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Training failure hinders ICT

Education consultant blames slow progress on lack of training, as Chris Johnston reports.

Almost six years into the revolution in ICT in education, training remains the missing link in the drive to use ICT to raise pupil achievement in British schools, says TES BETT keynote speaker Marian Brooks.

Mrs Brooks, of Cambridge Education Associates, believes the focus on teaching and learning through ICT has been lost and many teachers feel demoralised because they fear any use they make of technology in their lessons is not good enough.

"The gap between the perception of what is good teaching and what is good teaching with ICT means many just give up," said Mrs Brooks, who is also an adviser to the Department for Education and Skills and a former headteacher.

The emphasis on infrastructure must be switched to supporting quality teaching and learning, she argued. The only way to do this was to spend more on better ICT training for teachers: "the only thing that can help raise standards".

Mrs Brooks, who will give the TES keynote address at next week's BETT exhibition in London, said teachers often felt "guilty" if they had equipment such as interactive whiteboards but did not know how to use them most effectively.

Owen Lynch, chief executive of Becta, the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, said it was sometimes difficult to evaluate teachers' levels of confidence because they constantly varied. He agreed that ensuring teachers had the right ICT skills for the classroom was essential. Now schools largely had similar amounts of equipment, the aim was to embed technology in practice. "ICT is starting to transform education, but embedding it remains the challenge for the next five years," he said.

Despite the continuing difficulty of demonstrating that investment in ICT could increase pupil achievement, he was certain that the Government would remain committed to using technology to help modernise the education system. Education secretary Charles Clarke's decision last month to assume responsibility for ICT, rather than give it to a junior minister, underlined that commitment, Mr Lynch said. Mr Clarke had technology in his portfolio when he became an education minister in July 1998.

There is no doubt that the state of ICT in schools has improved dramatically since Labour was elected in 1997. According to new figures from the British Educational Suppliers Association (Besa), there are now about 1.4 million computers in UK schools, just 100,000 short of the optimum number needed to fully implement ICT development plans.

Ray Barker, director of Besa, said its research found schools spent pound;426 million on ICT last year; 50 per cent on computers and 15 per cent on software and content.

On average, a primary school has enough bandwidth for seven concurrent users and in secondaries, of which 59 per cent now have ADSL or leased-line internet access, 36 students can surf at the same time. Late last year, Prime Minister Tony Blair pledged that every primary and secondary school would have broadband access by 2006.

However, Mr Barker warned that it remained a struggle to use ICT in schools until it was properly integrated with the curriculum or assessment. "Teachers want to use it but there's always something that puts them off," he said.

Besa also remained concerned about the fate of the content industry. Mr Barker said the delays and confusion associated with the Government's Curriculum Online initiative and the BBC's Digital Curriculum meant the educational software industry was "still under threat". Meanwhile, the most recent DfES statistics reveal that the Government is edging closer to meeting its 2004 target of eight primary pupils and five secondary students per computer with the 2002 figures standing at 9.7 and six respectively.

Almost half of schools now have an interactive whiteboard, with an average of 1.8 per school, while 46 per cent have a digital projector and more than 90 per cent have digital still or video cameras.

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