Computer package deals 'won't deliver'

23rd July 1999 at 01:00
A range of package deals was launched by ministers this week to help schools buy computers and get on the Internet.

But key industry figures have warned the "managed services" initiative will not bring about the information technology revolution ministers seek.

They argue the initiative is unlikely to make the task of working out a school's technology needs any easier for teachers and managers.

Under the scheme, schools can choose from pre-prepared packages of new technology that come with government approval.

The packages give schools computer equipment, Internet access, training, and technical support over three years for a fixed price.

The scheme is central to meeting the Government's target of connecting every school to the National Grid for Learning by 2002.

Charles Clarke, the schools standards minister, announced a list of providers approved by the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, which advises the Government, on Wednesday.

But David Carey, marketing programme manager for RM (formerly Research Machines), said that although managed services were one way to help schools adopt new technology, they would not bring about the "sea change" the Government desired.

He believes headteachers, particularly in the primary sector, do not have a good enough understanding of computing issues to make the right decisions.

"Managed services are not going to set the world alight because it's not an easy process, even with BECTA's help," he said.

John Warwick, sales and marketing manager of Capita Education, believed many schools wanted a managed service but choosing the right provider was crucial. That advice could come from local authorities, but those schools in areas where advisory services have been abolished or slashed would miss out.

Chris Thatcher, president of the National Association of Head Teachers, agreed that it was vital for those making decisions about computers to understand what they wanted to achieve.

Mr Thatcher said: "I do have concerns that the solution is not necessarily going to be the cure-all that it was intended to be."

Eileen Devonshire, deputy chief executive of the British Educational Suppliers Association, said she was not negative about, the concept of managed services but believed there were problems with its execution.

A spokesperson for BECTA said: "Managed services are a new, optional way to purchase technology. They provide a benchmark, previously not available, for customers to compare suppliers and the services they offer.

"This is a major step forward."

See www.becta.org.uk for the approved providers.

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