Where can you go to choose a minibus for school outings, security system for playground gates, photocopier for the office, reading scheme for the infants and CD-Rom for key stage 3 science? At last week's Education Show at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham about 18,000 teachers seethed round the 550 stands of equipment, publications and services, surveying, ordering and purchasing anything from Tipp-Ex mice to Moody Bears (Galt).
* The most popular area seemed to be stationery, arts and crafts, where a small outlay brought instant gratification. The Blitzer airbrush from Artstraws drew admirers who knew a bargain when they saw it. The small grey plastic bulb which attaches like a compass to any coloured felt pen produced instant airbrush effects at the squeeze of a hand. Cheap at the normal price of Pounds 3.25, teachers at the show could buy it for their own children, never mind classes, for a mere Pounds 1.
* Berol was also doing a roaring trade with its new range of Handhugger pens and pencils (Pounds 2.45 for six colouring pens; Pounds 2.50 for 10 colouring pencils). Although there were other triangular pencils for getting a grip at the show, Berol boasts that with the new pens added to its range, it is the only educational manufacturer to offer a complete set of writing tools which allow the three- to six-year-old or special needs child to move easily from pencil to pen. Having taken both home to test them immediately on the determined fist of a three-year-old, I can truly vouch for some instant, if sporadic, success.
* There were some beautiful new textile products from NES Arnold - Plexifoil and adhesives (pack of 12 sheets Pounds 12.95, adhesive Pounds 4.25). Take a piece of fabric, T-shirt or tablecloth, draw a pattern with the special adhesive, leave it to dry for 24 hours. Next day, take a sheet of the multi-coloured foils they supply, press it on and you have an instant shimmering design, which they say will wash and wash. The materials, they add, can safely be used by any age group from nursery upwards.
* Soapstone was this year's showpiece from Specialist Crafts. Demonstrating the ease with which a piece of soapstone (Pounds 3-Pounds 4 a rock) could be carved, a demonstrator at the stand won obvious approval from one artistteacher who was thinking of using it for her freelance work, as well as in the classroom. A bit expensive for a whole class, she said, but good for letting children have at least one experience of carving in rock good for key stage 2: The Vikings as well. Apparently, they were keen on carving rock.
* Unknown to the Vikings would be a new material called Plastazote, which could be found on the EY (Education and Youth) stand azote being the French name for nitrogen, which goes into its manufacture. Sheets of the stuff, which looked like brightly coloured polystyrene, could be warmed in the oven and moulded instantly by little or large hands into masks, wound round a pencil into spirals, or cut and manipulated into flowers. It is non-toxic, can be handled as soon as it comes out of the oven, and will rediscover its original shape if warmed up again. Again, useful for any age group. (Pack of 30 A4 sheets Pounds 7.50, teacher's guide Pounds 5, video Pounds 10.) * Another form of hands-on could be found on the Commotion stand, which was mobbed by teachers trying to grab some of the 15 per cent discounts on offer. Better known for its technology, Commotion had a spectacular range of books, project packs and posters for primary classes. It was hard to choose but glossy A2 posters of the skeleton, times tables or alphabet seemed a bargain at Pounds 2.99, and one teacher went away thrilled with an unusual multicultural art book she had found, filled with drawings and projects for younger classes.
* These were just some of the ready buys, others were more difficult to take away. Like Galt Educational's streamlined kitchen units for the better-off nursery (Pounds 349 for the Merlin Kitchen).
* Or if housework leaves you climbing the walls, how about Universal Services' range of gymnastic climbing frames, rings and ladders for less than Pounds 1,000 - not a bad price for what you get, said the primary teachers I spoke to.
* But if you can afford to aspire to great heights, try Don Gresswell's new Space theme furniture for the library - Pounds 779 for a rocket seat and Pounds 1,149 for a space shuttle book browser with 10 compartments for books and seating around the sides for eight children. Here, surrounded by posters of the Earth, Moon, Saturn, Jupiter and Mars, you can, says the catalogue, "help your children to understand the reality of the Solar System and man's journeys into it". What would Helen Sharman say to that, I wonder.
Artstraws: 01792 796151
Berol: 01553 761221
Commotion: 01908 218880
Don Gresswell: 0181 360 6622
EY: 01202 661888
Galt: 0161 627 0795
NES Arnold: 0115 945 2200
Specialist Crafts: 0116 251 0405
Tipp-Ex: 01276 35775
Universal Services: 01621 868700