10th March 2006 at 00:00
Offline was recently impressed by the work of an imaginative teacher who uses the Argos online catalogue for simple maths and data-handling work.

The kids love it (and so, probably, would Argos - if it knew). It's an innovative use of everyday, real-life ICT for a good purpose. At least, you would have thought so. But the local authority network gatekeepers disagree, and is now forbidden at her school. "So, we are now having to use the old fashioned catalogues," her colleague told us. "But I'm sure internet shopping should be a key life skill!" This is an all-too-familiar example of what happens when IT people have more say than the teachers and learners. Are they really afraid that children would go untaught because their teachers would spend all day shopping online?

In reality, teachers and colleagues often spend their own time online in ways that benefit schools. When ex-policeman Bruce Santer (above) took up an ICT technician post at Felpham Community College, he was struck by the complexity of the school's management information system. It was very difficult to compare pupil data, so, with the school's attendance officer, he devised a simple system, based on a traffic-light analogy, to help. The popularity of his software, based on the ubiquitous Microsoft Excel, prompted him to set up a company to market it. He has already sold a site licence to the Isle of Wight for use in local schools. For more details, visit or email

Offline was recently told of a disturbing exchange of communications that point to the confused agenda behind the glitzy sheen of the BETT 2006 awards. A software supplier was seeking feedback on the evaluation of a product that had been submitted. But the people handling the enquiry were not interested in providing feedback - "fob-off" was the term that came to mind. Which prompts this question: if these awards are designed to identify good educational ICT products and drive standards higher for schools, isn't it essential that developers receive useful feedback that will help them improve their offerings?

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