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Glasgow schools poised to enter age of the cyber city;News amp; Opinion

GLASGOW secondaries will be the "benchmark for the rest of the world" in information and computer technology within three years.

The pledge was made by the project director of the 3 Ed group, a consortium led by the Miller construction group which was confirmed on Tuesday as the successful bidder to refurbish the city's 29 secondary schools under the Government's public-private partnership scheme.

Charles McLeod, a former Scottish Office executive who was involved with Falkirk's PPP school refurbishment project, said: "We will be raising standards by creating a world class building environment and a world class virtual environment through our ICT solution. By the time we finish, Glasgow will be the benchmark for the rest of the world."

Key partners in the largest PPP project in Britain include Amey Ventures, a services contractor which will run the buildings, and the Halifax. Scottish Power is providing the energy dimension.

Others involved are Mitel, a Canadian software company, and Hewlett Packard, the American computer giant. The Morse Group, an international software company with an Edinburgh office, completes the ICT picture.

After contracts are signed in January, the consortium will invest pound;200 million in building 11 new secondaries and one primary. The figure is around pound;40 million more than previous estimates.

There will be six major extensions and significant alterations at other secondaries. Ian McDonald, Glasgow's depute director of education, said: "Most schools will see a major transformation."

The total cost to the consortium of revamping the buildings, running them and maintaining them over the 30 years of the PPP agreement is put at pound;1.2 billion.

But it is the ICT developments that are exciting the council, the consortium and schools. One headteacher said they were "gripping the imagination".

An initial pound;15 million will give each secondary around pound;500,000 for new systems, with 6,000 new computers. Every teaching space will be networked. The total budget for ICT is likely to reach pound;50 million over 12 years.

Eventually every pupil might have a palmtop or laptop computer, turning schools into open learning centres once the basic systems are up and running. As a start, the consortium has pledged to meet the National Grid's target of one computer for every five secondary pupils by 2002. Staff will have access to laptops and training while existing machines will be able to access the network.

Other dimensions include a city website, described as a "portal for learning", designed to hold a library of curriculum materials, and "integrated management information systems" aimed at easing school adminstration.

Pupils will be able to log on anywhere in the school or around the city and tap into their own work. Free telephone use will enable pupils and teachers to connect to Intranet and Internet services.

Mr McLeod believed his company outgunned Balfour Beatty, the rival bidder, because of its "education-driven" approach. A team of education advisers, including David Alexander, former senior depute director of education in Strathclyde, was recruited.

Sam Galbraith, the Children and Education Minister, said Glasgow's decision puts ministers "well on the way" to delivering the Government's pledge to build or substantially renovate 100 schools by 2003.

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