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We know it's the way ahead, but do we know how best to forge forward into the realms of ICT? Douglas Blane reports

The step-by-step manual Installing New Technology in Your School and Fully Exploiting its Potential does not exist. Nor would it be much use to management even if it did, because every school is different.

Staff expertise and confidence vary greatly, managements have diverse aspirations for their schools and existing equipment ranges from one slow old computer to dozens of fast new ones. Practically the only aspect of information and communication technology that doesn't change from one school to the next is the enthusiasm of the children.

This means that every school has to devise its own plans for meeting the government's National Grid for Learning targets, with their ambitious aim of creating a "world-class school system founded on excellence".

Fortunately, in the past two years an understanding of what constitutes good - and bad - practice has been steadily growing, as pilot schools around the country push ahead with ICT implementation. This accumulated wisdom is invaluable for schools that have yet to complete the process. It shows, for example, that the best time to begin planning for the invasion of the computers is not when they first appear at the school gates in a van, but several months earlier.

One of the more lucid models of the ICT planning process was presented in Glasgow at the end of March. Four hundred primary school headteachers and senior staff attended a confrence on "Raising Standards and Achievement", hosted by RM, one of the leading suppliers of ICT, software and services to education.

"Some of you may feel you are already well on the way to achieving the Government targets," Amanda Peck, RM's primary schools development manager, said. "Others that your school is still a long way off. This planning process can help all of you."

The single most important aspect of the process is that it postpones selection of computers, software and equipment until the school has gained a thorough understanding of where it stands, where it wants to go and how it can get there. Specific steps are followed, leading to an action plan tailored to the needs and objectives of the individual school.

After the seminar, the audience comments were positive. The consensus was that imposing order on an area where events are moving almost too fast for school managements to keep up is essential.

"Nothing much has altered in the classroom in the past 100 years," said Phyllis Harley, headteacher at Balornock Primary in Springburn, Glasgow, "but now it's all changing so rapidly. At our school we're very enthusiastic and maybe a little scared. I think the Government targets are achievable - ask me again next year."

"Management shouldn't feel the first thing to do is go out and buy more computers," concludes Ms Peck. "The point of the planning process is to make sure the new technology fits the learning and teaching at a school. It should never be the other way round."

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