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Techno-fear staff offered training

Sophisticated computer equipment is being left unused in classrooms or gathering dust in a cupboard as technology whizz-kids make life difficult for teachers. A technology-phobia is affecting teachers in what are regarded as the most advanced schools facing lessons with pupils who are better informed about computers and software.

The Government is now offering vouchers for technology training for teachers in all technology schools and colleges. The education junior minister, Eric Forth, told headteachers last week: "Superb equipment is not much good if it sits in its box or in the corner gathering dust. We have to make sure that staff are confident and trained in using it to its best effect."

The Government is this year spending Pounds 48 million to run the 15 City Technology Colleges. It has also set up 50 grant-maintained technology schools and matched the Pounds 100,000 each has raised in sponsorship as well as providing Pounds 100 per student. The CTCs, launched in inner cities to demonstrate the extensive use of information technology across the curriculum, have been heavily criticised.

One - Djanogly in Nottingham - received a less than satisfactory report from Government inspectors this summer about its technology teaching, as well as maths and science. Three months ago, maths lessons at the Macmillan CTC in Teesside were said to be below par.

Mr Forth told the conference of headteachers affiliated to the CTC Trust that demonstrating the use of IT across the curriculum was not easy to do well. "Where teachers feel less than secure in their own familiarity with the equipment, it can be threatening to find that they are teaching children who know a good deal more than they do about, say, a particular piece of software. "

But he added: "At their best, CTCs are using IT in a way that genuinely extends and enriches pupils' learning."

Kathleen Lund, chief executive of the CTC Trust, said teachers had undergone a steep learning curve. "Children have grown up in the world of IT. Many teachers trained without it. We are trying to ensure that teachers are not frightened and can recognise the benefits of IT, and I would say there are a number of teachers who are well in advance of their students," she said.

But Valerie Bragg, principal of Solihull, Britain's first CTC, said : "The technology is still in a mess, although I think we are moving towards something that makes much more sense. It is becoming more engineering-oriented."

There has been a great deal of unhappiness that the technology initiative has only been open to grant-maintained and voluntary aided schools. Mr Forth said the issue was debated endlessly in the Department for Education and added: "The argument is finely balanced." He highlighted the suitability of General National Vocational Qualifications for CTCs and technology colleges. "They are designed to offer an approach to teaching and learning which is rooted in the applied, the practical and the vocational, and which can benefit pupils of all abilities."

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