Market faces up to facts of life

8th September 2000 at 01:00
When Darth VADER took his light sabre to publisher Dorling Kindersley it was a sad day for educational multimedia. This pioneering firm set benchmarks for UK multimedia, and an absurd but tragic over-order of Star Wars books left it open to takeover by the media giant Pearson (page 4). From 2001 there will be no more new DK CD-Roms, and its extensive family distribution network has gone. Talk about killing the golden goose.

In the context of the economic forces and repositioning currently affecting the education market, however, it is small beer. Pearson has just paid $2.5 billion (pound;1.67 billion) for US testing firm National Computer Systems. While Pearson's focus is predominantly in the US, there are other, more locally astute acquisitions taking place. Granada Learning has picked up BlackCat, Letts, NFER-Nelson and Anglia Multimedia. This has extended its curriculum publishing and taken it into revision, testing and online services. Other names on its acquisition list may follow.

As firms vie for pole position on education's information superhighway (page 10), competition spirals to supply content for the National Grid for Learning. Now is a good time for education to bargain hard and squeeze prices before the dust settles, with a little help from government.

Just talk to Scottish teachers. "We don't have name and shame." "We don't have performance-related pay." It's enough to make English teachers weep.

Now Scottish inspectors are going around schools with video recorders making a recor of good practice to share with all teachers via their website, part of their generous, participatory concept of raising standards. What a contrast to the regime south of the border where they parrot "raising standards" while lowering teacher morale and sowing dissent.

To get a taste of the Scottish experience, it's worth visiting the Fusion 2000 conference and exhibition in Glasgow, September 26-29. If you can't get there, see our 8-page pull-out. There are 22-carat overseas speakers, like US visitors Seymour Papert and Alan Kay (page 30). You can be sure there won't be the usual suspects from the south.

Talking about suspect, both times that Online has been critical of the Teacher Training Agency and its handling of the pound;230 million ICT training scheme for teachers funded by the New Opportunities Fund (NOF), The TES has received letters from both chief executives, current and former. So the organisation is obviously aware of worries about its quality assurance mechanism at the highest level. Which is why we are puzzled that no information about the assessments of the trainers is publicly available for schools so that teachers can make the best use of their NOF funding. Can anyone out there enlighten us? Because next month's Online will give a progress report on the National Grid for Learning. Although the two projects are not umbilically linked, the NGFL project could suffer if teachers have insufficient information to make the optimum choice of NOF trainer.


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