Two-thirds of local education authorities (LEAs) are failing to provide satisfactory ICT support for schools, according to Ofsted.
Its LEA Support for School Improvement report, based on data from more than 100 inspections, found that ICT support was "good" in just five per cent of cases.
Authorities were criticised for staff shortages, failing to provide adequate information and not understanding the needs of individual schools. "Generally speaking, technical installation and support had a higher profile than consideration of the implications for teaching and learning," the report stated. "Monitoring and evaluation were weak and support for school development planning was very variable."
Mike Tomlinson, chief inspector of schools, said in his annual report that few authorities have a convincing strategy either for raising standards in ICT or using it to increase achievement across the curriculum. The best support was found in LEAs where senior staff had a keen personal interest and the council itself had a "convincing ICT strategy", the Ofsted report said.
However, British Educational Suppliers Association (Besa) director Ray Barker said LEAs must be doing something right as its research indicated that LEA advice was used by 63.7 per cent of schools and was likely to be ranked as the best source of curriculum advice.
The National Association of Advisers for Computers in Education (NAACE), accepted that Ofsted's conclusions were accurate, but argued that the National Grid for Learning strategy and the Standards Fund rules had forced LEAs to focus on infrastructure. <> Chris Thatcher, president of the National Association of Head Teachers' ICT committee, said schools had to have sufficient equipment before they could use it effectively for teaching and learning.
Ray Barker said it was right that the technical side had received more attention as non-functioning computers were "the biggest deterrent to building teachers' confidence in using ICT in class".
NAACE also said that the nature of ICT support expected from LEAs was not clear, making it difficult to create coherent strategies. This view was echoed by Chris Thatcher who added that the Government has to spell out how local authorities should help schools.
Ofsted recommended that a national strategy for ICT in schools be developed to raise standards in both ICT and across the curriculum through the use of technology, a proposal welcomed by NAACE. However, it took Ofsted to task over its claim that monitoring of standards was not as rigorous as in other areas. Such evaluations of schools' was impossible it said, when reliable national data did not exist. "LEAs are unable to make comparisons in the way that is possible with literacy and numeracy, where there are clear national guidelines."
One-third of primary schools inspected by Ofsted last year had substantial under-achievement in ICT, while in 40 per cent of special schools achievement was unsatisfactory. This reflected teachers' uncertainty with using ICT effectively, the chief inspector said.
* Ofsted's new ICT adviser, page 8 Standards and Quality in Education 19992000:www.officialpublications.co.ukdocumentofstedhc102102-01.htm
LEA Support for School