In many schools, information and communications technology (ICT) has already gone from being an optional extra to an essential part of teaching and learning. Now, the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) is keen to see all schools building ICT into the fabric of the curriculum, with ICT being at the heart of education and simply not a bolt-on activity. That is why one of the strongest themes at this year's BETT educational technology show is "embedding ICT".

"We're taking ICT from being a high-value peripheral activity into something that is at the core of teaching," says Nigel Ward, managing director of Granada Learning. "ICT is now part of the teaching and learning strategies and no longer about buying curriculum software."

Amanda Pack, RM's business manager of strategy, believes that one of the biggest trends in ICT in education is: "Teachers are at the centre of ICT development. Advances and innovation in technology alone aren't driving the demand for ICT in schools. Senior management won't invest in ICT unless there's a proven benefit."

For some time now, supporters of ICT in schools have complained that the current examination and assessment systems do not take into account the new skills students are using these days, such as word processing, analysing data, creating with digital video, producing multimedia presentations and so on. But this year, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) will be showing how it is preparing for a future that will include online assessment systems (p40). Orchid Education will be showing its Web Tracker software that enables teachers to create lesson plans that are linked to worksheets and automatically assess and track pupil progress in the background. Trumptech is demonstrating e-marking software based around its QuickAssess question management system.

There will also be a lot said about "personalised learning", as David Burrows, Microsoft's education group manager, notes. "A Mori poll found that two-thirds of the adults questioned believed that a lack of motivation held them back at school. Personalised learning is about putting the learner at the centre and offering them styles of learning that increase motivation and help them realise their potential. There is recognition that ICT can play an important role in personalised learning." Microsoft will be demonstrating a website and products that are designed for personalised learning.

There can't be many schools that haven't got a raft of digital content, from CD-Roms to home-grown multimedia presentations and, as Granada's Nigel Ward notes: "Schools are awash with this stuff and if you want to make the best use of ICT, it needs to be as efficient as possible."

For a growing number of schools, this means using a learning platform (also known as a virtual learning environment or VLE). These are online systems that are designed to make life simpler for both teachers (who can find and create content easily, as well as track and assess their students) and learners (who can find all their resources in a single place and access lessons and other materials on almost any computer with an internet connection). At this year's BETT, learning platforms of all shapes and sizes will be on show from companies such as AVP, Microsoft, RM, Ramesys and Granada Learning.

At last year's BETT Show, education secretary Charles Clarke announced a Pounds 25 million interactive whiteboard project and so it's no surprise that many companies, including Promethean, Smart UK and Hitachi Interactive Solutions, will have products on show. There will also be a welter of interactive whiteboard software including new additions to RM's Easiteach series covering geography, literacy, animated books and English as an additional language. Virtual Image will have three maths CD-Roms for key stage 3 that are designed for an interactive whiteboard or data projector.

Video-conferencing is one of those technologies where the pieces of the jigsaw have finally come together, thanks to the spread of broadband internet connections in schools and the falling price of webcams. The London Grid for Learning is launching Click2Meet, a free service that will allow any of the 2,600 maintained schools to communicate via video link.

The growth of broadband has also seen a rise in the number of online services and content. ProQuest is showing what is claimed to be the first online cross-searchable news archive for primary schools, which brings together the archives of a number of broadsheet, tabloid and local newspapers. Espresso is launching new content covering primary French, geography, maths and PHSE and citizenship. On Sam Learning's stand will be a new primary revision service focusing on English, maths and science at KS2. Letts is launching a new key stage 3 online ICT course, while BT has added new content to its BT Learning Centre, an online research and revision service aimed at home users. Gridclub, the online subscription service (in England and Wales) for 7 to 11-year-olds has added new games and modules to its offering, including how to speak French and Spanish. The spread of broadband makes web-caching (storing online content on a special network server) a must for many schools and there will be web cache products from companies such as Avantis, Equiinet and RM.

