HEADTEACHERS are often the least computer-savvy people in their schools, but a new training programme promises to drag a third of all heads in the country into the 21st century.
In October, the National College for School Leadership will start rolling out its strategic leadership of information and communications technology (SLICT) programme, with 10,000 training places on offer to heads over the next three years.
"Of all the staff in a school, the head is often among those with the least formal training in ICT, yet they are the ones who need the strategic vision to lead their schools into an ICT-rich future," said Heather Du Quesnay, chief executive of the college.
Mike Briscoe, director of the programme, stressed that it was not about developing ICT skills, but helping heads to understand the potential of technology and to make informed decisions about its use.
These decisions are often fraught with difficulty, according to David Williams, head of Stratford-upon-Avon high school, who took part in a pilot programme last year. "I learned that you had to be brave and that your priorities in establishing ICT weren't necessarily going to be the priorities of everybody else on the staff, particularly in times of fairly tight budgets," he said.
His school moved into a brand-new building last term, and after going on the course, Mr Williams decided to invest heavily in ICT "infrastructure" - the wiring, broadband and other invisible "bits and bobs" that make everything else work. Every classroom now has six double data points that allow pupils to plug into the whole school network, interactive whiteboards and the capacity for data projection.
In a further act of bravery, Mr Williams banned teachers from buying new televisions and using overhead projectors. But since people tend to be emotionally attached to materials they produced using old technology, support staff are now busily scanning worksheets and overhead transparencies and loading them on to CDs.
Pupils have warmed to the new equipment, and staff absenteeism has declined - probably because of the improved working environment. "What we've got now, with a fairly interactive set of learning tools in each classroom, is an opportunity for teachers to teach and youngsters to learn," said Mr Williams.
Brenda Bigland, head of Lent Rise primary school in Slough, another of the 300 or so participants in the pilot programme, said it had led to a minor revolution at her school. "I was shown the possibilities, so I was able to make appropriate selections. We've revitalised the existing computer suite and put in an early-years suite for our four-year-olds," she said.
Even her youngest pupils are now confidently using interactive whiteboards, while older children make regular PowerPoint presentations to classmates and use video-conferencing equipment. Broadband is also about to arrive at Lent Rise, which is one of the schools that heads taking part in the programme will be visiting.
It was developed by the NCSL in partnership with the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, and begins with participants reviewing their own ICT skills and understanding. There is then a two-and-a-half-day residential course that includes presentations from experts and visits to schools to see leading-edge ICT practice.
At the end of the residential course participants produce an action plan for their schools. Over the next eight to 10 weeks they keep in touch with each other and tutors via an online community, before returning for a final face-to-face session to review progress.
Local training providers around the country will run the programme, which will cost participants pound;350.
For more details about the SLICT programme visit www.ncsl.org.uk