Basic skills training covers everything from switching on the computer to file management, saving, printing and the use of software. "This is often called for immediately following the installation of a whole-school network, which has been funded through a National Grid For Learning (NGFL) grant. A school receives a "starter" training session and then feels the need for more extensive familiarisation with the machines," says Helen Constable, of PriorITas, an independent ICT advisory service for schools in Norfolk and Lincolnshire.
Increasingly, basic skills training is now deemed to incorporate an introduction to the Web and email, as these two aspects of ICT are still uncharted territory for many teachers. This begs the question, what do we really mean by basic skills? "Less than five years ago, we taught people the correct way to hold the mouse and which end of the floppy disc went into the machine first. Nowadays, using a search engine to locate the Virtual Teachers' Centre and then emailing the result to a colleague are considered basic skills," says Constable. "Trainers are therefore in the position of having to deliver a set of higher-order pedagogical competencies to a teaching force which is largely under-prepared in terms of its own skill set."
The virtual Reeltime College has launched 2,000 free pre-NOF courses, worth pound;100, created exclusively for teachers (see page 36).
"The real need out there is for the basics of using Windows on a PC, but when I look at what teachers are expected to learn before NOF training, I wonder how on earth schools are going to afford it," says senior tutor Jim Gatten. "The sharp reality is that it's making teachers brilliant consumers."
Even the commercial trainers, who stand to profit from the extra business, acknowledge a step has been missed. Microsoft's group education manager, Mark East, says: "I think it's a mistake. The Government should be providing for basic skills - it shouldn't be left exclusively to th IT industry to perform that role."
The 51st Microsoft Education Resource Centre (MERC) recently opened to provide teachers with low-cost training (prices vary between centres) in the use of Windows and Office software in the classroom. "It's important to recognise that this is for teachers with no experience at all, and they do not take kindly to being taught from business models," says David Martin, programme development manager. "They don't just need to know how to set up a new folder, but how a folder can be used as a mark book or to hold lesson plans."
Training providers must revise their whole curricula specifically for teachers to become an accredited MERC, "to make them feel at home", says Martin. "Your average 45-year-old teacher is incredibly busy dealing with the new curriculum, and they feel left out because they're in an alien environment, and they know that the longer they leave it, the worse it becomes. We fill the gap between inexperience and fear, giving this generation a good start so that they are confident and competent enough to access the NOF training."
Rob Crompton is a partner in the International Schools Information Technology Unit (InsITu), based in Reading. "NOF training is meant to bring everyone up to about the level of a beginning teacher, and relate to subjects, in the case of primary, particularly literacy, numeracy and IT itself," he says. "We try to make our training 'bespoke', so in this sense it tends to be different from the NOF approach. We have run specific courses on Word and Excel, but these are inherently boring without content or a direct link to the teachers' own classrooms."
In response to discussions with teachers, InsITu now wraps its training around particular themes, such as literacy and numeracy, teaching generic skills along the way. Teachers and headteachers can expect to pay about pound;35 for a "twilight" course, or pound;60-80 for a full day.
"We used to run courses entitled 'IT for the terrified'," recalls Crompton. "There must still be some terrified people out there but they perhaps don't want to admit to it."
Louise Goldsbury is a freelance journalist New Opportunities Fund www.nof.org.uk
ReelTime College www.reeltimecollege.co.uk
InsITu (partner site) www.bluebell.demon.co.ukMicrosoftMERCwww.microsoft.comukeducationmerc