19. Digital Learning Community - Digital Learning Partnership, South West London
The Digital Learning Community makes information technology available to all students and residents, particularly the disadvantaged, across the boroughs of Merton, Wandsworth and Kingston.
There are four main programmes under the scheme.
A Digital Learning Centre will raise awareness of the benefits of IT among teachers, and increase its use in schools so that all school leavers are literate and proficient in IT.
Satellite Centres of Excellence in schools demonstrate best practice in the integration of IT into the curriculum, acting as an exemplar to Digital Learning Partner Schools.
These will implement improvements in software, training and hardware to enable IT to contribute to improved learning.
Finally, Community Access Centres provide state of the art computer technology and free access to the Internet in community centres, to enable training in IT skills as well as the delivery of basic and key skills training.
Background - Problems to be Tackled
- The focus on ethnic minorities which the project intended has so far been demonstrated only in the ethnic profile of selected schools, and in the locations of the four community access centres. This makes it hard to measure the project's performance against its objective that a quarter of all beneficiaries should be from ethnic minority communities.
- Although further and higher education institutions were consulted in the early stages of the preparation of the bid, this sector is largely absent, with only Roehampton Institute a major partner. The reasons for this apparent lack of direct participation are not obvious, except that it was noted that other HE and FE bodies in South West London were also establishing multi-media initiatives for businesses with other training providers.
- The forward strategy proposed that the Digital Learning Centre would become self-financing, from fees and long-term business sponsorship. The launch of The Learning Circuit - the company under which the scheme trades - demonstrates confidence that the forward strategy will be achieved. However, there are some concerns that the company's national profile after its launch, and its consultancy and development work beyond South West London, might detract from its focus on the needs of local schools and communities. No doubt the Partnership Steering Group will ensure that this is prioritised during the SRB funding period.
- Another perceived risk to the project is that engagement of schools is dependent on them levering sufficient matched funding to be accepted as a partner. With sustained pressure on budgets, some schools may be unable to generate sufficient additional income to meet these financial requirements. These may be schools in the very areas where the resource needs to be located. Other schools in areas of high crime are concerned that open access to the community raises security problems, and are reluctant to fulfil that community access function of the IT provision.
How the Project was Developed
- The Index of Local Deprivation places Wandsworth as the 21st most deprived local authority in the country, with Merton 104th and Kingston 124th.
- More than 10% of the male population is unemployed, rising to 14% in Wandsworth; almost 20% of adults between 20 and 29 are registered unemployed. Each of the three boroughs has concentrations of much higher unemployment. Unemployment is also higher among ethnic minority communities, who account for 18% of the population of the whole area, and 22% of Wandsworth's population.
- Levels of educational attainment are below the national average in two of the three boroughs. In Wandsworth 29% and in Merton 33% of pupils gained five or more GCSEs at grades A to C, compared with 43% across the country.
- Access to state-of-the-art IT, multimedia and Internet facilities in disadvantaged areas of South West London is poor or non-existent. This has led to a deficit of the IT skills that employers need.
- Similarly, access in schools across the area is limited. Less than 15% of schools have the capacity to connect to the Internet, and teachers' confidence, competence and experience in the use of IT for the delivery of the National curriculum varies greatly. At least three-quarters of schools in the area have failed to adopt and implement a consistent approach to IT planning.
- Less than 10% of schools are able to offer regular access to their IT resources to the community. This means that relatively expensive equipment - and a potentially valuable resource for local people - is not in use for at least 12 weeks each year, or at weekends or in the evenings.
The local TEC, AZTEC, had recognised the significance of digital technology in developing and sustaining businesses, and the consequent need to enable both those in employment and those seeking work to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge. A strategy document, Harnessing the Digital Revolution for South West London, by the TEC's chief executive, set out the implications of the information revolution at macro and micro economic levels, and put into context the opportunities this presented to the AZTEC area. A subsequent, revised document recognised that the prosperity of South West London has to be based on a highly skilled workforce, a high level of entrepreneurship, and a concentration of successful small companies.
For this to happen, companies needed to be at the forefront of the application of new digital technologies. This led to the development of the Digital Learning Partnership - which includes, among others, AZTEC, the three local authorities and education services, and a variety of educational establishments - and its SRB bid.
The Digital Learning Community project comprises four linked areas of activity:
- Digital Learning Centre
The AZTEC Digital Learning Centre provides the foundation for the whole project. It is based at the Roehampton Institute, a leading teacher training institute that supports both pre-entry and in-service teachers and local schools through learning activities, facilities and resources. The centre aims to:
The centre also provides a comprehensive programme of IT awareness raising and professional development for education professionals across the region, including simulated classroom environments for teaching practice and dissemination of good practice. It offers digital learning materials and advice on how to use them, as well as support on-line, via an Intranet, and through a telephone advice line. According to the bid, this would create 'a critical mass of teachers who are helping each other to make the best pedagogic use of new technology in the classroom.'
- Undertake an audit of schools' IT capacity, and plan training and preparation that will enable school managers and governors to integrate IT into their planning cycle.
