When Peter Phillips became head of West Monmouth School in Wales in 1988, the school's information technology equipment was, to put it politely, getting on a bit. "Iwas concerned that we had a lot of BBC computers and that we were not going anywhere with this technology," he says. Today, the school has a network of 90 state-of-the-art PCs and offers Internet access to all its staff and 1,050 pupils.
This radical transformation is the result of the school deciding to lease its IT equipment. The first leasing arrangement was set up in 1992, when it took out a five-year contract with RM for the supply of 60 486-PCs. The PCs were set-up as a network in three computer rooms, while the school's older computers (including BBCs, and some 286 and 386 PCs) went to various departments to be used for word processing.
The leasing deal cost West Monmouth pound;100,000 over the five years, and it was money well spent, says Phillips: "When I first made the suggestion to the governors, they said: 'We could employ another member of staff for that amount of money.' I explained that staffing wasn't a problem, but IT provision was. We did not have that sort of money available and so leasing enabled us to get our hands on enough equipment to make a difference."
He adds that without leasing, the school could only have afforded a few PCs that would have gone to specialist departments: "Instead, ICT is used by all. I would expect almost all our pupils to leave school with the skills for using a word processor, spreadsheet and database."
By the end of the leasing period, technology had moved on, and so in the financial year of 19989. West Monmouth took on a fresh lease with RM for a new network consisting of 60 Pentium III PCs. The deal is costing 23,000 a year over five years. RM also provides two days training for two members of staff, and West Monmouth has also taken out a service agreement for the new network. RM sold the old network to the school's parents association for a nominal fee.
West Monmouth School has also raised enough funds to buy an additional 30 PCs: "It means we now have three rooms of 30 computers, so whole teaching groups can use them," says Phillips. The school offers an extensive ICT programme. By taking up BT's School Internet Caller offer (free unlimited Internet use between 8am-6pm on school days), all pupils have free access to the Internet, including several hours after the end of the school day. All staff and students have an email address, and the school offers IT as a GCSE and GNVQ subject. "Without leasing, this would not have been possible," says Phillips.
Phillips admits that leasing was a bold step to take in terms of the financial commitment, but adds: "It's no good having a 6 per cent contingency fund and no computers. Better to have a 3 per cent fund and a lease."
He adds that schools need to plan for the future: "It can be difficult to project your school's future funding, especially if you're in an area where school numbers tend to fluctuate wildly. So in a bad year, staff may have to be sacked if you can't balance your budget (a situation West Monmouth has happily not had to face). Remember, once you've set-up a leasing agreement, you can't change your mind."
His final piece of advice is: "Don't be in a hurry to sign the contract. Make sure the equipment and services you get under the lease do what they're supposed to do. If you're opting for an all-singing, all-dancing network, make sure it sings and dances."