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Cross-curricular

ESPRESSO FOR SCHOOLS. pound;8 per pupil per year (special offer, pound;5 per pupil per year). Satellite and server pound;3,495. From Espresso Education, Riverside Studios, Crisp Road, London W6 9RL. Tel:020 8237 1200; fax: 020 8237 1201; website: www.espresso.co.uk; email: secondary@espresso.co.uk

If you are using anything more complicated than a board and chalk to help deliver a lesson, you have to be able to trust it. If you're depending on ICTto deliver content and activities, the criteria are more demanding. You want mechanical reliability and you want speed, quality, appropriate and relevant material and exemplary use of the technology.

Espresso Broadband understands this, and offers a convincing, well-integrated package, expanding from its established primary service to offer content at secondary level in French, PSHEcitizenship and English, with sample materials for history, maths, science and geography. Art, design and technology, music, RE and ICT will follow.

Although you need an internet connection to access the service, the bulk of the content is delivered by satellite, via a dish connected to the computers, and stored on a hard drive. Primary school content is updated weekly, and secondary materials monthly, for now.

The service is fast, reliable, and well able to cope with full-screen video, speed of access being limited only by the capacity of your network and power of your workstations. This means that Espresso can integrate demanding multimedia content, adding immediacy without lengthy download times.

All the materials are closely linked to national curriculum criteria. Resources - and this is a great strength - include news items taken from television broadcasts (viewable as full-screen video), newspaper articles, cached web pages, and interactive exercises. These are all too demanding for a typical internet connection, but as fast as a good CD-Rom under the Espresso system.

Content is topical, attractive and thoughtfully prepared. Multimedia opportunities are effectively exploited - in the French section, for example, rolling the mouse over the links on the index page gives an instant English translation. Sound files are used extensively - see a picture, read the word, hear it spoken. A helpful reference section has a speaking dictionary.

Teachers are well supported. There is a clear rationale for each unit, with helpful classroom suggestions. The units are not complete courses, but they offer excellent opportunities for independent study and extension work.

The system initially seems expensive - you pay for the satellite dish and associated computer components, then a per capita charge for pupil users, but if you compare the breadth and topicality of the resources you can access with what you would spend on textbooks, which rapidly become outdated, it seems good value. A consortium of schools, a local authority or an education action zone might be able to negotiate a more favourable price. Visit the website - you'll be impressed.

Harry Dodds teaches English and ICT at Gosford Hill school, Kidlington, Oxfordshire

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