- Improve the use of IT in the delivery and management of the national curriculum in all schools in the area.
- Enhance teachers' and pupils' skills, knowledge and understanding of IT.
- Support the development of the Satellite Centres of Excellence through the design and implementation of digital learning materials that encourage learning across the national curriculum.
- Disseminate best practice in the development and use of multi-media learning materials through the Satellites to the Digital Learning Partner Schools.
- Support the network of Community Access Centres.
- Satellite Centres of Excellence
The centres demonstrate best practice in the use of IT in schools through:
Schools are selected to become centres of excellence on the basis of their existing commitment to, and good practice in the use of IT. They also need to serve ethnic minority and socially and economically disadvantaged communities. The bid anticipated the selection of two primary and four secondary schools in the first year of the project, with the creation of a further six from the most successful partner schools over years two and three. Each of the centres of excellence is required to demonstrate that the use of IT is improving student performance.
- Promotion of a better learning environment outside the workplace.
- Dissemination of best practice in areas that it might otherwise not reach.
- Demonstrating best practice with working models and teaching practice.
- Digital Learning Partner Schools
AZTEC and the Roehampton Institute work with each of the centres of excellence to select digital learning partner schools. As with the centres of excellence, one of the criteria for selection is the schools' existing IT capacity, and evidence of good or innovative practice in its use. The selection also takes into account advice from local interested business partnerships, and requires a commitment from the school to planning and monitoring of student and performance, and to provision of facilities as a community access centre.
Each school prepares an IT plan, which sets outs the investments in software, hardware and training that are required to enhance delivery of the national curriculum. The schools then implement these, while demonstrating the extent to which IT is improving student performance.
The anticipated outcomes are:
At least 87 primary and secondary schools are expected to become digital learning partner schools.
- An increase in the number of pupils achieving higher qualifications.
- Pupils leaving school with enhanced IT skills to offer to employers, and/or to use as they continue their education.
- Community Access Centres
The community access centres give anyone access to state-of-the-art computer technology and access to the Internet, irrespective of income, skill level or physical abilities. Priority is given to long-term unemployed people, disadvantaged young people, and disabled or incapacitated individuals. The provision is intended at first to build confidence, leading later on to more formal training.
Centres also provide a resource for community and voluntary organisations.
Community access centres are provided in the digital learning partner schools, and also at four dedicated centres in areas of particular need:
- Awareness raising programmes including training in the use of operating systems and basic IT applications, and using Email and the Internet.
- Delivery of NVQs and other qualifications in IT, administration, accounts, communications and marketing through both open and tutored learning methods.
- Delivery of basic and key skills training.
- Wandsworth Town JobsNET
This centre was already developed as part of Wandsworth Challenge Partnership's JobsNET project. It is a one-stop-shop information and training centre including a fully computerised job link information service, an open learning centre and a skills discovery centre. The catchment area has high concentrations of adult unemployed and ethnic minority residents.
- Pollards Hill Estate, Merton
Part of the comprehensive regeneration strategy for Pollards Hill, the centre - to be based at the public library - is to provide a wide range of IT facilities and offer expert vocational training in use of wide range of information technologies. There will be an open learning facility for IT training and access to the Internet. Again, this Centre serves an area which is characterised by high levels of unemployment and ethnic minority residents.
- Doddington and Rollo Estate
Based in Battersea, this area is one of the most deprived areas in South West London, with high levels of unemployment, crime, single parenthood and benefit dependency. The centre, based in Battersea Park Road, is part of a package of initiatives aimed at the regeneration of East Battersea.
- Tolworth Community Library and Information Technology Centre, Kingston
This drop-in centre for accessing Internet and IT training and facilities was opened in April 1998 targeting young unemployed and women returnees, though not ethnic minorities.
The Digital Learning Community Partnership bid for just over £4m from SRB, of which £2.6m was for capital expenditure, and £1.5m was for revenue expenditure. The private sector, including Telewest with £5m, is putting in £7.6 m, and the public sector, £5.8M, including over £1m from AZTEC, £1.5m from the Roehampton Institute, and £2.5m schools' funding. Only £400k of European funding has been identified.
The SRB element has been allocated to the projects thus:
Outcomes and Achievements
- Community Access Centres - £420,000
- AZTEC Digital Learning Centre - £800,000
- Satellite Centres of Excellence - £261,000
- Digital Learning Partner Schools - £2.6million
- Administration and management - £200,000
The project has made significant progress to ensure that its targets are being met. Some of the targets for March 2002 have already achieved and exceeded. Most notably, up to February 1999:
While other goals are still some way off, the project has taken steps towards realising its aims, and to establishing an infrastructure to ensure that project outputs can be met through the life of the project and beyond.
- 21,567 pupils had benefited from the scheme, against a target for March 2002 of 15,000.
- 65,051 young people have benefited from promotion of their personal and social development, compared with a target of 47,000.
- Support has been given to 50 community organisations, twice the target figure.
Tel: 0181 547 4874
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