Network: Our schoolchildren are still waiting, Mr Blair

Derek Wyatt, left, takes the Government to task for failing properly to plan, fund and put into effect the National Grid for Learning

Imagine my elation at being sent a paper by the Department for Education and Employment entitled Connecting the Learning Society (also referred to as National Grid for Learning: the Government's Consultation Paper) back in those heady days of October 1997. It asked for expressions of interest by December 1997.

I've learnt that government papers are just as interesting for what they leave out as for what they contain. This paper had an enormous black hole - no budgets attached and no strategy for implementation. I concluded that the civil servants and consultants who had put this together were hoping that the IT industry would come bearing gifts.

For my sins, I thought the document was back to front. I also thought that, if Tony Blair were convinced of the need to deliver 25 per cent of government electronically by 2002, the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) would be dovetailing their plans with his. After all, as a government, we are also working on the Department of Social Service's smart card projects; we're over budget and woefully behind on the ICL Post Office Counters project; then there's the National Health Services operations booking system announced last week by Frank Dobson, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office's intranet deal, and so on.

Only last week, the Contributions Agency said it had serious doubts about Andersen Consulting being able to deliver a fully functional National Insurance recording system; then, amusingly, the Cabinet Office paid a newly privatised computer centre pounds 39,000 in interest on money it later discovered was its own.

Governments have made too many mistakes in the purchase and implementation of computer hardware and software systems over the last 15 years, wasting billions of pounds in the process. You would think someone in government would begin to comprehend that a single co-ordinator in the Cabinet Office was required.

Before we can do any of these IT projects, we have to have a broadband strategy and structure in place and it has to be properly funded. We have none of these in situ, but another discussion paper is due shortly from the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

I visited Singapore One (at my own expense) two weeks ago. We cannot embrace the thinking behind their Intelligent City unless we establish the ground rules for broad-band. The National Grid for Learning (NGfL) wanted to go round this problem. It wanted to create a mosaic at a local level. Cities and counties would be linked first, and then these links would be drawn together into some kind of national framework.

I thought this plan rather odd. The Government owns the copyright to the National Curriculum. It owns the rights to the books published on it, the examinations that reflect it and any programming on television, radio, video and the Net. When the Open University's funding was agreed, the Government annexed pounds 3m from the licence fee to fund the programming budget. Currently, the BBC's education spend is pounds 60m a year, and its online budget is more than pounds 20m. It has arrogantly established its own learning channels instead of coming to the Government to create the NGfL. Amazingly, the DfEE, according to a document leaked to the Financial Times, is willing to pay an extra pounds 30m to set up its own learning channel to supplement the NGfL.

Before we build the NGfL (and the University for Industry and all our Lifelong Learning Initiatives), we need a national grid to be in place. Once this was agreed, we could borrow from the ITV system. That is, at the centre would be the strategists deciding on the NGfL's hardware and software. Tender documents would be established for the publishing, broadcasting (irrespective of platform) and examination contracts. These would have the potential to earn huge revenue.

In the regions based on the map of the Regional Development Authorities and the Welsh Assembly (Scotland and Northern Ireland follow different curricula), further tender documents would be prepared to licence not just the NGfL but also other electronic government services, which would thus be provided free or as-free to the Government.

If this model were unpalatable, then there is no reason why the BBC, Channel 4 and BSkyB with, say, a Yahoo! or a Dorling Kindersley, should not be brought together by the Government to provide the central services. This could be funded in just the same way as the Open University - from the licence fee.

All teachers want are the tools to help them improve the way in which they offer subjects to their pupils. This would in turn aid the drive to improve standards. Headteachers and governors do not want large Internet bills one year hence, when the initial "free" trial is over. Teachers should not have been issued with laptops; you cannot see the screens in a classroom and therefore they cannot be used as teaching aids, except by a small number of pupils.

Teachers complain to me that they are taught on Pentium PCs and then come back to school to their 386s. Has every local education authority undertaken an IT audit? If so, could these be published, so we know what the UK picture looks like?

As I said in the adjournment debate about libraries last week, there are schools that still qualify as "information poor" because of the lack of properly equipped and properly staffed school libraries. We need a strategy that makes libraries the centre of the Intelligent School for the 21st century. We have been waiting for the Government's intentions with respect to the NGfL for more than a year. I yearn for it.

The writer is Labour MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey, and founder and co-chair of the All Party Internet Committee

Online objectives for our schools

Shelve any further NGfL initiatives until a broad-band strategy is in place.

Remove VAT from the purchase of all computers for educational purposes.

Agree a deal with BBC, C4 and BSkyB to create a NGfL television channel.

Start to put into place the national hardware and software centre on the ITV model at the British Library (space available) or at C4/BBC/BSkyB or at Oxford University.

Put a tender document out to create the regional hubs for the delivery of the NGfL, the University for Industry and the Lifelong Learning Initiatives.

Nominate schools (Intelligent Schools) with IT that are already centres of excellence, and charge them with training their colleagues and upgrading skills.

Agree to provide free Internet access to all our schools for the next five years.

Organise UK-wide computer holiday boot camps (as they do in Singapore and America) to improve the skills of our school communities.

Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific