The UK government dedicates some £73 billion each year into the primary, secondary and tertiary education system, and in this year’s Budget the Chancellor singled out this part of public spending as particularly important. Given Gordon Brown’s identification of future competitive threats from fast-emerging economies like India and China, especially around those nation’s technology and engineering skills bases, that’s not too surprising. What is certain is that it’s very hard to keep everyone happy around education, as this year’s controversial attempts at comprehensive school reform have shown. Though the introduction of ‘top-up’ fees for university tuition, an equally contentious issue, seems to have happened more smoothly than critics suggested. ICT is seen as crucial to delivering modern education, with the government’s March 2005 white paper flagging an ambitious ‘e-strategy’ for harnessing more electronic delivery and support for schooling and children’s services in general.

When finally delivered, the vision is that IT will be a common thread in all aspects of education: from parents being able to see what their children are learning via the school’s website; and employers and communities accessing ICT training and support more readily; to young people and adult learners seeing courses tailored to their personal needs. There is a public target of all schools having broadband access by the end of this year and internet channels for teachers, parents and learners should be up and running too. But the government admits that there is a long way to go, acknowledging progress is “patchy”, particularly in development of skills and awareness. It says: “For every school that has embraced technology in teaching and learning, class management and administration, there are two others that have barely begun to use ICT well.” There is also a review of the way software is being sourced by schools, with a focus on getting better value for the annual £180 million spend in this area.

To get things moving again, in March the Department for Education & Skills became part of what Whitehall circles have dubbed ‘the Club’, the link between the main Directgov government information portal and the Department of Health, with a five-year, £27m contract with Xansa to deliver government services.