HC Deb 15 June 1981 vol 6 cc717-8
6. Mr. Tom Ellis

asked the Secretary of State for Wales how many schools in Wales are using microprocessor systems and software in teaching information technology.

The Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Michael Roberts)

Some 70 per cent. of maintained secondary schools in Wales offer computer studies courses. Roughly two-thirds of these are thought to have microcomputers and the remainder have access to a mainframe computer.

Mr. Ellis

Is the Minister aware that a microcomputer manufactured in my constituency and available at competitive prices can be used with systems and software which are already in use in Wales, whereas the RML microcomputer, approved by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry, cannot be so used? Will the Minister have a word with his right hon. Friend to see whether the manufacturer in my constituency is discriminated against, and why his right hon. Friend is setting up a system under which taxpayers' money is likely to be wasted?

Mr. Roberts

There is no question of taxpayers' money being wasted. The microcomputer scheme in schools will be of enormous benefit to schools throughout the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Information Technology explained that equipment for the scheme was chosen on grounds of technical, educational and financial merit, and that additional machines cannot be considered for inclusion in the present phase of the scheme. But for future phases—there will be future phases—I shall draw his attention to the point made by the hon. Member.

Mr. Garel-Jones

Is my hon. Friend aware that hon. Members representing English seats recently received from the Department of Education and Science a letter drawing to our attention the fact that the Government intend to have a microprocessor in every secondary school in the United Kingdom, and giving details of schemes that the Government have to promote this end? Will he confirm that those details have also been sent to hon. Members representing Welsh constituencies? If not, will he look into the matter and ensure that they are sent?

Mr. Roberts

The scheme is for the whole of the United Kingdom, and Welsh authorities have received the same letter.

Mr. Wigley

The Under-Secretary mentioned that about 70 per cent. of schools may already have micro-processors installed. Will he give an assurance that those schools which have already taken an initiative in this matter and may have devices which are useful, but not up to the standard of those now being supplied, will not be penalised because they have already taken the initiative?

Mr. Roberts

There is no question of penalising any school in the United Kingdom, but priority will be given to providing microcomputers for those schools that lack them at the moment.

Dr. Roger Thomas

Is the Minister aware that, to take full advantage of the microprocessors and computers in our schools, urgent steps should be taken to answer the prevalent complaint that there is a distinct shortage of mathematics and physics teachers? Will he agree that, without those teachers, we cannot take full advantage of high technology in our schools?

Mr. Roberts

It is true that over the last six or seven years a serious shortage of mathematics and physics teachers has developed in our schools. We are already taking steps to put that matter right.