In an IT class of her own

11th May 2001 at 01:00
Headteacher Sarah Evans is afraid she'll come bottom in yet another skills training session.

Everyone knows that if policies don't work in schools, it's the head's fault. Never mind that the policy is deeply flawed, dreamed up in rooms far from the classroom by people who last listened to a teacher when they were seven; that there are no resources to help; that every teacher said it wouldn't work; and no one wanted it anyway. No, that is all irrelevant. If it doesn't work, it is weak management, flaky leadership - the head is hopeless.

Armed with this universally acknowledged truth, I decide to enrol, with most of the rest of my colleagues, on the catch-all, do or die IT course, highly recommended by our head of ICT.

Lead from the front; if I can put up with it so can everyone else. You know the sort of thing. I am well aware that every other head in the country has been highly IT skilled for years. I've seen them at meetings with their lovely little computers (I do think some of the cases are very attractive now). They talk with bright enthusiasm about all the wonderful things the children at their schools do in front of screens. They produce pieces of paper with no words but lots of coloured lines, or blocks going up and down.

My relationship with IT had its inauspicious beginning about 15 years ago when, as a keen new deputy, I signed up for an IT course held one evening a week. My abiding memory is of mind-numbing boredom. The very nice, competent teacher would explain to the 25 of us whatever skill it was, give us sheets with instructions and tell us to "have a go". I (and everyone else) would tap away for a minute and then something would go wrong, which would be impossible to rectify ourselves. So we would wait patiently for the teacher to sort out the other 24 and, after about an hour, the process would start again - a minute or two tapping, then the long wait.

Happily, the people sitting on either side of me were charming and interesting. I still have the neat little device for making soup which one of them recommended to me while we waited together.

The school at which I worked had two computers at that time, both jealously guarded by a male maths teacher. I never saw anyone other than him go anywhere near them.

Time moved on. I became a head and things really started to hot up on the IT front educationally At my new school, there was a core of wildly enthusiastic IT-literate staff and I remember the (incomprehensible) lengthy debates about which sort of hardware we were to get for the new IT suite.

Again I had some training, and the head of IT said he would give me individual lessons if I got stuck. I had a computer in my study, and I would start off keenly first thing in the morning, determined to send round a few memos to be impressively waiting for staff when they arrived. By assembly time, I'd have got as far as the first line. So here I am now, at a different school, surrounded by colleagues who apparently use emails to demand their mother's milk. Hardly any necessity for yet more whole-staff training you would think. But yes. My head of ICT (that extra letter has now crept in) tells me that there are some staff who haven't grasped the new technology with the fanatical zeal the Dfee requires. We have all filled in a form and the head of ICT has kindly processed these so we can "draw down" some money from someone who is keen on this sort of thing.

It is the initial staff training session after school on Monday. Inevitably, I get caught beforehand on the telephone. I go to the IT room and, of course, they have started and, of course, the door is at the front of the room so I can't creep in inconspicuously. What is worse, the door has a code on it to let you in and I never remember any of the numbers. So I have to knock surreptitiously. No one hears me, so I have to knock a little louder - and a little louder.

There are no chairs left, so I perch on one of those lightweight, plastic tables that classrooms have now, trying to look as if decisions of the gravest importance have kept me from the first five minutes.

And the presentation is fascinating. Our head of ICT has that engaging brand of intelligent world-weariness. It is, I believe, called a Power Point presentation, though I am not quite sure why. We are told if we follow the course, we too, will be able to produce whizzy words and graphics. It all sounds jolly interesting. We can follow the course in our own time (what's that, we all ask?). The only fly in the ointment is the word that struts arrogantly on at the end. Test. Well, it is a long way off. We shall see. What if I come bottom?

Sarah Evans is head of King Edward VI high school for girls, Birmingham

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