IT has never been great in schools, but at least when it started around in the late 80s and 90s, when I went throug,h nothing was polished so everything involved some hacking to get working. Maths teacher let us play around with logo, we did some BASIC etc. We even had those logo robots that you could program to run to drive around on the floor. The IT (or Maths) teacher probably ran the school network and could configure things as they liked.
Then as we got older we went on the PCs to do some graphs for maths and maybe a lesson or two on spreadsheets to produce more graphs. We took over the computer lab at lunchtimes bypassing the abysmal lockdowns and played network QuakeII at lunchtime. We fired off hacks that crashed our classmates PC over the network.
In A-Level computing I had to do assembly language, which university was too scared of until at least the second year, as they assumed everyone joined computer science with no programming background and spent a lecture on assigning and retrieving variables
Fast forward to 2006 when I did my ICT teacher training:
The ICT teacher doesn't have admin access on machines, they have to fill in a form to get software installed, they're not given the privileges to reset kids passwords. But they do have a smartboard to make fun and engaging lessons (although only one person can really use it at a time so how do you engage a whole classful with it), which is an expensive board for a projector to aim at.
They teach word processing, presentation software (without actually presenting), some spreadsheets (but avoided as the kids struggle with the maths), and databases (skipped over as soon as possible as they were complicated and really couldn't do anything that the kids could grasp as useful or interesting, which is fair enough).
If you're lucky you do web pages, but use software that abstracts you as far away from the HTML structure as possible (Matchware Mediator), and dont bother to look at web hosting, DNS, FTP, or even CGI).
Qualifications evolve around these skills, giving 4 GCSE equivalents and are relatively easy - kids with no hope of a C in English or Maths can achieve a C in these as they involve simple tasks repeatedly with no critical thinking. Schools pounce on them , some forcing everyone to do it at GCSE. There are sometimes interesting modules, but these are skipped over as generally not as easy as the other modules. They introduce some multimedia, video/sound editing etc which is nice but still mostly application based.
Hardly any schools do A level Computing, its all ICT or Applied ICT, which is more of the same stuff done at GCSE, perhaps with some VB or Macros for the advanced kids. Kids have to write essays on the Digital Divide etc. Few teachers would be confident to teach the A Level Computing either as most have done no programming and probably came from a Business with IT or Media Studies degree:
(The numbers aint too bad from ICT, 46%, but it depends what is classed as an ICT degree. 22% art?! Engineering & each Science 1! Maths 3%!)
Scratch comes out, every school should be using it in some lessons (as they've ditched logo), but they dont.
Lego mindstorms is available, but hardly any schools have invested in this and have instead made sure there are lots of pcs for kids to access the internet, and play flash games, copy and paste stuff from wikipedia, and print out pictures for their art classes. Schools are spending £000s on Microsoft Windows and Office licenses when they could get linux and openoffice for free. They spend thousands on Virtual Learning Environments, when they could get Moodle for free. Decent technicians that would be happy and contented setting all this up are underpaid and have left. The only department that uses the VLE is IT, and one or two technical evangelists probably a science or language teacher, as they are the only ones where the kids have access during lessons, but it is only really used to share files as putting an assignment up and getting kids to read through it and work without teacher making them do work would be seen as a poor lesson.
The best IT/Computing lessons are occurring in maths and science if you're lucky as they are still doing things like running a weather station gathering data and importing it etc.
2010 - BECTA gets shut down, it did seem to produce some decent stuff, but I guess its actual impact in schools just wasn't good enough!
teach-ict.com (The goto place when you are off sick and need a worksheet to send in for the kids to do) What's New March 2012 sections has:
Adapted an eight page task sheet to make it suitable for Word 2010: basic editing task 5
Adapted a task sheet to make it suitable for Word 2010:setting tabs
Which says it all.
(I did notice they have created a Computing section which actually looks quite promising!)
The RPi tempts me back into teaching, but the pay isn't good enough now I've realised how valued my technical skills are in the marketplace, and I probably couldn't face the behaviour and stressful environment after a relaxed adult environment. However, there are a lot of IT professionals being, sadly, made redundant at the moment that were around when the BBC Microsystems and ZX Spectrums were around and have that mindset, if the government could get them in to the profession.
If I wanted back in it would need to be as head of department (or with someone with the same vision) with a budget to acquire a class set of mindstorms, and some RPis. Get Linux running on the PCs even as dual boot just so kids have that exposure. IT lessons (drop the C(rap)) at GCSE would be optional and follow a challenging syllabus. A level would be Computing or one of the better 'vocational' qualifications like where kids have to design a network for a small business and actually set it up and have an array of other interesting and technically valuable modules.
Unfortunately the people with the mindset and the skills to improve school IT are doing interesting stuff in industry. Thats why the South East has had a shortage of IT teachers because those graduates go into IT jobs in London. There are some decent IT teachers in schools, that love all the techy stuff, and love the kids too, but they have to do awful qualifications to get good results for the league tables.
So to stop ranting and to help answer the original question:
To get teachers to use it awareness and pressure needs to be put on school leadership to get them so when the ones that are interested ask, they can get em without a battle.
Schemes of work that do interesting things with them at different ages and levels with cheap components. For both a small set of RPis (4-5 between a class working in groups), or a full class set.
Some software might need to be provided to compile data from external sensors, which could be provided for lower years/less able. Or make source code available for adjustments, or so teachers can take sections out and get pupils to re-write functions (monitoring frequency, output format) etc.
[edited to stop side scrolling - good post BTW! --scep]