Drive for one-stop ICT shop in schools

Michael Wills hopes more suppliers and transparent pricing will encourage schools to sign up to the one-stop shop initiative. Chris Johnston reports on the new push for managed services.

THE GOVERNMENT is stepping up its bid to get schools to outsource their computer needs to make sure that teachers are free to concentrate on ICT in the curriculum. Seven new companies have been approved to supply National Grid for Learning (NGFL) Managed Services and pricing has been made more public in a push to get schools and colleges to sign up.

They aim to provide a one-stop shop, providing hardware, training and technical support and lifting the burden of maintaining equipment and networks from teachers and lecturers.

In an attempt to scale up the initiative, Michael Wills, the learning and technology minister, said at last month's London launch that the Government will fund pilot managed services for six schools over three years. The participating schools will select suppliers through mini-competitions. The trials will be independently evaluated and other procurement methods used at other schools as a control to provide "hard and fast evidence of the economics of technology in the classroom", Mr Wills said. He added the latest Standards Fund circular made it clear managed services were "top of the list" for grant cash.

The new suppliers are Capita, Dan Technolgies, Ergo, ICL, Database Nottingham, Time and Viglen. They join Akhter, Apple, Bull Information Systems, Centerprise, Comtec, EIS Kent, Elonex, Hugh Symon Group, IBM, RM and XMA, which were certified in the first round last year. The prices are down on last year and wireless networking is on the up.

Two companies, both newcomers, break the pound;1,000 per year charge for a baseline four-station network. The lowest is Dan Technologies at pound;976, with Time charging pound;999.75. At the other end of the scale is Comtec at pound;1,661 and IBM at pound;1,644. Four suppliers list prices for a four-station wireless network, ranging between pound;1,332 (Ergo Computing) and Akhter Computers' pound;1,812.

Price differences become more apparent in the approximate costs for 8, 30, 100 and 500-station networks. For 100 users, Akhter is the cheapest at pound;363, while XMA is the most expensive at pound;1,179 - a difference of pound;816.

The British Educational Communi-cations and Technology Agency (Becta) held a marketing seminar late last month to foster more coherent promotion of the NGFL brand and management of the scheme by the approved suppliers.

The Government wants a greater take-up of managed services by schools. Only two deals from the first round have been announced, with the Scottish local authorities Dumfries and Galloway (IBM) and the Borders (RM).

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