Learning grid takes shape

Chris Johnston & Karen Thornton

A project south of the Thames is one of the early links in the Government's promised national learning network

THE NATIONAL Grid for Learning enters an important new phase this autumn when schools start to receive detailed help with individual subjects and school management.

The Government is expected to pump millions of pounds into the initiative later this year, to take the grid beyond its pilot stage. This week, pound;62 million was allocated to help develop the grid in Scotland over the next three years. Funding for England and Wales will be announced in the late autumn.

The Internet-based scheme has been available in prototype form since January when it was launched by David Blunkett, the Education Secretary.

It features the Virtual Teacher Centre, the Standards and Effectiveness Database and sections for governors and further education.

Information to be added includes schemes of work for curriculum subjects, and examples of high-quality material used by teachers, such as school behaviour and individual education plans.

Information and guidance on subjects such as the national literacy and numeracy strategies and teacher supply, training and qualifications will also be available on the site.

It is expected that material from both public service providers, such as the BBC, and commercial sources, will form part of the grid next year.

The expansion will also allow users to access local education authority Websites easily. Six innovative initiatives will initially be showcased and the Department for Education and Employment has issued a call for bids.

"The Department wants to exemplify local grids for learning and their potential to spark imaginative responses in other authorities," said Clare Cozens of the Local Government Association.

The grid is being trialled by 3,000 teachers in 1,000 schools across Britain. Feedback will be used to fine-tune the system.

The Government's grid strategy has included pound;100 million for computer equipment and pound;230 million for information technology training for teachers.

The grid's success will depend on students and teachers being able to use it.

A 1997 Manchester University study of 116 secondary schools found that although 83 per cent had an Internet connection, most of these had a connection for just one or two computers. About 5 per cent of primary schools are believed to have Internet access.

Even if the Government gives Internet access to all of Britain's 32,000 schools by 2002, it will still be a problem for every child to have access to a computer linked to the Internet.

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Chris Johnston & Karen Thornton

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