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Becta exec admits mistakes on education IT

Pledges end to buy first, ask questions later policies

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The man charged with helping deliver broadband to more than a million poor children has admitted that government school IT initiatives have been poorly run in the past.

At the BETT trade show earlier this month, Becta director of educational content Dave Hassell conceded that the education IT quango has been guilty of poor deployments. "What we've done in the past is keep throwing IT at people. It's become a burden for some," he said.

The comments came soon after Becta's chairman Andrew Pinder said teachers are unable to keep up with the pace of Westminster-driven IT rollout in schools.

Becta's current emphasis is on replacing "islands of good practice" in individual schools and authorities with a more integrated approach. "It's not a case of catching up, but we need senior managers thinking more strategically in terms of their staff's IT use," Hassell said.

Becta's "next generation learning" campaign, launched last week, is aimed at making better use of the technology already out there and convincing parents of its value to schools.

Despite the chequered recent history of education IT, a suite of new initiatives is being developed to extend access to school systems to parents via realtime reporting. Hassell said procurement of new realtime reporting IT systems will most likely be handled at local authority level.

Last week, a confidential draft of a parallel plan to provide broadband internet access and computers at home to every child in the country was circulated among members of the Home Access Task Force, a body convened by schools minister Jim Knight. Industry, Becta, charities, school representatives, and government will consider the scheme between now and April when final recommendations will be released.

April's report will focus on the "functional outcome" of Home Access - what it should achieve - rather than how to get there.

Knight recently began putting public pressure on the broadband industry to lower its prices to help get the project off the ground, however. It's thought the task force particularly wants to reduce the high cost of reconnecting a landline, which BT normally charges up to £125 for.

Proof of concept research has found that the hardware for home internet access for poor families could be rented at £3 per month. £60m is already earmarked by the Department for Children, Schools and Families to subsidise home computers for poor children.

"What we haven't seen is much progress yet on the broadband side," Hassell said. "Most people can afford something towards it... we want to know what broadband providers can offer to help the most deprived people."

Jim Knight has insisted that the home broadband scheme will be paid for by industry, government, and parents. Hassell said task force research and pilot projects show that the poorest families do want computers and broadband if it is offered at an affordable price. ®

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