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The Microelectronics Education Programme

In ..

 

Work in Progress - needs to be completed

 

mep logo

MEP Logo

Origins

The public's interest in the impact of microlectronics gathered pace during the late 1970s, particularly following the BBC Horizon Programme “The Chips are Down”. The Prime Minister at the time, Jim Callaghan, is reported to have asked each government department to draw up an action plan to meet the challenge of new technologies and the DES developed, again with the help of CET its response - the Microelectronics Education Programme.  The Programme was aimed at primary and secondary schools in England, Northem Ireland and Wales. Although it was delayed by the change of government in 1979, Keith Joseph as Education Secretary finally approved it in 1980 and in March a four-year programme for schools, costing £9 million. was announced by the Under Secretary of State at the Department of Education and Science, Mr Neil MacFarlane (Fothergill, 1981, p.132).

It's aim was to help schools to prepare children for 'life in a society in which devices and systems based on microelectronics are commonplace and pervasive' at a time when the teaching profession was very short of experience and expertise in microelectronics and eduational computing. The majority of secondary schools and virtually all primary schools had no computers and few LEAs had appointed advisers. (HMI, 1986)

Early Stages - Software Development

The Department started the programme before it appointed a Director (Richard Fothergill was appointed in the following January). During this time it spent over a million pounds funding a range of national projects mainly focussed on developing programs for the range of microcomputers. These included:

Computers in the Curriculum

'Computers in the Curriculum' was a project housed at Chelsea and then Kings College, London which had began in the 1970s and had received funding from both NDPCAL and then the Schools Council. The project attracted and created numerous creative and talented people - Daniel Chandler was English Coordinator there, Richard Millward

Five Ways Software

and Five Ways Software with John Coll,

ITMA

and the Investigations on Teaching with Microcomputers as an Aid Project (ITMA) n Plymouth at the College of St Mark and St John Hugh Burkhardt and Rosemary Frazer. It also funded a long term in-service training project at Birmingham

Central Team

mep central team

MEP Central Team (from left

Mike Bostock, Richard Fothergill

Helen

John Anderson, Bob Coates

After significant consultation, particularly with local authority chief education officers Richard Fothergill created a strategy with a strong regional structure, using funding mechanisms to bind local authorities together into collaborative groups.  This worked better in some cases than others but it did enable a national programme to have strong local representation in a real and meaningful way, allowing local authorities to make decisions on how to implement national decisions.

By April 1981 he had set up a small team of seven people, operating 'by choice' from offices at Cheviot House in Newcastle Polytechnic (Fothergill, 1981, p.133).    John Anderson was appointed Deputy, Bob Coates, Helen .. and Mike Bostock and Lyn Craig provided a small national leadership team later supported by Mike Page for Press and Media, Bill Broderick for International, and Alan Greenwell and Ralph Tabberer for Curriculum Development.   Being based in Newcastle was a double-edged sword: it separated the programme from too much hands-on influence from Whitehall, but also seperated them from exerting such influence in reverse.

The Programme was responsible to the Departments of Education of England, Northern Ireland and Wales but not Scotland which had its own programme, it was advised by an Advisory Committee. Its contracts were administered by the Council for Educational Technology who also held the copyright for materials developed.

Supply of Microcomputers and teacher awareness courses

microprimer pack

MicroPrimer Pack

The DES had decided early in its planning that MEP resources should not be used for the purchase of large quantities of equipment. However the 'Micros in Schools', was initiated by the Department of lndustry to help schools acquire computers. This gave all schools the opportunity to purchase a microcomputer at half-price. One important feature of this scheme was its insistence on at least two teachers receiving basic training on the equipment as a condition of purchase. To this end the Programme produced and distributed an extensive packaged course, including specially
commissioned computer programs such as the MicroPrimer pack.

The Work of the Programme

Broadly though the programme worked, and importantly harnessed a lot of creative individuals and produced some inspirational materials that stimulated interest across the country and across the world.

Its original funding to 1984 was extended to 1986, particularly to develop the primary programme with Anita Straker being appointed as its Director based in Winchester. 

Subject Domains

To cover the wide remit he was given he also set up four subject domains for the strategy – Computer Based Learning – CBL with a national coordinator Mike Aston, the Computer Domain with Phil Russell, Communication and Information Systems, CAIS with Peter Wheeler and Ann Irving, and Electronics and Control Technology ECT, with Graham Bevis.  This provided a breadth to the programme, with regional coordinators for each of these domains running training courses for teachers.  Programmes for Special Education Needs under Mary Hope and later Primary with Anita Straker were also created to provide additional strong support.

Curriculum Development

T..



