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Computers for all by 2002

A school survey by the British Educational Suppliers Association finds schools gaining speed in ICT use. Chris Johnston reports.

Schools will have all the computers they feel they need in less than two years, according to the latest survey of information and communications technology (ICT)in British schools.

There will be more than one million computers in schools by April, but the ideal number would be 1,242,000 - a shortfall of 240,000, according to the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) report. Yet if growth continues at its current rate the deficit will be made up by the end of 2002.

The survey of 1,883 primary, secondary and special schools reveals that the substantial government investment in educational ICT is reflected in rising numbers of schools that are connected to the Internet and have networks.

By April, 61 per cent of schools - 98 per cent of secondaries and more than half of primaries - will have a network and more than 600,000 computers will be linked. More than 23,000 schools - 80 per cent - of schools are expected to have Internet access by April, a rise of 15 per cent over the figure for June last year.

However, the survey indicates that British schools are still a long way from giving Internet access to all pupils. Only 44 per cent offer this to pupils, and 16 per cent have no pupil access.

Staffroom access for teachers is even worse - the Net is available in just 15 per cent of schools. Teachers are more likely to use the Internet at home, where about one in five, or 80,000, have access to the Net. But the fact that just under double that number have a PC at home means many machines are old and not equipped with modems. Just four per cent (about 16,400) have sole use of a laptop.

ICT training for teachers remains an area of concern. Although the number of confident and competent users of computers in class has risen, the total is only 45 per cent. But the figure for secondary teachers is 12 per cent lower than that of their primarycolleagues, which supported anecdotal evidence that large numbers of departments are not using ICT at all, said Dominic Savage, BESA chief executive. There is also a belief that computer use is declining in Key Stage 4 as teachers concentrate on an examination system that fails to address ICT.

Twenty eight per cent of schools have planned how the Lottery-funded ICT training programme will run.

However, only 55 per cent need much help in using ICT in the curriculum while 67 per cent of schools believe their teachers need extensive training in using email and the Internet. This will not be covered by the pound;230million programme and Savage said that BESA was uncertain whether schools have the funds to provide this training.

Almost 30 per cent of all schools, or 45 per cent of the 18,000 Internet-connected schools, now have a website. Almost half are planning to set one up, with 23 per cent reporting no plans to do so. Information for parents and governors is the most common element of these sites, with 17 per cent having this content and 44 per cent expecting to add it soon. However, more than one quarter of sites also have curriculum links to the web.

The survey finds almost all schools indicate a need for more curriculum software, with 76 per cent wanting more maths and numeracy programs and 68 per cent needing more for English and literacy. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most common influence on a software purchase is a recommendation from a colleague (80 per cent).

Savage said BESA believed schools should be encouraged to spend more Standards Fund grants on software - only 30 per cent spend a considerable amount of this money on programmes.

Other survey findings include:

* 92 per cent of schools have an ICT development plan;

* the majority of schools seek ICT advice from their local authority, but almost half also consult with companies and one in five also use independent consultants;

* ISDN Internet connections are found in 71 per cent of schools.

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