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Monday, 31 January, 2000, 18:16 GMT
Computers for teachers scheme defended

computer room Ministers want all teachers to be familiar with computers

The education department in England has been defending its scheme subsidising computers for teachers, after claims that it does not offer good value.

Those familiar with the technology had said that some of the machines in the offer were over-priced.

BBC News Online had also found that some prices quoted on the scheme's official website were higher than on manufacturer's own websites - for the same models.

elonex notebook Piranha: 'Official' price has a bite
The technology minister Michael Wills announced the offer to teachers in England at the BETT2000 educational technology show earlier this month.

Teachers can get up to 500 off the cost of buying a computer, in a government drive to increase the number of teachers familiar with the technology.

The offer is limited to 20m overall, on a first-come, first-served basis - enough for only about one in eight teachers.

And the computers have to be one of a short list of approved machines from approved suppliers.


One of those who was attracted by the offer was Steve Leonard-Clarke, who teaches English and music at St. Dunstan's Community School in Glastonbury.

His excitement evaporated when he visited the official website detailing the terms.

"The systems listed there are now out of date and are listed at the prices they were originally set at when they came out last year," he said.

Having looked at recent advertisements, Mr Leonard-Clarke said he could get a an equivalent computer for just 30 more than the fastest officially-approved PC with its cashback.

"I am worried that teachers who are new to PCs will be misled and ripped off at the same time," he said.

The Department for Education makes the point that the list is dynamic - it has now been updated, and a new round of tendering is about to take place to renew the list of suppliers.

For example, it is now possible to get a 500Mhz Pentium III with 64Mb RAM, a 13Gb hard disk, 17" monitor, DVD drive, stereo audio, modem, with warranty and maintenance and a large amount of bundled educational software, for approximately 1000 including VAT.

"The teacher would be eligible for the maximum subsidy of 500 from the government which after tax of 115 means that the teacher would receive a 1000 computer for only 615," a spokeswoman said.

Inclusive deals

She said there had been a huge amount of interest in the scheme from teachers who were new to the technology - which was exactly the government's intention.

According to one of the suppliers, Evesham Micros, it is difficult to compare the computers in the scheme with ordinarily advertised machines, because they come with additional services free of charge.

For instance, Evesham provides home installation, e-mail set-up, internet access set-up, web space set-up and basic training in the purchase price - all normally charged separately.

"For teachers that are less familiar with computers, getting a full software suite and having someone from Evesham come to their home, set up the computer and explain how it works, will be extremely valuable," says Andrew Cross, Evesham's general sales manager.

"It is not fair to look at the hardware alone; there is a lot of added value included as part of the purchase price. If these 'extras' were priced separately, they would cost teachers a lot more.

"We have worked very hard to secure a better deal for teachers by negotiating with our suppliers and then passing these savings on."

Different prices

This might account for some oddities in the prices quoted.

dell pc Dell desktop: Speakers not included
For instance, a Dell desktop model was 1,022 on the official site. What appeared to be the same model was 895 including delivery on Dell's own website.

The education department said that probably would not have quite the same software, and would be delivered but not set up and checked, as the scheme requires.

There was no immediately obvious explanation for another oddity. In the Elonex online showroom, a Piranha notebook cost 1,222.

The version in the 'education showroom' on their site cost 1,359 - which included an office software suite, home installation and one-year warranty, to comply with the government's specification.

Yet on the Computers for Teachers website, the same model was quoted at 1,549 - a difference of 190.

It also emerged last week that the government subsidy would be taxed. This is now flagged up on the Computers for Teachers website, following a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority.

Tax sting

"The subsidy is an addition to income over and above salary, so income tax is applicable," says the site in its 'frequently asked questions' section.

The scheme leaves Steve Leonard-Clarke thoroughly unimpressed.

"I already use my home PC for school-related work, and have recently produced a website for the school, all from home and in my own time. Why can't I get cash back on the PC I already have?

"If I were working for a company they would lease me a machine for the time I was employed with them. If I leave the company I give back the hardware.

"This agreement makes more sense to me. It also builds a sense of trust and commitment between employer and employee."

Another looming problem is that the scheme is not open-ended: at some point the money could run out.

The education department says that teachers would be given plenty of warning, via advertisements, when this was about to happen - there would not be a situation where someone bought a computer only to find there were no subsidies left.

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See also:
12 Jan 00 |  Bett2000
Teachers offered 500 for computers

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