New head for high-tech quango

A headteacher who has won widespread acclaim for his work in information technology has been chosen to revitalise a struggling support network for schools.

Owen Lynch is expected to be confirmed later this month as chief executive of the National Council for Education Technology, the quango which offers support and advice to schools and the Government in the fast-changing field of information and communication technology (ICT).

The council has a potentially crucial role, mapping developments and helping schools to use technology to the best effect.

With companies in the fiercely competitive market flooding schools with information about new products and services, an independent voice can help teachers to make sense of the ICT field.

Former chief executive Margaret Bell, who resigned in January, said an organisation such as the NCET was vital for schools.

"I've just been on a tour of UK schools and colleges, and they all say they desperately need an independent source of advice on hardware and software. Smaller schools in particular feel very vulnerable to local sharks. They feel there needs to be a body to work on their behalf," she said.

But the organisation has been without a permanent chief executive since her departure. Insiders say it is beset by low morale and lacks a sense of direction following a series of reviews both internal and external, including ones by the National Audit Office and the Department for Education and Employment.

Question marks have been placed over the efficiency of the quango, which receives Pounds 5 million a year from the Government. Relations with the DFEE have at times been strained. Part of the problem stems from the NCET's over-broad remit.

Mr Lynch is a long-serving member of the NCET council but as a full-time head of a primary school brings an outsider's eye to the job.

He comes with a track record of innovation in Cumbria. As head of Orgill primary school in Egremont, he helped to set up a scheme using schools as the base for IT courses for adults, regenerating an area where unemployment is rife.

But he is no IT evangelist. He believes new technology must justify its place in the classroom by either raising standardsor preparing children for adult life.

His appointment is for six months only - no permanent appointments can made until ministers complete another post-election review of the council's role in the Government's plans for ICT in the classroom. Afterwards, he plans to return to Orgill.

Mr Lynch's role will be to raise staff morale and give the NCET a new sense of purpose while beginning to influence government policy.

He will also want to see the NCET taking a role in helping schools make best use of the current generation of new technology while preparing for future developments such as the National Grid for Learning - the Government's planned network linking schools, colleges, libraries and other institutions to provide learning resources, teaching materials and educational support.

Ms Bell said the organisation, founded in 1988, had many talented but frustrated staff. If it could get its act together, it could even have a role in running the grid.

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