Whizzkids with a multimedia mouse

28th February 1997 at 00:00
Deputy head Bob Gardner and the group of 10 and 11-year-olds are playing follow-my-leader. But this is no playground game or gym activity. It takes place in a creative-writing lesson.

Mr Gardner whizzes along the icons at the top of his computer screen, clicking on them with his mouse as he goes. A change of font here, a splash of colour there.

The pupils watch Mr Gardner's every move on the projection screen behind him and then rush to follow suit. Every two children in this class share a multimedia PC and colour printer.

In his dash to design an invitation for a Hallowe'en birthday party and the excitement of finding images of dancing skeletons, 11-year-old Eric Stevens misses off a vital ingredient - his address. "Oh well, that's a lesson I have learnt," he said.

Priory primary in Burnham, Slough, has a level of access to information technology practically unheard of in a primary school. Pupil and teacher alike are thrilled.

"I am amazed by it," said Mr Gardner. "And the children are just buzzing. This has had the biggest single impact in my seven years at this school, and we have had major building programmes and major revisions of the way we structure and organise pupils."

Priory's IT learning centre, officially opened last week, has 18 multimedia PCs, 18 colour printers and a back projection screen to enable children to follow work in progress on the teacher's computer. The school is also linked to the Internet.

The Pounds 95,000 centre has been paid for by Hewlett-Packard UK Ltd, the global manufacturer of computing, communications and measurements products, PC World in Brentford and the Funding Agency for Schools, as well as by the school.

It is the first stage in a three-part IT programme that headteacher Carol Evans hopes will eventually lead to every child having their own laptop from the age of nine to use as confidently as they would a pen and paper.

The motto at Priory, a 730-pupil, grant-maintained school on the edge of an estate with areas of social deprivation, is "children come first" and Mrs Evans believes in providing them with the best possible opportunities.

All pupils have for years had the opportunity to study the great artists and the school is alive with colourful displays of work, and all pupils can learn how to play an orchestral instrument.

Mrs Evans believes IT in schools can not only boost childrens' confidence but open up a whole new dimension of learning and break down yet another barrier to equality. "We have now in schools two classes of citizens - the children of parents who have access to wonderful IT at home and those who don't. This is not a class thing. It isn't the middle-class children who do and the others who don't."

The centre at Priory gives all children access to high-quality equipment and in the three weeks it has been open to them, pupils have had as much access to IT as they would previously have had in a term.

Every key stage 2 child at the school - and there are 400 - has two 35-minute periods a week in the subject. Key stage 1 children will get one 35-minute period a week.

It has been designed to fit in with the way the school is organised - setting and streaming, a subject-based curriculum, specialist teachers and a tendency towards whole-class teaching - with the 15 desks facing the teacher's work-station, which is also linked to the Internet. And because a significant number of pupils at the school are disabled - 49 this year have statements of special needs - ample room for wheelchair access around the desks has also been built in.

Priory has not always been so lucky with IT. Two lightning strikes put its previous BBC network out of action. This time, however, it looks like being on to a winner. "It's just brilliant," said 10-year-old Julie Hopkins. "It teaches you a lot about computers and it's fun."

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