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IT suppliers set to profit from Grid for Learning plans

Information technology suppliers look to be in for a bumper year selling computers and software to schools, as extra funding from the Government fuels a headlong rush to introduce computers into the classroom

The bonanza will kick off next month, when the Government announces which schools will share pounds 100m to buy equipment to connect to the National Grid for Learning, the internet-based network which is supposed to link together all the schools in the country by 2002.

According to RM, the educational software and hardware supplier, schools spend just pounds 150m a year on IT equipment. Even if some of the pounds 100m displaces existing spending, the market will grow dramatically.

At the moment 6,000 of the country's 32,000 schools are connected to the internet. However, most use dial-up access from a dedicated computer, which makes it hard to integrate with classroom teaching. The next step is to connect a school's network to the internet, allowing access from any computer.

The switch will be spurred on by new deals from telecoms suppliers. Both British Telecom and the cable companies are offering high-speed ISDN links to schools for under pounds 1,000 a year.

The lack of computer literacy among teachers has alsoprompted Education Secretary David Blunkett to unveil a pounds 235m package, to be drawn from National Lottery funds, to provide IT training for them.

Capita, the outsourcing group, and schools operator, Nord Anglia, are keen to supply the training. But they will have to wait for legislation clearing Government to allocate lottery funds.