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Schools fight for online business

England's two most successful comprehensives are squaring up for a commercial fight which could be worth millions of pounds to the winner.

Thomas Telford city technology college, in Shropshire, and Brooke Weston CTC, in Northamptonshire, are both offering online support materials for a new qualification worth four GCSEs.

The diploma in digital applications (DiDA), successor to the phenomenally-successful GNVQ in information and communication, is being introduced by the Edexcel board from September.

Thomas Telford, which has made more than pound;7 million from selling its curriculum resources to schools, including support for the GNVQ course, appears to be the favourite to win most business from schools.

Its website lists 250 secondaries as having expressed an interest in the product, which sees students follow an online course guiding them through topics including designing websites.

But is the cost, at pound;3,000 for a one-year licence which must be renewed annually, too high?

That would appear to be the view of Brooke Weston, which is advertising its product at pound;1,500 for two years. Its GNVQ course in ICT was taken by 180 schools In a dig at its rival, its advertisement says: "Unlike similar course providers, this is not a licensing agreement. After the initial two-year period, all resources... can continue to be used free of charge."

Sir Kevin Satchwell, Thomas Telford's headteacher, hit back, arguing that its price includes an online version of its entire curriculum.

The DiDA consists of four units: using ICT, multimedia, graphics and ICT in enterprise. Work is submitted online, with pupils compiling "electronic portfolios" of coursework for marking by teachers.

However, both schools were playing down any rivalry. Peter Simpson, Brooke Weston's principal, said: "We've had similar histories, have similar reputations for innovation and have been successful."

Sir Kevin said: "Good luck to them. It's healthy that there is competition in the market."

Brooke Weston finished second to Thomas Telford in the GCSEGNVQ league tables this year, based on the average student point score among schools where all pupils gained at least five GCSEs at grade C, or equivalent.

Varndean, a leading-edge school in Brighton, is another secondary which is offering online support materials for the DiDA.

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