Michael Gove speech at the BETT Show 2012

Michael Gove gives a speech at the BETT Show 2012 on ICT in the National Curriculum.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Rt Hon Michael Gove

Michael Gove at BETT 2012

Thank you very much, Dominic, for that kind introduction. I’m delighted to be here at BETT today.

And I have to start by congratulating all the companies in this Hall.

British companies are world-leaders in the field of educational technology, and going from strength to strength - the members of Besa, for example, increased exports by 12% in 2010. Crick Software, which has worked in the USA, Chile and Qatar and which already supplies 90% of UK primary schools, recently secured their biggest single order ever, supplying half of all schools in Moscow with Clicker 5 literacy software (fully translated into Russian).

Promethean, which makes interactive whiteboards and educational software, signed a memorandum of collaboration with the Mexican Ministry of Education last June to work in primary and secondary education throughout Mexico.

These are just a few of the hugely impressive achievements of British companies - and there are many more all around us. I’d also like to mention particularly all those shortlisted for the BETT awards tonight. Good luck to all nominees, and congratulations (in advance) to the winners…

How technology has changed the world, and the workplace
All around us, the world has changed in previously unimaginable and impossible ways. Most of us carry more advanced technology in the smartphone in our pocket than Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin used to reach the Moon.

Every day we work in environments which are completely different to those of twenty-five or a hundred years ago.

Where once clerks scribbled on card indexes and lived by the Dewey Decimal system, now thousands of office workers roam the world from their desktop.

Where once car manufacturing plants housed lines of workers hammering and soldering and drilling, now a technician controls the delicate operations of a whole series of robots.

When I started out as a journalist in the 1980s, it was a case of typewriters and telexes in smoky newsrooms, surrounded by the distant clatter of hot metal.

Now newsrooms - and journalists - are almost unrecognisable, as are the daily tools of the trade. The telex machine became a fax, then a pager, then email. A desktop computer became a laptop computer. My pockets were filled with huge mobile phones, then smaller mobile phones, a Blackberry, and now an e-reader and iPad.

And with each new gadget, each huge leap forward, technology has expanded into new intellectual and commercial fields.

Twenty years ago, medicine was not an information technology. Now, genomes have been decoded and the technologies of biological engineering and synthetic biology are transforming medicine. The boundary between biology and IT is already blurring into whole new fields, like bio-informatics.

Twenty years ago, science journals were full of articles about the ‘AI Winter’ - the fear that post-war hopes for Artificial Intelligence had stalled. Now, detailed computer models show us more than we ever imagined about the geography of our minds. Amazing brain-computer-interfaces allow us to control our physical environment by the power of thought - truly an example of Arthur C. Clarke’s comment that any sufficiently advanced technology can seem like magic.

Twenty years ago, only a tiny number of specialists knew what the internet was and what it might shortly become. Now, billions of people and trillions of cheap sensors are connecting to each other, all over the world - and more come online every minute of every day.

Almost every field of employment now depends on technology. From radio, to television, computers and the internet, each new technological advance has changed our world and changed us too.

But there is one notable exception.

Education has barely changed

The fundamental model of school education is still a teacher talking to a group of pupils. It has barely changed over the centuries, even since Plato established the earliest “akademia” in a shady olive grove in ancient Athens.

A Victorian schoolteacher could enter a 21st century classroom and feel completely at home. Whiteboards may have eliminated chalk dust, chairs may have migrated from rows to groups, but a teacher still stands in front of the class, talking, testing and questioning.

But that model won’t be the same in twenty years’ time. It may well be extinct in ten.

Technology is already bringing about a profound transformation in education, in ways that we can see before our very eyes and in others that we haven’t even dreamt of yet.

Now, as we all know, confident predictions of the technological future have a habit of embarrassing the predictor.

As early as 1899, the director of the U.S. Patent Office, Charles H. Duell, blithely asserted that “everything that can be invented has already been invented.”

In 1943, the chairman of IBM guessed that “there is a world market for maybe five computers”. The editor of the Radio Times said in 1936, “television won’t matter in your lifetime or mine”.

Most impressively of all, Lord Kelvin, President of the Royal Society, scored a hat-trick of embarrassing predictions between 1897-9, declaring, “radio has no future”, “X-rays are clearly a hoax” and “the aeroplane is scientifically impossible”.

