Microsoft has said it will work more closely with the channel in the education market, after one of its large account resellers (LARs) secured a deal to develop a system replacing supply teachers with online lessons.
Ramesys, Microsoft's largest education-focused UK LAR, is the design and implementation partner behind the Pathfinder project to develop a learning centre offering 120 students at Philip Morant School and College access to online lessons.
This will mean teachers no longer have to cover for absent colleagues and will reduce the administrative and financial burden of arranging cover at short notice. It is one of 32 such projects in the UK using IT to address teacher workload issues.
A recent Ofsted report found a significant number of secondary schools spend £50,000 a year employing temporary teachers. Some spend more than £150,000.
Stephen Uden, education director at Microsoft, said the market was attractive for the channel and growing significantly.
Since the launch of the National Grid for Learning in 1997, £2bn of additional IT investment has been earmarked for the sector.
But while that initial excitement prompted what Uden described as a goldrush of education resellers, about 500 have since fallen by the wayside.
"The market has now consolidated into people who are in it for the long term," Uden said. "We always welcome new partners but I wouldn't encourage those without expertise to leap in.
"Margins are small and schools also don't like paying money for services. You need to make sure you're in it for the long term; be prepared to invest and don't expect rapid results."
But while Microsoft boasts about 1,000 partners eligible to sell with 80 per cent educational discounts, it has only six LARs for the education space and no plans to increase that number.
Ramesys generates about a quarter of its total turnover from sales to the education sector.
Steve Smith, the company's business development director, said: "The real pre-requisite is understanding how the sector works and being prepared for long sales cycles driven by complex rules. It's a very challenging technological environment."
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