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Warning that BBC will hog e-learning market

Education publishers and firms are gearing up for a battle with the BBC, over plans to deliver free curriculum material to UK schools via the Internet.

The corporation wants to invest pound;150 million of licence-payers' money in new multimedia and interactive content that could be accessed from school or home computers. However, firms who want to sell their products to schools say that, if the BBC plan goes ahead, they will not be able to compete.

Lack of competition will lead to a poorer quality and range of resources, the Choice for Schools campaign said at yesterday's launch.

Also at stake are hundreds of jobs in the industry. The e-learning market is worth around pound;70m, and insiders had expected it to expand rapidly as schools become better equipped and teachers better trained in using digital and online resources in classrooms.

The Department for Education and Skills has come up with pound;50m for English schools to spend on commercial digital resources, as part of the September launch of its "online curriculum".

The BBC has said it will commission half its materials from external producers. But this is not enough for Choice for Schools, set up by the British Educational Suppliers Association and the Publishers' Association. It aims to foil the BBC's plans, shortly to go to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and has not ruled out an appeal to a third department, Trade and Industry, on the grounds of unfair competition.

Campaign chairman Lewis Bronze, chief executive of Espresso Education, said: "If the BBC is allowed to do everything for free, industry will not invest and the losers will be the teachers and children in our schools."

A BBC spokeswoman said:"We are very keen to work in partnership."

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