13th June 2003 at 01:00
Is it a whiff of panic in the air at the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), or a genuine acknowledgement of the bureaucratic demands on schools? The climb-down on primary testing surprised many , and ICT advisers were thrown, dismayed even, by the axeing of the requirement for schools to have ICT development plans before going on their standards fund high-tech spending sprees.

The total available for 2004-5 is pound;325.3 million (including local authority match-funding), and pound;356.3m for the following year. The DfES says "it was time to move on", but the cause is more likely to be the fear of yet more millions sloshing around the slush funds of the scapegoats, sorry those beastly local authorities (many of whom had warmly welcomed this condition because it gave them more leverage over schools to embrace ICT).

Degrees for the rest of us? Professor Stephen Heppell and the team at the Ultralab centre at Anglia Polytechnic University, can help you to get a fully-accredited degree online. The project, known as Ultraversity, which promises workplace-based degrees, is ideal for teachers who want a degree but don't want to be full-time students. Ultralab wants a strong showing of teachers in the first cohort of 500 students it aims to recruit by the end of July. What's more, because it is mostly online, costs can be kept low - and with no student debt!

How interesting that Pearson should get the green light to take over exam board Edexcel. Its subsidiary NCS Pearson wobbled the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) last year when thousands of pupil records vanished from one of their servers. Those pupils would be interested to know whether this debacle came up when the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) and Pearson cosied together to OK the Edexcel deal. It is thought the deal was discussed at the highest level - between education secretary Charles Clarke and Pearson boss Lord Stevenson of Coddenham.

Pearson is obviously good at cosying (sorry, networking). But the DfES should not forget a recent session - with the BBC (Offline, March 14). It led to a court apology and BBC joint director of factual and learning Michael Stevenson resigning his pound;200,000-plus a year job. It hasn't injured his standing with government however, as he is now director of strategy and communicatications at the DfES, albeit with a reduced pay-cheque. They'll end up in Private Eye at this rate.

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