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We thought we'd test the water, so in answer to: 'How did the children respond?'...

...Terry wrote: 'By asking themselves basic questions like: Am I a sardine?' Next time you visit my school, I'll let you have a look at my NOF certificate. You know, the one you get when you've successfully completed the rigorous government computer training course. I'm proud of my certificate. Especially as I haven't done any of the training.

It all started when the Government thought it would be a good idea to make sure primary teachers knew how to integrate IT across the curriculum.

Forget that, at any given moment, more than 60 per cent of school computers are in non-functioning mode, and probably obsolete anyway.

As there was a big crock of gold available for any firms that fancied running a little course for teachers, they stepped forward in their hundreds. Some hadn't a clue, apart from knowing a quick buck when they saw one, but a handful survived, and I invited one of them to show me its wares. I should have been warned when the laptop demo broke down twice, but the firm came highly recommended, we signed on the dotted line, and we duly assembled in our IT room for the first session, accompanied by croissants and fresh coffee provided by our IT co-ordinator to bribe those who considered classroom computers an unreliable pain in the butt.

The first surprise was that the training would be via the internet. No fresh-faced young chappie guiding us through the jargon - just a handful of CDs and faceless mentors across the ether, gently forgiving every daft mistake. I've been into computers since the days of Basic and BBC micros, so the second surprise was that the first two hours of this course were so boring that even the croissants and coffee couldn't compensate. The email system was incomprehensible, the electronic form-filling (that's all the course really consisted of) was deadly dull and the literature an unbeatable cure for insomnia. Nevertheless, my wonderful staff, with the spirit that won us the war, slogged at it. I gave up at session two, simply turning up to smile at everybody and fill the tea urn.

And then, in session three, things turned interesting. We'd noticed that although everyone had an individual mentor, the feedback was remarkably similar. Identical, in fact. "Well done Thanuja, you are realising your learning and teaching objectives." "Well done Philip, you are realising your objectives for teaching and learning." We thought we'd test the water, so, in answer to: "How did the children respond?" Terry wrote: "By asking themselves basic questions like, 'Am I a sardine?'" And back came the response: "Well done Terry, you are realising your objectives for teaching and learning." Was there a human across the ether, or were we being mentored by R2D2 and a program of stock responses?

Intrigued, Terry became bolder. "What are your aims for the lesson?" the electronic form asked. "For the children to have mice skills, and the mice to have children skills," he wrote. By session six, and responses outlining how he'd found IT lessons to be more successful when undertaken at the deep end of a swimming bath, somebody twigged and chastised him gently. He still got his certificate though. And, as I said, so did I.

But staff felt poorer for the experience, while the firm got a little bit richer. Still, we've all got our little bits of congratulatory paper, and the Government can pretend it's put us Luddite teachers at technology's cutting edge.

Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary, London borough of Southwark.


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