There's been no rush to spend the Lottery cash put by for computer training, but help is there for those who want it, says Neil Levis.
There's only five and a half terms to go. By March 2002, the pound;230 million of Lottery money earmarked to help teachers master computers should have been allocated.
But the take-up for this programme has been slow. It started last September, but by the end of the first term only 45,000 teachers had registered out of an estimated 450,000. By this term the number had gone up to 100,000, but of these only 83,000 have actually sat at screens to try to conquer the technology.
Heads must be relieved that this is one slice of money they don't have to bid for. Roughly pound;450 per teacher has been set aside, but it's up to the school to decide how to spend it, provided it's with one of the 55 organisations approved by the Teacher Training Agency.
"Heads are not in a rush because they want to see what other people are doing and what are the best deals," says Jim Donnelly, head of Litherland High School near Liverpool and technology adviser to the Secondary Heads Association. "My feeling is that the whole thing will pick up in September."
One reason why they have been slow to respond is that schools need to have a technology policy in place, have the hardware installed and be connected to the Internet before they can start many programmes. A lot of instruction is delivered online - the medium is the message - but the emphasis is on teaching.
"The training is very much related to the learning process," says Mr Donnelly. "You're not learning about ICT in abstract but concentrating on how it relates to the (pupils') learning experience. IT does not necessarily mean better learning but a lot of the training will show you how to improve your teaching."
The training organisations listed in the red booklet circulated by the New Opportunities Fund, which administers the scheme, are subject specific or confined to a geographical area. Many offer courses where participants train together, which can be a disincentive to the technophobic.
This may be overcome by looking at two of the bigger firms offering more flexible, private approaches that allow participants to work at their own pace with lots of online support.
Capita's Learning Network will nurse the nervous by e-mail to get them started, or, if that fails, by face-to-face tuition.
David Wood, a former teacher and adviser, is director of a scheme that is being revised in the light of teachers' reactions: "The challenge is that materials must not be patronising to teachers and they have todemonstrate that ICT is making a difference to teaching," he says. "We think we have achieved that."
At the heart of the scheme is the conferencing system: the sharing of ideas and problems by e-mail, posted to a website dedicated to a cohort with which you progress through the 15-week course. You get a set of CD-Roms that take you through a variety of tasks and you can work at your own pace and practise skills until you are confident.
Your work is monitored by a mentoring team - 150 primary and 150 secondary nationwide - who coach you and your class throughout the course. It comes in three five-week blocks so there is plenty of time for reflection and reinforcement.
There is much zeal and commitment at Capita's Bedford headquarters about their service, which is reflected in the response from teachers. Jane Davies, a mentor in North Wales, talked about the conference class that wouldn't break up: they enjoyed themselves so much, they insisted on staying together on the website to discuss their progress once the course had finished.
The same attention to detail and pride in the product applies at RM where Chris Powley, a former maths teacher, is directing The Learning Schools Programme. Like Capita, RM has poured large amounts of money into a course, made jointly with the Open University, that is firmly rooted in the classroom. RM has half the schools' computer market, and thus the lion's share of the training: 25,000 teachers signed up. The emphasis is on improving teaching.
Mr Powley thinks senior managers in schools, rather than the ICT specialists, should lead staff through the training because they have more clout. "There could be a variety of approaches: the keenest first or the heads of department - it's up to a head and staff to decide what approach would best suit them."
A lot of heads have stalled over the training because they want to get best value for the money. When you consider that pound;450 might buy you only two days' training in, say, language tuition, the 30 hours spread over six to eight months offered by RM or the Capita package seem very good value.
Jim Donnelly's advice to heads who are paralysed by indecision is: call in two or three firms to do a presentation at your school, choose the one you feel most comfortable with and then start booking. Most customers, he believes, will be satisfied.
"What many people have not realised is that you can go to more than one company for training," he says. "A lot of it is subject-related so you can pick and mix."
RM Tel: 01235 826908
Capita Tel: 0845 6010510