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Tuesday, 8 May, 2001, 15:32 GMT 16:32 UK
Slow impact of school computers
teacher using laptop in class
Investment in technology is considerable
England's schools are beginning to use computers more in teaching - but teachers are making "slow progress" in learning about them, school inspectors have said.


There are messages for all who have responsibilities for ICT, at any level

Chief inspector, Mike Tomlinson
Millions of pounds is being spent on putting computers into schools and on training - 657m over four years from 1998 for hardware and, more recently, 230m from the lottery for training.

But the inspectorate, Ofsted, has criticised the fragmentary nature of the funding and choice of services available.

It said this had meant individual schools, training organisations and local education authorities separately reinventing the wheel.

Bold aims

When the government announced its plans to encourage the wide use of information and communication technology (ICT) in schools in 1997, it set targets to be achieved by 2002.

Among these, teachers were to feel confident and be competent to teach using ICT across the curriculum.

Ofsted looked at what had happened in visits to 128 primary schools, 44 special schools, 401 secondary schools and 10 local education authorities (LEAs) between June 1999 and December last year.

It said there had been recent improvements in pupils' abilities in the information technology part of the curriculum - but that standards were still lower than in most subjects and varied widely.

The investment in hardware seemed to be paying off, with "emerging evidence" of a link between high standards across the curriculum and good ICT provision - but this varied from subject to subject.

Lack of technical support

Primary schools were using ICT more in their teaching, and things were slowly improving in secondary schools - but there was a weakness in special schools.

Oftsed said half of the secondary schools did not meet the national curriculum requirements for information technology - with teachers finding it hard to get access to the technology except for specific information technology courses.

LEAs had often underestimated the funding needed, with small support teams fully stretched trying to meet demand for support.

Smaller schools - including most primary schools - could not afford proper technical support.

The government computer agency Becta approved "managed services" offering a complete solution for schools' ICT needs, usually from private companies, but the take-up of these was low because they cost too much, Ofsted said.

Training in their own time

Most teachers had not completed the training programmes. Only half had enrolled and most had not completed the training.

Computer use among those who had been on the courses had increased - but rarely their teaching expertise.

"The need for teachers to use their own time for training, together with the lack of information about the range of training programmes from which to choose, has hindered progress," said Ofsted's report.

In response, the Teacher Training Agency said training had been provided or arranged for three quarters of 415,000 eligible teachers and librarians in England and the rest had until March next year to sign up.

The Department for Education said take-up of computer training by teachers had been "unprecedented", with more than 250,000 now having started a course.

It had been decided that they should attend outside school hours so as to cause the minimum disruption to pupils, a spokeswoman said.

Fragmentation

In a commentary on their findings, the inspectors said there had been a flexibility in the approach to getting ICT into schools - but this had led to a fragmentation of effort, "with training organisations, LEAs and schools independently seeking solutions to the same problems".

This was "in stark contrast" with the more uniform approach of the national literacy and numeracy strategies, they said.

Funding had also varied widely between schools.

Long-term planning was also a concern, as regards linking curriculum developments to staff competence and replacing out-of-date equipment.

Ofsted's chief inspector, Mike Tomlinson, said: "As can be seen, there are messages for all who have responsibilities for ICT, at any level, if the initiative is to have maximum impact on standards of work."

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