But while many software companies have embraced the potential of broadband, others are holding back and the CD-Rom remains an important software medium. "We've chosen not to go down the online route because our titles are complicated," says Topologika founder Brian Kerslake. "If you take our titles like Words and Music Solo or Words and Music Trio, they offer countless ways of creating music, and it's hard to reproduce this online."

As usual, there will be lots of new and innovative software at BETT from major companies like RM and Pearson, broadcasters such as the BBC, Channel 4 and Granada, as well as a host of others including Logotron, Widgit, Semerc, Spinny, Sherston, Neptune, Tag (which also has lots of hardware on show, including the AlphaSmart Neo) Crick, Sunflower Learning, Kudlian, Smile Mathematics, Easy Peasy, 4Mation and 2Simple. Max Wainewright, design head at 2Simple, says teaching basic ICT skills is essential. "There's a mismatch between high- and lower-level skills and now you have kids who can create hyperlinks but still type with one finger. We have products that are trying to bridge that gap."

Other things to watch out for include the Nesta Futurelab Innovations stand, which is showing the technology of the future, the creative zone, where visitors can use Apple products to make music and videos, and the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) stand will see the launch of a major review on the progress of ICT in education. If you are bewildered by the vast range of educational software and web-based resources, e:port@BETT, a service sponsored by the DfES, is a major teachers' guide to what's on offer. Finally, don't forget to look out for the Becta ICT in Practice Awards, supported by Ramesys, The TES, Adobe, Capita and Toshiba, and BETT Awards, organised by Becta, the British Educational Suppliers Association (Besa) and others. These show some of the best educational resources and services on offer and, as usual, this year's winners will provide much discussion and debate.

Don't miss..

Immersive Education - MediaStage Stand D70

A new cutting-edge software package for key stage 4 Media Studies students.

It allows students to create 3D worlds on a PC or interactive whiteboard and uses high-quality graphics and speech synthesis technology. It also combines the production values of a top-flight computer game with endless ways of exploring stage, film and TV productions

Tel: 01865 793177

RM - Sonica Spanish Stand D50

Contains almost 250 learning activities for key stage 2 students and fun-filled and imaginative activities - such as karaoke and a dance mat - to help children learn Spanish. There is also an audio-visual dictionary, plus support forums for teachers.

Tel: 08709 200200

Smart Assess - ScreenFlash Stand SW22

This offers a way for students to record their work using ICT. Students can use ScreenFlash to create electronic portfolios composed of sound, text, graphics, animations and movies.

All illustrations by Jovan Djordjevic


2Simple Stand F76

4Mation Stand G74

Alpha Smart Stand W60

Apple Stand E34

Avantis Stand F72

AVP Stand E62

BBC Stand F30

Becta Stand X40

Besa Stand L35

Channel 4 Stand D42

Crick Software Stand SN14

E:port@BETT Stand S45

Easy Peasy Stand SW80

Espresso Education Stand D64

Equiinet Stand O58

Granada Learning Stand E40

GridClub Stand C102

Hitachi Interactive Solutions Stand S20

Immersive Education Stand D70

Kudlian Soft Stand M100

Letts Stand E40

Logotron Stand SN10

London Grid for Learning Stand Z42

Microsoft Stand D34

Neptune Stand SW108

Nesta Futurelab Stand W14

Orchid Education Stand T50

Pearson Education Stand C60

Promethian Stand V60

Proquest Stand H44

QCA Stand Y36

Ramesys Stand Z50

RM Stand D50

Sam Learning Stand H40

Semerc Stand E40

Sherston Stand E60

Smart Technologies Stand F10

Smart Assess Stand SW22

Spinny Software Stand SW83

Sunflower Learning Stand Q31

Tag Learning Stand F50

Topologika Software Stand G74

Trumptech Stand V10

Virtual Image Stand SW2

Widgit Software Stand SN10

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