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There is a danger that awards can be given to schools with great advantages. That is not the case with Holy Child Primary School in Londonderry. The school, located on the Creggan estate, has seen some of the worst of the Northern Ireland confrontations occurring just outside the school gates. An unusually high number of children eligible for free school meals (90 per cent) indicates the extent of local deprivation. In spite of the difficulties that children might encounter, there is peace and calm in the school.

The school has been under special measures and the headteacher Charlie O'Donnell is not ashamed to say that in the past the concentration has been on pastoral and social matters.

Bill O'Donnell (no relation to the head) has taught in England as well as his hometown. By no means an ICT devotee, Bill is a pragmatist using ICT primarily to motivate. Two years ago he took on the Dissolving Boundaries Project and he has used the project, and the work that has flowed from that, to build literacy work that is aimed at raising standards. The project, supported by the education ministries in the North and South, has received resources from Dell and Eircom.

Twenty-six schools in the south and twenty-five in the north have been working together to increase understanding and cross-border co-operation. The ultimate aim of the project is to integrate technology in a meaningful way in curricular work, promote educationally valuable work in schools and to develop cross-border links between those schools involved to promote mutual understanding.

Holy Child Primary School has worked with Cork's Scoil an Athair Maitiu. The work has been around literacy using The Railway Children and The Iron Man. The children were able, through videophone conferences, to discuss the issues within the books with outcomes such as wall displays, art, drama, role-playing and digital pictures.

A joint website has been developed, which is also a stimulus for joint work. The Holy Child Primary School website has links to its sister school and to materials that the two sets of children have produced.

Bill understands the use of ICT as a motivational tool. His pupils have shown marked improvement in core skills - especially literacy - since their involvement in the Dissolving Boundaries Project.

Particularly proud of the way that the confidence has increased in his pupils, Bill recalls a time last year when he was asked to make a presentation in the Hilton Hotel, Belfast, to local dignitaries, principals of teaching training institutions and sponsors of the project. "The pupils were back in Derry with a direct video link. They were so confident and relaxed about this link that they calmed me down. They informed the substitute-teacher not to worry, they knew what they were doing and could conduct the video link themselves. Which they did and they stole the whole show. I was very proud of them."

Jack Kenny

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