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Opportunities opening up

THE NEW Opportunities Fund, backed by lottery cash, is to open an office in Glasgow in the new year to handle the expected flood of applications for its education and other programmes.

In an interview before an Edinburgh "roadshow" to release details of the funding process, David Campbell, the Scotland member on the NOF board, said they intended to be as "open, consultative and transparent as possible" in the distribution of the Pounds 1.4 billion for which it will be responsible across the UK.

"We recognise there have been criticisms of other lottery distributors, " he said. "We will tell applicants who are turned down why If a bit of tweaking will make their bids more acceptable, they'll be told that as well. These are very important principles as far as we are concerned."

Mr Campbell, who chairs the Health Education Board for Scotland, said he hoped the various initiatives being funded either through the lottery or the Government's comprehensive spending review would be co-ordinated.

The Pounds 400 million NOF cash for out-of-school education and childcare (Pounds 20.7 million in Scotland), for example, would complement the planned expansion in childcare and pre-schooling. Some of the activities in the 64 new community schools could also be funded through the NOF.

Mr Campbell stressed that organisations bidding for the out-of-school money, which begins at the end of January, will have to base their applications on educational provision in a named school or group of schools, so that pupils' progress can be tracked and measured.

The Government plan is that at least a half of all secondary schools, a quarter of primaries and half of special schools will provide regular educational activities out-of-school hours by the autumn of 2001.

Existing schemes will not be eligible, Mr Campbell confirmed, and the money will be targetted on areas of deprivation. The NOF has, unusually, been given the freedom to solicit bids from areas which fail to submit any.

The fund is also responsible for distributing the Pounds 250 million programme to train teachers and librarians in information and communications technology over the next three years (Scotland's share is Pounds 23.2 million for teachers and school librarians, and Pounds 2.4 million for general librarians). There will be an additional Pounds 50 million UK allocation for "digitisation" of educational and learning materials.

The money will be distributed according to teacher need as identified by education authorities, Mr Campbell said. The fund will keep in step with the build-up to full operation of the National Grid for Learning so that training and equipment are not out of line, he added.

There will be no restrictions on whether teachers are trained in school time or after hours. But Stephen Dunmore, the NOF's new chief executive, made clear before the Edinburgh session that the cost of providing cover for staff would have to be met by education authorities.

The organisation providing the training itself, which could be a commercial company or public body, will be chosen at the end of January.

The other current NOF programme is a Pounds 300 million network of healthy living centres which will have a strong emphasis on health education.

Three new schemes worth Pounds 400 million were announced by the Prime Minister at last October's Labour Party conference. These cover "green spaces and sustainable communities," which will include an emphasis on children's play areas and safe cycling routes to school; community access to lifelong learning; and a cancer programme.

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