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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 July 2006, 18:11 GMT 19:11 UK
Computer learning 'grid' scrapped
By Gary Eason
Education editor, BBC News website

pupils using laptops
Schools have invested heavily in computer equipment
A core feature of the government's multi-million-pound school computers initiative, the National Grid for Learning, has been scrapped.

Announced by Labour in 1997, it was central to the effort to thrust school technology into the 21st Century.

Government computer agency Becta said it was reducing the online services and brands it provided for schools and was "exiting from the NGfL brand".

The NGfL web "portal" to educational resources is no longer available.

The NGfL Scotland has also gone.

The most recent progress report on it, dated March 2004, said staff training and the access to information and communication technology (ICT) in schools meant attention could be turned to "the true goal of NGfL" - the embedding of ICT into everyday use in teaching and learning.

"There are some indications that a start has been made in this process," it said.

But it added: "Nationally a great deal of work remains to be done in providing the core infrastructure."

Although Becta is a UK-wide agency and the Scottish and English grids have gone, the NGfL Cymru website is still serving schools in Wales.

Its director, Dafydd Williams, says there are in excess of 2,000 resources developed in partnership with teachers, education authorities and other bodies in Wales "which are not merely links to resources on other sites".

Broken links

The National Grid for Learning was always something of a misnomer, the only "grid" involved being the public internet.

What has tended to happen is that local authorities or regional consortiums have developed high-speed links between their schools, which are still flourishing.

It is this, as much as anything, that led to the killing off of the NGfL brand according to Becta's director for content, Dave Hassell.

When the grid began, most local authorities did not have their own systems for collating or searching material - now they did.

Teachers wanted to acess information they needed via the local systems they used for their day-to-day needs such as curriculum planning, he said.

"What you need to ensure is there are coherent local offerings."

Also, other services had sprung up which duplicated material available via the grid.

Relevant content was still searchable via the Becta website, but changes were going on to improve the presentation.

It does live on in the form of numerous links from elsewhere, including from other government agencies whose own websites do not seem to have registered its demise.

Among these is the Virtual Teacher Centre, a key feature of the NGfL.

That was shut last December. The notice on its website announcing this contains various alternative links - many being to parts of the NGfL.

The Department for Education and Skills said in a statement: "The National Grid for Learning was always a time-limited programme (1998-2002) which was developed to deliver a structure of educationally valuable content on the internet and to offer ICT infrastructure, services, support and training.

"The programme was superseded by the ICT in Schools programme which looked at the actual embedding of ICT to improve learning and teaching and raise standards for all children and learners."

Attainment

The crucial question after some eight years of investment is whether all the technology has improved children's academic performance.

In its annual review, published in April, Becta said there was "growing evidence" of "a positive, if small" impact on attainment.

The use of ICT for teaching and learning remains central to the government's ambitions for personalised learning, tailored to the needs of all students.

But an official evaluation of the way new schools are being designed found serious shortcomings in this regard.

The focus - where there had been one - had tended to be on equipment.

"In some cases engagement with the market has had an emphasis on hardware solutions rather than the mentoring and change management aspects ICT provision could include," it said.

"This does not promote innovation."




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