A new approach to technology policy

I don’t aspire to join that illustrious company by stating on record that this technology or that gadget is going to change the world. Nothing has a shorter shelf-life than the cutting edge.

But we in Britain should never forget that one of our great heroes, Alan Turing, laid the foundation stones on which all modern computing rests. His pioneering work on theoretical computation in the 1930s laid the way for Turing himself, von Neumann and others to create the computer industry as we know it.

Another generation’s pioneer, Bill Gates, warned that the need for children to understand computer programming is much more acute now than when he was growing up. Yet as the chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, recently lamented, we in England have allowed our education system to ignore our great heritage and we are paying the price for it.

Our school system has not prepared children for this new world. Millions have left school over the past decade without even the basics they need for a decent job. And the current curriculum cannot prepare British students to work at the very forefront of technological change.

Last year’s superb Livingstone -Hope Review - for which I would like to thank both authors - said that the slump in UK’s video games development sector is partly the result of a lack of suitably-qualified graduates. The review, commissioned by Ed Vaizey who has championed the Computer Science cause in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, found that the UK had been let down by an ICT curriculum that neglects the rigorous computer science and programming skills which high-tech industries need.

It’s clear that technology is going to bring profound changes to how and what we teach. But it’s equally clear that we have not yet managed to make the most of it.

Governments are notoriously flat-footed when it comes to anticipating and facilitating technical change. Too often, in the past, administrations have been seduced into spending huge sums on hardware which is obsolete before the ink is dry on the contract. Or invested vast amounts of time and money in drawing up new curricula, painstakingly detailing specific skills and techniques which are superseded almost immediately.

I believe that we need to take a step back.

Already, technology is helping us to understand the process of learning. Brain scans and scientific studies are now showing us how we understand the structure of language, how we remember and forget, the benefits of properly designed and delivered testing and the importance of working memory.

As science advances, our understanding of the brain will grow - and as it grows, it will teach us more about the process of education.

What can technology do for learning?

Rather than rushing pell-mell after any particular technology, filling school cupboards with today’s answer to Betamaxes and floppy discs, we need to ask ourselves a fundamental question.

What can technology do for learning?

Three points immediately:

  • First, technology has the potential to disseminate learning much more widely than ever before. Subjects, classes and concepts that were previously limited to a privileged few are now freely available to any child or adult with an internet connection, all over the world.

Look at 02 learn, a free online library of lesson videos developed and uploaded by teachers. It has already delivered around 25,000 hours of teaching via 1000 lessons from every type of school and college, right across the country: science lessons from The Bishop Wand Church of England Comprehensive School, music lessons from Eton. What about iTunes U, where lectures from the world’s top universities are available at the touch of a button, and where the Independent Schools Council, Teaching Leaders and some of the best Academy Chains are working to put materials and lesson videos online? Or the hugely successful Khan Academy: more than 3.5 million students watch its educational videos every month and Google has donated $2 million for its materials to be translated into 10 languages.

I’ve been lucky enough to see first hand in Singapore how brilliant lessons can be delivered through a mixture of online and teacher-led instruction. And in areas of specialist teacher shortage, specialist teaching could be provided for groups of schools online, giving more children the opportunity to learn subjects that were previously closed to them. The Further Maths Support Programme, for example, is using the internet to give poorer families access to specialist help for the STEP papers, which dominate the best universities’ selection process for Maths degree courses.

As online materials grow and flourish, we all need to think about how we can guide students through the wealth of information and techniques freely available and accessible online.

And, of course, I’m not just talking about opportunities for pupils to learn. The Royal Shakespeare Company is working with the University of Warwick on an online professional development learning platform to transform the teaching of Shakespeare in schools. Launching next month, the “rehearsal room” teaching resources will give teachers all over the world access to the insights and working practices of internationally-renowned actors, artists and directors, as well as specialist academics and teachers. The programme will even offer the chance to study for a Post Graduate qualification in the Teaching of Shakespeare.

The Knowledge is Power Programme, one of the most successful and widely-studied charter school chains in America, is already using ubiquitous, cheap digital technology to share lessons from its most proficient teachers. Even the best teachers can hone their skills by watching their peers in action.

  • Second, just as technology raises profound questions about how we learn, it also prompts us to think about how we teach.

