Extended Schools and ICT - paradigm lost?
DCSF recently published extended schools funding guidance. One expectation of Extended Schools funding is a 'core offer' that includes community access to ICT. Extended Schools covers a wide range of activities, and for obvious reasons I am going to focus on ICT.
Steve Smith of Ramesys in an article published in 2007 suggests there are four main ICT related extended activities. I believe ICT can be more broadly categorised as:
- Student Access - combinations of online portals, learning platforms, physical access to computer rooms before and after school.
- Family Access - supporting the education of families both online and at school. Making information, e-safety, educational content and resources available.
- Community Access - community groups and individuals able to use facilities before, after or during school hours.
In terms of 'bang for education buck', the first two offer a desirable outcome to schools ... improved results and greater parental engagement!
Community Access is a nebulous concept, and many schools have struggled to find good reasons to offer facilities to the public; few are successful or sustained. This is surely the domain of Adult Education courses run by agencies who charge for the use and make the arrangements. Having 'outsiders' use your technology increases risk and cost, and seems to offer few real benefits if not directly aligned to the school mission. Most, if not all libraries have computers for public use, and perhaps they are better positioned to offer generic community access.
Use of ICT by non-school users presents a number of challenges:
- User administration and policies.
- ICT Infrastructure and network security (all those potentially infected USB memory sticks, and how to set up appropriate filtering for adult use).
- Technical support - should the tech' guys be expected to cover use outside of school hours?
- Supervision and child protection - who manages out of hours use (... and how trusted are they?)
- How is the additional cost of 'out of hours' availability to non school uses accounted for?
It sounds sensible to make school ICT facilities available for use by the community, but unless it is based on the core business of education it requires thought. It is telling that a search of the Becta web site reveals very little advice and guidance on this topic. The best advice comes from an old DFES publication 'Extending the School's ICT to the Community' found on Teachernet. It raises all the issues a school will face, and leaves me wondering who would want to ... its all just too complicated to even know where to begin!
This post was prompted by the lack of clarity and purpose in the official guidance on extended use of ICT; the confusing messages about what it means in practice, but it seems to me that the answer for effective services to extend the school are better met online (I would love to hear form anyone that's cracked the issues!)