What Becta's closure means for IT in British schools

Children at laptop

Stewart Mitchell examines the fallout from the Government's decision to close the education IT agency

The Government has axed education IT agency Becta, a move that brings down the curtain on a quango that has taken a lead role in schools IT policy and procurement.

But whether anyone will miss the central policy-making body is a moot point. Schools have in the past taken issue with Becta edicts on what sort of ICT they should buy, and which suppliers they can use. Others have simply ignored Becta's advice and made their own decisions.

The new regime will hand more power back to school IT co-ordinators and headteachers. “Becta’s primary functions – which are procurement and policy - will be brought in-house to the Department and we’ll be working with Becta to try and ensure a smooth transition,” a spokesperson for the Department for Education told PC Pro .

When you have a few very large suppliers there is no incentive to drop prices

“What we are trying to do is give more responsibility back to the schools. They should be best placed to know how to use the resources that they are allocated.”

Certainly there is a feeling among smaller IT suppliers that an end to a Becta-controlled procurement framework will open up the market and could lead to better value for money in the classroom.

“Previously, you had to be involved in a buying framework and that meant you had to be able to supply a complete IT package to a school or
Local Education Authority - everything from Windows to security and storage,” said Paul Evans, managing director of online backup and storage specialist Redstor.

“Niche suppliers either couldn’t get involved with these contracts or had to go into a partnership with one of the major suppliers, and that meant giving up a slice or margin.”

According to Evans, the change in policy to give more responsibility to schools could reduce the bargaining power of the large suppliers and improve competition. “When you have a few very large suppliers there is no incentive to drop prices,” he said.

No equipment cuts

Even the biggest beneficiaries of the centralised purchasing schemes are not mourning the passing of Becta, which was set up 11 years ago and many believe may have run its course. “The important thing is that there are no cuts to frontline spending,” said Fiona McLean, corporate communications manager at schools IT giant, RM.

“It will make a difference for schools as they will have to take a lot more decisions themselves, but most of them now have the expertise in place so they are well qualified.”

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