With the election of the new Labour Government a new coordinated approach to educational technology in schools began, based on the recommendations of the Stevenson Review. This included the development of the National Grid for Learning, first as a portal website, then later as a broad sweep of initiatives covering funding for schools and LEAs, internet safety, and managed services.
Work in Progress - needs to be completed
The EDSI projects had demonstrated the educational potential of the Internet and this was picked up by the Stevenson Review which recommended:
"a strategy for information and communications technology in education must include access for teachers and students to the Internet. It will allow them to access information and to communicate in a way that has never been possible" ...
"An educational Website on the Internet would not only allow teachers and others to swap ideas, but also create a "virtual marketplace" for software; a place where software could be freely available, advice could be found and the opportunity provided for teachers to adapt and contribute collectively to the development
of software packages.."
and so when the new Labour Government came into power in May 1997 there was considerable speculation on how they would support and develop this idea. Advisers such as Chris Yapp and John Newbigin encouraged the new government and the DfEE to develop a coherent network for learning, and the phrase "national grid for learning" was promoted. The government issued a consultation document "Connecting the Learning Society" (DfEE, 1997) which detailed its setting up:
"Underpinning these proposals will be the development of a new National Grid for Learning as an infrastructure and service for networked learning. The Grid will not be provided by any one company but will be the framework for a mosaic of interconnected networks and services."
Open for learning, Open for Business
The subsequent White paper - Open for Learning, Open for Business (DfEE, 1998) detailed an investment of £700 million aiming to connect every one of Britain's 30,000 schools to the Internet by 2002. It set out a range of targets for 2002:
- connecting all schools, colleges, libraries, universities and as many community centres as possible to the grid
- ensuring that serving teachers feel confident and are competent to teach ICT within the curriculum and that librarians are similarly trained
- enabling school leavers to have a good understanding of ICT, with measures in place for assessing their competence in it
- making Britain a centre for excellence in the development of networked software content, and a world leader in the export of learning services.
Early meeting between Tony Blair and Bill Gates
worried UK indusry
Initially there was a proposal from industry: Microsoft, BT and Research Machines to set up the National Grid. However there was a strong negative reaction from British Industry to Bill Gates's meeting with Tony Blair, particularly when Microsoft described Gates as 'advisor' to the new Labour Government (see TES Article "Bill and Tony show gets mixed reviews" 17 October 1997).
We're concerned because we don't want to see any one organisation dominate. There are others that are equally relevant to schools.
Alan Teece ICL 1997
The concept behind the grid was as a network to a whole range of resources and materials from both the private and public sectors and it needed to be seen as inclusive and impartial. So the Department asked NCET (soon to become Becta) to develop an early prototype of the NGfL website which was demonstrated at the BETT 1998 show and formally launched in November 1998. The Department put its forward development firmly with Becta by writing in its remit letter:
"The Department is most grateful to NCET staff for the excellent work that has already been undertaken in preparing a conceptual outline of the overall architecture and development of a prototype Grid for launch at BETT. We should like the new organisation to continue to work closely with the Department in building up the Grid and developing the content structure for the Grid, beginning with the Virtual Teacher Centre. "
The initial concept focussed on a portal front page which then branched off to different types of resources, each with its own description and link. The owners of these resources had to submit them to Becta who would check them against a number of criteria. Clearly one was to ensure that the NGFL was safe and secure for learners, but also covered educational and accessibility issues.
The structure and content of the NGFL was developed by a team at Becta led by Fred Daly supported by Andre Wagstaffe. Of considerable importance was the good relationship with the Department and Fred Daly worked particularly well with Andew Partridge who was second in command to Robin Ritzema and did much of the drafting of submissions to Ministers. This was a time when Ministers were heavily involved in discussions. Kim Howells and then Charles Clarke as junior ministers but also David Blunkett and then Estelle Morris as Secretaries of State.
By 2001 the NGfL web site had grown to over 362,000 unique indexed documents. (See Pathfinder Evaluation Interim Report) Resources for teachers include the VTC (Virtual Teacher Centre) and the Teacher Resource Exchange to which teachers are invited to contribute lesson ideas and students had access to the Grid Club, which provides a safe but stimulating range of activities and information for 7-11-year-olds.