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All the tools for the job

Let's assume you've made the decision to buy a whole-school ICT scheme. It seems a big step, but really it's the easiest part of the process because now the hard questions begin. Do you want a paper-based system, something for the classroom, a product for the ICT suite or an interactive whiteboard? Are staff confident in some ICT areas but not in others? How will you deal with assessment? Or differentiation? Can you ensure your approach is consistent? What about progression?

While I was coming up for air, ICT Alive arrived courtesy of RM. I took a look at the price, swallowed hard and began to explore.

The first thing you notice is the Player. This is essentially something on which to hang the tools, lessons and teacher options. The co-ordinator will decide on your toolset - Window Box, MS Office or Textease - which provides a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation software, database, turtle and a branching database plus RM's Colour Magic and Logotron's Junior Control Insight. This part of the package is a lovely bit of design in itself and gives an impression of the time and resources which have gone into ICT Alive. These tools can be opened at any time.

The teacher tools are the core of this package and, breaking down into four sections (planning, preparing, assessing and reporting), they are very impressive indeed. Log in and you'll see the whole scheme of work for your class and if the administrator permits, you can access other year units too, which is useful if you have special needs pupils who need to be working on different objectives.

For instance, Year 4 might be working on writing in the right style. There are six lessons in this section and printing from here gives you your long-term planning. Or a click on the unit notes button gives medium-term planning while the assessment focus button gives you just that.

Move on to the prepare screen and you'll see your short-term plan, with each section timed and able to be previewed from the unit opener to differentiated activities and the plenary. Some activities come with worksheets andor instructions. These can be printed out, but when the children run the activities they pop up in separate windows.

The assessment section is excellent. You'll find all your pupils waiting for you - easily input if you have access to SIMS, for instance. A printable assessment guide shows you what a successful end-of-unit assessment task should look like, depending on the level of differentiation the child is working on. But if the criteria don't quite fit, you can pick specific aspects a child has made (or hasn't) via the details button, as well as viewing individual progress and the level they are (or should be) working at; the latter can be changed to meet special needs. Include the class notes and individual notes which can be saved into an end-of-year report and you have a simple-to-use, comprehensive and flexible assessment tool.

Once the year is over, notes and progress are combined into an end-of-year report, which you can edit as required. With this sort of detail, it sounds like the program will be tricky to use but it isn't - everything's quite intuitive.

The children see nothing of this as they only access the lessons from the Player. Lessons consist of an opening animation for the unit, a lesson starter with focused activity, then short skills demos which lead into differentiated activities - just tell the children what shape they are! There is a certain amount of flexibility here as you can decide what and how the different parts can be assessed, if at all, even pulling up previous lessons and skills should you feel they need consolidating. But the plenary can only be opened by the teacher.

Whatever your feelings about planning at home, it's always good to have the option and ICT Alive allows you to save files to the website and access these from home. These are easily incorporated back on to the school system via the website and most of the process is completely transparent to teachers.

ICT Alive works brilliantly on a network with an interactive whiteboard or large projector at your disposal, but could work just as well in other situations. The whole suite is self-contained and even email is taught on a mock-up system.

If ICT is a key issue for your school and you're starting with a blank sheet for software purchase, don't hesitate. This is a complete course that provides consistency and supports those lacking confidence with key question suggestions while allowing the confident to go beyond it but still use the assessment and reporting tools.

It's not a snap purchase due to the cost, but it's a huge resource, with 155 lessons concentrating on basic and essential ICT skills and should not be overlooked.

Pam Turnbull is ICT co-ordinator at Heys Primary School, Ashton-under-Lyne, Tameside

ICT Alive

pound;89 per station for an annual licence. pound;60 for current Window Box users

pound;299 per station (outright purchase). pound;199 for current Window Box users

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