UK school showcases Linux suite

Head teachers from across the country are visiting a school in Essex to see its IT infrastructure, which includes a fully open source computer suite that was built for under £1,000

An Essex junior school that has used open source software to cut the cost of setting up and running its computer room was showing off its IT infrastructure to a group of UK head teachers on Wednesday.

Parkhill Junior School, in Essex, has been using a bank of recycled computers running open source applications since July last year. The computers, which are five year old Pentium II Viglen PCs that have been borrowed from the local council, run Linux from a CD-ROM. The Linux Live CD, which was provided by open source consultancy SimpleICT (formerly SchoolLINUX), includes the Mozilla Firefox browser and the Abiword word processing application.

Paul Jenkins, managing director of SimpleICT, explained that Parkhill is hosting a Strategic Leadership in ICT day on Wednesday. The programme, which is run by the government's education IT strategy organisation Becta, aims to share good practice in the use of IT by schools. For this particular day, eight head teachers from around the UK will be visiting Parkhill, which is one of approximately 500 schools across the UK to be awarded the Naacemark, to recognise its successful use of technology.

"The head teachers will be getting a tour of the Linux suite. I expect none of them would have seen Linux in use before," said Jenkins, although he pointed out that the tour will also include Parkhill's main computer suite, which runs on Microsoft software.

Jenkins explained that the school decided to use Linux when it realised it did not have enough money to use Microsoft software for its planned Internet research room. The computer room cost less than £1,000 to set-up, £300 of which was the cost of SimpleICT's open source software that has been tailored for schools. The rest of the money went towards putting benching and electrics in the room.

Alison Seagrave, the ICT manager at Parkhill, explains on the school's Web site that the school children were trained on the new computers by selecting "class mentors", who helped their classmates use the computer. She said the pupils found it easy to learn how to use the software, which she described as "extremely user friendly".

"As ever, the children were very adaptable to new challenges and quickly picked up how to log on, surf the Web, copy and paste information into AbiWord, save documents and hyperlinks to disk and shut down the computer after use," said Seagrave.

In short videos on the Web site, the mentors, each aged about 10 years old, comment on the software and how it is different from the Microsoft-based software in the main ICT room.

"It's easy to use even though it's different to the computers in the ICT room," said one mentor. Another said: "There is a watch, not an egg timer, when the computer is doing something."