The current UK government...

The current UK government education initiatives in the area of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and how these will provide opportunities for learning for girls and women

Sandra Crapper, Belle Associates Ltd, UK


Within the UK we have a number of government led initiatives in education which seek to develop and extend the use of Information & Communications Technology (ICT) within all phases of the educational system. The UK government currently spend £41bn on education (HM Treasury) and an element of this funding is channelled through initiatives within the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. Latest government statistics indicating levels of spend by schools on ICT and ratio of computers:pupils, plus internet usage is provided in Annexe I.

Although this method of financing our education system allows the government to identify national issues and then allocate resources promptly to address those issues, it has resulted in what the Times Education Supplement ( TES, 1999) refers to as innovation fatigue amongst our senior management teams in schools and the teachers. In 1998 UK Schools implemented 29 new initiatives and the forecast for 1999/2000 is 19 initiatives.

This conference is seeking to better understand the role of technology in education and the workplace and how we might ensure that girls and women are able to exploit its use to ensure equal access to both education and jobs. In the UK we have a number of single gender schools and exam results for girls attending these schools is better than their peers attending mixed gender schools. However, recent research from London University ( Elwood, J. and Gipps C., 1999, London University, Institute of Education) indicates that this is partly due to the ability of these schools to attract the best pupils. Test scores for pupils at Age 11 in Mathematics, Science and English are improving, and girls achieve well at this age. All children sit national examinations in Science, Mathematics and English at age 16. Following these exams children choose the 3 or 4 A level subjects they wish to study for the next two years. The number of girls choosing to study technology and science subjects reduces at this age with the result that only 21% of girls studying at this level choose to take A level Physics.

Current initiatives

The UK government has decided to invest in excess of £1,000m on the development of an ICT infrastructure for schools and libraries. This vision was outlined in The Learning Age – a renaissance for a new Britain. This document outlines and explains the aims and objectives of government during the period 1998-2002. The major aims are to:

  • Widen participation in learning and raise standards
  • Establish the Standards and Effectiveness Unit at the Department for Education & Employment
  • Introduce Literacy and Numeracy hour
  • Develop a database of good practice
  • Increase funding to Further Education colleges

To assist the government in developing and monitoring the associated policies relating to the above the British Educational & Communications Technology Agency (BECTa) has been given the remit to support the Government and National Agencies in the use and development of ICT to raise standards in Education. Becta is the lead agency for the National Grid for Learning.

The main ICT initiatives which are currently impacting on our schools and moving them forward into the next millennium are:

National Grid for Learning (NGfL)
This initiative is jointly funded by government and Local Education Authorities in the UK to connect every school to the Internet by the year 2002. The majority of the £700m budget (98/02) will be used to cover connectivity and computer equipment. As the initiative develops an element of the funding has been allocated to develop high quality content to support and enhance all areas of the curriculum and to encourage ICT skills. Funds are available to assist teachers to develop classroom materials which are then shared with other teachers via the Grid.

Virtual Teachers Centre (VTC)
The VTC aims to help teachers to find the best teaching resources through access to useful internet web sites. Many of these sites are those developed by teachers and Local Education Authorities. The VTC also hosts a number of text-based computer conferences, aimed at providing teachers with peer support through discussion and a professional development environment where teachers can develop new skills.

New Opportunities Fund (NOF)
NOF was established in 1998 to administer the funds arising from the Wednesday Lottery. At present NOF have four different initiatives within education, and they expect to fund more new initiatives in this area in the future.

  • Out of School Hours Learning Activities - £205 million
    £180 million has been allocated for a wide range of out of school hours learning activities with the aim of assisting in the intellectual and social development of children and young people. £25 million will be specifically allocated for summer school projects.
  • Out of School Hours Childcare - £220 million
    £220 million has been allocated for childcare which NOF hopes to make available childcare provision for 865,000 children across the UK. There will also be £20 million available for integrated childcare and learning activities.
  • ICT Training for Teachers, School Librarians and Librarians, and Digitisation of Learning Materials - £300 million
    £230 million will be available to fund ICT training for classroom teachers and school librarians, £20 million for public librarians and £50 million for digitisation of National resources held in libraries and museums.


