Buckle In

September 2015 saw the publication of How Good Is Our School 4 – the latest incarnation of Scotland’s school inspectorate’s quality framework.  The evolution of the HGIOS series has moved from looking at ways for school leaders to quantify and monitor effective learning and teaching, through the self-evaluative model of HGIOS 3, and now to the all-inclusive, collaborative and reflective framework of HGIOS 4.

The number of quality indicators has been halved since HGIOS 3 – down to 15 from 30 – with only three sections: Leadership and Management, Learning Provision, and Successes and Achievements. The order is deliberate – effective leadership allows for and supports effective learning provision, which leads to success and achievement for the learners.

Yet, despite its streamlined appearance, HGIOS 4 is arguably the most significant version of the framework we’ve seen. As well as tightening up the format, condensing the best of what has come before into a clearer, more manageable structure, the document introduces and highlights areas that have been missing or merely nodded to in the past.

One of these areas is the one these bloggers are most interested in – Digital Competencies.

Outcome 3.3 in HGIOS 4 – Increasing Creativity and Employability –  includes the themes of Digital Innovation and Digital Literacy. It would be useful here to look at the Level 5 Illustrations for each of these themes, to make it clear what ‘very good’ practice might look like:

Digital Innovation: Children and young people work individually and in teams creating both digital and non-digital solutions. As their digital literacy becomes more sophisticated they embed computation to solve problems. Increasingly they apply the core principles underpinning digital technologies to develop their own ideas. Their skills are up-to-date with technological advances informed by a range of sources including the expertise of the young people themselves. 

Digital Literacy: Children and young people are innovative, confident and responsible in the use of technologies and staying safe online. They critically examine and make informed choices about the use of digital technology to enhance and personalise learning in school and where appropriate, beyond the school day. They anticipate and respond to new opportunities and threats caused by developments now and in the future. 

HGIOS 4, 2015

While these illustrations are not meant to be exactly replicated, they give a good example of the standard of digital engagement that will now be expected, should a school hope to achieve a ‘very good’ rating in this quality indicator. And many schools, reading this for the first time, will experience a creeping sense of panic, wondering “How are we going to approach this?”

Obviously, this is not the case for all schools. There is excellent practice going on within some schools and local authorities, such as Falkirk (who have been very forward thinking in their encouragement of schools to develop digital literacy), and East Lothian (who have historically been ahead of the game where digital learning is concerned). However, the onus is now on everyone to ensure that that Digital Literacy is given an important seat at the table with all staff being made responsible for this. This is either terrifying or exhilarating depending on the way you look at it, and to get uncertain staff on the digital roller-coaster, especially those who feel their own digital competencies are lacking, schools need to be able to offer them supports so that they climb on feeling suitably ‘buckled in’ for the ride.

Key ideas leap out of the HGIOS 4 message of digital innovation and digital literacy, encouraging creative thinking and collaboration and offering a level of challenge to both staff and pupils. Schools, who by now have had years to embed Literacy, Numeracy and Health and Wellbeing as responsibilities of all, are faced with a new challenge that will arguably be one of the most critical in keeping schools relevant in the future. Our ability to prepare young people for life beyond the classroom depends on our ability to foster and embed these essential skills for life, learning and work while nurturing creative thinking and resourcefulness.

Of course, the need to be digitally competent in the workforce is not new, with the majority of jobs in the UK today requiring the confident use of digital technologies. However, until this point, schools have been able to gloss over this much needed skillset, confident that their teaching was meeting pupil needs in all the ways that mattered, at least as far as HMIe were concerned.  In many cases, pupils’ digital competencies were left to develop by themselves. After all, isn’t it a common (if not strictly true) adage that today’s learners are digital natives, while their teachers hold only digital immigrant status? Don’t we all know that the kids know way more about ‘ICT’ than their teachers anyway? So what could we possibly teach them? But even ‘natives’ require support and guidance. We cannot assume that all pupils have encountered the same digital learning experiences out of school, that they will have been exposed to the same technologies at home, or that they will have an awareness of digital safety, etiquette and applications. We need to facilitate their learning, providing a space where pupils can safely challenge and be challenged. In order to do this, our profession needs to look inwards and be prepared to move beyond the traditional teacher role of ‘expert knowledge transmitter’. The role of the teacher is evolving and HGIOS 4 is clear indicator of this change. We are as much learners as the pupils (or at least, we should be) and we need to be willing to take on the challenge and move out of our comfort zones.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll take a closer look at the digital themes in HGIOS 4, and examine what the changes might really mean for learners and teachers in this Digital Nation.

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