Everything to play for
Malcolm Collins, director of sport at Ivybridge community college in Devon, used to be wary of computers. But with his National Lottery-funded ICT training under his belt, he and fellow computer-phobic members of staff feel as if they've joined the modern world.
"It has really helped teachers come out of their shells and learn new skills. We are using technology that otherwise would not have been used for a few more years," he says.
The training programme - administered by the lottery's new opportunities fund - helps teachers become confident ICT users.
The pound;230 million initiative - worth about pound;450 for each teacher - kicked off last September. By December, 45,000 teachers had registered. The programme will reach almost all teachers and librarians in maintained schools by 2002. It is delivered by 55 approved providers; some produce only subject-specific training packages while others concentrate on specific areas (such as Wales only) or local education authorities. Schools can choose whichever they feel best suits their needs.
There's been one advantage to starting early: only teachers who have already signed up are eligible for a rebate under the government scheme to help teachers buy their own computer. More than 7,000 have applied for a subsidy.
The National Union of Teachers and other groups have been critical of the initiative and its requirement that teachers do much of the training in their own time as well as the decision not to pay for supply cover if teachers train in school time. There are also concerns about the absence of basic computer skills training, which many teachers will need before being able to use ICT.
Three teachers now doing their NOF training are enthusiastic. Of the trio, Malcolm Collins is the furthest down the track, having started in September. His school is using the Technology Colleges TrustCentre for British Teachers programme which two Ivybridge teachers are delivering to their colleagues. The departmentally focused sessions are held on Tuesdays or Wednesdays from 3.30 to 5pm; Malcolm Collins says everyone is attending rather than finding reasons not to go.
Meanwhile, the sessions for the 15 teachers at Queensferry primary in Edinburgh are taking a slightly different form. Assistant headteacher Alison McLean says staff attend two-hour sessions conducted by trainers from Edinburgh city council on Friday afternoons and in-service days at a nearby teacher resource centre.
She says the most recent whole-day session gave them the opportunity to use the Internet, look at resources relating to forthcoming topic work and think about how to incorporate information in classes. "It's given the teachers enough impetus to keep going when they come back to school."
Teachers completed a "needs analysis" before starting their training, which Alison McLean says helped them establish what they wanted to learn. She is also full of praise for the way her trainer allows teachers to get hands-on experience.
The four staff of Bawburgh rimary in Norfolk have also taken the training plunge early. Headteacher Cindy Baldwin says they opted for Anglia Multimedia Professional Development because it offered face-to-face training (it is one of the few providers in England and Wales to do so). "We didn't want long-distance teaching - we just couldn't handle that."
She says the personal interaction has been crucial as the trainer has pitched the work at a level appropriate to each teacher's ICT competency. "Everything that we do is geared to working in the classroom; we're using the programs we have on our own computers - it's absolutely super."
Although the programme is not meant to address basic ICT skills, Cindy Baldwin's comments show why many teachers need them explained before they can learn how to make better use of ICT in the classroom.
"We've found out why a floppy disk is called a floppy when it's completely hard as far as I'm concerned*; understanding the very basics gave us a greater insight into the actual working of a computer, which you can pass on to the children," she says.
Most teachers will not have the luxury of a face-to-face trainer for all their sessions, which vary in length depending on what form they take - face-to-face, online or independent study. Learning Schools, the RMOpen University consortium and the biggest provider with more than 25,000 teachers signed up, describes its method as "supported self-study with practical classroom-based activities".
The Teacher Training Agency has developed a list of expected outcomes from the training. According to the TC TrustCfBT consortium, these include:
* how to use ICT to enhance teaching;
* how to use ICT in teaching the whole class;
* planning, including the use of ICT for lesson preparation and the choice and organisation of ICT resources;
* assessing pupils' work when ICT has been used;
* using ICT to keep abreast of latest events, share best practice and reduce bureaucracy.
Richard Neale, chairman of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' conditions of employment committee, is one of many who believes it's unfair to expect teachers to achieve these objectives through training in what is mostly their own time. And the Government's expectation that teachers should buy their own computers just adds salt to the wound. "A machine for every teacher - or tax incentives and a free loan to purchase one - would go a long way to alleviating resentments and concerns. Does it have to be the teachers' personal cash as well?" he asks.
Jack Kenny, head of English examiners for Edexcel and a regular writer for TES Online magazine, urges teachers not to view the training as an imposition. Rather, he says, they should "see this selfishly as a professional development for you".
* They're called floppy disks because the first versions were flexible - they lacked today's rigid casing. New Opportunities Fund: www.nof.org.uk Tel: 0845 000 0121Microsoft Education Resource Centres: www.microsoft.comukeducationmerc Getting the most out of the New Opportunities Fund by Terry Freedman: http:easyweb.easynet.co.uketfreedmanarticlenof.htm