It is recognized in the literature that information and communications technology (ICT) is an important component in improving the quality of teaching, learning and management in modern schools.  Therefore it is important that it forms a central focus in curriculum planning throughout KS3 and KS4. This essay reflects on the use of assessment and differentiation in relation to the teaching and learning of ICT at KS3 and KS4, with a specific focus on the evidence obtained through placement at a local secondary school.
The placement school referred to in this report was the Hope Valley College, a small rural comprehensive in the Peak District National Park. The school currently has 576 enrolled students aged between 11 and 16 years old, with an additional 500 adults using the College facilities for learning each week. Most students attending the college are from isolated rural villages.  School staff opinion generally reflects that Hope Valley is a good school, with a positive atmosphere due to the small size of the school and focused teaching staff. The equipment at the school is perceived by teachers to be of a high standard. It is recognized that children are generally of a mixed ability when arriving at the school due to some being farmers' children with a poor level of primary education.
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The school was awarded Specialist Technology College status in 2000; Technology and Arts College status in 2009; recognition as a High Performing Specialist School in 2009; and a third specialism of Applied Learning with Gifted and Talented in 2009 also.  The school was awarded an overall effectiveness of grade 2 in its 2008 Ofsted report, with acknowledgement as a good and improving college. The college is recognized as having strong links with community business and industry, with provision of flexible, tailored pathways, including vocational courses. 
Hope Valley ranked 11th in the GCSE league tables for Derbyshire LEA in 2008, with 72% of students receiving 5 or more A* to C grades at KS4,  while in 2009 ranked 306th across the country, with 84% having achieved 5 A* to C grades at KS4.  Therefore Hope Valley College may be considered a good example of the attainment which may be achieved through effective use of ICT in learning, assessment and differentiation at KS3 and KS4.
ICT forms an integral part of the curriculum for children in England and Wales up to and including KS3, after which ICT as a subject becomes an option for most pupils. ICT education is however a slightly ambiguous term in English education, also being used to describe the use of technology in other lessons. There has been in the past some confusion over the role of ICT, particularly outside of the ICT subject-specific classroom.  Hope Valley College however has clear strategies in place to ensure that the learning which occurs in discrete ICT lessons can then be applied as a learning tool in other subjects.
Within Hope Valley School, ICT forms part of the curriculum from Year 7 through to Year 9. ICT is segregated into four different strands of progression within the National Curriculum: (1) finding information; (2) developing ideas; (3) communication information; and (4) evaluating.  In Hope Valley College these four areas are approached in an integrated manner, with project work throughout KS3 and KS4 often focusing on building on more than one strand and their associated sub-strands through planned projects. This is aimed at creating consistency across the years in progression which should allow for easy transfer of skills to post-16 qualifications in ICT in either traditional or non-traditional settings.
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During Years 7 and 8 students complete a series of projects which as well as addressing the strands of progression, are also aimed at illustrating the application of ICT in other subject areas, and how this may facilitate study in those areas. This approach continues into Year 9, although with an increased emphasis on achieving recognized qualifications in ICT, including the OCR Functional Skills Level 2 as well as Key Skills ICT Level 2.
In any learning environment there are likely to be significant differences in learning styles as well as existing levels of attainment between learners. This can present a major challenge if not addressed appropriately, as low levels of achievement may impact on motivation of pupils, further impairing achievement.  Although pupils should have followed strands of progression through KS1 and KS2 for ICT, there may still be differences in attainment related to emphasis on ICT in primary schools, such as was the case with the intake at Hope Valley College. Pupils may also have different levels of experience with ICT depending on access to computers and the Internet at home, which also may vary widely.  Teaching to the middle of the group, as would most likely be the case without any form of differentiation,  would at Hope Valley College leave a significant number of students each year being taught ICT at an inappropriate level.
The most effective way of meeting pupils' different learning needs is to vary the way in which the curriculum is delivered, while also presenting a range of tasks, which should maximize pupil involvement.  This is part of a process called differentiation, which may be defined as the process of matching what is learned, how it is learned and the process of showing what has been learned to the individual pupil.  Mooij  argues that differentiation of learning materials and procedures may be one of three key conditions in overcoming possible achievement problems in the classroom, with the others being integration of ICT and planned strategies to improve learning.
