Schools must open longer

5th January 2001 at 00:00
Funding dependent on providng easier access to computers for technology 'have-nots'.

Computer facilities will have to be available outside normal opening hours if schools want a slice of the pound;245 million allocated for the National Grid for Learning from the Standards Fund in 2001-2.

The stipulation is included in guidance about the fund, but its implications will not have been realised by many heads.

Schools are required to indicate how "ICT facilities will be made available for use out of hours by pupils and for community purposes" as part of their ICT development plans that must have local education authority approval.

Heads will be expected to meet the cost of keeping school doors open into the evening, and even at weekends, from their Standards Fund grant. The requirement could create headaches for school managers but reflects the Government's attempts to reduce the "digital divide" and get better value from the millions being pumped into ICT in schools.

A range of other learning centre schemes are also under way as the drive to widen access escalates. Some 60 UK Online learning centres are now open and Prime Minister Tony Blair says more than 6,000 will open by the end of 2002.

Later this month, the BBC's first learning centre will open in its Radio Lancashire building in Blackburn, equipped by Time Education.

The UK Online-branded facility will be open six days a week and allow the public to drop-in and use the 12 computers to develop literacy, numeracy and IT skills by using resources such as the BBC's Webwise. There will also be opportunities to develop multimedia skills using digital cameras.

Three teachers will be seconded to the centre to act as learning advisers under the direction of a development manager.

If the Blackburn centre is successful the BBC could follow suit at its other local radio operations.

Meanwhile, the first City Learning Centre was opened late last year at Abraham Moss high school in north Manchester. It is one of 80 school-based centres being built in disadvantaged areas as part of the Excellence in Cities initiative.

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