GridClub, the Government-funded secure online community for primary-aged children created by Channel 4 and Intuitive Media, will now have to be paid for by direct school subscriptions in England and Wales. Subscription costs for schools and libraries in Northern Ireland and Scotland will be paid centrally for at least the next 18 months.
The award-winning service is popular with primary teachers and pupils and is used by children both at school and at home.
The Department for Education and Skills (DfES) now feels the service is properly established and should be independent. So a newly formed company, Grid Learning Ltd, will provide GridClub in association with Intuitive Media.
There are two separate but complementary parts of the GridClub service: Grid Learning's GridClub website with its learning resources and games; and Intuitive Media's new GridClub UK SuperClubs community with its safe, mediated email and curriculum-related discussion groups.
The DfES has agreed relatively inexpensive subscriptions for each service (pound;3 per child per year per service, or pound;2 per child for two years or more). Schools can subscribe separately to either or both services.
Children can use both services at school and at home, so there's an incentive for parents to support school subscriptions. Grid Learning has found that, while some schools are paying with the eLearning Credits, others are paying from PTA funds. Parents should also note that the annual charge for the Grid Learning website is pound;29.99 - school connection offers a far better deal.
At its peak, GridClub had been the most popular web service for primary children in the world, with 40 per cent of its members using it at home too. Over two million pupil messages were sent in the private Clubs community and up to a million games a week were played on the website, where a log-in was not necessary. Now the website will be only kept open free of charge at the weekends as a temporary measure.
The website has new materials for modern languages (Spanish, French and English as a second language) as well as lesson plans. SuperClubs covers subjects ranging across the whole curriculum and includes Breakfast and Homework Clubs.
While those responsible for GridClub could undoubtedly have done with more notice about these changes, they are extremely positive. Intuitive Media's Bob Hart said, "We've been delighted at the response from schools, who clearly value the protected online SuperClubs community enough to pay for it."
While Grid Learning managing director Simon Fuller said, "GridClub has delivered four years of online innovation and unique educational opportunity. Now it offers yet more of the same at outstanding value for money. Can't be bad."
Teachers' reactions have ranged from initial disappointment to prompt sign-up. "We chose to take a two-year subscription to both the website and the SuperClubs," said Anne Donaldson, ICT manager at Beaumont junior school, Aldershot. "I consider GridClub to be part of the school's basic ICT toolkit and it offers really good value."