What do I think?

Yesterday, a colleague sent me an email asking “Off the top of your head, if there were three things that you’d love to say to a chief education policymaker, what would they be?”

I was on a train at the time, had 5 minutes to respond, so it’s not terribly well thought out. But I thought I’d share my thoughts, so you could add yours too:

Number One: Qualifications

The gap between what students need to do to pass exams (remember lots of facts; work with a pencil and a blank sheet of paper; work alone) and what they need to do to get a job/career (work collaboratively; demonstrate information finding/searching skills; communicate effectively in a variety of media; project manage; deal with challenge and conflict) is increasing. It is possible for ICT to be used effectively to support and assess a new style of learning, but until we start the GCSE journey so that it doesn't all end with a child, a pencil and a blank sheet of paper in May, we're stuck.
I worry about this professionally as well as personally, because in a few year's’ time, my teenager is going to be that child, sitting in an exam hall, who’s success or failure in her early career may be defined by a migraine or some other uncontrollable event on that day in May.

Number Two: Use of ICT

There’s a growing gap between many students' use of ICT and their teacher's/institution's use of ICT. We need a 'Bill of Classroom Rights' that seeks to close the gap and focuses the ICT use of students outside of learning to support ICT use in learning. Sure, YouTube can be a timewaster, but it can also be a massively valuable learning tool. Why ban it completely (would we ban books because they are the same media as comics?). By establishing the rights of students and teachers to access technology (and in the case of teachers to empower them to make professional judgements) we can help to speed up the process of closing the gap, and increasing the relevance of education to life outside (social and workplace)
This isn’t a plea for anarchy, but a way of upping the level of debate about the use of ICT in the classroom, and why it’s acceptable to remove teachers access to common, everyday ICT resources as soon as they walk into the classroom. If we’re not careful, teachers and students will just start using 3G dongles because their multi-megabyte broadband connections stop them making effective use of ICT in the classroom. Now that would be anarchy.

Number Three: ICT Funding

Turns out my number three was a little bit controversial, and the colleague said “But you can’t say that!”.

What do you think I said?

If you think that this is very ICT-centric, then I make no apology for that. I’ve spent a couple of decades working in the education ICT market, so I guessed they asked me because I had an opinion about ICT. Either that, or they asked the wrong person…

Comments (5)

  1. sprince says:

    "Sure, YouTube can be a timewaster, but it can also be a massively valuable learning tool. Why ban it completely (would we ban books because they are the same media as comics?)."

    I’m not sure about your choice of metaphor there really. Ignoring the obvious dubiety of promoting your employer’s arch enemy, you need to ask why YouTube is blocked in many schools.

    Is it a question of the iffy content or the practicalities? Youtube could make it easy to block questionable content in a similar way to its safe image search feature. Even if they did, with a 50Mbit connection to the internet our local authority can’t open up iPlayer or Youtube to schools because it would instantly be saturated from 9am-4pm by streaming video.

    If each stream is pulling down data at 0.5Mbit, that is only 100 simultaneous streams shared between 15,000+ secondary school pupils and a similar number of primary pupils (ignoring all that other web data). To cope with demand they would need orders of magnitude more bandwidth.

    Given the costs involved I can’t think of any way other than the aforementioned 3G dongles that Youtube will become widely available in our schools in the near future. I guess that’s where your Number Three comes in!

  2. Ray Fleming says:


    You raise some good points. But how about making it possible for all teachers to have access to YouTube, so that they can use it (and especially for those videos that make great plenaries). And surely if the bandwidth is supposedly there for HD video conferencing, it MUST be there for teachers to use YouTube


  3. sprince says:

    Hi Ray,

    I agree that the status quo could be improved by allowing teachers to have access to YouTube. Indeed, that was how our filtering was set up before the local council reluctantly had to block it. In our case I think a part of the problem is that when access to bandwidth-intensive websites/applications is opened up, not all schools are (how to put this?) entirely community-spirited about their use of the communal resource. N.B. This is not an argument against devolving control to schools!

    It’s clearly not a completely intractable problem, but perhaps the filtering/traffic-shaping technology available to local govt is not sufficiently advanced. If schools here could have a per-capita bandwidth allocation for streaming media that would be a start.

    As for HD video conferencing I think I can be fairly secure in saying that the demand (and subsequent bandwidth requirement) is in no danger of surpassing that of Youtube or iPlayer. In the last 6 years the schools I have worked in have always had access to video conferencing equipment, albeit not as swish as today’s gear, and to my knowledge it has *never* been touched. I believe this to be due to the inconvenience of finding a mutually suitable time for the two callers and an incompatibility with typically quite short school periods. Add to that, relatively speaking there aren’t so many interesting people/museums/etc. who offer video conferencing.

    At this year’s BETT show I enquired about the video conferencing services on offer from JANET and was told by a couple of suppliers that the minimum spec equipment would cost over £20,000 – totally unrealistic for most schools. There is always Skype of course, but sadly that is blocked too… which I think is where I came in!


  4. padraigmckenna says:

    Our Regional Broadband Consortium (EMBC) allows us to take local responsibility for filtering in school; as far as I know, it is possible to whitelist (temporarily or permanently) YouTube (or anything else) for the school.

    It isn’t currently possible for us to differentiate access for different groups of users.

  5. bobharrison says:

    Thanks Ray…spot on with the qualifications industry which not only create a massive drag on innovation but take large amounts of resources and time out of the system.

    I would also add to your list the role of OFSTED as QCA and OFSTED are two of the most powerful drivers of the system and headteachers and principals dance to their tune! The recent Ofsted inspection report on ICT is depressing  see the article on Merlin’s blog at


Skip to main content