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Hang Ups

You won't find it in the software best-selling charts. But who needs Demolition Man, Corpse Killer or even Golf's Greatest 36 Holes when the national curriculum is, at last, available on disc. Admittedly, if the reviewers in the computer mags ever got their hands on it, they'd award it a resounding zilch for graphics, sound and playability, but educationists are going to find it totally addictive.

Indeed, those researchers who warn about the grim effects of video games on adolescent boys, will soon have to worry about the teachers being mesmerised by the surreal mysteries of Sir Ron's virtual world. The digitised national curriculum, however, isn't exactly a video game. All you get is an ASCII file of the complete document; that is to say, it's unadorned by fancy fonts, italics or any other niceties. But load it into any half-decent word processor, and the whole of the curriculum is at your disposal.

You could, for instance, treat it as a shoot-em-up arcade game, using the delete key to wreak havoc on all the passages you most dislike. Or add new requirements and thus terrify your more conscientious colleagues. It offers hours of harmless fun for those who are near enough to retirement not to have to give a damn.

But you don't have to be demob-happy to make use of this disc. It offers teachers a painless way to cut-and-paste chunks of the holy writ into their own documents ideal for departmental schemes of work and hand-outs to parents. Or by using the search commands, it's relatively easy to hop, skip and jump through the verbiage in order to find how strands in the various Orders interrelate. In short, then, the electronic words are far more accessible than they could ever be when tucked away in ring-binders. The disc containing the whole curriculum costs Pounds 20. But you only have to pay Pounds 10 if all you want is English and IT, mathematics and IT, science and IT, or history, geography and IT.

Teachers might think this is cheap until they remember that the national curriculum is a set of edicts they never asked for. Why should they have to pay for the privilege of being told what to do? It's a bit like putting up road signs and then charging motorists to look at them. It's not as if the software has actually cost anything to produce. It hasn't involved any expensive programming and the text has existed in electronic form ever since it was first word processed.

Taxpayers have already chipped in more than enough for the salaries of Sir Ron's movers and shakers who wrote the words, so why should anybody be asked to pay a second time in order to receive their deliberations in a convenient format? Distributing the software wouldn't put the Department for Education to any great expense. Blank discs and flimsy packaging are cheap enough especially compared to the fortune spent on compiling misleading league tables of examination results or distributing the Parents' Charter which isn't worth the paper it's written on.

Providing anyone interested with an electronic version of the national curriculum needn't cost the DFE a penny. All Ms Shephard has to do is make it available on the Internet. The Treasury and other government departments already publish documents in this way. At the Bett technology show in January she asked how the "superhighway can support teacher training and the delivery of the curriculum". Getting the corner-stone of the government education policy on the World Wide Web would seem an obvious place to start. And for the sake of teachers nearing retirement she should also consider providing Golf's Greatest 36 Holes.

The discs are available from HMSO,PO Box 276, London SW8 5DT

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