Teachers in English schools who qualify for the Computers for Teachers scheme launched by the Department for Education and Employment in January should wait until next month before deciding what to buy. From March 1, accredited suppliers will be adding to the range of approved computers in the scheme, details of which will be on the dedicated website at http:cft.ngfl.gov.uk.
Prices are certain to fall, partly because the cost of processor chips has just fallen by a third, but also because suppliers have had plenty of interest from teachers following the launch of the scheme and will need their models to be competitive. Visitors to the launch website have been quick to compare prices on the Computers for Teachers scheme with those available from direct sellers such as Dell and Gateway. Those concerned that the pot of pound;20 million allocated to the scheme might run out if they wait need not worry. "The website will warn applicants well in advance of us reaching the point where all the money has been allocated," says a DfEE spokesperson.
One of the more contentious issues in the scheme is the cost of delivery, installation and training which is included in the price of approved machines. Teachers with little computer experience are likely to welcome this, but ICT co-ordinators, already running networks at school, resent having to pay what they regard as an unnecessary premium. Before choosing your supplier, check exactly what is included in the home package. Some suppliers, including Hi-Grade and RM, include written instructions that show you around the machine, and describe how to find programs, save files, set up the modem and connect the machine to the Internet. It would be well worth deciding which Internet service provider ou are going to use and what your e-mail address is going to be so you can set up your software and accounts while your installer is on hand.
The scheme offers teachers a rebate of half the cost of a computer for home use, to a maximum of pound;500. The benefit is taxable, which makes the maximum cash value pound;385. Those buying their first computer should look for something around pound;1,000 to qualify for the maximum rebate. After March 1, you should demand the following minimum specification on a PC desktop machine: a Pentium III processor or similar running at 600MHz, 128Mb of memory, 10Gb hard drive, DVD-ROM drive, a 17-inch monitor with Windows 98 and Office 2000 fully installed. For those wanting to buy an Apple computer, the scheme offers less value. Much of the appeal of Apple iMacs and iBooks is in their plug-and-play simplicity - Apple would argue that there is no need to pay an installer to plug in its machines. Apple has also designed floppy disk drives out of its systems, believing we can all transfer documents from one machine to another by attaching them to e-mails. This falls foul of the scheme's requirements, so Apple has had to bundle a removable disk drive with its offer.
It is not just ICT co-ordinators who are finding fault with the scheme. School librarians, who are not currently eligible, want to be included. They may have a good case. The DfEE's stated objective in launching Computers for Teachers is to increase the number of teachers connected to, and using, the National Grid for Learning website. Given that school librarians may well be the natural facilitators between teachers and this new and growing information resource, getting some of them online at home seems to make sense.