There are different methods of differentiation which may be used in the classroom. Differentiation by outcome means that all pupils in the classroom do the same work, only being differentiated by the assessed outcome of the work. This is essentially the least intensive form of differentiation, as the delivery of ICT lessons would be the same, it would only be that planned outcomes would differ between students.  It would be unlikely that using this type of differentiation alone would produce desirable effects, and McNamara  argues that using a combination of forms of differentiation is necessary if teachers are to truly accommodate different learning styles in their classroom.
Assessing the outcomes from an ICT task and identifying differentiation in outcomes may however then be used to differentiate by process, which means that pupils may be able to go about producing their assessed outcome in different ways, including having different levels of support offered.  It is possible that teachers in ICT may wish to make continual assessment in this manner as opposed to across the whole year, as pupil needs may change as experience with ICT increases.  Using this type of differentiation would be expected to be one of the most successful in relation to the ICT curriculum. This is based on observations of its use in Hope Valley College, for example where small groups received direct instruction while others engaged in self-directed learning, with similar levels of achievement noted at the end of the project. It is also possible that ICT teachers may wish to use differentiation by product. This is a method whereby pupils are able to produce different outcomes which will all be used to assess the same learning goals.  This was not an approach utilized in Hope Valley College, but the literature from a diverse range of subjects indicates that this approach is generally successful, largely due to increased interest, engagement and motivation in students selecting their own products.  ,  , 
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What is more, there are also different ways to achieve such differentiation. For example classes could be divided into different ability groups,  although at small schools such as Hope Valley College this is not a particularly practical solution. This also would not be expected to be the ideal solution based on recent literature, which indicates greater benefit to students from heterogeneous classrooms based on their better reflection of real life working environments.  One advantage within the ICT classroom is however that ICT is in itself a great tool for allowing differentiation, due to the pupil-led nature of most ICT tasks.
Assessment and Monitoring
Different assessment and monitoring procedures may be used within ICT, although those used at the Hope Valley College are fairly consistent across KS3 and KS4. The emphasis at the school on project work means that students are encouraged to build a portfolio on the school's own e-learning system. Assessment sheets are available which detail the requirements to achieve the highest levels in the subject, with assessment being carried out based on the final products completed in each product and uploaded to the portfolio. Although project work has been shown to not always be an effective means of assessment across subjects, its use in ICT is associated with increased student motivation and consistently reflects the true ability levels of students within the curriculum strands.  The use of project work is also clearly beneficial in its automatic ability to integrate differentiation, in terms of outcome, process and product.  What is more, project work is likely to be a major component of any post-16 ICT course which is selected, whether that be academic qualifications such as AS/A level or vocational courses such as BTEC.
One of the key elements of ICT provision at Hope Valley College was of course the pathways of progression, which are designed to create a more consistent pathway through compulsory education to either further education or vocational training.  This begins with KS3, in which the strands of progression laid out in the National Curriculum are followed, progress is assessed, and KS4 plans may then be made built on these outcomes. Over the last few years there has become a greater emphasis on the age of 14 being a critical point in education as opposed to 16, due to 14 being the point at which GCSE options are selected and their possible impact on further education and careers. Therefore there has become much more emphasis on the segregation of 14-19 as a specific phase in education, leading to strategies to create greater consistency in progression over this phase.  Those following ICT to KS4 would however follow the same strands of progression albeit at a higher level than at KS3.
Year 9 focuses on the OCR Functional Skills Level 2 as well as Key Skills ICT Level 2. This is assessed using a multiple choice question exam as well as a portfolio of two projects covering geography and history. There is work in progress to introduce an external assessment for ICT at 14 years or the end of KS3, to be taken in line with the equivalent SATs in maths, English and science.  This prepares students for KS4, in which further portfolio work is completed along with a formal examination. The use of e-assessment is becoming increasingly common both within schools and in areas of further education and professional development, therefore its integration in ICT lessons should contribute not only to effective assessment but also improved technology skills in itself.  This may be particularly important for those choosing traditional pathways for post-16 ICT qualifications, where formal assessment is likely to play a key role.
