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The future is now on the Internet

ANOTHER month, another step forward in the communications revolution. In September 1998, for the first time, a major event was broadcast to the world via the Internet. We are truly entering a new age.

I am referring not to the USStarr report, but something much more important - the launch of the Department for Education and Employment's redesigned Standards Site.

The Standards Site (http:www.standards.dfee.gov.uk) represents a major expansion of the prototype standards and effectiveness database which was set up in January. The site is provided and managed by the standards and effectiveness unit (SEU) of the DFEE. Its purpose is to provide practical guidance and examples of good practice on raising standards in a format that is attractive, accessible and useful to busy teachers. The guidance provides real illustrations of developments in schools, which are supported by research and inspection evidence. Eight areas of guidance are currently available: the five-stage cycle of school improvement, school action plans, target-setting, teacher appraisal, homework, special measures, good practice in out-of-hours study support and summer schools.

But the site is much more than this. There are selections of videos, in which schools talk about their efforts to raise standards. There are also tools to help improve effectiveness and reduce workload. One enables teachers to access the primary schemes of work in science and information technology, which were published by the SEU and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in traditional form last summer. This follows a commitment by David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, to teacher unions in the context of reducing bureaucracy.

The site includes advice on using the published schemes of work and advice on how teachers can create their own schemes. Teachers can download individual units of the schemes of work and find the particular units by using a keyword search facility.

Additionally, the site offers access via working tools to the National Literacy Strategy's framework for teaching and information on the literacy hour. A major breakthrough is that teachers can now download the activity resource sheets included in the literacy training pack and use a key word search to find sheets on a particular topic. You can choose from more than 400 literacy lessons at the press of a button and print just what you need.

The site also includes a new discussion forum to allow teachers to raise questions they have about implementing strategies for raising standards and to pass on their thoughts and experiences to others.

We will steadily add to the site. It already has links to other educational sites and this will expand as the full National Grid for Learning comes on line later this term.

The Standards Site is not only of intrinsic value. It represents the thin end of the wedge - the future. Increasingly teachers will come to use the Internet as a source of advice, guidance and labour-saving. They will also use it as a forum in which they can identify, debate, refine and share best practice. It will become the first place to turn for professional guidance.

At the moment it is not easy to access the Internet from every school. The technology is not necessarily in place and, even when schools are hooked up, there is often only one point of access. In any case, many teachers are not yet familiar with the technology. For these reasons the Government is investing Pounds 100 million this year in the National Grid for Learning with more to come, as well as Pounds 200m over three years to provide training for every teacher in the use of Information and Communications Technology. The Standards Site will be ready for you when you are ready for it.

Michael Barber is head of the Department for Education and Employment's Standards and Effectiveness Unit.

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