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Unions back online curriculum

James Rogers
Teaching unions have given a cautious welcome to the Government's soon to be launched £50m Curriculum Online service, which aims to help teachers deliver the national curriculum for schools by using the Internet.

Eamonn O'Kane, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters and Women Teachers, said, "Any measures to cut down teacher workload are welcome." However, he highlighted a lack of skills and resources as potential hurdles in the path of the strategy.

"The difficulties stemming from online lesson plans are that many teachers do not have access to computers and many do not have the necessary experience to download the information," said O'Kane.

The Government has already predicted that, once up and running, Curriculum Online will make lesson planning and administration easier for teachers as well as freeing up time for actual teaching.

The Web-based system, which is being hosted by not-for-profit organisation EduServ, will offer a central database of certified resources, searchable by national curriculum key stage, subject and topic.

Metadata tagging will allow fast searches of the system, and the XML data format will be used by suppliers to load data onto Curriculum Online, in compliance with e-government standards.

The online resources will be provided by publishers, teachers and public sector bodies such as museums and, subject to approval by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, the BBC.

The Government said key components of the initiative will include both a library of e-learning materials and access to commercial products for schools to purchase.

As part of the Curriculum Online strategy, the Department for Education and Skills is distributing £30m worth of e-learning credits to all maintained schools, non-maintained special schools and pupil-referral units in England. This funding, which can only be spent on Curriculum Online resources, will be topped up with an additional £20m from April next year.

Ian Stanley, account director at IT solutions provider Parity, which designed and built the Curriculum Online portal, said the site has already undergone testing. "We have had a panel of teachers doing usability testing and their recommendations have been worked into the solution," he explained.

Testing has also been undertaken to ensure that interfaces to suppliers of e-learning and digital content work correctly, Stanley added.

However, industry experts have warned that increasing pressures on teachers' time have made it difficult for them to learn new skills, such as IT.

O'Kane said, "The Government has pledged to increase the number of computers in schools and provide adequate training for teachers, but when you are already working a 60-hour week it is hard to find time to learn a new skill."

Last year a report from the Office for Standards in Education said teachers' progress in developing professional skills can be slow because they have to train in their own time. This problem was highlighted as hampering the Government's information and communication technology initiative in schools.

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