I recently heard of a local primary school that doesn't teach ICT as a separate subject in upper KS2 and it really got me thinking about when specific ICT skills lessons should stop being compulsory.
To begin, I started wondering how what I would have considered essential computer operating skills a decade ago - things like: switching a PC on, controlling a mouse accurately and printing - aren't really common tasks that children growing up in today's world - where touch tablets and cloud storage are the norm - need to do in daily life any more. Think of all the valuable lesson time that has probably been wasted in the past teaching how to use devices that have evolved and changed so rapidly that they are no longer used!
Next, I went on to think about the basic ICT skills that the average child would need in daily life. These are basic techniques which can easily be transferred to any application so they should definitely be taught - examples being: resarching on the Internet using a web browser, using common word processing tools and taking digital photos. I would imagine that most schools teach the fundamentals of these quite early on and children get the chance to purposefully apply them when using ICT in other subjects as they get older - no problem here.
After that, I then thought about those higher-order ICT skills which need more discrete teaching and aren't likely to be used that often - things like: computer programming, designing databases, creating websites, using drawing tools to create pictures etc. From my experience, children do enjoy doing all these sorts of tasks (especially as I've really refined my lessons over the years to make them as exciting as possible) but are they absolutely necessary? I would argue that they are since they make children aware of the variety of pathways having good ICT skills can lead to and they inspire children to use technology in creative ways (not just use it for consuming content).
Only teaching ICT in a cross-curricular way from Year 5 upwards would therefore be disadvantaging the children since I very much doubt that they would be given enough good experiences to develop these higher-order skills in lessons once the history/geography/science learning objective would always become the focus. Would you really want children to spend their science lesson exploring animation timelines when you'd really asked them to create an on-screen presentation about a topic?
Keep ICT lessons as they are I would argue - use this time for dedicated teaching of new ICT skills so that learning in other subjects isn't compromised by children becoming all excited by the tools available when a new piece of software is first introduced. Obviously the programs you want/need to teach will differ over time but having ICT lessons to attend will give children the opportunity to learn how to use them first before they then go on to use them more purposefully in other subjects. They also provide a place in the timetable for teaching discrete 'computing' skills that although aren't really important to every child, are essential if you want your children to be taught a broad and balanced curriculum in school that isn't just about developing good knowledge and understanding of the world.
In my ICT lessons, I ensure that the focus is always upon ICT skills and the majority of the activities thatI ask children to do are discrete ICT tasks. I do however like to occassionally include some cross-curricular contexts to keep the children motivated but these only reference information that the children have already been taught in other subjects - I never teach them anything new.
Compare learning ICT skills to handwriting - how good do you think your children would be at forming letters correctly if they were only reminded to write neatly during literacy lessons?