HC Deb 28 March 1984 vol 57 cc285-6
14. Mr. Galley

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what further steps he proposes to take when his "micros in schools" schemes end.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

The current "micros in schools" schemes will be completed at the end of this year. No decisions have been made on further steps that my Department might take.

Mr. Galley

I welcome this important and creative initiative by my hon. Friend, and its success. Will he assure the House that there will be a continuing commitment by his Department to ensure that schools remain abreast of new technology, and that school leavers are computer-literate and employable?

Mr. Baker

It is true that the scheme has been very successful, and it is widely recognised as such in the country. All our secondary schools now have at least one microcomputer. I hope that by the end of the year all our 27,000 primary schools will have one. With regard to a general improvement in technology, I give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks. We are looking at other areas where we can ensure that the youngsters of today have a good technical background and grounding at school.

Mr. Flannery

No matter how admirable the scheme may be, will the Minister give an assurance that the massive cuts in education, which mean that teachers in every staff room in the country are worried, will not be intensified because of the scheme? Will he liaise with the Department of Education and Science to ensure that?

Mr. Baker

There is strong liaison between our two Departments. We have provided about £16 million for computer hardware over the past three years. The Department of Education and Science provides about £20 million for teacher training and electronic software developments—the textbooks of today.

Mr. Batiste

Will my hon. Friend accept that one of the most serious potential bottlenecks threatening the future development of new industries is the availability of skilled people capable of carrying out high technology work? Is not the "micros in schools" scheme an important foundation for the provision of a skilled work force in future, and should it not be extended as a high priority?

Mr. Baker

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Skilled, technologically literate people are needed at the ages of 16, 18, 21 and 24.

Mr. Stott

The Minister will be aware that the principle of providing micros in schools has the full support of the Opposition, for the reasons just given by the hon. Member for Elmet(Mr. Batiste). However, if we are to capitalise upon the good work already being done, further resources and a continuing programme are needed. Can the Minister assure us that he will sympathetically consider the setting-up of a further scheme once this scheme has come to an end.

Mr. Baker

The principal funding of schools must come from the Department of Education and Science. My own Department's role in making money available over the past three-and-a-half years has been essentially catalytic. We saw a need that had to be met. We have extended the scheme, and I am looking at other proposals to improve technology training at O and A-level.

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