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School decides to pay firm by results

Children's exam results will determine how much a company installing thousands of computers in schools gets paid.

RM (formerly Research Machines) will not receive a single penny for the thousands of computers and hundreds of miles of cabling it is installing in 105 schools in Dudley, West Midlands. Instead, under a deal with the local authority, payments will be determined by quality of service, how much the computers are used - and by improvements in pupils' educational performance.

National tests and measures of literacy and numeracy are among factors being taken into account in assessing pupil performance. Educational achievement will become a more significant payment factor over the 10 years of the contract, as services bed in and have an impact on results.

The project - which is pioneering the Government's private finance initiative in schools - is the first in England to link privately delivered services to exam performance. Most previous PFI schemes have helped to fund the building of new schools or repairs and maintenance at existing ones.

Account director of RM Barry Taylor, a former secondary school teacher, said: "We can put in cabling, computers and training, but if they are not all linked and delivering the service to the desktop, and if pupils and staff are not able to use them for what they want to do, we don't get paid. It has to make an actual difference to educational outcomes for the pupils."

He believes the key benefit for schools of the PFI deal is that hard-pressed teachers can say what services they want in the classroom without having to become computer experts to get the equipment.

Dudley education authority is also hoping the contract will allow school computing co-ordinators to become less technical and more focused on teaching and learning.

Brian Kennedy, the authority's grid for learning education manager, added:

"We want children to have real opportunities to learn, rather than to have a certain pupil to computer ratio.

"Once you start thinking in output terms, it puts a new gloss on the way you approach ICT in education. It starts helping you answer the question 'Why are we doing this anyway?' The cynical answer might be computers are flash and kids like them, but does ICT move their ability to learn, do they become better learners?" A Department for Education and Employment spokesman said the department was keen to encourage other PFI schemes to take on pupil-related performance indicators, where appropriate.

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