hris Howard knows she runs one of the 26,000 schools in Britain that is not wired to the Internet. "We were a school where IT hadn't really made it," she said. "We didn't have the hardware, software or confident teachers."
Mrs Howard, headteacher of Acocks Green Junior School in Birmingham, contacted her local authority for advice and then formulated a plan: she allocated pound;14,000 for a new multimedia system in every classroom and training for staff. Now she is anxiously waiting to hear if her the money has been approved.
Getting funding can be a minefield. There is conflicting and often confusing advice. There are various sources of funding - charities, businesses and parents - but the most obvious is the Government's pound;100 million pledge to buy equipment enabling access to the National Grid for Learning for all 32,000 schools (actually it's pound;50 million which has to be matched by local authorities).
Headteachers can make the difference between getting properly wired up and getting left behind. It's important to understand the implications of connecting to the Internet, its many advantages, as well as disadvantages. Create a financial plan, allowing for maintenance costs.
If your school is not yet connected, a taster for the Internet can be obtained from service providers such as AOL (America Online) which offers free initial access. However, one connection isn't going to achieve a great deal in a school of 1,000 pupils. If you are already online, funding can help to provide a more effective way of using the Internet, with a network of linked computers and a high-speed telephone connection (ISDN) to an Internet service provider.
Get advice and guidelines from your local authority. Although the exact criteria are unclear, the Government has given a list of headings that need to be addressed. Your school ICT plan should include a policy for protecting pupils from undesirable material, an audit of levels of equipment as well as teacher development. The requirements might also specify that favourable consideration would be given to schools that develop plans for using of the national grid to target literacy and numeracy.
The Government's pound;100 million grants are competitive bids between local education authorities as opposed to schools within an authority. There is uncertainty as to what will happen if some authorities cannot come up with the cash. While the Government's grant is welcomed and provides a strong incentive to get wired up, says Keith Morrison, chair of NAACE, the advisers' organisation, it will not replace the need for schools to continue to invest their own budgets in ICT. Indeed, there will be a need for schools to be able to sustain the equipment and services beyond the life of this scheme."
This seems like a large financial shot in the arm, and according to Samantha Hodder of the Department for Education and Employment, this works out at around pound;30,000 per school although these figures are challenged by some industry sources. Another unknown quantity in this equation is the number of schools that are expected to take part. Says Ms Hodder: "We are not expecting every single school to rush into IT. A lot of them have reasonable IT equipment anyway."
Doug Masterton, a member of NAACE, believes that the efficacy of the plan depends on how long the funding lasts, for four years as promised. He calculates this to be a worthwhile venture. "If they do genuinely allow a total spend of pound;400 million, that could work out at around pound;45 to pound;50 per child. This ought to go a long way to establishing the infrastructure that every school needs," he says.