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Tuesday, 19 December, 2000, 15:56 GMT
Plugging council estate into school
Estelle Morris
Estelle Morris opens one of the first city learning centres
By BBC News Online's Sean Coughlan

A rundown, inner-city council estate in east London is to be connected to local school computer networks.

Pupils at home will be able to access online resources from school computers and parents will be able to find out more about what their children are learning.

This bid to break down barriers between learning at home and school is planned for the Ocean estate in Stepney, in an attempt to unravel the interwoven problems of lack of education, low income and poor health.

Parents and pupils can learn computer skills at the Rawmarsh learning centre

All the residents on the 2,000 household estate will be offered free access to training and computer equipment, as part of a wider government-backed New Deal regeneration programme.

"We want to find ways to make greater use of school resources, such as at times when they're not open in the evenings or in the holidays," said one of the project's leaders, Linda Ezequiel.

Among the applications of this online link-up, she said, could be schools setting online lessons which pupils could complete at home and parents having an e-mail link with teachers.

There are many parents who had an awful experience of school when they were young - they were happy the day they left

Estelle Morris, School Standards Minister

The project, which is still in a consultation stage, was highlighted by the Minister for School Standards Estelle Morris, as she called for innovation in opportunities for learning in the inner-cities.

Speaking at the opening of a City Learning Centre at Rawmarsh School in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, the minister called for imaginative ways to break the cycle of poverty at home and failure at school.

And an important link in this chain was to encourage parents back into learning - both to take an interest in their children's education and to improve their own skills.

'New ways of solving old problems'

"There are many parents who had an awful experience of school when they were young - they were happy the day they left," said Ms Morris, describing the reluctant learners who now are needed to be brought back into education.

"But the economy has changed and the idea of lifelong learning is now essential if people are to play a part in the modern economy," she said.

"And our task as a government is to fund the type of innovative projects which are finding new ways of solving old problems."

City Learning Centres, such as at Rawmarsh School, are intended as a way of providing a bridge between school and the community, funded under the government's Excellence in Cities scheme.

The learning centre, with its own entrance and teaching areas, will provide courses for local people and parents of pupils at the school.

This will include courses such as "keeping up with the kids" in computer skills and basic skills such as literacy and numeracy.

Such developments are the next steps towards the year-round school, where the traditional school day is subsumed into a timetable that serves adults and local businesses as well as pupils.

End of traditional timetable

The learning centre at Rawmarsh will be open from 8am to 8pm during the week and then all day on Saturday.

This kind of flexibility is the way of the future, says Ms Morris. And even though the venue is a school, it might not always be a teacher who is leading the lessons, she says.

The bigger picture of the Excellence in Cities' work in schools, says the minister, is to find ways to reverse generations of educational underachievement in the inner-cities.

Local authorities included in this urban renewal scheme have shown above-average improvements in this year's GCSE results, she says.

And she points to the overall improvements in test results for 11 year olds as evidence that improvements in education are not limited to the children in the leafy suburbs and in the families of the better-off.

As examples of innovation, she cites the "learning mentors" project, in which pupils are given indvidual mentors to help with problems which might be disrupting their learning, such as bullying, truancy or difficulties at home.

There will be 2,400 mentors in place by the end of the school, helping "teachers to concentrate on teaching".

But the link between economic deprivation and lack of success at education will take a long time to be removed, she says, with the need for cultural changes both within the education system and among those that it serves.

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See also:

15 Jun 00 | Education
How city schools beat the odds
10 May 00 | Education
One-stop shops to boost mentoring
03 Feb 00 | Education
Mentors for all teenagers
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