Games and interactive software can help pupils acquire complicated skills and rigorous knowledge in an engaging and enjoyable way. Adaptive software has the ability to recognise and respond to different abilities, personalising teaching for every pupil. With the expert help of a teacher, students can progress at different rates through lessons calibrated to stretch them just the right amount.

Britain has an incredibly strong games industry, with vast potential to engage with education both in this country and all over the world. We’re already seeing these technologies being used in imaginative ways. Games developed by Marcus Du Sautoy, Professor of Mathematics at Oxford, are introducing children to advanced, complicated maths problems - and are producing great results.

Before Christmas I visited Kingsford School in Newham, where the Department for Education is working with the Li Ka Shing Foundation and the highly respected Stanford Research Institute. Their pilot scheme uses computer programmes to teach maths interactively - for example, showing a race between two people on screen and inviting pupils to plot their time and distance on a graph, then adjust it for variables.

Again, this pilot hasn’t been dictated by central government, and we haven’t developed the programme. But Stanford already says it is one of the most successful educational projects they have seen and I am looking forward to seeing the results.

  • Third, technology brings unprecedented opportunities for assessment. Teachers can now support pupils’ learning by assessing their progress in a much more sophisticated way, and sharing assessments with pupils and parents.

Each pupil’s strengths and weaknesses can be closely monitored without stigmatising those who are struggling or embarrassing those are streaking ahead. Teachers can adjust lesson plans to target areas where pupils are weakest, and identify gaps in knowledge quickly and reliably.

Sophisticated assessment like this is already being used in schools around the country. Brailes Primary School, for example, a small rural school on the border of Warwickshire and Oxfordshire, uses online tools enabling teachers to use pre-assembled tests, or design tests of their own. One of the teachers, Deborah Smith, has praised the system, saying, “it has enabled me to differentiate my teaching to meet the needs of different groups. The assessments are quick and simple to prepare…leaving more time for planning and teaching.”

In Chichester School for Boys, electronic voting pads provide students with instant feedback during classes. Teachers get real-time feedback on how well their material is being understood - even on a question by question basis.

These are just three ways in which technology is profoundly changing education today - and I am sure that there will be more.

We’re not going to tell you what to do

While things are changing so rapidly, while the technology is unpredictable and the future is unknowable, Government must not wade in from the centre to prescribe to schools exactly what they should be doing and how they should be doing it.

We must work with these developments as they arise: supporting, facilitating and encouraging change, rather than dictating it.

By its very nature, new technology is a disruptive force. It innovates, and invents; it flattens hierarchies, and encourages creativity and fresh thinking.
I could say the same of our whole school reform programme. In fact, I’m fairly sure I have said the same.

Just as we’ve devolved greater autonomy to schools, and put our trust in the professionalism of teachers; just as we’ve lifted the burden of central prescription, and given heads and schools power over their own destiny; just as the internet has made information more democratic, and given every single user the chance to talk to the world; so technology will bring more autonomy to each of us here in this room.

This is a huge opportunity. But it’s also a responsibility.

We want to focus on training teachers

That’s why, rather than focusing on hardware or procurement, we are investing in training individuals. We need to improve the training of teachers so that they have the skills and knowledge they need to make the most of the opportunities ahead.

It is vital that teachers can feel confident using technological tools and resources for their own and their pupils’ benefit, both within and beyond the classroom, and can adapt to new technologies as they emerge. That means ensuring that teachers receive the best possible ITT and CPD in the use of educational technology.

Working with the TDA, we will be looking at initial teacher training courses carefully in the coming year so that teachers get the skills and experience they need to use technology confidently. And we’re working with Nesta who, supported by Nominet Trust and others, are today announcing a £2m programme to fund and research innovative technology projects in schools.

We must also encourage teachers to learn from other schools which are doing this particularly well.

Some ICT teaching in schools is already excellent - as reported in the most recent Ofsted report on ICT education and last year’s Naace report, “The Importance of Technology”.

Sharing that excellence will help all schools to drive up standards. We are already working with the Open University on Vital, a programme encouraging teachers to share ICT expertise between schools. High-performing academy chains will also play a huge role in spreading existing best practice and innovation between schools.

And Teaching Schools across the country are already forming networks to help other schools develop and improve their use of technology. The Department for Education is going to provide dedicated funding to Teaching Schools to support this work.

