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
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week

Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

Arts and Entertainment
Bryan Cranston will play federal agent Robert Mazur in The Infiltrator

Books
Arts and Entertainment
Nicki Minaj's lyric video for 'Only' features Drake as the Pope, Minaj as a dictator and Chris Brown as an army leader

music 'It was inspired by Cartoon Network'

Arts and Entertainment
James Nesbit in The Missing on BBC 1

TV review

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.

    US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

    Immigration: Obama's final frontier

    The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

    Scoot commute

    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
    Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

    The Paul Robeson story

    How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
    10 best satellite navigation systems

    Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

    Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
    Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

    Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

    Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
    Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

    'How do you carry on? You have to...'

    The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

    'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

    Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
    Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

    Sir John Major hits out at theatres

    Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
    Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

    Kicking Barbie's butt

    How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines
    Will Smith's children have made waves with a gloriously over-the-top interview, but will their music match their musings?

    What are Jaden and Willow on about?

    Will Smith's children have made waves with a gloriously over-the-top interview, but will their music match their musings?
    Fridge gate: How George Osborne keeping his fridge padlocked shows a frosty side to shared spaces

    Cold war

    How George Osborne keeping his fridge padlocked shows a frosty side to shared spaces
    Stocking fillers: 10 best loo books

    Stocking fillers: 10 best loo books

    From dogs in cars to online etiquette, while away a few minutes in peace with one of these humorous, original and occasionally educational tomes
    Malky Mackay appointed Wigan manager: Three texts keep Scot’s rehabilitation on a knife-edge

    Three texts keep Mackay’s rehabilitation on a knife-edge

    New Wigan manager said all the right things - but until the FA’s verdict is delivered he is still on probation, says Ian Herbert
    Louis van Gaal: the liberal, the enemy and... err, the poet

    Louis van Gaal: the liberal, the enemy and... err, the poet

    ‘O, Louis’ is the plaintive title of a biography about the Dutchman. Ian Herbert looks at what it tells us about the Manchester United manager