IT is seen by Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council as the key to lifting the town from its coal-mining past into the digital age, writes Mike Simons. The council has rolled out one of the biggest National Grid for Learning projects in the country.
It links 107 schools and provides 36,000 school children with Internet access and e-mail addresses that will follow them from nursery to secondary school and beyond.
The project won last year's Local Government IT Excellence Award, which at about £8m did not come cheap.
John Jones, head of corporate IT services at the council, said the aim of the project was to create a "potential workforce that is second to none".
The need for a whole hearted commitment to the project was clear. In the last decade the area has seen the destruction of its coal mining and glass industries. Just a year ago less than 1% of the local population had access to personal computers.
However, the initial objectives were modest - to allow each child an hour of IT access each week as part of the normal curriculum. A secondary aim was to ensure children encountered the same desktop environment with every school move they made. The council did this by adopting Microsoft's Office 2000, ahead of its commercial launch.
Barnsley was able to roll out computers to 80 of the 107 schools in the project within 10 weeks, using technology which required only a single installation of software in each school, which was then automatically distributed to the rest of the machines.
A key part of the project is the ability to control cost of ownership. All machines at the council's 107 schools are controllable from a single desktop. IT managers at the council can even tell how much disc space is available on each machine, which helped effective network monitoring.
"We're offering our school children a greatly increased ability to work and build on their knowledge by efficient and effective use of the Internet and intranet offered by the National Grid for Learning," said Jones.
Know of any innovative public sector projects? If so, e-mail Mike Simons