Community Access to Lifelong Learning


Out of School Hours Learning Activities


Out of School Hours Childcare


ICT Training for Teachers, School Librarians


ICT Training Public Librarians


Digitisation of Learning Materials


Total, Sept. 1999

£925 million

There are a number of supporting initiatives that involve ICT. These are:

  • Curriculum 2000
    1999 has seen a review of our National Curriculum and following extensive consultation a revised curriculum will be introduced into our schools in September 2000. The new curriculum uses the term ICT rather than IT and this has created a wide debate within the UK as to the purpose and content of the subject area IT within UK classrooms. To assist schools the government has prepared a series of exemplar Schemes of Work which teachers can use and adapt in their own classrooms. www.standards/
  • Managed Services
    In recognition that schools have considerable funds to invest in ICT, but may lack the confidence or understanding to purchase equipment and services, BECTa has certified a number of suppliers to provide managed services to schools. This follows a detailed tendering, testing and evaluation process. It is anticipated that purchasing equipment and services through this method will allow schools to concentrate on teaching and learning rather than on technical issues and concerns. There are six core elements:
    • Equipping and local networking
    • Internet access provision
    • Operational software
    • Installation, testing and certification of readiness for use
    • Servicing and technical support
    • Training and commissioning

Other elements may include:

  • Curriculum and learning content
  • Higher specification equipment
  • Additional levels of support and service
  • Lifelong Learning (UFI)
    This initiative aims to encourage the development of a network of learning centres throughout the UK to provide technology rich learning environments for the adult population. Allied to this will be ‘individual learning accounts’ which will provide a contribution towards training costs for sectors of the population the government wish to target to encourage lifelong learning.
  • Excellence in Cities (EiC)
    £350m to develop the government’s visit for inner-city education. The programme has seven key components:
    • specialist schools
    • learning support units
    • learning mentors
    • programmes for gifted and talented children
    • beacon schools
    • education action zones
    • inner city learning centres

The last of these, inner City Learning Centres (CLC), involves the establishment of 30 CLCs by September 2000. CLCs will act as a catalyst to cascade best educational practice within and across inner city areas. ICT will be a key element of these centres which will underpin other elements of the EiC programme. They will be based in secondary schools serving the wider community and will be open during the evenings and weekends.

  • Community Grids
    This summer the government offered local authorities the opportunity to receive funding to support the development of partnerships across LEAs to discuss the technologies and issues surrounding the development of community grids. 81 local authorities in 10 consortiums took advantage of this funding. Additional information on community grids is available on

    This ICT rich environment that we are developing within the UK educational system is aiming to prepare both girls and boys for the changing world of work, and the appropriate skills and knowledge which will allow them to join the workforce and make a significant contribution to the country’s wealth and prosperity. By asking a number of questions we can begin to see the problems and issues which our young women might encounter during their working life and perhaps begin to identify what are the changes that need to happen to address some of these.

What are the main features of the workplace that our ICT literate pupils will enter if they were to leave school today?

UK economy is dependent on female labour force (Policy Studies Institute)

  • 11 million women are in employment
  • 8 million women (66%) who work are married or cohabiting
  • One third of all workers are women who are married
  • 8 out 10 women who take a career break return to employment within five years (Returners Statistics, Women Returners Network handbook, 1997)
  • 85% of the full time science, engineering and technology workforce are male
  • 33% of science, engineering and technology students are women, yet only 3% of SET professors or fellows of the Royal Society are female – Talent in being lost (Association of Women in Science and Engineering).
  • 66% of men were earning in the top quartile (£1,452 per month), compared with 40% of similarly qualified women (Conti, Laurie & Dex, 1995)
  • Women are receiving less training than their male counterparts (Lloyd, 1999)
  • Only 7% of women use email at work(ICT in Education News, March 1998)

What are some of the barriers to girls entering science careers?

  • Girls are alienated by what they see as the ‘impersonal and value-free’ content of science
  • Never met a femal engineer
  • Pesonal and social factors
  • Family-unfriendly practices at work
  • Sexual biases in language
  • Predominantly male environments
  • Direct discrimination could be due to subconscious behaviour of females that perpetuates the status quo (Spertus, 1991)

What are the barriers to women returning to work?

  • Lack of confidence in themselves and their working environment (Policy Studies Institute
  • Lost contact with the social networks important for gaining jobs & information on training opportunities
  • Lack of resources to finance training

How might we encourage women to return to work after having children?

  • Flexible working conditions
  • Generous maternity leave
  • Help with children
  • Courses in confidence building
  • Employers need to change attitudes
  • Use procedures which ensure they look at women as individuals, judged on own merits (thereby offering equal access)

Do we provide equal training opportunities for women in the workplace?
Recent report by Policy Studies Institute commissioned by DfEE, shows that there are still significant barriers preventing women taking up training, these are:

  • part-time working which is a vital factor in restricting women’s training opportunities
  • regardless of occupation
  • training extends outside part-time hours

Employers are reluctant to train part-time workers – believe they are less committed

How can we begin to break down the barriers to training opportunities for women?