The general teaching requirements for the National Curriculum state that pupils should be given opportunities to review and evaluate their work,  therefore this should form part of the assessment strategy within ICT. Gardner  discusses assessment techniques used in Canada in which peer-assessment takes place at the KS4 level in various subjects, each of which requires heavy use of ICT across a project-based curriculum. This approach is used in KS4 at Hope Valley College, where students are given opportunity to assess their peers' work, as a means of developing a critical perspective of their own portfolio.
Education under the Labour Government has begun to focus on developing education and skills relevant to the workplace. This began with the introduction of Key Skills, but has now also moved to include specific vocational options after KS3, and ICT has played a central role in this due to its perceived importance for employers.  A new vocational education initiative provides for a non-traditional learning pathway for post-16 education, in which pupils are able to spend up to two days per week in alternative settings, such as enterprise.  Given the importance of ICT in vocational areas, this is therefore likely to be an integral part of such a post-16 pathway, even if traditional A-level study of ICT is not pursued.
Cross-Curricular ICT Delivery
Two possible models of delivery may be adopted by secondary schools for ICT - cross-curricular or discrete. A cross-curricular approach is one in which ICT is integrated into a range of subjects as appropriate, while a discrete approach segregates the use of taught ICT competencies to specific ICT lessons alone.  The general teaching requirements of the National Curriculum do however state that "Pupils should be given the opportunities to apply and develop their ICT capability through the use of ICT tools to support their learning in all subjects".  It has been recognized that integration of ICT into a range of curricular subjects is likely to lead to improvements in learning and teaching.  Mooij  also indicates integration of ICT as one of his three key conditions for addressing problems with attainment. This may be largely associated with the emphasis which ICT use places on pupil-centred learning as opposed to teacher-directed learning. This may therefore lead to greater learner autonomy, providing an effective tool for differentiation  as well as developing independent learning skills which should only lead to further improvements in learning.  This therefore indicates the importance of integrating ICT into other subjects across the curriculum at both KS3 and KS4.
Although it is possible to integrate the use of ICT into any subject offered at KS3 and KS4,  findings from 2002 indicated that ICT was most commonly used outside the ICT classroom at KS3 in English, design and technology, science and mathematics.  The Hope Valley College does however integrate ICT into most subjects at some stage over KS3 and into KS4. As the Hope Valley College has specialist technology status it benefits from having a higher level of ICT resources than many schools, which for some may be a major barrier to integrating ICT use into more subjects. 
Most of the investment in England and Wales in integration of ICT into multiple subject classrooms has focused on installation of interactive whiteboards.  The use of this technology has been hailed as successful in improving student learning due to the increased interactivity which it allows in lessons.  Although there are other methods which may be used by teachers to generate interaction in the classroom, some of these may not be as popular with pupils.  Despite this, some authors have suggested that interactive whiteboards alone may not actually be effective in improving learning as they still do not really focus on pupil-lead learning, merely a more interactive version of teacher-led learning.  Hope Valley College has however sought to overcome this by creating a much greater level of ICT integration across multiple subjects. This includes the use of both e-assessment at KS3 and KS4 and also their own virtual learning environment. As virtual learning environments have become more advanced, they have begun to offer a very good opportunity for secondary schools to integrate ICT easily into other subject areas, usually as a complement to the face-to-face classes delivered.  This is a strategy which is used by Hope Valley College, with great results, allowing also for further monitoring of ICT skills even outside of the discrete ICT classroom.
Hope Valley College enjoys specialist status as a technology college, and as such provides a good example of not only how ICT should be differentiated, assessed and monitored in the discrete ICT classroom, but also how this should carry through to other subject areas. Building in project work through KS3 allows for consistency in following the pathways for progression through KS4 and post-16 qualifications, where self-directed learning is vital. The use of project work also allows for differentiation in outcome, product and process, which should further improve learning and attainment in the ICT classroom. Introduction of greater levels of assessment, most notably e-assessment, are likely to further improve consistency for those preparing for academic post-16 routes.