Chris Comber from Leicester University offers curriculum managers exclusive insights into the findings, outlining key factors to integrate ICT throughout teaching and learning

It may be difficult to believe, but it is less than 10 years since teachers were attending Inset course with names like ‘IT for the terrified’. Since then, many things have changed. Arguably, the nationwide New Opportunities Fund (NOF) training programme, designed to focus on curriculum usage rather than technical skills, played a major role in bringing this change about. Flawed though it may have been, it nevertheless had a clear impact on raising information and communications technology (ICT) competence and confidence among teaching staff (Ofsted, 2004, p4). At least as importantly, NOF helped to develop a whole-school focus on ICT, often for the first time, an approach to ICT that is likely to bring about the greatest benefits to both teachers and students. Whatever the routes to change, few teachers these days would deny the centrality of ICT in both teaching and learning (and of course, administration). However, ensuring that ICT is fully integrated across the curriculum has remained something of an elusive goal for many schools, which, despite pockets of excellence, struggle to identify the precise formula for a fully ‘integrative’ strategy.

Integrating ICT

So what can research tell us about how schools might go about achieving an integrated approach to ICT curriculum coverage? In recent years there has been no shortage of guidance for school managers on ‘school effectiveness’, much of which identifies strategies for developing a ‘learning organisation’ (Hayes et al, 2004) or ‘intelligent school’ (Reed et al, 2004) characterised by a whole-school, collegial ethos. A major focus of research in this area is ‘leadership style’, with the notion of the ‘transformational’ leader – an approach that seeks to develop a shared vision through collaborative relationships – often cited as the model most associated with the effective school. Running parallel with this research tradition has been work on the embedding of ICT into teaching and learning, studies that have sought to identify the key characteristics of what my colleague Tony Lawson and I have called the ‘ICT integrative school’ (Lawson and Comber, 1999), by which we mean a school in which ICT is fully embedded in curriculum planning and schemes of work, where all teachers are capable of identifying appropriate pedagogical applications of ICT within their teaching, and where technology is seen to be having demonstrable benefits for students. Our findings confirm those of many other writers in this area – that critical to the success of ICT development is a supportive managerial team informed by a knowledge of the educational potential of ICT. What is especially interesting is that the characteristics of effective lCT leadership are very similar to the ‘transformative’ approach described above. Despite this, the school effectiveness literature rarely referred to ICT even though its introduction into schools was much more than ‘just another innovation’ to be managed, but something that affected every single aspect of schooling including its administration. As Rudd (2002, p1) commented, the impression was almost that these were ‘two distinct, almost unrelated areas of educational research’.

SLICT programme

In 2001, the National College of School Leadership (NCSL), through its professional development programmes such as National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH), were aware that ICT was fast becoming a significant managerial challenge for schools, and that effective leadership in ICT was often incidental rather than planned. Meanwhile, the British Educational and Communications Technology Agency (Becta) was supporting research into factors that facilitated or hindered ICT integration. Drawing on their collective expertise, NCSL and Becta co-developed a pilot initiative known as the Strategic Leadership of ICT (SLICT) programme, a project that effectively ‘bridged the divide’ between the two research traditions to which Rudd referred. The programme, which involved some 150 primary and secondary headteachers, comprised a three-day residential – which included workshops, expert talks and visits to schools with a reputation for effective use of ICT – with a one-day ‘follow-up’ gathering about a term later. For more information on SLICT, see the NCSL SLICT webpages. At the invitation of NCSL/Becta, myself and colleagues from the School of Education at Leicester University evaluated this first phase of the SLICT programme. Boosted by highly positive findings from this trial, the programme was expanded, in 2003, to provide training for more than 400 school leaders, eventually growing to become a nationwide programme, variations of which offered whole-school support and development involving several personnel (known as ‘teamSLICT’). We continued to evaluate the developing initiative, with a particular focus on the medium to long-term impact of the SLICT programme in facilitating ICT integration back in the school. The three original evaluation reports (our final report was submitted in 2006) were intended to inform policy development and are not in the public domain. However, NCSL/Becta kindly gave permission for the publication of various articles (including this one), which discuss different aspects of the three phases of the evaluation. The general message from all three phases was that SLICT was highly effective in helping school leaders to develop a coherent vision for ICT developments and to identify steps for its implementation. However, a series of detailed case studies revealed that the impact of the programme varied considerably from school to school, leading us to reflect on what it is was that made the difference between those for which ICT became fully embedded across all teaching, learning and administrative activities, and those where early promising developments came to something of a grinding halt.

