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Ministers should upgrade their offer

Jeremy Sutcliffe launches The TES's campaign to persuade the Government to provide every teacher with a free portable computer

THE GOVERNMENT will next week announce plans to give thousands of teachers up to pound;400 to-wards buying their own computer.

The package, which would give teachers in England up to double that offered to their Scottish counterparts last month, is likely to pave the way to even bigger reductions as computer firms compete to attract schools' custom.

Industry experts this week predicted that a pound;1,000 laptop computer could soon be available for less than pound;400 to teachers who qualify for the Government grant.

But many teachers face disappointment because, under the Computers for Teachers scheme, ann-ounced in the Chancellor's Budget last March, only pound;20 million will be available - enough for discounts for just one in eight of England's 400,000 teachers - spread over three years.

This week, The TES launches a campaign to persuade ministers to provide every teacher in the country with a free laptop.

Firms are already beginning to queue up for teachers' business, with pound;200 reductions being offered in Scotland in addition to the pound;200 Government cash offer. Bulk purchases could lead to extra savings.

The true cost could be around pound;300m. A lot of money, perhaps, but for a Government proud of the extra pound;19 billion it's currently investing in educatio, and with a rumoured election war chest in excess of pound;10bn, it is not excessive.

Ten months ago, Tony Blair promised that all of Scotland's 40,000 teachers would get a personal computer by 2003. He has also promised every English headteacher a free laptop. Last month the Welsh Assembly announced plans to give 165 teachers and every headteacher a multi-media laptop this year.

The Government is trying hard to put British schools ahead in the technology league. The TES believes it can do even better. A commitment to give every teacher a laptop could make a real difference.

The European Commission has set 2003 as the target date for all school-leavers to be "digitally literate". We want to ensure all teachers are too.

Our campaign is supported by Professor Stephen Heppell, a senior adviser on information and communications technology to Education Secretary David Blunkett. Writing in today's TES he says teachers need the private use of computers to enable them to build confidence.

"Without that confidence teachers are less ambitious for the tasks and challenges that they set for their wired students," he says.

Details of the Government package, will be announced by lifelong learning and technology minister Michael Wills at the BETT show - Britain's biggest education technology fair - at London's Olympia, .next week.

Opinion, 15

Friday magazine, 11

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