When it comes to hardware and software, it’s vital that you speak to your school first – find out what they use, and then try to buy something similar. In my experience, most schools use PCs; and most use Microsoft Office for many of their day-to-day activities, such as word processing. However, there are other options (Apple Macs rather than PCs, for instance; and OpenOffice rather than Microsoft Office), so you need to be sure you’re getting the right thing.
Computers come in two flavours – desktops and laptops. You’ll need to decide which is more appropriate to your needs. Laptops have the advantage of being portable, but some people find the screens rather small and the built-in keyboard and mouse a bit awkward. Desktops don’t suffer from these drawbacks, but they aren’t portable.
As a guide, an adequate laptop with Microsoft Windows pre-installed is likely to cost about £400. A desktop will probably be slightly cheaper, but for a desktop you’ll need to buy a monitor as well – say around another £80.
Microsoft Office costs around £90 for the discounted student version. This contains the basic tools such as Excel (for spreadsheets) and Word (for word processing). However, particularly if your child is studying IT as a subject in its own right, you may well find that additional tools (such as the Access database product) may be useful. Unfortunately, these are not available as part of the student package, and to buy the “full” package will set you back something closer to £400. Once again, do make sure you’ve spoken to your school before you commit to that kind of expenditure.
You may well find that your school also makes use of other specific education programs. However, these vary significantly from one school to another, so you’d need to speak to someone at the school to find out what packages they use and whether they think it’s useful for children to have access to them at home.