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Parents to get classroom spynet in 2010

Schools minister sets all-seeing-eye targets

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Every parent of a secondary school pupil will have online access to real-time data on their child's behaviour by 2010 under new targets set today by schools minister Jim Knight.

The government wants all schools to provide secure access to information on "behavioural events" as they happen, in the belief that parents feel shut out of education. Primary schools must deploy the technology by 2012, Knight said in a speech to education IT providers.

In the meantime, schools will be ordered to step up existing paper reporting on pupils to once a term.

The minister demonstrated a system built by outsourcing giant Serco, already deployed by a school in Derbyshire. It also reports information on attendance, pending homework, and test results.

A separate scheme will see pilot technology that sends parents text messages when their child is absent expanded to cover 200 schools.

"This isn't a substitute for personal contact," Knight said of the raft of technology projects. "It will augment and supplement it."

Teachers' groups have insisted that the plan must not add to their members' workload, while the education procurement agency BECTA recently released research pointing out that many struggle to use existing IT. The National Union of Teachers today called for an independent assessment of the impact of real-time reporting technology in schools.

Spending to make online reporting universally available is underway. Heading off potential criticisms that the initiative is a sop to nannying middle-class voters, Knight said: "All these plans which depend on technology risk widening the gap between the have and the have-nots unless we can make the technology available to all."

BECTA has earmarked £600,000 for six trials to roll out broadband and computers to low income families. It's estimated that more than one million children do not have a computer or internet access at home.

Knight repeated his assertion that the government will pressurise broadband, hardware, and software providers into giving taxpayers a good deal. "I believe the market will respond with an affordable solution," he said.

He added that government has so far designated £30m in subsidies. A consultation on how access should be bankrolled and deployed begins today.

More details on the access plans are expected when Knight's Home Access Task Force (latest update here) reports in April.

Industry reaction to the initiative has been bemused, but unsurprisingly welcoming. ®

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