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Credits where due

With schools receiving pound;330 million of electronic learning credits over three years via Curriculum Online, what's the best approach to spending?

.Despite the name, Electronic Learning Credits (eLCs) are not yet a form of virtual money (perhaps by 2004), but real money that schools can spend on a vast range of digital learning resources. Over the years, schools have received hundreds of millions of pounds from the Standards Fund to develop their ICT resources and infrastructure, so what makes eLCs so special?

The answer is three-fold. First, they are ringfenced, which means schools can only spend them on the software and resources on the Curriculum Online portal. Second, eLCs are time-limited, so schools need to spend them by a set date. Third, eLCs are designed to be spent on resources that help teaching and learning in the classroom. It all sounds terribly prescriptive, but the eLC is a flexible currency and schools have many options for spending it.

Last year, the Government announced it was providing pound;50 million of eLCs to all maintained primary and secondary schools in England during this academic year (non-maintained special schools and pupil referral units also receive eLCs).

All schools receive a fixed number of eLCs, which are topped up according to the number of pupils they have on-roll. Primary schools will each receive an average of pound;800-worth of eLCs and secondary schools around pound;1,800. The first pound;30 million of eLCs were distributed last November and pound;20 million-worth are being released in April.

At the BETT education technology show in January, education secretary Charles Clarke said an additional pound;280 million of eLCs would be made available over the next three years, although at the time of writing, no decision had been made on how these would be distributed.

So what you can spend your eLCs on? The answer is anything on the Curriculum Online portal. This includes CD-Roms, subscriptions to online services, pupil assessment resources, software licences (and upgrades) and support materials. Exclusions include operating system software, office productivity tools (like word processor or database programs) and teacher assessment materials. There is also an 8020 rule, which says 80 per cent of the product should be digital content, the rest being support materials (such as training or teacher guides).

eLCs can only be spent on software registered under the Curriculum Online scheme and with registered retailers. Both of these can be identified by the Curriculum Online 'C' logo. Not surprisingly, software companies are making it easy for teachers to find Curriculum Online resources by using the 'C' logo on websites and in catalogues and promotional material.

There's no need for schools to rush to spend their eLCs, but the first tranche of eLCs must be spent by this August. The second tranche will need to be spent by August 2004.

Russell Prue, the evangelist for Curriculum Online, says: "eLCs are not like vouchers - you don't have to spend all of them at once and you can use them in lots of different ways. For instance, you can add funding from other sources to top up your eLCs.

"Some schools are pooling their eLCs with other schools and making a large order with a single supplier in order to get a better deal. Other schools are using the purchasing power of their LEA or Regional Broadband Consortium for the same reason. There will even be a window for adding the eLCs from last November to those that are released in April."

He adds that eLCs are aimed at the individual teacher in the classroom:

"It's about finding the resources that help you become an even better teacher."

Some teachers have already taken advantage of the credits. Bernadette Pearce, head of English at Madeley High School near Crewe, wants to spend some eLCs on the English Online service offered by Actis.

And Glory Farm primary and nursery school in Oxfordshire plans to use its eLcs for upgrading software licences and possibly subscribing to the Espresso online service. Head teacher Michael Waine says: "When you're talking about ICT, expectation always exceeds funding. So we welcome any initiative that brings ringfenced money for ICT in schools."


* All staff should know what the school's policy is on eLCs. For example, will all teachers be able to bid for them or is the school pooling them with other schools for specific resources?

* Remember eLCs are for all teachers, not just those in the ICT department

* If the policy is to open up eLCs to all teachers, staff should know who is responsible for distributing them and how they should make their bids

* All staff should be encouraged to look on the Curriculum Online portal for resources that will help them in the classroom

* Ensure all eLCs are spent on COL-eligible resources with an eligible supplier within the allotted time frame

* Remember you can spend eLCs on different types of resources - they are not restricted to online services. And don't forget that you can top up eLCs with funds from other sources and don't have to spend credits all at once

* Register on the COL portal - use the wish-list facility and keep a note of the resources you're interested in

* Products bought with eLCs are purchased through the normal channels Orders are placed by phone, post, fax or online, depending on what systems your supplier offers

* Make use of software evaluation schemes offered by software firms

* Some companies offer discounts and special deals, but remember, it is better to buy good software at full price than bad software at half price

* Make sure the software supplier knows when you're using eLCs to make a purchase

* Keep a record of what you spend with your eLCs, where you spent them and when you spent them

* Give feedback at the Curriculum Online portal. If you find it difficult to use, let them know - feedback should lead to improvements Key sites

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