Karen Thornton looks at the Government's plan to spend pound;23 million on 10,000 computers for teachers
HANDING out nearly 10,000 multimedia laptop computers to heads and teachers will not only help raise classroom standards but reduce bureaucracy in schools, ministers are predicting.
As exclusively revealed by The TES two weeks ago, the Government plans to spend pound;23 million on personal laptops for teachers, following a positive evaluation of a pound;5 million pilot project.
David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, made the announcement at last week's annual conference of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers on the same day that his cabinet colleagues launched the Government's vision for the information and communications technology age.
The laptop cash is in addition to the pound;100 million announced for connecting about 8,000 schools to the National Grid for Learning. Half of the money is made up of matching sums from education authorities.
The aim is for all schools - and now all libraries - to be "on line" by 2002. Only 6,000 out of 32,000 schools are connected to the Internet, most by a singlecomputer.
Mr Blunkett said multimedia computers would lift the bureaucratic burden on teachers by allowing them to download work schemes and integrated learning systems from the Internet and grid, and to share good practice with colleagues at other schools.
Dr Kim Howells, the lifelong learning minister, said: "One of the aspects of driving up standards is to liberate teachers from the huge amount of bureaucracy and red tape they have to deal with day-to-day.
"There are programmes available already which allow teachers to monitor the progress of pupils much more quickly and carefully than they can by traditional methods.
"I would like to see the national grid take on other duties - perhaps in respect of the way local education authorities deal with problems of administration in their own schools."
Another 10,000 laptops - on top of the 1,150 distributed under the pilot scheme - may not go far when divided among the UK's estimated 450,000 teachers.
The initiative expects to reach more than a quarter of primary schools in England this year.
The union representatives of the bureaucracy working party were meeting the Government this week to discuss moves to avert industrial action over red tape. A spokeswoman for the National Union of Teachers said the laptop programme was "part of the solution" to bureaucracy and would help teachers and schools to share good practice. "It will be an enormous help to those 10,000 schools and a significant help for teachers," she said.
"There is a vast array of form-filling and duplication. For example, you can get requests from the Office for Standards in Education and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority for basically the same thing but in different forms. They could work together or access each other's information," she said.
Peter Wilby, page 15
School management, page 25
THE PILOT AND ITS EVALUATION
l 1,150 teachers from 575 English primary and secondary schools (two in each school) were provided with a laptop - some with CD-Roms - and Internet subscription.
* Teachers received an initial three-hour demonstration followed by continuing support from colleagues, project partners, equipment suppliers and the National Council for Education Technology.
* More than 70 per cent of teachers reported few problems getting started and using their computers. Only 4 per cent experienced major, persistent problems.
* Other findings included that 91 per cent of teachers successfully used CD-Roms, 76 per cent the Internet and 62 per cent electronic mail.
* More than 90 per cent said the project had substantially increased their use of information technology, developed their teaching and had benefited the whole school. According to 86 per cent, pupils had gained too.
* Key factors for success included personal and exclusive use of equipment over time; its portability; formal and informal support - including that of the school's senior management; and teachers' own attitudes towards IT.