The information technology component of the Higher Still programme "could be impossible to deliver" because secondary schools have to make do with outdated equipment, a survey by the Scottish Parent Teacher Council has warned.
In findings which are likely to be highly embarrassing to ministers, the council concludes that without substantial spending on hardware, a national lead from the Government and co-ordinated action across local authorities core IT skills will be unattainable.
Many children are working with ancient equipment and schools are unable to meet the demands of the current curriculum let alone the increased expectations of Higher Still, teachers have told the council.
Judith Gillespie, former convener of the SPTC, stated: "Unless the Government addresses the hardware problem, it will not be able to do what it wants to do. There is a huge level of concern out there about IT and Higher Still and a lot of people said 'thank you' for carrying out the survey."
The reality of out of date computers in secondaries comes only days after Raymond Robertson, the Education Minister, announced the creation of a task force to keep schools up to date with the latest developments. Mrs Gillespie, a member of the Higher Still strategy group, has raised the issue with curriculum planners without success. She has found that in 95 out of 189 secondaries there were 15 or fewer computers per 100 pupils. Only 17 schools had 25 or more machines per 100 pupils.
Half the secondaries in Scotland replied to the questionnaire, the first time a parents' organisation has carried out an audit of mainline provision in schools. The pattern was established with the first 50 responses, Mrs Gillespie said.
She said: "Quite clearly there has been no national policy on what should be bought, nor has there been any steady ongoing investment in hardware. Instead, schools bought IT equipment as and when they had the money, with the result that many are locked into a pattern of provision which may represent a huge financial investment, may have been state of the art when it was bought, but which is now fairly redundant. It is a problem made worse by the speed with which computers have evolved over the past four years."
The survey found a total of 27,446 computers in secondaries of which 89 per cent were for pupil use. A quarter of computers available to pupils were BBCs and more than four years old. Only 16 per cent were less than two years old.
The most popular computer is the Apple Mac, which comprised 32.8 per cent of the total with PCs such as IBMs coming second at 26.2 per cent.
Mrs Gillespie said: "There is a need for a new look at how money is invested in IT provision to avoid splurge spending. We need a steady identified budget for new purchases and equipment replacement that has to be co-ordinated between different authorities.
"If the Government wants to look at why we are falling behind competitor countries, it could start by looking at providing a proper IT base in secondaries."
n The TES Scotland conference on Higher Still is on December 9 at Murrayfield Stadium and will be addressed by Raymond Robertson, the Education Minister, and Douglas Osler, senior chief inspector of schools. An application form is in TESS2, page 22.