Tony Blair's new deal for information technology in schools has encountered technical hitches in the competitive world of telecommunications
Technophobia is not a word you will hear at Kingshurst City Technology College. When Zoe Cates, 15, went on work experience at nearby WH Smith toolmakers, she designed a tool using computer-assisted software.
"One of the designers was busy and they asked if I could help out, so I ended up designing a moulding tool which is used to make plastic packing components. It was difficult, but by the time I left it was finishe."
Ask Stuart Tawse if he has a computer at home and he replies: "Four. Two of them I built myself. That's what I want to do when I leave here, build computers."
Pupils at Kingshurst, Britain's first CTC which opened nine years ago in Solihull, have produced an interactive software package to provide information for visitors to Stratford Butterfly Farm, one of the top three contenders in a national multimedia competition.
In another recent development, pupils can use a new video conferencing room to chat to counterparts in Australia and the United States.
Like other CTCs, set up nearly 10 years ago amid widespread opposition, Kingshurst promotes the use of computers in all areas of the curriculum: spreadsheets and graphics in maths and business studies, robotics and computer-aided design in design technology, word processing in English. Multimedia is used in several subjects, and computerised integrated learning systems enhance pupils' progress.
Pupils see the integration of computers into their school life as one of the keys to the CTC's popularity. They tell how they were among the lucky few chosen from their primary schools in which most, or all, of their classmates applied for places. They seem confident of going on to university, or to a training place at a local engineering firm.
Nick Lamb, the CTC's information technology manager, says industry links are crucial. The CTC is backed with cash or other resources by more than 100 local companies. It has around 400 terminals linked to a central PC server. Students can log into any terminal at any time and everyone can use e-mail. Students can also use the Internet with supervision.
"Everything we use is industry-standard," says Mr Lamb. "We're preparing students to go out into the industrial workplace. It's important for them to use the kind of equipment they will find there."
But principal Valerie Bragg rejects the suggestion that her pupils rely too much on computers. "Technology isn't the be all and end all. Students use computers when it's easier or better to do so," she says.
Results seem impressive. Mrs Bragg points out that 10 years ago, the staying-on rate for 16-year-olds in the area was just 17 per cent. Now it is 90 per cent. Most pupils at Kingshurst take several GCSEs and two general national vocational qualifications, said to be equivalent to four GCSEs each. Many gain the equivalent of up to 16 GCSEs. Last year, 83 per cent gained the equivalent of five or more top GCSE grades. After the age of 16, students can take the International Baccalaureate. A-levels, however, are not available.