Factors that help or hinder ICT development

From this analysis, we developed a framework that we consider to have considerable potential for school leaders, curriculum managers, ICT coordinators and all those involved in the development of ICT. However, before moving to this, it is worth rehearsing the main factors that have been found to help ICT integration. Although as we have already seen, effective school and curriculum leadership is the lynchpin, leaders need to be aware of the key factors to focus on to achieve ICT integration. Drawing on both the SLICT evaluations and earlier work in which we were involved (Comber and Lawson, 2003; Comber at al, 2003) as well as more recent work (see for example Scrimshaw, 2004; Tearle and Ogden, 2005), we can summarise some of these factors here.

Teacher-level factors

  • Confidence and competence with ICT
  • Awareness of appropriate curriculum application of ICT
  • Full access to appropriate software and hardware when required
  • Time to develop new skills and applications
  • Access to own personal laptop

School-level factors

  • ICT ‘vision’ from senior management
  • Whole-school policies focusing on using ICT across the curriculum
  • Ethos that encourages innovation
  • Programme of ICT training and curriculum support from the ICT coordinator
  • Effective timetabling of rooms and equipment
  • Ready availability of quality resources
  • Onsite technical/network support

External factors

  • Professional/subject networks that advise on effective ICT use, such as National Association of Advisers for Computers in Education (NAACE) and the National Literacy Trust
  • Going to conferences and exhibitions, such as BETT and the Education Show
  • Local authority support and training opportunities
  • Commercial training, such as that provided by software producers
  • Resources from national/government agencies, such as Becta, DfES/DCSF, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA)

(Adapted from Scrimshaw, 2004)

Putting it all together

In all the schools that we have visited where ICT is fully embedded into teaching and learning, most or all of these factors were in place. However, ICT integration is not simply dependent on ‘ticking all the boxes’. This is because ICT integration is a result of sometimes complex interactions between these factors, interactions that take place within particular institutional contexts. Put simply, what works for one school may be completely inappropriate for another. Some schools that were less successful in integrating ICT had dutifully worked their way through this list, only to find that things were not coming together as they had hoped. The reason for this was often a failure to take account of what ‘enabling factors’ (which we refer to as ‘affordances’) already existed in the school, or to correctly spot potential barriers to progress. The case example below illustrates this point.

Case study 1: How not to do it

The headteacher of a primary school in the Midlands who had attended the SLICT programme had come back to the school with a renewed enthusiasm for ICT. Because the school had only rather old standalone machines, the head alighted on this as the place to start. Accordingly, he went ahead and ordered a new school-wide networked system that was being sold as a ‘complete educational package’, including a range of pre-loaded software. While on paper this sounded like a great plan, a failure to seek out the views of key staff meant that the initiative went ahead without their input. What was not taken account of was the existing ‘affordance’ of the teachers’ (and ICT coordinator’s) familiarity with the existing technology, along with years of curriculum planning developed around favourite software that would not run on the new system. This, coupled with a number of fairly significant ‘teething problems’ resulted in a decrease in the use of ICT and a degree of demoralisation of the teaching staff who felt that the change had been imposed on them. In essence, this head had mistaken an affordance (teachers’ confidence built on familiarity with existing technology) for a barrier (‘obsolete’ technology as holding up progress). Had the head sought the views of all of his staff first, a planned and gradual shift to a more modern system, supported by appropriate training, would almost certainly have emerged as a more appropriate strategy.

