Integration or Transformation?

A cross-national study of information and communication technology in school education


Appendix 6.10


6.10  England background information

6.10.1 National policy

In 1999 the government established some criteria for modernising its own processes through the application of information technology (Prime Minister and Minister for the Cabinet Office, 1999). In the initial phases of a long-term project, the intention was declared to apply the benefits of information technology to government. The two main benefits of this approach were the potential integration of government services and mechanisms to make it more responsive to the needs of citizens. The strategy was quite forthcoming about the first of these benefits, and a considerable amount of detail was released on how this would be useful. For instance, policies might be integrated irrespective of the originating government department, hopefully eliminating overlaps and working at cross-purposes. Examples were given of citizens being potentially able to inform all sections of government of a change of address in a single transaction, and to access government services 24 hours a day.


The detail on how government might become more responsive was less forthcoming. A general commitment to making policy formulation more sensitive and forward-looking merely re-iterated political speeches of the previous century. Whereas service delivery was to be improved through digital signatures, web-sites and call centres, the nearest application of similar new technologies in the matter of policy formulation was a 5,000 strong People's Panel, which would be sampled to forecast public reaction to proposed changes. A contrasting perspective of what might be possible was discussed by John Nieuwenhuizen (1998): “If the superhighway fulfils the expectations of its more ardent enthusiasts, we'll see an insidious drift away from representative democracy toward some form of what's called direct or participatory democracy.”  This open government initiative joined other proposals on e-government (Cabinet Office, 2000) and e-commerce (Allan, 2000) to give a fresh approach to the way in which information technology could change society.


The evolution of IT in schools represented a microcosm of the events in a range of social policy areas that had culminated in the initiatives described above. The history of IT in the classroom went back much further, almost thirty years. IT initiatives for schools had come from more than one government department and in a succession of waves, each characterised by a fresh start, replacing previous programs almost as if they had never existed.


The Council for Educational Technology was constituted in 1967 to explore the application of computers in education. An “A” level in Computer Science was awarded in 1969, indicating the early acceptance of this subject as worthy and capable of study in school education. In 1981-83 the British Ministry of Trade and Industry sponsored the widespread introduction of computers into schools by offering a 50 percent subsidy on a limited variety of locally produced machines. This gave some concerns to the Department of Education, which belatedly initiated some plans for the training of teachers to use the new equipment, and to devise new learning strategies to accompany this. The philosophy of this first approach was described with chairman Mao Tse-Tung’s phrase, reiterated for the successor Teaching and Learning Technology Program in Higher Education: “let a thousand flowers bloom” (Turpin, 1997; Han, 1976). At the time, this seemed an appropriate strategy, because there was no clear evidence informing the nature of IT use in education. The Micro-Electronics Education Programme (MEP) established centres throughout England and Wales, with the Scottish Council for Educational Technology providing a similar program in Scotland.


As part of the on-going pressures to obtain money from the Treasury, the Department of Education commissioned the UK ImpacT study from 1989-91 (Watson, 1993). This study used a mixed methodology, with matched experimental groups in mini-studies, and subject reasoning assessments. The consolidated table of results showed only one combination where IT inhibited learning: in the subject-reasoning test for 8-10 year old pupils of Science (Johnson, 1995). In all other cases where there was a clear result, positive effects from the use of IT in the classroom were detected. This result substantiated continued government funding in the area.


The MEP was re-focused and re-organised under a succession of leaders over the following years, becoming the Micro-Electronics Education Support Unit (1986), the National Council for Educational Technology (1988), and most recently, the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta, 2000). With these re-organisations, there was a move from the experimental and early adoption phases of the innovation diffusion process to a national development and support role for information technology in the national curriculum. This was introduced as a consequence of the Educational Reform Act of 1988 (Bergen, 1996, p. 429).


Following the transition to a Labour Party Government in 1997, much of the policy in respect of computers in schools was based upon the ‘Stevenson Report’. This was named after the chairman of a commission that investigated the situation for the Party prior to the election (The Independent ICT in Schools Commission, 1997). It set out the need for radical change in the education area in respect of ICT, and the new government soon implemented many of its proposals.


This change has seen developments on three fronts:

·      Initial teacher accreditation (and related requirements for initial teacher training courses)

·      Widespread impact on the 2000 revision of the National Curriculum

·      Lottery-funded training courses for all in-service teachers.


