9th June 2000 at 01:00
More gossip and tall stories unearthed for you by TES Online's Chris Johnston.

Michael Wills, the learning and technology minister, answered questions emailed in by users of the BBC News Online website in a "webcast" last month. However, one wonders how many viewers were tempted to "Click here for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Video", as the RealPlayer software providing the video and audio suggested, rather than sit through half an hour of the minister nodding. And if swimsuits weren't your cup of tea there was always the chance of signing up for services from CNN, ABC News or US cable channel Comedy Central.

Anyone who has had anything to do with the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) since 1989 is sure to have met its irrepressible assistant chief executive, Eileen Devonshire. After doing a sterling job for BESA and helping to turn events such as BETT into some of the world's premier educational exhibitions, she has moved on to become group exhibitions director at Emap, which runs numerous shows includingI er, BETT. Offline is happy that the cheeriest woman in the education supply community is still on the scene. Devonshire's replacement is Ray Barker, director of the Southend education action zone.

After many years leading Microsoft's UK education division, Mark East has been kicked upstairs, joining the executive team as director of small business and education. His responsibilities will also include business development and anti-piracy. David Burrows, Microsoft's group manager for skills and services development (whatever that is), becomes education group head. Considering the stock options East must have amassed in the time he as worked for Mr Gates, Offline wonders what motivates him to go to work each morning. Mind you, Microsoft shares were last month worth about 15 per cent less than they were a year agoI the Government's rebate scheme to help teachers buy a computer has been put on ice until next year, but was only available to those in England (Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own schemes). Last month the National Union of Teachers' (NUT) Wales branch called on the National Assembly's pre-16 education committee to give Welsh teachers the same opportunity. Gethin Lewis, NUT Cymru secretary, says his members must be competent in information and communications technology (ICT) like their English counterparts to qualify for the pound;2,000 threshold payments, yet have been denied a subsidy of up to pound;500. If a scheme is not introduced, he says the union will ask the Assembly to support its moves to secure income tax rebates on computers bought by teachers, or delete any ICTreference from the threshold assessment in Wales.

Following criticism of local education authorities in last month's TES Online by Dominic Savage, the BESA chief executive, education secretary David Blunkett has said that LEAs must have clear objectives, including "coherence in the development and investment in ICT", adding that the Government would continue to intervene in LEAs not providing "a service of sufficiently high quality". Considering Labour's emphasis on ICT, authorities with poor provision or planning in this area should sharpen up - wild variations in equipment levels in schools in different authorities will not be tolerated forever.

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