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Becta throws shroud over Microsoft deal

Vista adoption in schools 'high risk'

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The British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) has signed a secrecy clause with Microsoft which prevents it from disclosing the prices schools are paying for software licences.

Figures released by the Department for Education and Skills show that in 2005-06 schools spent £615m on ICT, including Microsoft products. But when Conservative MP Brooks Newmark asked the government for details of purchasing agreements with Microsoft, schools minister Jim Knight said the information is confidential.

"This information is the subject of legally binding non-disclosure arrangements and excludes estimates in relation to Original Equipment Manufacturer licences," Knight said.

Becta said its licensing agreement with Microsoft establishes significant savings for schools across the UK choosing to use its products. In December 2006 the agency extended its original three year Memorandum of Understanding with the company for a further 12 months.

"Depending on the mix of products purchased, schools should be spending between 20 per cent and 37 per cent less than might have been expected in the absence of the Becta Microsoft Memorandum of Understanding," said Becta.

Steve Beswick, Microsoft's director of education, said in a statement: "We believe our solutions offer real value for money. Microsoft offers free support and training materials to teachers and IT coordinators as well as a range of education programmes in the UK which are designed to help teachers and students make the most of their technology."

Becta is understood to have raised concerns, however, that Microsoft is tying schools into using its software with onerous buy-out conditions.

In January 2007 Becta said that early adoption of Microsoft's new Vista software involved "high risk" and did not recommend its early adoption in schools. The costs of a widespread deployment of Vista are currently estimated to be around £160m while the benefits are unclear, according to Becta.

The agency said Microsoft should arrange pilot projects to clarify what the benefits of deploying Vista in the education sector would be and how much it would cost.

Following the outcome of discussions with Microsoft and a range of stakeholders, Becta will produce a final report with recommendations by January 2008.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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