These were spelled out in detail in Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) Circular 4/98, which had a host of annexes giving specific instructions for particular areas. Of note in the examination of these documents is the attempt to structure them to appeal to teachers, by emphasising the primacy of teaching and learning, and continually stressing the rationale for choosing ICT rather than some other methodology. This approach means that a generic analysis of the revised policy cannot be made on the surface of it, since each example is intended to be rooted in the subject matter of the pupil materials. However, there is a clear flow of generic intent from previous iterations of the policy process, and these were examined.


The launch of the National Grid for Learning (NGfL) in 1997 gave a clear indication that central government was serious about facilitating educational reform through the application of information technology (Selwyn, 1998). As Robert Girling commented “there is a clear commitment to the concept that new technology is vital for educational and, therefore, economic success” (The Advisory Unit, 1998). In the same report, it was noted that the UK was unique among G7 countries, the leading seven industrial countries, in that it defined a student’s entitlement to ICT from ages five to sixteen across the curriculum. In comparison, other countries notably lacked provision for primary school children in their policies (The Advisory Unit, 1998, p. 5). By 1998, a majority of all schools reported through a national survey that ICT had improved the quality of teaching and had improved pupils' motivation to learn (Department for Education and Employment, UK, 1998b, p. 17).


A report on progress by the Teacher Training Agency (European Schoolnet Newsdesk, 2000) showed that very few primary and special schools taught ICT as a separate subject, preferring to teach it across the curriculum, mostly in English. However, secondary schools were teaching ICT generally as a separate subject, and also using it in Business Studies and Design and Technology. Virtually all schools had an ICT coordinator, with 2 hours per week non-teaching time allowed in most primary and special schools, and 4 hours per week in secondary schools.


6.10.2 Organisation of education

Increasingly the educational governance of England can be distinguished from the rest of Great Britain. Scotland has traditionally maintained its own education system, and Wales has recently become more assertive in this respect. Both the Welsh Office and the Scottish Office have implemented many of the programs that have originated in Whitehall, with local variations.


In making a judgement about the degree of devolution of policy control for education, the legal framework around the National Curriculum (1989 and subsequent revisions) needs to be examined. Funding and daily operation of the majority of English schools remains the responsibility of Local Education Authorities (largely based upon the Counties). However, core curriculum and educational standards, enforced by the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED), are set and maintained centrally. In this respect, the English education system can be described as centralised, rather than devolved.

6.10.3 Curriculum development

The first national curriculum was introduced into England in 1989, revised in 1995, and another review was due for implementation in September 2000.


The place of IT in the UK national curriculum has undergone several transformations as it has been revised. The original 1990 version had information technology added as an extra attainment target for the subject area of design and technology (HMSO, 1990, p. 43). Students were to be taught how to:

·      communicate and handle information

·      design, develop, explore and evaluate models of real or imaginary situations

·      measure and control physical variables and movement.

In the associated program of study, pupils were asked to “develop information technology capabilities through a range of curriculum activities” (p. 51), and IT was described as a cross-curricular skill which should be taught as an integral part of most foundation subjects in primary and secondary schools. 


In the 1995 revision (Department for Education, 1995), Information Technology was separated out as a distinct subject, and pupils were given guidelines to use information technology for:

·      learning technical skills

·      communicating and handling information

·      controlling, measuring and modelling.

Once again, this was to be done in a cross-curriculum context, with opportunities to develop and apply their IT capability in the study of National Curriculum subjects.


In the review for implementation in August 2000, the Secretary of State proposed to make the changes minimal, and encourage networking, particularly through the National Grid for Learning. With respect to computers in the curriculum, the term IT was replaced by ICT, and requirements were organised within four strands across all key stages. In this revision (Qualifications and Standards Authority, 1999) there were 13 subjects:


Table 1: Subjects in the National Curriculum for England (1988-2000)

Core subjects




non-core Foundation subjects, with some age-variation in the mandatory nature of some subjects.

