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How to organise training

There has been much hype about computer "kit" in schools. British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) figures now show that hardware and software spend for this year is to increase by 13 per cent to pound;217 million. An amazing amount of money - and now we want the training to show it's all going to be worthwhile in raising standards. But step back and think about why education follows a different process than business. Commercial organisations ask the question: "What do we want to achieve?", followed by the questions: "What is the best equipment or software to achieve this? What training does my staff need to be able to deal with this change?" Then they go out and buy the goods. Education is given funding, buys the goods and then decides it has to do something effective with the equipment to make it worthwhile. Surely teachers need to start their NOF training needs from the purpose of their activity - the learning outcomes?

Lawrence Price, headteacher of Honilands primary school, Enfield, Middlesex, has pound;2,574 this year to train 18 staff, and he has chosen the Centre for Language in Primary Education as its NOF training provider. His advice is to choose an organisation with experience in curriculum areas rather than in traditional "technological" areas - to focus on the classroom and not the machine.

"You can't train all the staff at once," he advises. "People need to take little bites - little and often. They need to be aware of the power of ICT for raising achievement in the school." So Honilands concentrated on half-day training and on applying it in school immediately. Two key teachers were identified. They returned from CLPE and trained others on site - with the help of ICT coordinator Ralph Goodchild. He has been given release time to deal with curriculum applications of ICT with small groups of staff. In this way the training has become tailored to the school's needs and is a whole school initiative.

In Southend, schools chose EmpowerNet as their provider. John Foxwell, the ICT consultant, felt that the face-to-face interaction with teachers was vital. If teachers were not confident enough to use computers in the first place then it was not going to be effective to use one of the Web-based training packages on offer. "We've seen phenomenal growth in teacher confidence here. Recent base-line testing showed an improvement off the end of the scale."

The model for secondary schools is slightly different - more Web-ased and subject specific to cope with advanced skills and the needs of the curriculum. But schools need to be committed to the change. Foxwell has worked out that the training adds up to about three hours a week. His advice is to think of the training in terms of a massive culture change. If ICT is to work to raise standards, then it needs to be used for everything in schools.

So how do you get the most out of what's on offer?

* Audit staff skills. Take control. Make it clear what you need to be effective with ICT in your school.

* Make sure your provider knows about classroom organisation and the issues with technology. Ask for practical strategies to overcome these.

* Train for "the now". Technology moves at a fast pace. Teachers need to start using technology now to realise its power and impact.

* Ask around. Which providers get good reports?

* Spread your training over time. If you spend all your money on key staff and they leave, you will be left to pick up the bill for future training.

* Decide how much your staff can take. Don't add ICT training to the curriculum overload.

* Apply the training immediately back in school. ICT has to be a whole-school policy. If you are going to use it - ask staff for documents to be delivered on disk.

* Create support mechanisms for teachers in the school. Allow confident teachers to "mentor" less confident ones.

* Share the good practice. Swap material and curriculum ideas on disk.

* Recognise that teachers start from very different places. Measure the effectiveness by setting tiny, achievable targets and make sure your provider uses this philosophy. Remember, one fact about technology is that:

"You don't know what it can do until you know what it can do."

* Start from real classroom learning objectives.

Children do not have a problem with ICT - teachers do. It is a part of children's lives and computer access will soon be for all - you can now get a state-of-the art laptop for pound;5 a week. Homes used to be the technological desert - school was the oasis to which children came for their technological sustenance. Soon the reverse will be true. How will teachers learn to cope with this? Kids having more power than they do? Think about your real needs. Use the funding wisely. Don't just hand it over to someone else to deal with. Move towards confidence and hope.

Ray Barker is director of Southend Education Action Zone

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