Alongside seemingly limitless opportunities for economic growth, the post-war advent of information and communication technologies also brought a pressing need for workers with a new range of skills. Having successfully lobbied for the removal of restrictions on the communications infrastructure that were holding back the development of their industry in the UK, members of the Real Time Club realised that the lack of skilled workers might have an equally detrimental effect on growth and therefore needed their attention.
More importantly, however, they were concerned that the next generation of young people in this country should not be disadvantaged in an increasingly global marketplace by a lack of up-to-date IT skills. So despite disbanding its IT in Education committee in 1993, the Real Time Club continued to take an active interest in the issue. As it happened, at least a dozen members were active Governors of local schools, so were well placed to understand the difficulties faced by teachers and School Boards.
The final act of the IT in Ed Committee had been to convene an all-party meeting with other industry bodies, out of which the Joint Advisory Panel on Information Technology in Education (JAPONITE) Council was formed. Initial members were:
– The Real Time Club
– The British Computer Society
– The Women into Information Technology Foundation, and
– The Worshipful Company of Information Technologists
It was agreed that the Chair of JAPONITE would rotate on a six monthly basis between representatives of each member organisation. The initial Chairman was Bill Freyenfeld of the Real Time Club, followed by Guido Castro of the Worshipful Company, then Colin Wells of the British Computer Society and finally Ellen Neighbour of the Women into IT Foundation.
Initially, the Council took on two primary functions: to take over from the RTC in advising Education Ministers on IT matters, and to exchange information between members on their educational activities, seeking out opportunities for mutual co-operation and support. JAPONITE was not intended to replace the activities of its member organisations, but rather to enhance them through the combined efforts of all four.
Accordingly, the Council carried on with the RTC’s established schedule of bi-annual meetings with the Minister of State for Education, Eric Forth, MP. At the first of these meetings in 1993, two topics were discussed – IT investment and teacher training in IT. Following that meeting, Freyenfeld noted with some surprise that the DfE continued its official line that the use of IT in education was an additional cost which had no potential for off-setting savings, one of the key fallacies that the IT in ED committee had been arguing against since 1989.
At the following Ministerial meeting in May 1994 the topics under discussion were the importance to schools of networking and, once again, teacher training. By the third Ministerial meeting in December 1994, when education for careers in IT and the use of IT to support Head Teachers was discussed, the JAPONITE delegates began to notice changes in the DfE’s receptivity to outside advice.
By early 1995, Eric Forth had been replaced at the DfE by Robin Squires, whose dislike of the subject was obvious, and several representatives on the JAPONITE panel were drifting away due to pressures of work or retirement. One Corporate Member, the Women into IT Foundation, was wound down and absorbed into the Institute for Data Processing Management (IDPM; subsequently IMIS, the Institute for the Management of Information Systems), which joined JAPONITE soon after, bringing some new blood to the Council.
As signs grew in 1996 that a change of Government might be on the cards, the Council offered its advisory services to the Shadow Cabinet, with the result that a lunch-time seminar for seven Labour MP’s (five of whom subsequently became Ministers) was held in February. That same year JAPONITE produced its first formal work in the shape of a submission to Stevenson’s Independent ICT in Schools Commission. The Commission listened, and the preface to its own report notes:
“We have concluded that if the next government does not take steps to intensify the use of information and communications technology (ICT) in our schools, a generation of children – and a generation of adults as teachers – will have been put at enormous disadvantage with consequences for the UK that will be difficult to reverse.”
The General Election of 1996 brought in a new government with a seemingly new, more positive approach to ICT, particularly in schools. Inspired by optimism, JAPONITE produced, in rapid succession, four major documents:
– September, 1997 Response to the Government White Paper The People’s Lottery, concerning proposals for using Lottery money for Teacher Training in ICT
– December 1997 Response to the Government Green Paper Connecting the Learning Society – the National Grid for Learning
– May 1998 Response to the Government White Paper New Library – The People’s Network
– August 1998 Response to the DfEE Pathfinder Prospectus for the University for Industry
May 1998 also saw JAPONITE host a major conference at the Royal Society for School Governors, titled ‘ICT in Schools’. The conference, chaired by Sir Brian Jenkins and Dr Alan Benjamin (both also members of the Real Time Club), attracted 180 delegates to hear seven distinguished speakers, including Sir Dennis Stevenson.
As the influence of the Council grew, so did its membership. In 1998 JAPONITE was joined by the Institute for Electrical Engineering (IEE), the IT National Training Organisation (IT-NTO) and the Telecommunication Managers Association (TMA, later called the Communications Management Association). The addition of these influential organisations meant the Council was even more representative of the ICT community, and boosted its resources to undertake future activities.
Additional resources were certainly needed for the Council’s next project, the creation of an Internet site in 1999. With the help of external sponsorship, JAPONITE was able to launch its web-based IT Governors Journal, intended to provide a source of information on the strategic issues around planning, equipping, and training for the use of ICT in schools. The first edition appeared on the JAPONITE web-site in February 1999, with four subsequent issues published in the following years.
Also in 1999 JAPONITE submitted evidence to the Commons Education and Employment Committee which was examining the role of School Governors. The JAPONITE evidence focused on the appointment, duties and training needs of the IT-Governor, which was becoming an increasingly common position under the Government’s emerging programme of grants for ICT development within the National Grid. The Council followed up its submission with an invitation to the Committee for a buffet lunch and briefing in December 1999.
