Is Gove washing his hands of ICT?

Michael Gove

This blog was originally published by The Guardian on 13th January 2012.

Like many ICT teachers across the country I waited with some trepidation to hear Michael Gove’s speech. Many questions were running through my head. What will he say? What will he do? Am I qualified to continue teaching the subject I love? Will I still have a job? The press had put thousands of ICT teachers into a panic. They had labelled ICT teaching as boring. We were told that we were failing our students. This upset many of us and painted us in a bad light to students, parents and schools. There were some seriously angry tweets the morning before Michael Gove’s announcement at Wednesdays BETT conference. But did I jump the gun?

Before Gove’s speech, he had spoken on how the current ICT curriculum in state schools was simply not good enough. We were told that we should drop ICT and all students should be studying computer science and learning to code. Whilst I agree that more computer science and coding should be taught, I don’t see it as something that should take precedence over the more creative aspects of ICT. Surely there is room for both in the curriculum?

This is why Gove’s speech took me by surprise.

His speech started well, it was well researched and informative. Then he hit us with it. As of September state schools will no longer have to stick to the ICT curriculum. This was great news. The current curriculum is tired, restricting and out of date. Finally teachers can be free to innovate and move forward. Then I read between the lines. Michael Gove and the government are simply washing their hands of ICT. By taking away control and government influence he is simply saying “get on with it”.

This opinion is echoed by Mike Matthews (@mikematthewsCDN) who is a Head of ICT at a state school on the south coast in his blog.

“There are some positives in this speech and some good will come out of it, it always does. However, I would say that Michael Gove, under the pretence of setting ICT free, has in fact, simply cut the subject loose. Abandoning it to fend for itself against private industry and interest who only see pound signs not exam results”.

The majority of us have been “getting on with it” for years. Independent and state schools are full of innovative and inspiring teachers that continue to push the boundaries and have done so for a long time. I rewrite or amend schemes of work at the beginning of every academic year. At my school we are teaching students to blog, design apps for mobile devices in groups and creating screen mock-ups. We are teaching students how smart phones, tablets and many more technologies work. We are using students to help teach HTML coding to their peers. This is just a small selection of what we deliver to our students. Schools across the country are doing the same, it just seems to go unrecognised.

As much as ICT teachers appreciate their newfound “freedom” it does come with some problems. Problems I thought Gove was going to address. Those innovative teachers will continue to innovate; those uninspiring teachers will continue to deliver substandard lessons. In fact there is now even less motivation for them to improve their teaching. Why? Because it will not longer be monitored, technically they will no longer have to meet the minimum requirements of the national curriculum.

In my opinion this will also encourage schools to use even more non-specialist teachers. Some non-specialist are fantastic, they are enthusiastic and keen to learn. However, some find having to teach ICT as a bore and therefore deliver uninspiring lessons. Why spend the money to pay for specialist to deliver a subject that no one will be accountable for?

The most worrying problem is that not all students will learn the same thing. Some students, in some schools will have an outstanding, varied, exciting digital education. Some unfortunately will not.

In conclusion we should thank Gove for letting teachers free of the constraints of the national curriculum. However, we would all benefit from reading between the lines.

Let’s continue being the best that we can be and work together to share the resources that we create in order to ensure that all students are prepared for the future.