ECDL: Pollyfilla not Cement

It’s not been a brilliant week for the ECDL – the European Computer Driving Licence.   Last week edu-Twitter erupted with news of a 346% increase in ECDL passes.  We’ve now heard that Ofsted will pay close attention to it on their inspections this year in what would seem to be a crack-down on tactical game-playing which might place the interests of the school ahead of the interests of the students.


The ECDL is the best known of a small bunch of ‘accessible’ qualifications that still count in our league tables by filling a slot in the third basket of Attainment/Progress 8.  It’s as popular as it is contentious – canny schools can get large groups of kids through the ECDL in a matter of days.  It seems at odds with the increased rigour of our new assessment framework.

There isn’t a head in the country who went into school leadership so that they could provide kids with the ECDL, but I disagree that there’s no place for it in our schools.  The trick lies in using it like Polyfilla, not cement.

Using the ECDL as Polyfilla means using it as a temporary fix to gain performance table points (with some benefit to the students) while longer term improvements take shape.  I love Attainment/Progress 8, but we know that it favours schools that already deliver a traditional academic curriculum, and we’re now seeing a lag as other schools realign their curriculum to fit the new measures.  As these curriculum changes take shape, schools are justified in seeking out advantages available to them in the current system.

Of course school leaders would rather their students gain an A in French than a Pass on the ECDL, but if they’re not taking a modern language due to curriculum decisions made three years ago, then it can make sense for the child and the school to find the time to deliver the ECDL.  It serves as Polyfilla in this case as it fills a crack in the curriculum, plugging the leak until the new curriculum comes through.

The danger is when ECDL is used as cement – when a school’s success is built on vast numbers of students doing as many accessible qualifications as the system allows.  I’m glad that Ofsted will now ask questions about the number of students entered for ECDL and the curriculum time allocated to it.  I hope they also enquire about each school’s future intentions, with the expectation that ECDL is phased out, or reserved for a small number of targeted students, as the school’s curriculum realigns in the coming years.

The use of ECDL, and the search for the few remaining accessible qualifications that still count, can be justified so long as schools recognise this expediency for what it is – a temporary tactical fix while the longer term strategy of equipping students to get proper grades on proper courses takes shape.

Trouble emerges when our tactics become our strategy; when our Polyfilla becomes our cement.


One thought on “ECDL: Pollyfilla not Cement

  1. I wouldn’t call it a temporary fix, or tactical. It is still a valid qualification and is far more useful (and I think rigorous when done properly) than GCSE ICT. But you are correct in that we should not be relying on it to fix big holes in buckets (hmm maybe its gaffa tape rather than polyfilla). I am quite happy to see it (and the Microsoft equivalents) on the curriculum as they are, in a lot of ways, more suitable to developing 21st Century skills than some GCSEs.

    Liked by 1 person

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