The story so far: pound;450 per teacher has been allocated from National Lottery profits to each school to ensure that teachers are trained in ICT. In your school there is a big red folder from the New Opportunities Fund explaining the scheme, as well as CD-Roms to help you assess your needs. Once you have done that, you and your school have to decide which course provider will help you to learn.
It is the biggest training exercise since the nation was taught to use gas masks in World War Two, and all is not entirely smooth. The prevailing mood seems to be: this is the best we are likely to receive and we'd better make the most of it. The fact that the Department for Education and Employment (DFEE) has tied the scheme neatly into its Computers for Teachers scheme - the first phase of which has just run out - has stimulated interest. The controversial Threshold Assessment scheme, which could bring teachers extra money if they can prove they are worthy to move to a new upper pay range, focuses in part on how well ICT is incorporated into teaching and will also be an inducement.
Chris Thatcher president of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) is not so sure. "Some teachers will feel that pressure is being exerted on them to adopt ICT and will feel that it is unfair," he says. "To force teachers to spend their own money, even if it is pound;500 as opposed to pound;1,000, to get ICT provision is a double whammy. You don't get your threshold unless you have the ICT. You don't get the ICT unless you invest pound;500 and plug into the Internet and have all the costs associated with that. Teachers are very resentful of that kind of approach."
There are other causes for resentment. It is not unusual to find schools which have a higher expectation of the training than those who designed it. Roddy McDowell of Rothesay School on the Isle of Bute put his school into the training fairly quickly and was critical of the fact that he could not include all his staff. "My staff are a team and classroom assistants are as much a part of the team as a teacher," he says. McDowell was not deterred and has included all his staff.
To ensure that staff had a positive attitude McDowell devoted a great deal of in-school time to the training. Margaret MacLeod, the deputy head, is within sight of her retirement and, on her own admission, not a total enthusiast, but she has purchased her ownPC in order to benefit more from the training. She is in no doubt about the importance of the whole project. "The whole school approach is built into the development plan," she says.
Georgina Stein, director of approved trainer Kent IT Schools Partnership (KITSch), uses a sensible rule. She has no problem about including learning support assistants as long as the quality of the training for the teachers is not diluted by their attendance.
Classroom assistants are not the only ones excluded from training. Supply teachers are also ruled out despite the fact that they can make up 40 or 50 per cent of the staff in some schools. Exceptions have been made for supply teachers who deal with special needs. It is difficult to imagine why that should not be extended to all supply teachers.
Another key issue seems to be the quality of the mentors managing the distance learning material. In a few cases they are not in the same phase or do not have the same experience of the educational context as those teachers they are working with. Do primary inner city teachers in London gain much from being mentored by secondary maths teachers in rural Lincolnshire?
Furthermore, the additional demands on school ICT co-ordinators to provide back-up training and support and to fit modules into the curriculum has not been planned for. Leon Cych, ICT co-ordinator at All Souls School in central London, says: "ICT co-ordinators will have a vital role to play in training. I wonder if they realise how much their workload will increase during the training period. Heads need be aware of this and be supportive in as practical a way as possible."
The Teacher Training Agency's (TTA) quality assurance is moving slowly. At the time of writing only four providers had been examined. All of the providers who were approved in the first round will have started by the end of July. The speed of work is disappointing as the project will be almost over before the quality assurance is finished. Providers are graded at three levels: A - no problems; B - some minor issues requiring attention; and C - a fail.
The TTA does not propose to publish any of the reports on the performance of the providers, arguing that the information derived from the process is meant to inform the providers themselves. Reliable sources insist that revisions are needed to the joint training programme offered by the Centre for British Teachers (CFBT) and the Technology Colleges Trust (TCT), but the TTA refuses to confirm this. Nigel Paine, the chief executive of the TCT says: "CFBT and TCT are in the middle of an evaluation process that we hope will result in full endorsement of our training by the TTA." OFSTED, however, is not so reticent about schools with problems. It is difficult to understand the justification for suppression of the information. Schools need qualitative information about their trainers just as much as parents do about schools for their children.
Frankie Sulke, head of initial teacher training at the TTA, will talk about the general issues thrown up by quality assurance. She feels that most of the findings are unsurprising - where training is going well and felt to be good there has been a clear identification of training needs before the training started. "The identification has been used to choose the starting point and a route through the training for each participant," she says. "Another feature of good practice is high quality training materials which make good use of the technology. They will be interactive and there will be clear signposting of routes for different training needs.
"Another aspect is the use of subject and phase specialists, including serving teachers, so that it is not generalist training that teachers are receiving. Particularly important is good training for those involved in training and support, especially where the training takes place online or out of school. Providers who are doing well on the quality assurance have themselves their own strong internal quality assurance with short feedback loops so that they can take quick action to remedy any problems that they are picking up."
"Where things aren't going well is where material is not subject specific, but generic. Sometimes there is more training needed in the pedagogical use of ICT to be integrated with ICT skills training. Obviously nearly all the provision encompasses both. Teachers should be able to see immediately how they are going to be able to use the ICT in their subject."
Chris Thatcher's experience as a primary head cuts through a lot of the optimism: "Much of the New Opportunities Fund's (NOF) training is built on the notion that teachers will have access to ICT. The Government target that every school will be on the Internet by 2002 simply means that, in the case of a primary school, they could just have one computer in the library and that will meet the Government's criteria. It will not meet the needs of the teachers."
Some speakers at a recent DFEE seminar made the point that a prescriptive national curriculum will inevitably lead to ICT being used in stultifying ways. At its best, the NOFTTA training will only take teachers a limited way along the road. There is a danger that many will offer up thanks that the training is over once it ends. Thought should be given now to how any momentum that is built up will be maintained. Learning and technology minster Michael Wills' recent appeals to get teachers to think ahead was not particularly successful. It is still necessary, but it might require a radical review of the curriculum to liberate thinking.
Jack Kenny is a freelance writer and chair of examiners for English for one of the major GCSE examining boards
New Opportunities Fundwww.nof.orgComputers for Teachershttp:cft.ngfl.gov.ukTeacher Training Agencywww.teach-tta.index.htmBasic skills training
CHOOSING A TRAINER
Questions to ask.
* How much additional school money will need to be spent?
* What demands will be made on the school's ICT co-ordinator?
* What are the credentials of the authors of the specialist materials?
* Is the training predominantly face-to-face or distance?
* How long will the training take?
* Is the training prepared by teachers or university people?
* What do they suggest for teachers who have minimal ICT skills?
* Are the time demands of the courses clearly stated?
* Ask to see materials.
* How relevant are they to you?
* How well do they use the technology?
* How interactive are they?
* If they are using mentors, who are they? How does their experience tally with yours? Do they understand your phase?
* Are there any ways that classroom assistants or supply teachers can be included?
* Do they have their own internal quality assurance?
* Have they been subject to the external TTA quality assurance?
* What was the result?
* Ask for the names of schools they have worked with. Ring three at random and ask about the quality of training.
* Is there accreditation? Is it nationally approved?
* Have they created their own materials or bought them in?
* The training is being monitored.
* The best training is first rate.
* Teachers can see benefits of training.
* There are a wide variety of teaching and learning styles.
* Schools do not have enough information to make choices.
* Quality assurance results are not published.
* Supply teachers and classroom assistants are not included.
* Curriculum training cannot be built on inadequate skills.
* Too much training in teachers' own time.