wanted a job which made a difference and gave me a an opportunity to pass on my lifelong love of learning. Thanks to the additional bursary of the (now scrapped) Fast Track teacher training scheme I was in the fortunate position of being able to afford a sizeable pay cut in order to put this idealism in to practice.

During my time at HSBC I managed teams of over 90 people and developed IT systems which have been rolled out across the country. I was eligible for annual bonuses of nearly 40% of my annual salary and I still have the non contributory final salary pension which was part of the recruitment package when I was first employed ( since closed to new recruits ). I worked hard, was successful  and regularly got high achiever ratings for my performance reviews ( resulting in higher bonuses ). I sometimes had to work late and occasionally at weekends when there was an impending deadline but I never had to work as hard or for as many hours as I now find myself doing week-in, week-out as Subject Leader for ICT. I try to keep Friday nights and Saturdays free ( although at times of pressure this slips ) but other than that I am working every evening until at least 10pm and most of Sunday. At least half of most holidays I am also working. It's a punishing schedule and not one I could envisage continuing with until I'm 66.

Part of the reason for the long hours is that I'm passionate about my subject and keen to be involved with national collaborative projects such as the #ictcurric resource bank. However a large proportion of my time is spent marking coursework ( I have 7 100% coursework classes in KS4 alone ), writing reports, producing resources and planning lessons. ICT is a fast moving subject and I need to continually update my subject knowledge. I've only been teaching 5 years but in that time I've taught 7 different ICT courses at KS4 alone. And don't get me started on the ever changing whims of central government, the changes in goalpost and the jumping through hoops that we are continually subjected to.

Despite all this I love my job and would not wish to leave the teaching profession. For better or worse this is what I signed up for and I still derive great job satisfaction from seeing students I have taught succeed. Only last night I had a former student contact me via Facebook to tell me that he had obtained a merit in his BTEC level 3 course. However I feel that the current government has no respect whatsoever for teachers and is treating us with utter contempt. We are subjected to constant sniping from the education secretary who seems to see no value in any any form of education which does not mirror his own public school experience.

The pensions issue is the final straw. Teachers had their pensions reviewed in 2006 and agreement was reached then to make them affordable and sustainable. Now the government has turned round and wants us to pay more (up from 6.8% to 9.8% of annual salary), get less and wait longer. I'm likely to be paying an extra £80 a month ( when my salary is frozen for 2 years ) and lose £1800 per year in pension if I retire at 60. Can you imagine buying a personal pension and having the insurance company deciding to impose such change of contract terms? Teaching takes energy in the classroom and a massive workload outside the classroom - I cannot envisage being able to carry on at the current rate when I'm 66. Presumably this is what the government is banking on with many teachers being forced to take early retirement and therefore reduce their pensions still further. 

When you apply for a job you take into account the whole benefits package. When I worked for HSBC it was a non-contributory final salary pension, annual performance related bonus and a good salary. Even though I have now left they are honouring the pension terms they offered me at the interview. In general though the usual agreement in the private sector is larger salaries but lower pensions. In contrast the public sector generally offers lower salaries but has a more generous pension scheme - it's a trade off - now we are being asked to take the lower salaries and a lower pension. Put simply it's not fair.

As a final note - tomorrow's Independent front page:-

So tomorrow I will be on the picket line and on the protest march. I do not feel I have any choice. 

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Hobson's Choice?

I've not written any posts for months. Too many challenges at school with OFSTED breathing down our necks and too many other calls on my time. Also, to be honest, at times I've been struggling to remain optimistic both about my own practice and the state of ICT in education in general. However the fog is starting to clear a little and it's time to start thinking about planning for next year. By far the biggest decision I have to make is what to do about the core ICT course for KS4. 

Currently we are delivering OCR Nationals as core ICT for all of year 9 and 10 for one hour a week and BTEC IT for Practitioners as an option for year 10 and 11. As I've previously written I find OCR Nationals to be all that is wrong with ICT qualifications - students following a ticklist, taking screen shot after screen shot to prove what  they already know. It was depressing to hear from a fellow ICT HoD that her school was having to resubmit their unit 1, in part,  because the students didn't have a screen shot of having opened a file ( to join the screen shots of finding a file and selecting a file to open ). Similarly we have been picked up in the past for not having a screen shot of before the student has created a folder or showing what happens when you put the wrong password into a password protected document. What possible educational value does this serve? 

So I've been looking for alternatives most of the year. The first thing I had to find out was whether I had a choice to make. With the eBacc not including ICT and the future of vocational qualifications in the balance post Wolf Report there are tales on the internet of schools dropping core ICT at KS4. Given some of the difficulties we've experienced this year with reluctant recruits I wouldn't be totally heartbroken if SLT went for this option. However I received assurances that core ICT would remain and that I was free to decide what course to deliver.

So over to me. Got to admit an early contender is do nowt ( as a former project manager I was always told that you should give this option serious consideration ). When I started as subject leader in September every single course was new to me - OCR Nationals ( old and new spec ), AS Edexcel Applied and at my instigation the new spec for BTEC ICT Practitioners. I had to write all these courses plus a total rewrite of year 7 and 8. I'm tired and I don't want to write anymore courses this year. We need a year of stability without more changes. Added to which I have a cast iron excuse - there has been no decision by the government re vocational courses - what's the point of writing another course that might have to be scrapped once the government finally get their act together?

