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Schools minister strikes elegiac tone at Bett

You should coco, Vernon

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Bett Minister for Schools and Learners Vernon Coaker kicked off this year's Bett today, in a reflective speech that offered very little insight into what the current government plans were for the future of IT in education.

Instead Coaker reminded the audience what the Labour government has done for getting technology into schools over the past decade.

He reiterated the government's announcement earlier this week that free laptops and broadband would be dished out to 270,000 cash-strapped homes in the coming year.

The plan - which PM Gordon Brown first greenlit in 2008 - looks increasingly likely to be the incumbent government's last IT-in-education hurrah ahead of the General Election, which many political pundits are suggesting will happen on 6 May.

Coaker spent much of his speech thanking the key players that have shaped government policy over the past decade. He made a point of singling out IT suppliers for their ability to pull in "£250m in exports alone" over the past year.

"We need to able to progress with that market as time marches on," noted Coaker.

However, even though the minister was keen to talk in broad terms about the future workforce being ably equipped with the right technology in schools (he mentioned "millions on Facebook", 95 per cent of 15-year-old kids using mobile phones, and the use of iPods and Macs in the classroom), he didn't outline what we can expect to see happen in that sector over the coming year.

Home Access is now in place, and its success - or failure - might eventually prove to be the Labour government's legacy in terms of how much it committed to closing what it has so often referred to as the "education gap" by using IT.

Coaker reminded the audience that a Children, Schools and Families Bill would shortly be mulled by Parliament.

The government is hoping to reform the Primary school curriculum following a review by Sir Jim Rose, who among other things recommended a more flexible approach to IT in education.

"We cannot allow school children to become disengaged from important subjects such as science and IT," he said.

"Technology can break down the barriers to learning which has blighted so many for so long."

Of course, the current government has long proclaimed that families who are excluded from internet access in their homes is bad for their kids' future.

"Denying them [such tools] can have a serious adverse affect to attainment," claimed Coaker.

But today's speech revealed more about where Brown and his ministers might be this time next year - much like the snowy streets here in Olympia, it's likely to be left out in the cold. ®

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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