pound;5,000 virtual credit for each secondary

Chris Johnston & Jeremy Sutcliffe

The new Curriculum Online project will start in September. Chris Johnston and Jeremy Sutcliffe report.

EVERY school will get a share of a pound;50 million fund to kick-start online education and help tailor learning to individual pupils.

The Government will introduce Curriculum Online next September. Every school will have access to "e-learning credits" that they can use to buy commercially-produced resources from a new shop window on the Internet.

The credits will be awarded to schools on the basis of a formula. Although ministers have not yet announced how this will work, it is likely that an average secondary school will receive roughly pound;5,000 and an average primary between pound;1,000 and pound;2,000.

The website is likely to be linked with the National Grid for Learning, which already claims to run Europe's largest learning "portal". The site will also feature free materials from the BBC, which is putting pound;150m of licence fee money into a plan to create a "digital curriculum" over the next five years.

The e-learning credits are part of a deal that the Department for Education and Skills made with the educational software industry, which had feared the BBC would monopolise the market. In order to create a thriving commercial market the BBC has agreed to commission half its materials from the private sector. This depends on the plan being approved, as expected, by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

The BBC materials will be accessible through the Internet in both the classroom and the home. Initially a computer will be the only way to access the new resources - plans to deliver them by digital television have been abandoned.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said schools would welcome the extra money and easier access to digital resources. But he warned there could be a digital divide between schools, with some in a better position than others to take part.

Lord Puttnam, a government education adviser and chairman of the General Teaching Council, predicted that within 20 years the current classroom would look as outdated as a Victorian operating theatre. But he said that if new technology is to succeed in transforming schools, then digital content, infrastructure and training for teachers would all have to be got right.

Baroness Ashton, the education minister responsible for information and communications technology, writes in today's TES: "It will bring exciting materials to teachers and pupils at the touch of a button, enabling learning to be more flexible. It will help teachers to spend more time teaching and motivating pupils by providing quick, safe access to materials by the Net."

The British Educational Suppliers Association welcomed Curriculum Online. Director-general Dominic Savage said it demonstrated that the Government saw online learning as a priority and was committed to funding it.

Computer firm RM, one of the strongest critics of the BBC's ambitions, welcomed the announcement. However, chief executive Richard Girling said checks and balances were needed to ensure that materials were of high quality.

David Hart, National Association of Head Teachers general secretary, told the Government not to regard Curriculum Online as a substitute for a high quality of classroom teachers.

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Chris Johnston & Jeremy Sutcliffe

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