Case study 2: Getting it right

The evidence from the SLICT evaluations also points clearly to the need for a collaborative/inclusive approach to ICT developments, as this case study  illustrates. This head of a secondary school in the north-east came back from SLICT as enthused as the headteacher in Case Study 1. This school too had no network (in this case held back because of a delayed move to a new-build school). On return from the course the head immediately set about building an ‘ICT team’, working on the assumption that ICT in a school involves people at all levels. The team included the ICT coordinator, a middle manager, staff from different subject areas, a teaching assistant, the school secretary and an ICT technician. The aim was to produce a coordinated strategy in which all had a say, and all had a responsibility (and therefore stake) in its implementation. The decisions of the team were communicated to all staff via a regular bulletin (produced by the secretary — who incidentally was later recruited to run Inset on the use of Microsoft Office-type software), to which all were invited to respond before any new policy was implemented. The teaching assistant displayed such an enthusiasm for ICT that she was appointed as the school’s first ‘ICT TA’. Working closely with the ICT coordinator, she was give special responsibility for supporting teachers across the school in developing curriculum uses of ICT. All of the teachers that we spoke to were enthusiastic users of ICT, and felt encouraged and supported to ‘take risks’. As a result of this approach, ICT was well on its way to becoming truly integrated into every aspect of teaching and learning in the school, with the full endorsement and involvement of staff across the school.


We describe the essential difference in the approaches in these two examples as between vision dissemination (the head has a vision for ICT that is ‘given out’ to staff) and vision shaping (the head develops a vision through a process of consultation). What these contrasting stories show is that:

  • identifying the real priorities for initial change is critical for success
  • recognising the key affordances (enabling factors) and barriers is an essential starting point
  • an inclusive/consultative process that takes into account the perspectives and experience of all who have a role in ICT development is key to success.

A developmental cycle

Our study showed that ICT developments could be mapped against a developmental ‘cycle’ beginning with reflection, that is identifying where the school ‘is’ in relation to ICT development and moving through:

  • Vision building: creating a coherent vision for future development
  • Formation: developing a strategy/plan of action to realise the vision
  • Implementation: identifying key personnel; putting the plan into action
  • Integration: the positive changes taking place as a result of implementation
  • Review: through a process of ongoing monitoring, evaluating what worked well and less well which eventually leads to
  • Reformation: of the strategy, in the light of the review outcomes.

Development along these pathways will not necessarily move at the same pace for all aspects of ICT development, so that while in some areas significant developments may occur, more modest shifts may be evident in others. This variability is a function of a combination of the accuracy of initial analysis of the situation facing the school (reflection), the feasibility of the strategy developed in the light of that assessment, and the means by which it is implemented. What is clear is that reflection represents a critical stage. If you don’t fully evaluate the school’s current situation (warts and all), then at best the resulting vision for ICT will be missing key areas for development, and at worst will be entirely off-target. As the case study examples illustrate, the ability to recognise and capitalise on factors that may facilitate developments (affordances) or to identify and address those that may hinder progress (barriers) is strongly associated with the development of a successful strategy. Where such factors are not recognised or appropriately addressed, progress tends to be narrowly focused and may stall altogether.

Measuring ICT ‘maturity’

Our work identified eight ‘key areas’ in which decisions need to be made during this reflective stage (and again during the renewal stage. For each of these areas, schools may wish to consider their current level of ‘ICT maturity’, which in its simplest form can be represented as one of four progressive levels of ICT development).

Progressive levels of ICT development

  1. Pre-emergent: ICT policy or practice that is forward-looking but which is in the early stages of development.
  2. Emergent: ICT policy or practice that demonstrates a clarity of purpose, meets the immediate needs of teachers and/or students and demonstrates some link with teaching and learning targets.
  3. Established: ICT policy or practice that shows a commitment to continuing improvement going beyond the merely good. This involves being self-critical, able to address weakness and build on strengths, with an understanding of self-evaluation and the ability to use it effectively in realising goals.
  4. Advanced: ICT policy or practice that represents the leading edge, involving teachers and/or students integrally in goal-setting, planning and curriculum delivery. Characterised by conviction, confidence and expertise sufficient to qualify as a centre of excellence.

All but the most highly developed (in ICT terms) schools are likely to ‘score’ differently for different key areas. So while a school might (say) be ‘established’ in terms of ICT provision (with a plentiful supply of high-quality resources that are regularly updated), it may still be ‘emergent’ in terms of the impact of those resources on learning outcomes. This model can be used to create a school ‘profile’ of ICT development that also provides a benchmark against which improvements can be measured.

Although these are relatively ‘rough and ready’ descriptors, it is likely that most school managers will be able to identify more or less where they are for any of the above areas. Fortunately, Becta has developed a much more sophisticated online diagnostic tool – known as the self-review framework (SRF) – that enables schools to engage in this process of reflection and to produce a highly detailed school profile (see the becta website). The framework (which mirrors fairly closely our eight key areas) is designed to evaluate the school against a series of statements that reflect nationally agreed standards. From the profile generated, schools are able to prioritise areas for development and chart progress in their strategic plans.

