Technology in primary schools has finally come of age, according to the findings of the British Educational Suppliers Association's (BESA) latest ICT survey.
In the core subjects of English, maths and science, primary teachers are using ICT for longer than their secondary counterparts. The widest margin is in English - 21 per cent of primaries use ICT for more than 10 per cent of lesson time, compared with just 9 per cent of secondaries. In maths, the figures are 23 per cent versus 15 per cent, while in science it is 15 and 13 per cent respectively.
ICT use in subject areas has been generally higher in secondary schools, but those differences are now minimal.
BESA director Ray Barker said: "In many areas primary schools seem to have caught up with secondaries, even though the secondaries have much more equipment. It seems more natural to use ICT in primary classes."
For the first time, schools have 100,000 more computers than the 1.6 million estimate needed to implement ICT development plans. "There are now enough PCs in schools to fulfil curriculum needs, so the issue of hardware is largely over," Barker said. "What teachers want now are peripherals and portable computers."
A quarter of primaries will not have whiteboards, while the other three quarters will have an average of 2.4 units; 7 per cent of secondaries will not have them while the others will have an average of 6.2.
However, many of these are in ICT suites, whose numbers continue to grow despite the difficulty of using them for cross-curricular teaching, rather than discrete ICT lessons. On average, there is one suite per primary and five per secondary school.
According to Barker, that raises questions about whether teachers are able to use ICT to increase pupil attainment. "Will the curriculum and assessment systems need to change before real embedding can take place and a real return on the Government's investment be seen?" he asks.
Pupil access to computers and availability of fast internet access continues to rise and again the gap between primary and secondary has narrowed, with just 4 per cent difference (52 to 56 per cent) for the number of pupils with good access to the internet at school.
The Department for Education and Skills' figures (see panel) indicated a dramatic drop in ICT spending for secondaries in England, reflecting the cash crisis many schools faced mid-year. But the BESA survey of schools throughout Britain predicts that in 2004-05 secondary ICT budgets will rise by 1.5 per cent to pound;45,200, though primary budgets will remain almost static at pound;9,500. eLearning Credits delivered after June this year, will have a positive impact on these figures. Budgets for software and content have remained static at pound;65 million.
Barker said it was encouraging that despite the advent of Curriculum Online and e-learning credits, existing software budgets are not declining.
The paid-for online content market is also expanding to stand at pound;8.6 million for primaries and pound;6 million for secondaries.
Read BESA's ICT in UK Schools report at www.besanet.org.uk
* The average spend by secondary schools on ICT has fallen for the first time since Labour was elected. New Government figures for England show that this year's expenditure was pound;65,100 per school (down pound;10,200).
* The average spend in special schools also declined by pound;1,500 to pound;13,600, though primary schools managed a modest increase of pound;1,600 to pound;12,900. The figures have not yet been adjusted for inflation.
* However, the average numbers of computers used mainly for teaching and learning still rose in all types of schools. There are now 192.7 computers, up from 159 last year, in secondaries, 28.6 (up from 24.9) in primaries and 31.3 (up from 28.2) in special schools.
* The number of machines used mainly for management and administration also increased to 3.6 in primaries, 27.2 in secondaries and 6.1 in special schools.
* Like last year, more primary school teachers (87 per cent) feel confident about using ICT in the classroom than their secondary counterparts (82 per cent).