School as you've never known it

An ambitious educational technology scheme is linking 400 Staffordshire schools in what could be a prototype for the Government's proposed National Grid for Learning. Dorothy Walker reports.

Children who pay to do their homework are the most surprising side-effect of a new educational network designed to bring together learners of all ages.

The Staffordshire Learning Net, launched last month at a cost of pounds 2m, is linking all Staffordshire's 400 schools, plus colleges, universities and libraries. The network, set up by the Staffordshire Local Education Authority and the educational supplier Research Machines, with BT, aims to give students young and old easy access to technology and resources, with first port of call being the local schools.

In a pilot scheme, Blake High School, in Hednesford, has been operating as an open learning centre, welcoming adults who want to use its computers or take evening courses. But pupils are also taking the chance to do some after-hours study.

Heather Holyhead, the school's network manager, says: "Between 4pm and 6pm we run a cybercafe. Anyone can drop in and pay pounds 1 an hour to use the Internet, and there is always a supervisor there to help. We've had mums, retired people - but a lot of pupils actually come in and pay their money to do their homework.

"They feel they get a lot of information from the Internet - and it really does boost their studies."

This bodes well for the plan to use the network as the basis for homework clubs involving parents and children, although so far most family groups have come along to check out Web addresses in games magazines.

"We have a lot of Trekkies here," says Holyhead. "Sometimes our students are not very forthcoming about their hobbies, but when they are in front of a computer you can see what they are interested in - Star Trek or whatever. They talk to you about it and come alive."

Evening activities, run by local colleges and community organisations, provide a way for the school to fund part of its IT bill, which is also met by sponsors.

Beginners' courses such as "Computing for the Terrified" have been many times oversubscribed, Holyhead says: "Last week there was one lady who could barely walk into the room, she was so frightened. But she came back this week. For many women, a course like this is the first step towards going back to college. They see they can do it, and it boosts their confidence."

Other plans for the network include a link-up with the Open University, which runs a "Have Disks, Will Travel" scheme; students without a computer can show up with a personal floppy disk and do their coursework on a machine anywhere. In the longer term, the network will be used to link students to resources at other schools and further education centres.

Dave Cheeseman, of the Staffordshire education authority, says: "When we don't have enough pupils in a school to justify teaching a subject - Latin, or some modern languages, for example - we could use videoconferencing to link pupils to a remote lecturer."

Cheeseman has also been approached by the University of the Third Age, which would like to see the school technology made available to the over- sixties during the day, as many don't like going out in the dark.

The lessons learnt in trying to maintain a balance between school use and access for the wider community will prove invaluable in introducing the Government's proposed National Grid For Learning, which aims to use technology to link and support all learners across the country.

Cheeseman says: "We haven't quite cracked it yet, but we are working so that schools make themselves more accessible to the community, without hundreds of people of more advanced years storming the building."

Dorothy Walker is the BT Newspaper Technology Journalist of the Year.

Arts and Entertainment
Kristin Scott Thomas outside the Royal Opera House before the ceremony (Getty)
film
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Channel 4's Indian Summers
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West found himself at the centre of a critical storm over the weekend after he apparently claimed to be “the next Mandela” during a radio interview
music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig and Rory Kinnear film Spectre in London
film
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003