Benefits on all sides of triangle

From the outside Stoke Park Technology College is unremarkable; a red-brick school just off a main road in Coventry. Yet the comprehensive is involved in an innovative scheme to develop a computer network with two other technology colleges in the city.

The plan to link Stoke Park and its partners, Sidney Stringer and Coundon Court, in a local area network has been praised as a "first-class example of the technology college programme" by schools minister Cheryl Gillan.

The three technology colleges are to use the network to increase the number of technically qualified young people and make all lessons more exciting.

It will improve access to the Internet and to techniques such as video conferencing to help improve the teaching of information technology, design and foreign languages and other subjects.

Running a joint computer system means the schools will be paying for one maintenance contract instead of three. The savings will help pay for a systems manager so that the senior teachers currently running separate systems in each school will have more time to teach.

Another advantage is that computer-aided design technology at Sidney Stringer will be available to the other schools through the network. Initially just Stoke Park and Sidney Stringer will take part, with Coundon Court set to join in January next year.

The heads are also planning to use their shared purchasing power to buy virtual reality software. Buying a package for teaching design and manufacturing, for example, would let students explore inside machinery or see how buildings were erected.

Bill Wolger, head of Stoke Park, said: "The possible uses of virtual reality technology in teaching are mind-blowing. All the surveys show using information technology to teach helps raise children's concentration."

The schools hope language students would be able to study less commonly taught languages, such as Italian or Japanese, through video conferencing.

Sixth-formers particularly stand to benefit through pooling these and other specialist teachers. And in the longer term the system could also be linked to home computers allowing students and teachers to work from home.

The schools are to link the network to the Internet making it available at more computers throughout the three schools.

The network will link up with Coventry and Warwick university libraries, and there is potential to link with local industries, including the Jaguar and Peugeot car factories.

At the other end of the age range each comprehensive is to be linked to two primaries which will be able to use self-testing software from the secondaries designed to improve pupils' maths and English.

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