Switching on to the Web involves difficult choices for all schools. Chris Johnston and George Cole assess some of the many providers touting their services In April, Fulfen Primary School in Burntwood, Staffordshire, became one of the still relatively small number of primaries connected to the Internet. Chris McDonnell, the headteacher, says the school hadcomputers from RM and felt it would be easier to get Internet access from the same company.
The school now has two PCs connected to the Net, one in the library and another in a shared classroom area.
The running costs for Internet access are "fairly minimal", McDonnell says. A parent governor who works in the information technology field is responsible for managing the service.
McDonnell says the main concern for Fulfen is obtaining more machines and the supervision implications to ensure pupils use the Net purposefully.
Meanwhile, Llantarnam school in Torfaen, near Newport in Wales, has been connected for several years through BT Internet. Although the school has 1,300 pupils, it has only the one computer with Internet access.
The secondary school has not had a happy experience of the World Wide Web, according to David Kitchen, the headteacher.
He says the dial-up connection has been "slow and cumbersome", so the school is considering the county council's wide area network to improve the speed.
Appropriate use of the Net is also a concern, and Kitchen says the ability to surf for the sake of it is not what iswanted.
Having a room of computers with Internet access would only be desirable when the school is confident about how they should be used, he says. Parents are interested in technology, Kitchen says, but would prefer to move cautiously than be at the cutting edge.
hat are the issues to consider when looking to get connected? First is the matter of connection speed. But second is the little matter of finding a suitable Internet service provider, or ISP.
Following is a guide to the cost of getting on to the Internet, as well as the type of connection each provider caters for.
Most ISDN services offer a single 64K link, sufficient for around a dozen machines to access the Internet simultaneously, but some feel this is not powerful enough.
Dual-link ISDN can take more users. The number of computers refers to those linked to the Internet service, but is not necessarily the number that can be used at the same time.
In terms of charges, it is important to be sure about what you are getting. For instance, some ISPs may levy a comparatively low standard charge, but maylumber you with additional costs, such as start-up fees and installation charges.
You may also need to pay call charges, which should be at the local rate. Some companies provide free mailboxes and free Web space for posting your school's pages.
It is also worth noting that some providers (such as CampusWorld and IFL) also provide educational resources, while others simply offer Internet access.
There are numerous permutations and the table would become too complicated to include all of these.
Use this information as a general guide and check with each ISP for information relevant to your school.
This is not an exhaustive list and all prices exclude VAT.
BT. Schools Internet Caller
This offers a fixed-cost telephone charge of Pounds 790 per year for an ISDN digitaltelephone link, or Pounds 445 for standardtelephone line.
Calls are unlimited between 8am and 6pm, Monday to Friday, 39 weeks a year. Outside these hours, calls are charged at the local rate.
Calls use an 0820 number that can be used with any ISP.
Walled Garden (a filtered service). Single user: Pounds 15 per month gives access to CampusWorld plus designated websites. Pounds 17.50 per month gives full Internet access.
For multiple machines via ISDN link, prices start from Pounds 35 per month for two to five computers.
Call 0800 672 685 or see BT's website at www.bt.com
Cable companies are offering fixed-rate ISDN links to schools for Pounds 50 a month or Pounds 600 a year.
Calls can be made at any time of the day. Cable and Wireless is offering a range of services to schools. Its Pounds 600 a year ISDN service is now being offered nationally in direct competition with BT.
Contact your local cable company or the Cable Communications Association on 0171 222 2900.
Offers various packages including single-user via standard phone line connection Pounds 120 per year.
ISDN for five computers is Pounds 750 per year, 13 computers Pounds 995; ISDN for unlimited computers Pounds 1,500. Dual-link ISDN with unlimited computers Pounds 2,500 a year.
Leased lines with high-speed connection start from Pounds 6,000 a year plus Pounds 1,000 installation.
Call 0181 239 5001 or see www.edex.net.uk
Easynet's 0820 service (excluding BT line rental charge) is Pounds 695 per year for five computers, 13 computers Pounds 895, unlimited computers Pounds 1495.
For dual-link ISDN: five computers costs Pounds 1095, 13 computers is Pounds 1395, while an unlimited number of computers Pounds 1995.
Call 0171 681 4444 or see www.easynet.net
Offers free single-user dial-up connection for first year and Pounds 75 a year thereafter.
ISDN connection on a 0820 number forup to 13 computers Pounds 750 per year, 29 computers Pounds 1,250 per year.
Dual-link ISDN for up to 61 computers Pounds 1,750 per year.
Call 01273 607072 or see www.schoolnet.org.uk
RM Internet for Learning
Single dial-up connection on a phone line from Pounds 150 per year, ISDN for up to four computers Pounds 495, five to 10 computers Pounds 795, 11 to 16 computers Pounds 1,250, unlimited computers Pounds 2,200. Dual-link ISDN unlimited computers Pounds 2,500. Leased line connections start at Pounds 8,750 plus Pounds 1,695 set-up. Call 01235 826000 or seehttp:ifl-guide.rmplc.co.uknet.html
This online and Internet service offerssecondary schools free AOL accounts, including five free email addresses and10 megabytes of free Web space.
That offer is now available to all schools that are registered for UK NetYear, which AOL says is worth Pounds 200 per school a year.
Fax free on 0800 2797446 or see www.uknetyear.org