Beggars can be choosers

9th March 2001 at 00:00
A school, in a leafy borough, is making a substantial investment in information and communications technology (ICT). The money has come from Government funding, parents and the local community, and the minimum possible from the local authority.

Outsiders would view it as a successful, wellprovided school, but when you dig beneath the surface and get some real answers, this school can't even afford books for its students, and its staff absolutely loathe the LEA which struggles to provide even basic services. Absurd as it might seem, this contradiction isn't unusual.

The Government's bold National Grid for Learning strategy, funded by serious investment, has been a godsend. But anyone thinking this can quickly solve the problems of education's beggar culture, would be under-estimating the depth of the problems. It's clear that schools and colleges can no longer rely on their local authorities and the Government to "do the right thing" and exist as passive recipients of funding. The culture is already changing and many are adopting imaginative policies to pull in resources from all sorts of sources, with the concomitant danger of a two or even three-tier service. The trends are highlighted in this issue (see pp10-17).

A welcome key signal, as we move towards an election, would be for the NGFL strategy to become more long-term, a rolling programme that can rotect, extend and maximise the valuable investment already being made.

LEAs are vital to success, and Ofsted's chief inspector's report on their ICT shortcomings (see page 4) ought to stimulate a determined search for solutions. NAACE, the organisation that represents ICT advisers and consultants (most of them LEA-based), is right in its response to the report to point out the pressures on LEAs to build ICT infrastructure, and the lack of clear messages from Government. But that alone does not explain away all the obvious failures.

Why should geography, for example, determine so significantly a school's provision? The chief inspector's report should be received positively and used to stimulate new strategies for LEAs. TES Online will be returning to this issue with an in-depth feature in April.

Come across DVD yet? Teachers who have used it for movies are absolutely sold, and see immediate uses for English and media studies. They can use it on a laptop, stand-alone or on a domestic player through a school TV. Our resident pundit calls it "bottled broadband" because of its massive capacity for multimedia. Until now, Encarta was one of the few educational products to utilise DVD, but a massive new physics video encyclopedia (see page 21) brings the question to the fore: how can education best exploit DVD?

Merlin John, editor of TES Online

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