Some of the self-review statements relating to ‘vision’, for example, include those set out below.

Examples of self-review statements relating to vision

  • Level 4 (Pre-emergent): The vision does not distinguish clearly between the different opportunities offered by ICT. It is limited to the potential impact of ICT on marginal aspects of the school’s work or is mainly focused on the acquisition of resources.
  • Level 3 (Emergent): The vision recognises the potential for ICT to enhance some aspects of the school’s key functions including learning and teaching. This vision is consistent with the school’s aims.    
  • Level 2 (Established): An inclusive vision clearly identifies the potential of ICT for enhancing all aspects of the school’s work. It recognises the distinctive contribution of ICT and identifies how this supports the school’s wider aims and aspirations.
  • Level 1 (Advanced): There is an innovative and inclusive vision that anticipates future developments in practice and technology.

Getting IT right

The need to integrate ICT fully into all aspects of teaching and learning is no longer a matter of choice for schools, but one of necessity. In addition to the many well-researched benefits that ICT can bring to the learning experience (see, for example, Cox and Abbott, 2004; Cox and Webb, 2004), the world beyond school – whether it be higher education, commerce, industry or social policy – is one in which technology plays a central and indispensable role. Most young people are now ‘digital natives’, for whom technology is taken for granted as a means of communication and expression. Getting ICT ‘right’ is without doubt a complex process, representing something of a ‘double whammy’ in that it not only requires schools to change, but that it also changes the educational process itself. However, getting it wrong can be an expensive business in more ways than one. While the financial costs of a failed strategy are likely to be considerable, the costs in terms of staff morale and student outcomes are potentially irrecoverable. Becta encourages schools ‘to involve as many staff as possible’ in the self-review process, largely confirming our own findings that the most successful strategies emerged from an inclusive approach. So ‘getting it right’ is also about ‘getting everyone on board’. If your school gets it right, maybe before too long, headteachers on the SLICT programme will be visiting you to find out how it is all done. Dr Chris Comber, Senior Lecturer, School of Education, University of Leicester

Chris has been involved in national and international studies exploring the impact of ICT on teaching and learning. He is currently working on an initiative to bring these areas together in a project that will explore the potential of eLearning technologies to support more inclusive approaches to education, within and between schools References

  • Comber, C. and Lawson, T. (2003) ‘Education for managing ICT: professional development for school leaders’, annual conference of the Society for Information technology in teacher Education (SITE), Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA, March
  • Comber, C., Watling, R., Lawson, T., Cavendish, S., McEune, R. and
  • Paterson, F. (2003) ImpaCT2, Strand 3: learning at home and school, case studies, BECTa/DfES, see: www.becta.
  • Cox, M.J., and Abbott, C. (2004). ICT and attainment: a review of the research literature, Becta/DfES, see: research/ict_attainment_summary.pdf
  • Cox, M.J. and Webb, M.E. (2004) ICT and pedagogy: a review of the research literature, Becta/DfES, see: display.cfm?resID=25813
  • Hayes, D., Christie, P., Mills, M. and Lingard, B. (2004) ‘Productive leaders and productive leadership: Schools as learning organisations’, Journal of Educational Administration, vol 42, no 5, pp520–38
  • Lawson, T. and Comber, C. (1999) ‘Superhighways technology: personnel factors leading to successful integration of information and communications technology in schools and colleges’, Technology, Pedagogy and Education, vol 8, no 1, pp41–53
  • Ofsted (2004) ICT in schools: the impact of government initiatives five years on, Ofsted/HMSO
  • Reed, J., Myers, K. and MacGilchrist, B. (2004) The intelligent school , Sage
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  • Rudd, P. (2001) ‘School improvement through information and communications technology: limitations and possibilities’,Teacher Development, vol 5, no 2, pp211–24
  • Scrimshaw, P. (2004) Enabling teachers to make successful use of ICT, Becta, see: documents/research/enablers.pdf
  • Tearle, P. and Ogden, K. (2005) Evaluation of the ICT for success programme: final report, University of Exeter, Telematics Centre