  • Provide training in non-traditional areas
  • Women only training programmes
  • Flexible training schedules (local, close to public transport etc)

What might be the catalyst for change?

UK has 121 women MPs (101 Lab, 14 Cons, 3 Lib/Dems, 2 SNP, 1 Speaker

Women Leaders in the Government

  • Leader of the House of Commons – Betty Boothroyd
  • Minister for Women – Baroness Jay of Paddington
  • Private Secretary/Whip – Ann Taylor MP
  • Sec of State for Northern Ireland - Mow Mowlem MP
  • International Development - Claire Short MP

League table on women in government UK is 25 th>, Scotland is 3 rd>, (48 female MPs out of 129) – Norway is 4 th.>

It is to be hoped that with a substantial number of women in our government and on the back benches that this will start to impact on the development of policies which address women’s issues, and ensure that future initiatives are equally relevant to women. Some of the current UK initiatives aimed specifically at girls and women or which have elements that address womens issues are:

  • Secretary of State for Trade & Industry launched a poster campaign for sec school pupils which features young, female role models who work in science, engineering and technology jobs
  • Education and Employment Committee is carrying out an inquiry into role of headteachers. The terms of reference for the inquiry includes Gender Issues. (Why are women who make up the majority of teachers under-represented among headteachers? What are the implications for this? Does the situation need changing, and if so how?
  • Redefining Work, debate organsied by Royal Society (Simpson,1999), subject matter is wide ranging, including:
    • Organisation of work
  • Replacement of job security by employability
  • Decline of the manufacturing sector
  • Growth of the service sector
  • Rise in part-time work and fall in full-time work
  • Increasing participating of women in the workforce
  • Effects of new technology

Also considering the learning society who identifies the learning requirements, who provides the learning opportunities and who pays?

  • Fair Play – funded by DfEE until March 2001 – aims to help women achieve their full capabilities so that they can make a full contribution both to the local economy and the local community. The initiative includes promotion of equality of opportunity
    • Establish regional consortia (public & private players) to work together to achieve themes of the initiative, which include
    • New technology
    • Ethnic minority women
    • Information and awareness about education and training opportunities
    • Raising expectations of young women
  • Learning to Succeed – White Paper (July 1999)
    • Learning and Skills Council for England £5 billion budget
    • Responsible for training over 5 million people through establishment of 50 regional learning and skills council

Closing remarks

In conclusion ICT usage within the workplace is here to stay and it is important that women are confident and competent users of the technologies. The pervasive use of ICT can be seen by a recent report for Pitney Bowes Inc, by the Institute for the Future and Gallap, which found:

  • 42% of email users in UK only began in the last year
  • 171 emails a day for UK office workers (USA 200 emails)
  • 50% of which is people in their own departments
  • Voice mail, US 100% every day, Germany 33%
  • UK workers 46% use mobile phones every day

It is anticipated that Internet usage will continue to develop as can be seen from the following levels of usage.

  • 10.6m UK users (NOP – March 1999) this is set to rise to12.5m by end of 1999 (Fletcher)
  • 61% men, 39% are women (British Market Research Board)
  • 44% of Internet traffic is non US (Japan very high)
  • 48% increase for education use (NOP)
  • 15% of all British Telecom calls are internet and that figure is expected to rise to 20%-25% next year (Times Newspaper).

As a final closing thought - very few internet sites are developed/designed by women, when compared to more traditional publishing medias such as magazines. Th Internet was designed by men and is managed by men, women need to become more involved and ensure that their collective voice is heard as this important medium develops in the year 2000.


UK Schools ICT Statistics as supplied by DfEE (September 1999)


  • Computers ratio
  • Primary 13:1 (was 18:1)
  • Secondary 8:1 (was 9:1)

Expenditure on ICT

  • Primary £27 per pupil pa (98/99)
  • Secondary £45 per pupil pa
  • Total Primaries £105 million (98/99)
  • Total Secondaries £136 million

Internet connections

  • Primaries 62%
  • Secondaries 93%
  • Colleges 100%
  • Universities 100%

Using ICT in schools

  • Teacher Confidence Primary 68% (1999)
  • Teacher Confidence Secondary 66%
  • Email primary teachers 15% (rise from 2%)
  • Email secondary teachers 32% (rise from 9%)
  • Email primary pupils 4%
  • Email secondary pupils 12%


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