HC Deb 04 May 2000 vol 349 cc283-5
7. Mr. Derek Twigg (Halton)

What plans he has to enhance the training in information and communications technology given to serving teachers. [119622]

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

Training for serving teachers in information and communications technology is part of our three-pronged integrated strategy for those technologies: first, an unprecedented £700 million investment in computers in schools and in the supporting infrastructure; secondly, a national curriculum that provides for the teaching of information and communications technology in our schools and its use across the curriculum; and finally, a £230 million teacher training programme in the use of those technologies, provided by the new opportunities fund.

Mr. Twigg

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Although training is essential, it is not in itself the answer to the problem. The money is welcome as well, but part of the difficulty that I see in my constituency and elsewhere is getting schools wired up quickly enough and having the equipment installed. What is being done to speed up the wiring and re-equipping of schools, to ensure that they get the full benefit of the Government's strategy?

Mr. Wills

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to the importance of integrating the strategy. As he is aware, there are three prongs to the strategy. We need to get the hardware into schools, we need to get the right quality software into schools, and we need to make sure that schools are properly wired up.

The internet will be crucial to the future of those technologies and to the future of our children in schools. That is why we are investing £37 million in developing broad band consortiums on a regional basis, to make sure that every school in the country has proper broad band access in the future. We are already making considerable progress on that. When we came to office in 1997, only 17 per cent. of primary schools had access to the internet. In 1999, the figure was 62 per cent., and we are on target to make sure that by 2002 every school in the country has access to the internet.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

Following the Government's regrettable decision to abolish the assisted places scheme and thus deprive children from lower-income families of the opportunity to go to independent schools, are not the Government making another mistake by excluding teachers from independent schools from training in information and communications technology? Should not we be taking down barriers between the state and the independent sector rather than putting up more barriers? Is not putting up barriers in that way likely to prove damaging to the state and the independent sector? Is it not utterly feeble of the Minister to say, as he did in a written answer to me, that The Department is currently exploring ways in which the independent and state sector can work together in order to spread good practice in the use of ICT training …—[Official Report, 19 April 2000; Vol. 348, c. 561W.], while at the same time taking away from teachers in independent schools the opportunity to have such training?

Mr. Wills

No. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman could not find it within himself to welcome the fact that we are working together to explore these opportunities. Perhaps I may give him a short lesson in why we have taken the steps that we have. Scarce resources must always have priorities attached to them. The making of hard choices is a difficult concept for an Opposition who are so busy stapling themselves to their tax guarantee, but hard choices are what we have to make, and that is what we have done. The new opportunities fund training is targeted at the national curriculum. It supports the literacy and numeracy strategies in primary schools and it complements Government funding for ICT equipment in state schools.

Independent schools do not operate within the national curriculum, nor are they required to address other Government strategies. Eligibility for the training depends on there being sufficient ICT equipment in schools and on satisfactory ICT development plans being in place. We cannot require such a coherent and integrated approach in the independent sector, so we thought it right to target our resources on the state sector. We make no apologies for doing that. Parents are well aware of that when they choose independent schools for their children. It is for the independent schools to access the training that is suitable for their teachers and the ethos and programmes that they adopt.

Valerie Davey (Bristol, West)

Schools in my constituency welcome the further development of the equipment and the training, but I should like to hear further from my hon. Friend the Minister on the extent and nature of that training. Will he confirm that it is not simply training in the use of the equipment, but that it is a tool in the education service for the further development of the curriculum?

Mr. Wills

I am happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. The whole purpose of the training is to teach teachers not how to switch on computers but how to integrate them into the curriculum; how to deliver all the technology's benefits for children's educational experiences and learning. That is important. We have allowed a great deal of local flexibility and autonomy for schools to choose the particular method of training that best suits their particular circumstances, and also to choose the providers that suit them best. There are about 50 separate providers of such training from which schools may choose.

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