HC Deb 25 January 1982 vol 16 cc597-8
1. Mr. Trotter

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what progress has been made in the introduction of computers into schools.

The Minister for Industry and Information Technology (Mr. Kenneth Baker)

Progress in my Department's micros in schools scheme is excellent. A total of 2, 300 applications had been processed by the end of 1981 and, with the extension of the scheme to all secondary schools from January this year, large numbers of applications are expected. I am very satisfied with the success of this scheme so far, and we are well on the way to reaching our objective of ensuring that every secondary school has at least one micro by the end of 1982.

Mr. Trotter

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the success of this imaginative scheme. Has sufficient progress been made in the training of teachers in these schools to get the full benefit out of the machinery that is being installed?

Mr. Baker

My hon. Friend will appreciate that my role is to provide cash for the hardware—the equipment. The role of the Department of Education and Science is to provide the training, and it operates such a scheme. It has allocated £9 million for the training of teachers, because it would be useless to supply schools with microcomputers unless some of the staff were trained to use them. I hope that that training scheme will go from strength to strength.

Mr. Tom Ellis

The Minister will be aware that a few months ago I raised the case of a manufacturer in my constituency who can compete in terms of price, quality and every other respect. Has the hon. Gentleman extended the original list of two names so that other manufacturers can participate in this scheme?

Mr. Baker

As I said, the scheme is being extended to all secondary schools from January this year, and the two manufacturers who have been selected will cover that extension. I am considering the possibility of extending the scheme to primary schools. In that event, we shall look at other manufacturers as well as the first two.

Mr. Neale

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the enthusiasm with which he has pursued this programme. Has he initiated any studies on the future use of computerised learning methods through the telephone network by primary schools, particularly those that are threatened in rural areas? If not, will he consider doing so?

Mr. Baker

That is an interesting idea and I shall certainly pursue it. The support that the Department is providing is available for private as well as State schools.

Mr. John Garrett

Does the Minister agree that the work done by his Department is being undermined by the Department of Education and Science, especially by cutting the facilities available for training teachers in computing? Most institutes of education no longer have lecturers in computer studies. In addition, the DES is either unable or refuses to provide sufficient software for the scheme. As a result, the scheme is in jeopardy because, although the Minister is providing the hardware, the teaching facilities are not available.

Mr. Baker

The hon. Gentleman exaggerates. The Department of Education and Science has allocated £9 million for the training of teachers and the provision of software. That is an essential part of the scheme. I shall draw the hon. Gentlman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends, because the continuation of the training programme is important.

Mr. Nelson

I join in the welcome that has been given to the scheme. Is my hon. Friend aware that there is concern whether local education authorities are pulling their full weight? It is not just a question of money. Is he satisfied that they are doing as much as they can to ensure that the systems installed in schools are integrated and that there is sufficient provision of software, which need not be terribly expensive?

Mr. Baker

The practice varies from one education authority to another. Some of those that I have visited do an impressive job co-ordinating the activities of all their schools and providing basic software and common programmes. I certainly encourage all local authorities to move down that road.

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