Schools are to allow in a training firm in return for Pounds 500,000 of computers, reports Emma Burstall
Five Liverpool secondary schools are to allow a vocational training company to use their premises in the evenings in return for computer equipment worth around Pounds 500,000.
They have struck a deal with CRT Group plc, one of the UK's largest vocational training companies, which agreed to make a substantial contribution towards five multimedia centres if it could use the school premises out of teaching hours.
The scheme aims to provide CRT with advertising and access to potential customers, while helping cash-strapped schools to get the use of state of the art equipment.
Brian Davies, head of Calderstones School, Liverpool, and the Liverpool Association of Secondary Heads (LASH) representative on the scheme's steering group, said: "Calderstones is a very large school with a budget approaching Pounds 3 million a year, most of which goes on staff.
"Our books and stationery budget is only Pounds 70,000 a year, and there's no way we or other secondary schools like us could afford to put in a multimedia laboratory on our own.
"It may be that other schools in other parts of the country won't have the right links to be able to set up similar projects, but we feel publicprivate partnerships like this are the way forward."
Karl Chapman, CRT chief executive, added: "Schools don't just give us a room, they give us access to pupils, parents, teachers and the local community. In return, we supply them with a multimedia network for national curriculum teaching. We definitely believe it will increase our profitability, and benefit schools too. " Other organisations involved in the scheme include Liverpool City of Learning (a partnership between the public, private and voluntary sectors committed to raising the importance of lifelong learning), the local education authority, LASH and John Moore's University.
They hope their project - United (Using new information technologies in training and education) - will eventually establish multimedia centres in all Merseyside secondary schools and provide national curriculum teaching by day, with business and vocational training in the evenings.
The scheme's Pounds 1.2m pilot phase, starting in the new year, will create five Pounds 100,000 multimedia centres. If successful, it could be extended to include 18 other local schools which will benefit from laboratories equipped with the latest technology including Internet access, e-mail, and video-conferencing.
Teachers will be seconded to the project for a year to help develop educational and vocational CD-Roms, which the organisers hope they will be able to sell in this country and abroad to help to generate more funds for the project, and provide enough income to run the centres and replace computer equipment.
United has so far received grant support of Pounds 600,000 - Pounds 150, 000 from the Government's Single Regeneration Challenge Fund, and Pounds 450, 000 from the Merseyside European Social Fund. The project partners will provide the balance of funds, including CRT Group's major investment.
CRT has already been involved in similar projects in Watford, Wakefield, and Treforest, near Cardiff, and hopes in time to expand to other parts of the country.
The next phase of the United project is still under development, and an application for grant support of Pounds 1.6m for a Pounds 4m extension has been submitted to the Single Regeneration Challenge Fund.
The balance of matching funds will come from the public sector, CRT Group, BT and Cable North-West.