With the opening of its Highwire City Learning Centre by the education minister, Hackney has taken a bold leap, as Merlin John discovers.
School standards minister Estelle Morris opened Hackney's Highwire City Learning Centre last month. The 8am-8pm learning centre in Hackney Community College, Hoxton, is a fascinating example of the current search for a winning blend of good design and unobtrusive technology.
Part of the Government's Excellence in Cities programme, the pound;1.2 million Highwire centre employs PC and Apple technology, with Apple's latest flat-screen and "cube" computers being the most eye-catching features. Some monitors have also even been set into desk lids to preserve creative space.
With its open-plan layout, Highwire also features learning areas for state-of-the-art video and sound editing for secondary-age students and the local inner-city community. And there's a cybercafe suite of PCs for Internet access.
"The space is designed for creativiy and we want students to use the technology to engage with exciting ideas," said centre creative director Vivi Lachs.
From the standing start of a failed OFSTED inspection in 1999, Hackney appears to have now leapfrogged other LEAs when it comes to network connectivity. It has already networked all the classrooms in its 66 primary and secondary schools to its education intranet, and to the Internet with high-capacity broadband connections (primaries with ADSL and secondaries with leased lines, courtesy of BT).
"We decided against the policy concept of a managed service run by an external firm," said Hackney ICT manager Julian Vennis. "We used BT for the communications, another company for the cabling and TAG Developments to bring in the software. We felt that education people should be running our service. We don't want to be beholden to anyone."
Highwire City Learning Centre
Hackney Learning Live