A delicious breakfast is not the only highlight that tempts children to arrive bright and early at Spotland Primary School in Rochdale. By 8.15am, the school's computer suite is jam-packed with pupils enjoying GridClub Learning Centre, an online fund of games and activities that serves to whet the youngsters' appetite for the day ahead.
"We use GridClub as an add-on to our breakfast club, and it is really popular," says Jacqui Potts, acting deputy headteacher. "It allows the children to learn more about the topics they are covering in class, in a fun way."
GridClub Learning Centre is aimed at 7 to 11-year-olds, and offers 500 online games and activities, organised by subject. All the national curriculum subjects are covered, as well as modern languages, citizenship, health and chess. There are also reference areas such as Fact Gadget, where children can search for facts, and UK Quest, where they can seek out places of interest.
The service is run by Grid Learning, which took over responsibility for managing the GridClub site from Channel 4 last September. The site used to incorporate the GridClub SuperClubs online community, run by Intuitive Media. This is now offered as an independent service, and has been renamed SuperClubsPLUS (and will be featured in the next TES Online on June 23).
Simon Fuller, managing director of Grid Learning, says: "GridClub is now in 25 per cent of schools in the UK, and a million children visit the GridClub site every month. Schools use it in clubs and in the classroom. The site is whiteboard-friendly, and areas such as Animated Classics - animated versions of stories such as A Christmas Carol and Gulliver's Travels - are popular with teachers for use with the whole class. Many schools use the history content, because the curriculum coverage is particularly comprehensive. Although GridClub is aimed at key stage 2 pupils, we do have six-year-olds using the site, as well as some students at secondary and special schools.
"A school subscription also allows pupils to use GridClub at home. The site has been designed to encourage children to work independently, and there is a lot of activity in the early evening and at weekends. Around 30 per cent of usage takes place outside school."
Most pupils at Spotland Primary do not have internet access at home, and GridClub gives those in Years 3 to 6 the chance to extend their online experience beyond the classroom. "It is a great opportunity," says Potts.
"We offer a half-hour session before school, two half-hour slots at lunchtimes, and 45 minutes after school - we can accommodate a total of 120 children a day. All the sessions are run by our teaching assistants."
Jacqui continues: "GridClub reinforces their learning and helps them make connections with the things they do in class. It encourages them to become independent learners, because the pupils are in charge - there is no teacher instructing them what to do next. They also have a wonderful opportunity to practice their keyboard skills. And from a management point of view, GridClub is really easy to set up, as all the pupils share one password.
"We have a lot of children from families that are seeking asylum, and many of them come to breakfast club. They have much less than other children - they are really desperate to learn. GridClub gives them hundreds of new games they can play, and it provides an opportunity to achieve and feel part of the community."
Upcoming additions to GridClub include Secret Agent, a problem-solving maths game, and a link-up with a Teacher's TV series about the engineering skills of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Grid Learning is a partner in Wolverhampton LEA's Learning 2 Go project, in which children are learning with the help of personal digital assistants (PDAs). "Quite a lot of our content is being re-purposed for PDAs, and it is something we are keen to pursue," says Fuller.
GridClub is now being launched overseas. Hong Kong is first on the list, and plans also include Dubai, Brazil and South Africa. The content will remain the same, although activities can be mapped to the local curriculum in the GridClub teachers' area.
Grid Learning is also developing a new service called Little Grid, for three to six year-olds, to be launched later in the year. It will focus heavily on literacy and numeracy, but will also offer material on science, citizenship and health.
Gridclub Learning Centre is available to schools throughout the UK. In Scotland subscriptions for all state primaries are currently paid from central funding. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland a one-year subscription costs pound;3 for each KS2 pupil in a school, and younger pupils use the system free. As an alternative, schools can pay an annual fee of pound;95 to use GridClub Learning Centre only in clubs.
Secondary schools pay a flat fee of pound;245.
Parents can sign up their children at home, for pound;29.95 per year.
Tel: 08708 307044