Twenty-seven Birmingham schools - which have been classed as ‘failing’ according to the government’s GCSE targets and given just 50 days to improve or face closure by the government - should treat IT as their highest priority if they want to stand a chance of turning things around.
The schools, which have seven weeks to come up with rescue plans to help them reach a 30% target for GSCE results, could make a quick and dramatic improvement if they got their IT systems working properly, according to a former head teacher.
David Martin, former education consultant at Microsoft and now the education director at Birmingham-based Innovit, says his company has found that less than five per cent of the schools it visits carry out vital IT health checks or have a fully functional IT system. And in the vast majority of cases the schools' IT systems are a barrier to learning.
Martin says that simple solutions which could be put into place to remedy the situation are overlooked because leadership teams are ill informed about IT and therefore don’t know how to tackle the subject.
“Schools throughout the area are under massive pressure to look at ways to improve things across the board and I suspect that IT is way down the list, but it should be right at the top,” he said.
“You can track back many of the problems any school has, including behavioural issues, to non-functioning IT.
“We have seen so many cases where pupils can’t do the work they have been set because computers don’t work, they cannot access the school's Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) or the network is too slow. That’s when behavioural issues creep in because their real frustration is that IT is preventing them from doing their assignments. And senior staff are then engaged in fire fighting instead of working to improve the school.
“Similarly teachers are frustrated because they are hindered in their planning, preparation and delivery of lessons because they have the same connectivity and access issues as the pupils. In a lot of cases they have lost faith with the school’s systems and just give up trying"
Martin is quick to point out that the resolution isn’t about getting teams of IT consultants in and spending huge amounts of money to fix things. He suggests that the best thing they can do is formulate a plan which will identify problems and, with astute management and clever reconfiguring, most schools could make dramatic improvements to the performance of their IT infrastructure.
“It is understandable and entirely predictable that many of the schools find themselves in their current predicament,” he said. “That is because there is insufficient knowledge of IT amongst the leadership, and communication deficit between them and the internal team which manages the system.
“It does take brave leadership to actually raise your head above the parapet and tell the IT people that you don’t understand the jargon and you don’t fully understand the implications of what they are saying.
“And only when a school bites the bullet and delves into its IT will it get to the root of its problem and then it can start to make genuine headway in developing a plan to turn things around.”