HC Deb 19 December 1989 vol 164 cc184-6
7. Dr. Reid

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what steps he is taking to ensure that the supply of computers in primary schools will meet the demand of the national curriculum.

Mr. Alan Howarth

Local education authorities are responsible for ensuring that schools have enough microcomputers to meet the requirements of the national curriculum. Under our education support grants programme, £25 million is being set aside over a three-year period beginning last year to assist LEAs to purchase microcomputers for educational use in schools. For 1990–91, the Department has asked the authorities to give particular attention to the needs of primary schools.

Dr. Reid

The Minister must be aware that the National Curriculum Council states that our schoolchildren should be able to use computers as early as possible. However, Her Majesty's inspectorate of schools has discovered that more than one third of schools' computer hardware and software is inadequate. Why are Britain's children being sold short? How long will we have to wait until our children receive exactly the same technical back-up of hardware and computer software as our foreign competitors to allow them to develop their skills and contribute towards the nation's future technological health?

Mr. Howarth

Under the national curriculum, we require that every child in key stage one, which is the first three years of primary education, should have hands-on experience of computers. I am glad to tell the hon. Gentleman that he is quite in error and that Britain leads the world in information technology in schools. We have more microcomputers, more teachers trained in their appropriate use, and a more extensive presence of information technology across the curriculum than any other country. That places us in a very strong position for the future.

Mr. Baldry

Will my hon. Friend confirm that whether it be teachers, textbooks or computers, since 1979 spending per pupil in primary schools has increased by 35 per cent. and in secondary schools by 40 per cent? Is it not a fact that the Conservative party continues to strengthen our state schools?

Mr. Howarth

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Sound economic policies must be the basis on which to generate the resources that we all want for education. Only this Conservative Government can deliver those sound policies. My hon. Friend will be pleased to learn that the programme to equip primary schools with computers has been proceeding very well. There are now, on average, three microcomputers in each primary school.

Mr. Cryer

Does the Minister realise that primary school teachers in Bradford have difficulty using computers because there are so many leaking roofs that they fear for the electricity supply in the damp conditions? Will the Minister ensure that, as a requisite for teaching computing or any other subject, Bradford receives a sufficient allocation to ensure that its schools have decent premises and permanent extensions rather than having to manage, as they have for many years, with temporary classrooms, some of which need replacing with further temporary classrooms because they are worn out? I am thinking especially about Buttershaw first school in my constituency.

Mr. Howarth

The capital allocation needs of Bradford have been objectively and fairly considered on the same basis as every other authority, and that will continue. We support the introduction and development of information technology in schools through specific grants, which are a separate source of funding.

About £25 million is being set aside under education support grant for the purchase of microcomputers, with an additional £30 million for the employment of advisory teachers to help classroom teachers get to grips with information technology. Under the local education authority training grant scheme, £16 million is being set aside for training teachers in the use of information technology in schools. Bradford's bid for a share of those funds will again be fairly considered, as will bids from any other authority.

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