The current, flawed ICT curriculum

The disruptive, innovative, creative force of new technology also pushes us to think about the curriculum.

And one area exemplifies, more than any other, the perils of the centre seeking to capture in leaden prose the restless spirit of technological innovation.

I refer, of course, to the current ICT curriculum.

The best degrees in computer science are among the most rigorous and respected qualifications in the world. They’re based on one of the most formidable intellectual fields - logic and set theory - and prepare students for immensely rewarding careers and world-changing innovations.

But you’d never know that from the current ICT curriculum.

Schools, teachers and industry leaders have all told us that the current curriculum is too off-putting, too demotivating, too dull.

Submissions to the National Curriculum Review Call for Evidence from organisations including the British Computer Society, Computing at School, eSkills UK, Naace and the Royal Society, all called the current National Curriculum for ICT unsatisfactory.

They’re worried that it doesn’t stretch pupils enough or allow enough opportunities for innovation and experimentation - and they’re telling me the curriculum has to change radically.

Some respondents in a 2009 research study by e-Skills said that ICT GCSE was “so harmful, boring and / or irrelevant it should simply be scrapped”. The Royal Society is so concerned that it has spent two years researching the problem with universities, employers, teachers and professional bodies - so I’m looking forward to its report, due to be published on Friday. And while ICT is so unpopular, there are grave doubts about existing Computer Science 16-18 courses.

In short, just at the time when technology is bursting with potential, teachers, professionals, employers, universities, parents and pupils are all telling us the same thing. ICT in schools is a mess.

Disapplying the Programme of Study

That’s why I am announcing today that the Department for Education is opening a consultation on withdrawing the existing National Curriculum Programme of Study for ICT from September this year.

The traditional approach would have been to keep the Programme of Study in place for the next four years while we assembled a panel of experts, wrote a new ICT curriculum, spent a fortune on new teacher training, and engaged with exam boards for new ICT GCSES that would become obsolete almost immediately.

We will not be doing that.

Technology in schools will no longer be micromanaged by Whitehall. By withdrawing the Programme of Study, we’re giving schools and teachers freedom over what and how to teach; revolutionising ICT as we know it.

Let me stress - ICT will remain compulsory at all key stages, and will still be taught at every stage of the curriculum. The existing Programme of Study will remain on the web for reference.

But no English school will be forced to follow it any more. From this September, all schools will be free to use the amazing resources that already exist on the web.

Universities, businesses and others will have the opportunity to devise new courses and exams. In particular, we want to see universities and businesses create new high quality Computer Science GCSEs, and develop curricula encouraging schools to make use of the brilliant Computer Science content available on the web.

I am pleased that OCR is pioneering work in this field, and that IBM and others are already working on a pilot. Facebook has teamed up with UK-based organisation Apps for Good to offer young people the chance to learn how to design, code and build social applications for use on social networks, via a unique new training course which they aim to make freely available online this year to potential users all over the world.

And other specialist groups have published or are about to publish detailed ICT curricula and programmes of study, including Computing At School (led by the British Computer Society and the Institute of IT), Behind the Screens (led by eSkills UK), Naace and others, with considerable support from industry leaders.

Imagine the dramatic change which could be possible in just a few years, once we remove the roadblock of the existing ICT curriculum. Instead of children bored out of their minds being taught how to use Word and Excel by bored teachers, we could have 11 year-olds able to write simple 2D computer animations using an MIT tool called Scratch. By 16, they could have an understanding of formal logic previously covered only in University courses and be writing their own Apps for smartphones.

This is not an airy promise from an MP - this is the prediction of people like Ian Livingstone who have built world-class companies from computer science.

And we’re encouraging rigorous Computer Science courses

The new Computer Science courses will reflect what you all know: that Computer Science is a rigorous, fascinating and intellectually challenging subject.

After all, the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, is one of the most innovative and successful proponents of Computer Science today. But his computing skills are just as rigorous as the rest of his talents - which include Maths, Science, French, Hebrew, Latin and Ancient Greek.

Computer Science requires a thorough grounding in logic and set theory, and is merging with other scientific fields into new hybrid research subjects like computational biology.

So I am also announcing today that, if new Computer Science GCSEs are developed that meet high standards of intellectual depth and practical value, we will certainly consider including Computer Science as an option in the English Baccalaureate.

