Eight-year-old Christopher looks up from the cereal box that he is using to make his puppet theatre and points out to his teacher that the manufacturer has a website. "Look Miss, www dot kelloggs dot com", he read. "Miss, can we have a website?' That's a good question, and one that many teachers and children are asking. And with all the new ICT equipment connecting schools to the Internet and the National Grid for Learning (NGFL), schools are naturally keen to get themselves on the Web.
As Andrew Wesby, head of Telferscot primary school in Balham, south London, says: "Schools want websites to promote their school, like a virtual visit. It helps to create pride in the school when children see theirs and others' work on 'our school's site'."
Many teachers and ICT co-ordinators are capable of publishing a small website, but keeping it fresh, alive and interesting is a challenge to an already busy teacher. There is also the question of content. Should schools decide this for themselves, or should they follow their local authority guidelines?
In 1995, Lambeth Education began an innovative project, Brixton Connections, connecting 15 primary schools to the Internet with a single computer each and a dial-up account. Each school was given space on the web and free courses trained teachers in the intricacies of Web publishing. With this support, about 50 per cent of the participating schools developed their own website.
When the project was extended in 1997, a 100 per cent target was set. Each school given a copy of Front Page (Web publishing software) by Microsoft UK and a Web design consultancy called EdWeb - now called NetSetGo - was employed to spend a day in each school to help with design, development and training.
The lesson learned from this project was that schools need help, advice and support if they are to produce an interesting, worthwhile and vibrant website.
Now, with each school getting Internet access, a domin name and Web space through the NGFL, Lambeth is looking to move forward from Brixton Connections to Lambeth Connections and take the lead once again. The aim is for all Lambeth schools to have an up-to-date, well designed and well maintained website.
Enter the Schools Web Online Project (SWOP), a partnership with local and national business, professional Web designers and the local education authority.
Each school website will be developed through sponsorship which will provide the school with several days of support from the professionals. Telferscot School is keen to play its part. Andrew Wesby says: "We are looking forward to playing our part on the National Grid. This will give our small school in Balham a global perspective."
The children are perhaps the keenest to take part, and have their own views on the technology. On seeing Telferscot's site, five-year-old Nancy exclaimed: "There's our school in the computer!" Nine-year-old Lowell said:
"It's nice to show how good the school is." The children want to see more pictures of the school, more display work and, naturally, more pictures of themselves.
Sponsoring a school website will allow the sponsor to participate in the NGFL project and foster links with the local community. Each sponsored website will contain an advertising banner along with details about the sponsor's business. The cost of sponsorship starts at pound;1,350 for a year.
There will be no dictates on what should go on the site. However, a small working group of teachers, LEA staff and web designers, have put together a suggested structure.
Already, some school websites are under construction through a small SWOP pilot. Wesby's school in Balham is one of them. And RMand Microsoft have already agreed in principle to sponsor some schools.
The future looks bright for Lambeth Connections and to answer Christopher's question: "Yes, you can have a website!" Phil Redman is an advisory teacher in ICT for Lambeth LEA. Interested in becoming a sponsor? Tel: 020 7926 9855 Email: email@example.com