Design and Technology

Information and Communication Technology *



Modern foreign languages

Art and Design


Physical Education

Citizenship *


Personal, Social, and Health Education

* New subjects in 2000


ICT-based control, monitoring and measurement were moved into the Science and Technology subject programs of study, and other subject areas had specific ICT elements written into them (QCA, 1999). Information technology was identified as one of six key skills to be taught across the curriculum and, like the other key skills, was embedded into each of the other subject areas. ICT itself is described in terms of four strands, and a contextual descriptor:


Table 2: ICT in the UK 2000 National Curriculum



finding things out;

developing ideas and making things happen;

exchanging and sharing information;

reviewing, modifying and evaluating work as it progresses;

breadth of study, (which indicates the range of situations and subjects in which the knowledge skills and understanding can be studied).



ICT was also to be used to support learning in other subject areas, and this was to support the acquisition of ICT capabilities: “Pupils should be given opportunities to apply and develop their ICT capability through the use of ICT tools to support their learning in all subjects” (p. 36).


In terms of curriculum development, the UK research establishing the efficacy of information technology in education has been quite thorough. For example, the British government was stimulated to fund three investigations into the veracity of mostly American claims that Independent Learning Systems (ILS) would revolutionise learning for all children. Such systems became capable of placing a huge amount of curriculum content on a single computer fileserver and delivering it on an individualised basis to pupils logged on to multi-media workstations on the same network. Examples of the capacity of such systems suggested they could provide a half-hour lesson in English, Mathematics and Science for every day of a child’s compulsory school education, and provide those lessons in up to 5 different forms to accommodate different learning styles. Costs of installation and annual licence fees were very high, increasing the perceived need for independent verification of the claimed effectiveness.


Professor David Wood (1998) summarised the three phases of enquiry. According to the Becta board they constituted the largest independent study of ILS in the world, and used a mixed set of projects to ensure the study was not confounded by methodological bias. Early results were quite encouraging, but pupil progress was neither universal nor uniform. In his summary, Professor Wood commented: “There is considerable evidence that pupils do learn from integrated learning systems. The main issue is not if pupils learn, but what and how they learn [his emphasis].”  In the first phase of the study, students using ILS outperformed control group peers in mathematics, and these gains were sustained (albeit at a lower rate) in the second phase (Underwood, Cavendish & Lawson, 1994). In the third phase, gains were reported for Year 8 students, but not for Year 5 students.


In English, the results of the first two Phases were inconclusive, while in Phase 3 the Year 5 students showed negative gains from ILS, but the Year 8 students showed small positive gains compared to controls.


A significant result from the third phase of the  study showed that students using the ILS did not make any additional progress on national examinations or tests. This was explained by the nature of the tests, which asked pupils to generalise material learned into new contexts, and it appeared that the ILS did not promote that kind of learning.


Overall, the studies concluded that students and staff were motivated by the ILS systems, but that technology management and how technology was used in the school were critical factors in their success, which corresponds with the general alignment of ICT and general school effectiveness. Teachers sometimes had difficulty understanding the output of the diagnostic and management systems of the ILS, and this was considered an area where software designers could improve the systems.


This sequence of investigations, and the kind of result manufacturers would rather not see, could explain the general attitude to the concept of independent learning in England at the time the interviews were conducted as a part of this current study.


6.10.4 Teacher accreditation

In 1999 the Teacher Training Agency published details of new requirements for candidates for Qualified Teacher Status. Starting with paper-based tests of numeracy to be passed in addition to the completion of a recognised initial teacher-training course, by 2001 there would be computer-based tests of numeracy, literacy and ICT for all (Teacher Training Agency, 1999).  The requirements sprang from a government green consultation paper earlier in that year, which made proposals for teaching reform including extended pay-scales, performance management, a national college for school leadership and several other innovations.


However, before this, in 1998, the Department of Education and Employment had published new competency standards for initial teacher trainees. All student teachers were expected to meet a set of competences in ICT (Department for Education and Employment, UK, 1998, Annex B). These competences fell into two areas:

·      Effective teaching and assessment methods

·      Knowledge and understanding of, and competence with, ICT.


Initial teacher trainees were expected to investigate pupils' use of ICT within their school experience, and to submit a portfolio on the use of subject-based IT in school.



