The Department for Education and Skills (DfES) has begun a second phase of accreditation for IT services suppliers to the education sector, to simplify the procurement process for schools.
The accreditation, awarded to suppliers that provide good quality, competitively priced IT goods and services to educational institutions, will be conducted by the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta), the government's lead agency for IT in education.
Originally launched in July last year, the introduction of the scheme follows concerns that schools are struggling with the procurement and ongoing management of their increasingly complex IT systems.
"The networks that schools are now procuring are relatively complex to install and require skilled maintenance and technical support," a spokeswoman for the DfES told vnunet.com.
"They require regular updating as the underlying technologies change and as schools place further demands on their capability.
"It is important that schools be freed as far as possible from having to worry about the procurement and ongoing management of their IT infrastructure. Reducing this burden will allow schools to concentrate on their prime functions of teaching and learning."
Accredited suppliers need to demonstrate that they can provide guaranteed levels of service and commit to a service suppliers code of conduct laid down by Becta.
Jonathan Taylor, marketing manager at reseller Trustmarque Solutions, said the government wanted to control IT costs, as technology respresented a growing proportion of public sector budgets.
"This sets a certain level of behaviour. It tries to create some framework for suppliers to ensure that people aren't going to be ripped off and will be dealt with in an appropriate way."
Taylor added that the move also demonstrated the growing importance of IT in the public sector. But confusion is rife as more suppliers tried to take a slice of the public sector pie, he added. "Everyone in IT is going for this market, but it's not like doing business with a corporate."
Meanwhile a review of web filtering, monitoring and detection software conducted by Becta is due to be completed by April, as the DfES ramps up action to encourage safe internet use by schoolchildren, and to help school IT managers make informed decisions about web safety strategy.
"We will not be recommending specific software products to schools," said the DfES spokeswoman. "The purpose of this project is just to outline what each product does so that schools can make informed decisions on which product meets their needs. Software providers will be invited to have their products assessed.
"It has been recognised through consultation with schools that this service needs to be developed further to offer schools comprehensive guidance when making choices about products."
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