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Heads dash for ecredits

Eleventh-hour campaign prompts last-minute spending spree on electronic resources. Michael Shaw reports

Schools have gone on an internet shopping spree, spending up to pound;20 million of the Government's electronic learning credits in less than two months.

Headteachers snapped up hundreds of thousands of educational computer programs and internet services after an advertising campaign warned them to "Use the credits or lose them".

Educational software suppliers had feared that millions of electronic learning credits (eLCs) would be wasted and that schools did not know how to choose products through the Government's Curriculum Online website.

A huge underspend would also have embarrassed the Department for Education and Skills, which has pledged to give schools a further pound;300m in ecredits over the next three years.

Schools were given seven months to spend pound;30m in eLCs by August 31.

With little more than a month until the deadline, figures suggested that only around pound;10m had been spent.

But estimates by suppliers suggest that last-minute advertising by the Government prompted heads to spend nearly all of the credits. The DfES' current figures show that more than pound;3 million may not have been used, but the department believes the amount is an overestimate.

Educational software supplier RM said it was delighted by the significant upsurge in sales and that it boded well for the future of the e-credit system.

A spokeswoman for RM said: "We saw a three-fold increase in the number of eLCs used on our products, and the average spend from schools doubled.

Schools were probably busy with exams and the end of term before, but during the holidays the DfES finally got its message across."

The introduction of the credits was seen as an attempt by the Government to placate education suppliers, many of whom remain upset about the BBC's Digital Curriculum project.

The BBC system, which received approval last week from the European Commission, will provide free online educational material from September 2006.

This month the BBC also angered teachers by switching off analogue radio transmissions and transferring to digital broadcasting only. The move means that schools can now record programmes only if they are in an area with digital reception, or have a digital radio, which costs about pound;100, or if they can record programmes from a digital TV.

The BBC said it had only received two complaints from parents since switching the programmes to Radio 4 digital, where they are broadcast from Tuesday to Friday between 3am and 5am.

The National Union of Teachers said the switch was unfair because digital broadcasts currently reach only 65 per cent of the population and would be missed by many schools.

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