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Blackstone calls for IT revamp;FE Focus

GUIDELINES for colleges on the minimum access staff should be given to computer equipment will be published in July.

Fear of computers and a reluctance to use them is repeatedly identified in college surveys as a reason for poor lessons and in-adequate administration.

The latest by the Further Education Funding Council's information and learning technology committee shows significant improvements. But it also identifies key areas of continuing failure requiring financial investment.

Internet access is generally poor, but more staff and students have use of computers, the committee found. The study also shows that colleges are preparing for substantial growth in information technology.

A growth strategy being prepared by the committee for July will identify minimum access requirements to equipment for staff and students, stress the need for more learning materials and emphasise the importance of networking on a local and national level.

In addition, the review will determine how the pound;74 million made available in the Chancellor's Comprehensive Spending Review should best be spent over the next three years. But ministers say the initiative needs more than cash.

A report last year by Jim Donaldson, FEFC chief inspector, found that a significant number of staff had little or no confidence in using technology in their teaching.

Baroness Blackstone, the further and higher education minister, said this week that the situation must change. She added: "Colleges will not be able to help learners make really effective use of information and learning technology (ILT) as a new learning and conceptual tool unless the fluent use of ILT is seen as an essential element of their own development."

She told the Further Education Development Agency's Spotlight conference in London that ILT was crucial to attracting more people to education and training and increasing student retention and achievement. She called on colleges to challenge current practices and find imaginative new ways of working.

There was also still much room for improvement in the use of computer technology for effective administration, she said.

The minister also said that there were examples of good practice in most curriculum areas but few between curriculum areas or colleges. How to best address this issue is another aim of a strategic review being undertaken by the FEFC.

"There are still too many principals and senior managers unaware of the full potential of really good management information systems at both strategic and operational levels," she said.

David Russell, the FEFC's director of finance and corporate services, promised that the new funding must be seen as additional to the pound;100m spent annually by the sector. Importance was attached to creating a National Learning Network linking all FE colleges and higher education institutions.

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