However in my heart I know that this is a truly poor course that adds little to students knowledge and understanding of ICT. And it is unlikely to survive post Wolf report. OCR have already said that the last registration in it's current form is August next year. Can I in all conscientiousness subject another year group to this course? And on a purely practical note we currently have 17 level 2 classes on 100% coursework courses being delivered and marked by just two teachers - the marking load is crippling.

So what to put in it's place? I've blogged previously about trying to combine Functional skills and the Diploma linked level 2 project. My concern with this is putting the whole year group through a 2 hour exam. Even if there is a level 1 and 2 option the logistics of putting over 160 students through an exam that requires access to ICT suites with no more than 15 students to a room in a one week window is challenging to say the least. Also the course would need to be very carefully written to ensure a meaningful course. 

I really like BTEC First IT Practitioners which is what we deliver as an option at KS4. You can make it a really techie course by choosing the computer systems and installing hardware options. It is also flexible enough to go for a more creative option with animation and computer game design. For a couple of my students it's also a business course by choosing units such as the Doing business online unit. However it is not suitable for core ICT. In the time available ( one hour a week for 2 years ) we could only offer the compulsory first unit - Communicating in the IT industry and one optional unit which would not give a very rounded course. Also unless we also ran the level 1 option it would not be suitable for the whole cohort. Given that we teach mixed ability groups this could be difficult to manage.

I've had a look at BTEC IT Users which is a possible contender. At level 2 is has a 1/2 GCSE equivalent Award ( 70-80 GLH ), a 1 GCSE equivalent Certificate ( 120-130 GLH ) and a 3 GCSE equivalent Diploma ( 280-285 GLH ). There are also foundation and level 1 options available. There are 3 fundamental units which cover Functional skills so could put higher ability students in for the exam. However these are not compulsory and there are a wide range of units to choose from, including Using Collaborative Technologies and a Specialist Software unit which allows you to use any software to meet the criteria ( Scratch or other game design software for example ). According to the flyer it has been developed in consultation with employers to address skills gaps. My thinking if we go for this option is an initial unit taught to all students and then using a google site and the VLE to offer range of units that students can work more independently on. This would allow the more able students to achieve the higher awards and allow them to tailor the course to their own interests. However there seems to be little in the way of resources available from Edexcel ( few model assignments and the only text book available is foundation and level 1 ) and it would mean a lot of work in developing the assignments. It's also 100% coursework so no let up in our marking load. I emailed Edexcel a couple of weeks ago querying whether a student could be entered for both the BTEC IT User and BTEC Practitioner course and have not received a response so far. As I've no plans to change our option course this is a crucial piece of information. 

The BCS Digital Cre8tor course is a course I have a soft spot for. It has modules on animation, photography, videoing, audio and moving image language as well as units on creating DVDs, multimedia presentations and sharing online. All the resources are available online and students are able to work independently to complete the projects. It has 1/2, 1 and 2 GCSE options and is an engaging course which also lends itself well to enrichment day and after school activities. However it covers none of the MS Office / traditional ICT skills, a good thing in some ways but it is preparing the students sufficiently for using ICT in other subjects and in the world of work? It would also cause some logistical challenges re practical work.

The most controversial option I'm considering is the EDCL also from BCS. Prior to becoming a teacher I worked for HSBC for 13 years and the bank sponsored all employees to take the course. It is well known and well regarded by employers and covers all the basic skills required for ( non IT specialist ) employment. The Complete Learning Solution package is £55 per student ( OCR Nationals is £42.50 ) and includes online resources, unlimited access to diagnostic tests and exam fees for each of the 7 units ( resits £5 ). Exams are online and on demand and there is no coursework hence reducing the workload for the department. The first 3 units are at level 1 and result in a certificate of ECDL Essentials. These units cover basic housekeeping / file management ( a weakness of many students ), using the internet and emails and safety and security. Certification at this stage means that even with the whole cohort taking the course they should all come out with something ( OCR Nationals minimum grade is a Pass at level 2 ). The next 4 units are at level 2 and cover Word Processing, Spreadsheets, Presentations and Improving Productivity with IT. My thinking if we went for this option is to use the diagnostics to identify gaps in knowledge and concentrate on teaching students what they do not know rather than getting them to prove what they already know ( a key OFSTED criticism of ICT teaching ). With the online exams on demand more able students could fast track through the course leaving time for more engaging activities. Ideally this could be Digital Cre8tor ( though cost may well be a factor here as DC would be an additional £39 per student ). So why is it a controversial option? Possibly because there is no figleaf of higher order thinking skills or 'engaging' projects to work on. It's a skills training course pure and simple and as ICT teachers we don't like to see ourselves as simply MS Office application trainers. If you've read any of my previous posts you will know that it is antithesis of everything I'm trying to achieve as a teacher. And yet this year trying to cram a cohort of reluctant year 10 students through the 1 GCSE OCR Nationals in one hour a week ( with very little work having been completed in year 9 ) I am often not even achieving the training of MS applications objective. Many of my students probably could not complete the same task independently a week later - we have simply produced the screen shots required to obtain the qualification. Maybe ECDL is the more honest qualification - it does what it says on the can and doesn't pretend to be anything more. 

I've other options still to research. Nick Jackson has suggested MS Office Specialist Certification or Adobe certification. GCSEs I've discounted as a whole cohort core option but maybe I need to look again. Trouble is I'm running out of time and may end up with the default 'do nowt' option of another year of OCR Nationals. 

Any comments or suggestions much welcomed.