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Adequate ICT

Schools used to complain that they were too under-resourced to deliver ICT adequately . But the past three years have seen a steady upgrading of ICT hardware. And now that the technology is in place, the focus has shifted to content. Despite the Internet and the growing range of CD-Roms, there is still a need for more engaging and relevant educational material.

Stalwarts such as Anglia Campus, RM (with Living Library) and Actis, realised some time ago that free material on the web would not be enough for schools, but a stampede of other companies has finally realised there could be money in online subscription services.

Anyone who visited the recent BETT show will have noticed the myriad of new subscription services offering tailor-made, curriculum-centred material. The primary zone from Granada Learning, AVPnet, Educationcity.net, Spark Island and Education On-line (EOL) are just some of them. This sudden increase in choice has two major implications for schools. The first is choosing a supplier who is likely to be around for the forseeable future. It is unlikely that all the suppliers will have enough paying customers to go round an a few of the new services are unlikely to be back at BETT next year.

The obvious solution is to go for an established name, but there's nothing to stop such companies pulling the plug on a loss-making service. But if you do fork out, and your content provider goes bust, it shouldn't leave a gaping hole in your budget. At the moment costs for subscription services are relatively modest, varying from pound;60 a year for primary services up to pound;300 a year.

The second issue concerns quality. The promotional literature is all much of a muchness, with such phrases as "we are committed to providing superb learning and instructional resources" cropping up again and again. Most of these services offer free trial periods that vary from a few days to a few weeks. If you haven't got the time to try them all out, there's always TEEM (Teachers Evaluating Educational Multimedia). The non profit-making organisation has been assessing the educational value of CD-Roms for some time, but has started to look at websites and has evaluations of free and paid-for online content for key stages 1 to 4. Approved websites can be found at www.teem.org.uk.

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