Half-price computer subsidy

11th February 2000 at 00:00
Learning and technology minster Michael Wills' announcement of a subsidy for teachers to buy a computer has sparked much interest. Chris Johnston reports

Thousands of teachers in England have signalled their interest in a 50 per cent subsidy of "up to pound;500" to help them buy a computer, following the scheme's announcement by learning and technology minister, Michael Wills, at last month's BETT exhibition.

However, many are unhappy with the organisation of the pound;20 million Computers for Teachers scheme and are particularly upset that the rebate is taxable, making it worth about pound;380.

One teacher complained to the Advertising Standards Authority about the failure of advertisements for computers available through the scheme to mention that the rebate is subject to income tax. It was still deciding whether to take action as Online went to press.

The requirement to buy a computer from one of the 19 suppliers approved by BECTA has come under fire from some teachers who believe the specification of many machines could be better and bought more cheaply off the shelf.

BECTA said the scheme was intended to offer "value for money" and that "suppliers are obliged to offer pricing that is equal to or below their normal pricing".

A Department for Education and Employment spokesperson said the computers in the scheme have more software and included installation and comprehensive maintenance and support. She said any complaints about packages not offering better than normal retail value would be investigated.

Alastair Wells, head of information technology at Netherhall School in Cambridge, said devices such as Psion palmtops should be included in the scheme. He believed they could be more useful to teachers in the classroom than even a laptop.

To be eligible for the rebate, teachers must have registered for the Lottery-funded training in using computers in the classroom. Teacher unions have attaced this requirement, labelling it a cynical ploy to boost numbers on the training programme. The rule also stops teachers wanting their own computer to familiarise themselves with technology before starting the training from buying one more cheaply.

Last month, The TES launched a campaign to encourage the Government to provide every British teacher with a personal computer. Both Mr Wills and BECTA applauded support for computers for teachers. Writing in The TES last month, the minister said at least 50,000 teachers would benefit from the Computers for Teachers scheme, which only applies to teachers in England. Some primary heads will also benefit from a surprise DFEE announcement late last month of a pound;3 million laptops scheme.

In Scotland, almost 5,000 teachers will receive a tax-free pound;200 rebate when they buy any computer in a pound;3 million scheme.

Richard Pietrasik, chief executive of the Scottish Council for Educational Technology, said a higher proportion of Scottish teachers would benefit from the initiative, but with each receiving a smaller rebate than in England. "The two schemes are different and there are no plans to work towards a common scheme," he said.

Wales is soon to unveil a three-year, pound;18 million programme for ICT in schools and every secondary head and about 165 primary schools will get a laptop computer in a pound;2.25 million initiative.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland is taking a different tack. It has recently completed a process to buy several thousand laptops, which schools will own and be able to distribute to teachers to meet particular needs. The Classroom 2000 project dovetails with the way the Lottery-funded training is being delivered in Northern Ireland. Almost all schools now have ISDN lines and 1,500 laptops have been distributed already to help teacher leaders in each school prepare for the training programme.

Computers for Teachershttp:cft.ngfl.gov.uk

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