6.10.5 Teacher training and professional development

Following these developments, funding was secured from the New Opportunities fund of the National Lottery. This was to provide training for serving teachers to increase their expertise in the use of ICT in their subject teaching to the level expected of newly qualified teachers. The initiative was one of the most extensive ever undertaken in teacher-training. Funded with £230 million of National Lottery money, the training specifications were virtually identical to those for initial teacher training, based upon the same two areas of competency. Consistently stressed in the documentation was the need to ensure that teachers learned how to decide when, when not, and how to use ICT effectively in teaching particular subjects. It was also important that training be firmly rooted within the relevant subject and phase.


Tenders had been called for automated systems for testing the literacy, numeracies, and ICT competency of teacher graduates, and these became available in 2002 (online at It was noted that the ICT test was strictly related to the operation of generic office applications. 


The ICT competencies, or outcomes, for initial teacher trainees, and serving teachers, were effectively identical.  However they were published in slightly different forms, with the requirements for initial teacher trainees modified to advisory language for in-service use.  A large number of A4 booklets described the competencies and related them to subject areas for both primary and secondary schools.  This exemplification material attempted to place within the curriculum context the kinds of skills that teachers would be expected to use to enhance learning opportunities for student classes.


Table 3: Examples of ICT outcomes for primary teachers in the UK


Teachers should know...

Trainees must be taught how to decide.....









Software description





Teaching example

when, and when not, to use ICT

Speed and automatic functions

Talking word processors

Aural feedback in response to writing

Graphing software

Deciding the best form to present results of a traffic survey

Mathematics tutorial software

Getting instantaneous feedback on progress

Capacity and range

Texts from CD-ROM and Internet

Comparing writing styles along a timeline

Athletics records from CD-ROM and Internet

Discuss the implications of measuring time to increasing accuracy

Provisional nature of information in ICT environments


Change font size, highlighting key words to support reading

Interactive nature of ICT

Mathematical simulations

Visualisation of how many things can be halved

how to use ICT effectively to achieve subject-related objectives

Effectiveness rather than for classroom discipline


For drafting and composition, not copy-typing

Avoiding ICT for lower-level thinking tasks

Preparing equipment properly



Balancing presentation and content


Track changes between drafts

Structuring pupil's work


Use effective search methods for a specific target

Having high expectations



Making links between ICT use, subject matter and everyday life





Table 4:Examples of ICT outcomes for primary teachers in the UK - Knowledge and understanding of, and competence with, ICT



Teachers should show...

Trainees must demonstrate ....
















competence in those areas of ICT which support pedagogy in every subject

Can employ ICT tools and resources at the level of a general user

Connect speakers, headphones, microphones, to a computer

Record and use sound files

Know and understand the characteristics of information

Speed and ease of updating material on the Internet

Make judgements about reliability and authority of sources

in relation to the subject and pupil's ages

Know how to use ICT to find things out

Using a search engine to locate texts

Import text into different packages and format for different audiences


Know how to use ICT to try things out

Use number software

Vary number sequences according to a rule


Know how to use ICT to communicate and exchange ideas

Use fax, phone, e-mail

Match with language skills, compare costs.



The origin of the policies that had led to the development of these materials was in the highest levels of government.  It integrated with related policies for e-commerce and the improvement of government services through the use of new technologies.  But there was also a strong concern that information technology offered opportunities in the field of education that had hitherto been overlooked.


Turning these opportunities into reality, it was recognised, would take a vast change in the way that teachers did their work.  Therefore a large amount of money had been released from the national lottery to enable this training to be provided.  The object of the training had been fairly carefully specified, and teacher behaviour was expected to be modified as a result.


6.10.6 Summary

England is using a structured approach to ICT in education, stemming from the national curriculum which has changed focus in this area considerably since its inception. The compulsory nature of the national curriculum has caused tensions amongst teachers, but the policy is intended to be implemented using local strategies, providing opportunity to accommodate local conditions. ICT has become a core subject within this curriculum. From 1998 ICT skills became an essential requirement for pre-service teacher training, and parallel courses have been provided through the national lottery. The emphasis in presenting this training to teachers has been subject-focused, with curriculum applications for improving student learning published ahead of material strictly relating to ICT in associated documentation. The training is estimated to take 40-50 hours over a period of 8 months, and successful implementation is judged by the quality of teacher decision-making about how, when, and when not to use ICT in classroom practice. The rationale for ICT in school education is economic, deriving both from consideration of international competition and also from a need to continually improve educational efficiency.