Early on the Department had a relatively light touch but this changed as they were increasingly supported by expert HMIs such as Maurice Edmundson and then later by Gabriel Goldstein and Peter Seabourne.
MEP’s success brought its own tensions particularly as these new power bases were created within the department and in local authorities.  It was closed.  Richard Fothergill was appointed Director at CET, but this only lasted a short time. The Department decided to develop a different approach based on a central unit supporting local authorities.
List of MEP projects in HANSARD here
http://yourdemocracy.newstatesman.com/parliament/education-and-science/HAN11556542

Teacher Training

Central government estimates that at least 55 000 primary and secondary school teachers have completed in-service courses under the microelectronics education programme. Such courses are additional to the "familiarity" courses associated with the micros in school schemes. (Dalyell, 1984)

Evaluations

The MEP years will be remembered by those directly involved, and by most of those on its periphery, as a time of creativity and fruitful development. There was a new found and remarkable enthusiasm for IT and its potential impact on all phases and many aspects of the curriculum. (HMI)

The Programme was formally evaluated by Her Majesty's Inspectorate in 1986 (HMI, 1996). HMI, particularly Maurice Edmunsen and later Gabriel Goldstein and Peter Seabourne, continually advised and evaluated aspects of the work of MEP, sitting on the Advisory Committee and working closely with DES officials on future policy directions. At this time these HMI were based in Elizabeth House, the DES offices, working alongside civil servants, although relatively independent and able to make their own judgements. They also became well known and well connected with NAACE, which at that time was an LEA adviser/inspector only organisation. The increasing strength of LEA advisors was a strong factor in their evaluation, the concluding chapters of which are here. In summary:

They identified a range of positive factors that helped MEP's impact on the work of schools:

  1. the three-stranded strategy of curriculum development, information dissemination and inservice training.
  2. the co-operative strategy adopted by MEP strengthened the cadre of well-in formed teachers and trainers and strengthened groups of LEAs who could then take on the role of encouraging and supporting IT. In these respects the 'pump priming' objective of the programme seems to have been achieved.
  3. MEP staff were often highly creative, committed and hardworking.
  4. the range of materials developed with MEP funding was impressive.
  5. closer links began to be formed between in-service training and curriculum development yielding
    good materials, training courses and models for classroom work;
  6. INSET was usually well prepared and the 'cascade' principle of teacher training operated successfully
    wherever opportunities were offered for sharing experiences with others. Towards the end of the Programme there was a noticeable increase in the use made of MEP materials in initial teacher training.

However they made a number of more negative observations:

  1. Because MEP had to work through other agencies its contact with schools was indirect and on occasion there were conflicting views between agencies on what schools needed and who should provide it;
  2. there were problems of communication between schools and various agencies seeking to promote
    microelectronics education. Distances to the nearest RIC or SEMERC were an additional hindrance to good and sustained communications. Several RICs were not well informed about the work of the schools in their
    region.
  3. a better central information service to RICs and other MEP staff at an early stage should have underpinned a national information dissemination strategy, using existing channels of communications rather than relying on new ones. As it turned out, until the last year of the Programme schools were largely unaware of the wide range of resources available to them through the MEP;
  4. delays in getting development projects approved and under discouraged proposers and slowed work;
  5. a lot of products funded by MEP were never developed so they could be satisfactorily used by others;
  6. MEP supported enthusiasm but was less effective in assuring the quality of outcomes;
  7. leadership of MEP was creative and enthusiastic, but the organisation as a whole was complex.and often lacked a clear, corporate purpose.

In discussing the implications for the future they say clearly: "Without central government initiatives it would have been very difficult to reach sufficient consensus and achieve co-operation in this field. The speed of development in information technology is such that continued leadership by government is needed. The model of specific government funding, which promoted particular developments and encouraged co-operative rather than competitive working among LEAs, was beneficial." So they set the scene for continuing government funding (which was ESG GEST...)

[The MEP] was a short-term ephemeral initiative, part of a growing tradition in British government technology policy. A problem was identified, a political posture was struck, a programme was launched, a public relations victory was scored, a limited scale and duration budget was committed. Underneath little may have changed, or the change may have been for the worse. (Ennals, 1987, p. 194)

The end of MEP and the critiques of its approach were mixed. Some from the academic world, Ennals were critical of its short-term centrally driven approach. Others were more positive. Boyd-Barrett (1990)

 

 

 

The legacy of MEP

 

The main weaknesses of MEP were consonant with what might have been expected of any `frontier' educational development programme ... had MEP died abruptly and schools been left to decide for themselves how to handle the challenges posed by information technology, there can be little doubt that further progress would have been very patchy indeed, brilliant in a few cases, mediocre to non-existent in most.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

Boyd-Barrett, O. (1990) 'Schools' computing policy as state-directed innovation', Educational Studies Vol. 16, No.2. pp. 169-186. 

Dalyell T., (1984), New Scientist August 30th 1984 [online]

Ennals, R. (1987) Difficulties in managing innovation, British Journal of Education Technology, 18(3), pp. 194-198.

HMI (1986), The Work of the Microelectronics Education Programme, London: DES reported in Studies in Design Education, Craft and Technology Volume 19 Number 3 Summer 1987 [link]

Lamb, J (1985) 'Programming the First Generation" New Scientist 28th March [online]

Fothergill, R. (1982) 'The Microelectronincs Education Programme' in (eds.) J. Megarry, D.R.F. Walker and S Nisbet, World Year Book of Education:Computers and Education, Kogan Page reprinted 2006

Fothergill (1988) Implications of New Technology for the School Curriculum (London, Kogan Page)