Schools internet plan crashes

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The Independent Online
THE HI-TECH future for schools promised by the Prime Minister is in jeopardy, according to a survey published by head teachers today.

Tony Blair has set aside more than pounds 700m to put all schools on the Internet and link them to museums and libraries. He wants all pupils to leave school computer literate.

But the survey by the National Association of Head Teachers shows that some local authorities, which allocate the money, are giving schools seven times as much to spend as others. A few authorities are planning to give each school barely more than the cost of a single computer each year.

David Hart, the association's general secretary, said last night: "The unwillingness of many local education authorities to fund their appropriate share of the National Grid for Learning is nothing short of scandalous." He has written to David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, asking for an inquiry into the differences.

Charles Clarke, the Education minister, said yesterday: "The figures are tendentious and are based on the first two years of a five-year programme.

"The money available up to 2002 will ensure that every school will benefit by connections to the National Grid for Learning and every teacher who needs to will have access to the right training."

Two years ago, the Stevenson report, commissioned by the Government, described the state of information technology in schools as "primitive": a third of primary schools had only one computer per class.

The National Grid for Learning aims to provide services, such as advice on how to teach literacy and numeracy, to all schools. Local education authorities have to bid for funds to pay for computers, software, networking and Internet links for schools. If their bids are approved, the Government will match the cash they spend.

But the heads' survey found "totally unacceptable" disparities in funding. For the two years from 1998 spending per school ranges from pounds 3,335 in Derbyshire to pounds 35,714 in Dudley, West Midlands.

The 10 authorities spending the most on computers are Dudley, Telford and Wrekin, Knowsley, Barking and Dagenham, Birmingham, Newcastle upon Tyne, Bristol, Kensington and Chelsea, Brighton and Hove and St Helens. The 10 spending the least are Derbyshire, North Lincolnshire, North Yorkshire, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Northumberland, Sandwell, Enfield, Essex and Cornwall.

Graham Lane, chairman of education at the Local Government Association, said: "Local authorities have to have different priorities. The priorities they choose will depend on their different circumstances. The extra money the Government has given to education is not doing much more than provide a standstill budget."

n The Government announced yesterday that it would providepounds 180m to pay for musical instrument tuition for pupils, to supply instruments for individual pupils and youth orchestras and advice and support for teachers.

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