Since September, I have been living & working on the beautiful island of St Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean. St Helena is roughly 4,500 miles from the UK, 3,000 miles from South Africa, and as such has a valid claim to the title of ‘remotest island in the world’. Geographically isolated though it is, the island is home to around 4,000 extraordinary people – 600 of whom are in full-time education, either at the high school or one of the three primary schools. My title is Advisory Teacher of ICT, with the following remit:
- Teaching ICT & Enterprise across key stages 3 to 5
- Leading the ICT department
- One day’s outreach per week in the primary schools to advise on ICT curriculum
- Training & mentoring for trainee teachers
- Teaching & learning coaching for colleagues
Anyone who knows me will understand when reading that list just how much of a ball I’m having here, but this is just context for the crux of this blog post. ICT on St Helena is focused entirely on computer skills, with little focus beyond that on application, evaluation (or any other higher-order thinking skills) until students reach A level. The primary school curriculum is outdated, isolates ICT rather than encouraging cross-curricular links, and doesn’t make assessing progress easy. There are no ICT specialists in the primary schools, but those teaching ICT are keen to improve the subject.
At Key Stage 3, we follow the traditional model of a unit on spreadsheets, followed by one on databases, followed by another on Scratch, yet APP has been introduced as a method of assessment. This is a nigh on impossible fit when entire terms can be spent in one Assessment Focus, and has led to some peculiar blips on tracking spreadsheets, where in term 1 a student achieved a level 4b, then in term 2 the student achieved a level 3a – he happened to be very comfortable with the desktop publishing unit in term 1, but struggled with the database unit in term 2. As a result, I’m going to be leading a curriculum review from Key Stage 1 right the way through to introducing new qualifications at GCSE & A level, where currently the only options are IGCSE ICT and AQA A level ICT – both tough options for students with low literacy, as many have. So at the moment I have a blank sheet of paper and a mountain of background reading, including the fine work of people like Brian Sharland & Chris Leach.
Having sat down with the department we decided we like APP, and will likely use that format as our rubric for assessment, but I like others in the #ictcurric movement feel the three existing strands don’t encourage creation of content, rather than mere consumption. Fundamentals of any curriculum are likely to be literacy and critical thinking, and these are desperately needed here on St Helena, as the students though exceptionally quick-witted struggle to work through a problem independently, or apply their own knowledge beyond the confines of that lesson in order to progress.
I recently enjoyed reading Computing At School’s computing curriculum, and fully intend to apply some of the concepts in the primary schools, eventually working up through to KS3. Anything we develop here hasto be a curriculum that fits for St Helena – dropping in the National Curriculum and expecting it to work has been tried before, and I feel confident in saying part of the failure was a complete lack of ownership on the part of the teachers then asked to deliver it. I hope through a series of INSET sessions with the high school and primary staff to develop our own assessment rubric – tentatively with the four strands being:
Heavy emphasis will be placed on critical thinking throughout, not just from level 4 up (being wary of bias in strand 1, considering target audience in strand 3, etc). Projects will be designed around a central theme with enough breadth to cover 3 strands on average, with each project having a selection of level descriptors included in the teaching materials to allow for easy assessment & negating the need for baseline testing in year 7 as we will feel far more confident in levels given at primary school.
Transition should not be an exercise that straddles years 6 & 7, but should start in year 1 with sights set firmly on year 11.
Stay tuned for more updates!