HC Deb 28 October 1999 vol 336 cc1089-91
10. Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan)

What support schools will be given to ensure that all teachers are trained in the use of information communications technology. [94259]

11. Ms Ruth Kelly (Bolton, West)

If all teachers will be trained in the use of information technology. [94260]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Michael Wills)

The new opportunities fund is making available £230 million to support the training of serving teachers and school library staff in the maintained sector in the effective use of information and communications technology. The training is available to all teachers in maintained schools in the UK.

Mr. Smith

I am grateful for that reply. Does my hon. Friend agree that our schools could become a vital resource for the whole community, giving access to information technology? That especially applies to schools in poorer areas, where we might create cybercentres in every less-favoured community. Does my hon. Friend look forward to the day when all our schoolteachers are on-line, and hard copy becomes a thing of the past?

Mr. Wills

I very much agree with my hon. Friend, and I am grateful to him for drawing the attention of the House to the important IT initiatives that we are undertaking.

We must ensure that all children leave school with basic competence in information and communications technologies. We must also ensure that they have the opportunity to receive the benefits that those technologies can contribute to the whole educational experience in the classroom. I strongly agree that we must use our schools as a basis for making those technologies available to the wider communities—a process that is already under way in the excellence in cities initiative, and that we shall pursue with the roll-out of more than 700 IT learning centres next year.

Ms Kelly

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I very much welcome his commitment to turning schools into centres of excellence that the whole community can use. I take the opportunity to draw his attention to the bid by a school in my constituency, Rivington and Blackrod school, which not only intends to set up an IT centre of excellence but expects to be able to draw in business and industry, parents and members of the local community to develop a real learning town, both for Horwich and for Blackrod.

Mr. Wills

I thank my hon. Friend for drawing that project to my attention. It sounds interesting and exactly the type of project that we want to encourage. I look forward to receiving a bid from the school when we invite bids for the IT learning centres.

Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)

While considering support for teachers, is the Minister aware that yesterday the National Union of Teachers, in evidence to the Select Committee on Education and Employment, joined the chorus of criticism of the Prime Minister's patronising remarks to head teachers last week? Is he further aware that they will not be mollified by some spurious offer of laptop computers from someone who does not know how to use them?

Mr. Wills

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should read what the Prime Minister said. He congratulated the great majority of head teachers on the wonderful work that they are doing. I believe that every Labour Member would agree with those sentiments. I do not know why the hon. Gentleman supposes that the offer of £3 million for laptops for heads is spurious. Every head has welcomed it, and heads in my constituency have said how valuable they have found previous IT initiatives. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will open his eyes and see the real advantage that those technologies can bring to all teachers.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

Is the Minister convinced that such initiatives are cost-effective? The Prime Minister's lack of IT expertise is legendary, but it has not held back his achievements. Given that he said that the profession was still pervaded by the forces of conservatism, would not the money be better spent on a programme of re-education on the Chinese model? After all, it had a remarkable effect on our police force.

Mr. Wills

I am very interested to note that the hon. Gentleman has now become a Maoist, to add to all his other accomplishments. We shall ensure that the initiatives are cost-effective. We are absolutely convinced of the benefits that those technologies can bring to everyone in education. I look forward to the day—perhaps some time in the next century—when Opposition Members will join everyone else in the country in recognising those benefits.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

I, too, welcome my hon. Friend to his new post. Will he join me in congratulating the head teacher and staff of William Beamont high school in my constituency? They have made a great investment in new technology and, by linking up with Warrington collegiate institute, have given free internet access not only to their partner primary schools, but to a number of community groups in a deprived area in the centre of my constituency. Is not this the way in which we should encourage schools to proceed in future?

Mr. Wills

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I should be interested to come and see that exciting project. She draws attention to an important point: as the technologies become more and more available in our society, it is fundamental that our most deprived areas should get exactly the same benefits from them as other areas. That is fundamental to the roll-out of the IT learning centres, which we are targeting on the 1,500 most deprived wards. I thank my hon. Friend for drawing our attention to the importance of making sure that no digital divide opens up in this country.

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