Leighton Andrews, Minister for Education and Skills
Information Communication Technology is a valuable tool which can enable people to learn effectively. Teachers and schools have already embraced technology and invested in ways to use this in the classroom. However, examples of excellence are patchy and it is important that Welsh teachers and schools learn from those best examples. The report, How the best performing school systems come out on top (McKinsey, 2007) noted that “…some of the best systems have found ways to enable teachers to learn from each other. In a number of the top systems… teachers work together, plan their lessons together… and help each other improve… This enables teachers to develop continuously.”
Networks of teachers, such as #addcym, are already developing collaborative ways of working. Why should all teachers have to learn by trial and error when there are proven teaching practices already successfully working with technology? I place high stock in our teachers and I’m convinced that they would benefit from sharing what they know with others. This would cover teaching practice and theory, as well as classroom content. Teachers who develop content need a means of sharing it with other professionals, so that they can adapt and use it in their own classrooms. Technology offers us ample opportunity to do that.
The Welsh Labour manifesto included a commitment to put in place the building blocks of a virtual learning environment for Wales. Children, parents, learners and teachers increasingly expect to be able to find their teaching and organisational materials online. Since 2002, Wales has had a website which has given us a function along those lines, namely NGfL Cymru. Meanwhile, the OU has been pioneering on-line learning materials. Web-based material proliferates on Youtube and through the iTunes University. The ways that people use the internet have changed. It is therefore time to look again at what Wales needs to develop digital learning in the classroom.
Our focus should be on software and the sharing of intellectual property across the system, whether that is for classroom teaching, cross-institutional collaboration in the 14-19 arena, aids to transition between primary and secondary, or CPD. With Welsh Government capital budgets under pressure as a result of decisions taken by the UK government, I am not interested in adding additional ICT capital cost to what we already have. However, I am interested in alternative ways of spending our money that deliver better results. I have seen innovative ICT purchasing by some local authorities and creative hardware investments in others. For example, if a PC tablet in every classroom proves, and I emphasise the word proves, to be more effective than a suite of computers, then I would expect schools to take note of that when planning future ICT investments.
I am mindful of issues around digital inclusion. That is not just whether children and teachers are confident with technology, but also whether they can access it. Any move towards a digital classroom must encourage people to move online, but not exclude them from the best tools to teach and learn.
These are the issues I wish to explore. It is my belief that these questions are best answered by practitioners who can say confidently what works in the classroom, challenged where appropriate by ICT professionals at the cutting edge, not least in leading high-tech companies, who can look at the full range of opportunities in front of us.
I am therefore announcing a task and finish group to review the use of digital classroom teaching. The scope of the review will be to consider:
- How high quality, accessible digital classroom content could be developed;
- How the NGfL is used, and whether there is a more effective way to deliver the aims of NGfL;
- Whether and how a cloud-based content delivery system (e.g. iTunes university model) would work alongside a VLE for Wales;
- How high-quality English and Welsh language content could be generated;
- How to develop Welsh Intellectual Property which can be used to deliver digital teaching content;
- How teachers might develop the digital teaching skills to use ICT to transform schools.
I have asked Janet Hayward, headteacher at Cadoxton Primary School, to chair this group. Janet was headteacher at Barry Island Primary School when it won the Becta national ICT Excellence award in 2010.
The remaining members of the group represent a range of sector experts, and I’m delighted to announce that the following people have signed up to undertake this important task:
- Bruce Steele – Managing Director, Hyperspace Ltd
- Sioned Wyn Roberts – Freelance Television Producer
- Julie Barton – Member, Ofcom Advisory Committee for Wales
- Andrew Green – Librarian, National Library of Wales
- Dr Sangeet Bhullar – Executive Director, WISEKIDS
- Stuart Ball – Project Manager, Microsoft Partners in Learning
- Alan Morgans – Director, Tinopolis
- Ty Golding – Deputy Head, Barry Island Primary School
- Dylan Jones – Head, Ysgol Gyfun Bro Morgannwg, Barry
I want Janet and the group to concentrate on what digital materials work in the classroom and how we can get to a situation where all Welsh schools are able to deliver digitally. The outcome in mind is improved performance. As I said in my 'Teaching Makes a Difference’ speech in February, performance is our driver. All other matters will be subservient to that.
I expect the group to report its findings to me by 31st January 2012 and I look forward to hearing its recommendations.