Government education measures “still too predicated on volunteerism” says SET's Bob Harrison

By Peter Gothard
24 Jan 2014 View Comments

Government-funded ICT teaching recruitment schemes are still "predicated on volunteerism" and could do with a larger cash injection, founder of primary and secondary education consultancy SET Bob Harrison has told Computing.

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Speaking to Computing at London's BETT 2014 ICT education conference, Harrison said he believed that schemes such as the British Computer Society's Computing at School, Master Teachers and Barefoot Computing Initiative could benefit from more hands-on government support, and extra funding.

"Why is it that the maths national curriculum reform people have been given £12m, and ICT hasn't?" asked Bob, referring to the £25,000 'golden handshake' now being offered to ICT graduates who wish to convert into teaching.

If you have 50 bursaries at £25K, and they're only recruiting them now... that's not going to hit the classrooms till 2015. "Nevertheless," said Harrison, "another £1m for the Barefoot Computing initiative is positive enough, although my anxiety is that it's predicated on volunteerism, and that goes for the whole thing."

Launched in December 2013 by the BCS, Barefoot Computing focuses on equipping primary school teachers with "the basic knowledge and confidence needed to begin the journey towards becoming an excellent computing teacher".

It relies on volunteers - dubbed "Barefoot Geeks" - to run one-day workshops in primary schools, in a national run that will last 15 months.

While Harrison - who is a leading light in Toshiba's technology education arm and has also been involved with consultation on the new ICT curriculum - is positive about the BCS' efforts with the funding they have, he is less sure about the government's commitment to the policies organisations like the BCS are to carry out, suggesting the government may "give all the responsibility to the BCS and everyone else, and if it all works well, they'll say their plan worked brilliantly."

"But if it all messes up, it'll be the BCS's fault," he told Computing.

Harrison was also critical of progress in the BCS' Master Teachers scheme which, despite being namechecked by education minister Michael Gove in his Wednesday BETT keynote for the planned provision of 400 primary and secondary teachers trained to deliver training to other educators, still numbers, at time of writing, under 120.

Nevertheless, Harrison said his general assessment of the situation, and how government funding is connecting with government policy is "much better than last time [I talked to Computing]."

In early 2013, at last year's BETT conference, Harrison explained how he believed much reform advice was being drawn from self-interested private sector stakeholders such as Google and Microsoft, who wanted to alter the system to sell more hardware and software to educators.

"I still think I was right, even though I got some stick about it," said Harrison.

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