Although individual technologies change day by day, they are underpinned by foundational concepts and principles that have endured for decades. Long after today’s pupils leave school and enter the workplace - long after the technologies they used at school are obsolete - the principles learnt in Computer Science will still hold true.

An open-source curriculum

Advances in technology should also make us think about the broader school curriculum in a new way.

In an open-source world, why should we accept that a curriculum is a single, static document? A statement of priorities frozen in time; a blunt instrument landing with a thunk on teachers’ desks and updated only centrally and only infrequently?

In ICT, for example, schools are already leading the way when it comes to using educational technology in new and exciting ways - and they’re doing it in spite of the existing ICT curriculum, not because of it.

The essential requirements of the National Curriculum need to be specified in law, but perhaps we could use technology creatively to help us develop that content. And beyond the new, slimmed down National Curriculum, we need to consider how we can take a wiki, collaborative approach to developing new curriculum materials; using technological platforms to their full advantage in creating something far more sophisticated than anything previously available.

This means freedom and autonomy

Disapplying the ICT programme of study is about freedom. It will mean that, for the first time, teachers will be allowed to cover truly innovative, specialist and challenging topics.

And whether they choose a premade curriculum, or whether they design their own programme of study specifically for their school, they will have the freedom and flexibility to decide what is best for their pupils.

Teachers will now be allowed to focus more sharply on the subjects they think matter - for example, teaching exactly how computers work, studying the basics of programming and coding and encouraging pupils to have a go themselves.

Initiatives like the Raspberry Pi scheme will give children the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of programming with their own credit card sized, single-board computers. With minimal memory and no disk drives, the Raspberry Pi computer can operate basic programming languages, handle tasks like spread sheets, word-processing and games, and connect to wifi via a dongle - all for between £16 and £22. This is a great example of the cutting edge of education technology happening right here in the UK. It could bring the same excitement as the BBC Micro did in the 1980s, and I know that it’s being carefully watched by education and technology experts all over the world.

As well as choosing what to study, schools can also choose how.

Technology can be integrated and embedded across the whole curriculum.
In geography lessons, for example, pupils could access the specialised software and tools used by professional geographers, allowing them to tackle more challenging and interesting work. Molecular modelling software could bring huge advantages for science students.

The Abbey School in Reading has already been piloting 3D technologies for teaching Biology, showing 3D images of the heart pumping blood through valves, and manipulating, rotating and tilting the heart in real time. As Abbey School Biology teacher Ros Johnson said, the 3D technology “has made me realise what they weren’t understanding…what I can’t believe is how much difference it has made to the girls’ understanding”.

This isn’t a finished strategy - but it shows our ambition

The use of technology in schools is a subject that will keep growing and changing, just as technology keeps growing and changing.

But we can be confident about one thing. Demand for high-level skills will only grow in the years ahead. In work, academia and their personal lives, young people will depend upon their technological literacy and knowledge.

And this doesn’t just affect our country. Every nation in the world will be changed by the growth of technology and we in Britain must ensure that we can make the most of our incredible assets to become world-leaders in educational technology.

Today has seen the conclusion of the Education World Forum here in London. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is for me, personally, that we learn from the highest performing education systems - some of whom I am delighted to see represented here - and I am very grateful to everyone who has taken the time and trouble to come to London for this event.

I’m not here today to announce our final, inflexible, immutable technology strategy. There’s no blueprint to follow - and we don’t know what our destination will look like.

I’m setting out our direction of travel, and taking the first few steps. There is lots more to come, and we will have more to say over the course of the year.

I’d also like to welcome the online discussion launched today at schoolstech.org.uk and using the twitter hashtag #schoolstech. We need a serious, intelligent conversation about how technology will transform education - and I look forward to finding out what everyone has to say.

We want a modern education system which exploits the best that technology can offer to schools, teachers and pupils. Where schools use technology in imaginative and effective ways to build the knowledge, understanding and skills that young people need for the future. And where we can adapt to and welcome every new technological advance that comes along to change everything, all over again, in ways we never expected.

Events like the BETT show are crucial in showcasing the best and brightest of the technology industry, showing what can be done - and what is already being achieved. We will depend upon your insight and ideas, your expertise and experience, as you take these technologies into your schools and try them with your students.

Thank you again to BETT for inviting me, and I wish you all good exploring today.

Updates to this page

Published 13 January 2012