Microsoft millions probed

A government agency is to investigate whether schools are spending too much on software from the computer giant Microsoft.

The British Educational Communications and Technology Agency said it would be carrying out an investigation into the company to find out if its licences for schools are value for money and meet teachers' needs.

The agency's report, due in June, will examine the financial penalties schools may face from pulling out of the company's licensing agreements and consider whether teachers should ignore products being launched by the company this year.

The investigation follows a Becta study last year which found that British schools and colleges could save millions from the estimated pound;1 billion they spend each year on ICT by switching to cheap or free open source software.

The Department for Education and Skills was expected to use the British Educational Training and Technology (BETT) show in London, next week to announce plans to give schools pound;40 million over the next two years to create "virtual learning platforms" for their pupils.

These are secure, personalised electronic folders, which students can access online to download homework and lessons from their teachers and to take tests.

Michael Stevenson, DfES director of technology, said the platforms were "a really important tool in personalising the learning experience for our children" and would allow information to be shared more readily with parents.

Private contractor Capita was also due to use BETT to promote information-sharing between schools and families by launching its new SIMS Learning Gateway, which will let parents access up-to-the-minute data from school records on academic performance, timetable and attendance.

A full subject-by-subject guide to BETT is published in this week's TES Online magazine.

Teachers' TV plans to film daily 15-minute reports from the show which will be broadcast each night and will be downloadable from its website (www.teachers.tv).

Speakers at BETT will include Dame Enid Bibby, head of Wood Green high school in Wednesdbury, who will talk about how Shakespeare would view e-learning. Professor Tim Brighouse and John Davitt will give The TES keynote address, entitled "How teachers change their practice to change the world".

www.bettshow.co.uk

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