In early 2000 JAPONITE organised a second Governor’s conference on ‘The Internet and Intranets in Education’. The event attracted both external sponsorship and the attention of the national media. An extensive feature on IT Governors, to which several members of the JAPONITE Council contributed, appeared in the April edition of the Times Educational Supplement.
By now JAPONITE had established a solid reputation with both government and school Governors, with the result that it was regularly invited to contribute to sector initiatives. Following a DfEE sponsored conference in April 2000, JAPONITE was invited to contribute to the On-Line Content Evaluation Unit’s scrutiny of web-based educational material in terms of its value for schools and/or commercial markets. JAPONITE was also invited to send an observer and submit its comments on the pilot for a series of Road Shows for School Governors being organised by the DfEE. And at the end of the year, the Council was commissioned by the DfEE to prepare an annotated list of Web-sites likely to be of value to Governors.
Membership in the Council remained fluid, however, with the loss in the year 2000 of two JAPONITE members (the TMA and IMIS), and the re-organisation of the IT_NTO into the e-skills.nto (www.e-skills.com). A year later, the IEE also pulled out as a result of its own internal reorganisation, reducing the Council’s membership back down to four organisations.
2001 saw the production of a major report on The Employment of IT Technicians in Schools. Initially started at the request of the BCS Schools Committee, the report considered the need for ICT technical support in schools, and the resulting needs for support staff, sources of supply, training, qualifications, remuneration, career structure, and costs. The report was widely circulated and well-received by both the educational and computer press. Plans for a further conference to be held in early 2002 were abandoned, however, after the tragic events of September 11 triggered widespread economic fallout, including the withdrawal of sponsorship for such events.
Despite the collapse of plans for a third industry conference, the JAPONITE Council continued to play an active role in promoting ICT in education for a further two years. A meeting with the National College for School Leadership led to the production of a report in 2002 on various ways in which non-teaching staff, supported by ICT, could relieve teachers of some of their work-load.
There was also considerable work done in the area of establishing ICT-related qualifications for school staff. In 2002 JAPONITE passed on to the BCS a request for input concerning the required ICT capabilities of candidates for the National Professional Qualification for Headship, as well as a power-point presentation outlining the ICT literacy needs of School Governors. At the end of the year, the Council produced a major report for the Government on the ICT literacy needs of Governors, Chairmen and IT Governors, along with recommendations concerning training of same.
Finally, in 2003 JAPONITE produced a major paper, with only ten days’ notice, in response to the Government’s call for industry views on its White Paper The Future of Higher Education.
By the end of 2003, however, it became clear that the member organisations, in particular, both the BCS and the WCIT, intended to take a more prominent role in public affairs, including the education agenda, in their own name. Not wishing to duplicate effort across different organisations, JAPONITE agreed to disband.
Real Time Club Education Caucus
In the meantime, the newly formed Education Caucus of the Real Time Club had been busy producing its seminal Open Report to the Commons Education Committee on ICT in Schools. The 58 page report, endorsed by the Commons Education Committee, whose Chairman, Sir Malcolm Thornton, MP wrote the foreword, was widely distributed and generated considerable interest within the education and political spheres.
At the same time, and at the personal request of Prime Minister Tony Blair, Dennis (now Lord) Stevenson began to prepare a major report on the state of IT in Education. Twenty copies of the RTC report were requested for the Stevenson Committee’s review, and Lord Stevenson himself generously acknowledged the influence of its recommendations on his own final report and recommendations.
One outcome of the recommendations around the Stevenson Report was the formation of an inter-agency liaison group, consisting of the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED), the Qualification and Curriculums Authority (QCA) and the Teacher Training Agency (TTA), to co-ordinate their ICT policies. The Real Time Club, along with the BCS and IT-NTO, was invited to be an external member of this group, enabling the Club to continue to make private contributions to discussions on the future of ICT in teacher training and the national curriculum.
The following year the Club produced a further report for Sir Ron Dearing’s National Committee of inquiry into Higher Education. The Club’s 11 page submission explored the likely future impact of ICT on higher education, covering such topics as distance learning and the establishment of Virtual Universities operating across the Internet. The final Dearing report contained 14 recommendations pertaining to ICT, all of which largely coincided with the Real Time Club’s evidence.
As the new Millennium approached, the pressures of business had taken their toll in the amount of time RTC members could devote to pro bono activities such as the Education Caucus. Nevertheless, the group managed to make significant contributions on a number of fronts.
– The Club was represented on a Task Force formed by the Computer Systems and Software Association (CSSA) to look into the state of the UK Learning Software Industry in 1997. The Task Force Report was published in June 1998.
– In late 1999 the Club assisted the IEE in writing a Foresight Panel Report on Education in 2020.
– In conjunction with another RTC initiative on finance for SME’s in the high tech sector, the Club sought to promote improvements in business and entrepreneurial education in schools.
The Club continued to work very closely with the University of Greenwich School of Education, providing staff members with technical advice, information and training by the ICT industry. In 1999, as part of an ICT Policy Group planning and implementing IT/ICT in the School of Education project, the Club helped organise a mini-exhibition called ‘Next Steps in ICT’. The close relationship between the Club and the University culminated in the appointment of Bill Freyenfeld to the University Assembly, a post that he held until 2004.
The Club’s IT/Ed Project lasted 15 years, ten of which also included its involvement in JAPONITE. Over this period both organisations achieved considerable influence and a number of specific successes in the promotion of ICT in education. As a result of Real Time Club initiative, British schools are better prepared to both teach and employ ICT effectively, to deliver world class skills based on the new technologies.