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Analysis
Children at laptop

What Becta's closure means for IT in British schools

Posted on 24 May 2010 at 17:49

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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User comments

"Following Becta’s demise - and general IT spending cuts from the Government – the scheme looks unlikely to be repeated, meaning the next generation of impoverished children will not receive the helping-hand grants."

Rather than expensive grants and the even more expensive red-tape that surrounds them I feel more should be made of PC recycling schemes. These would be cheaper and greener and I am sure there are mountains of old, perfectly-working PCs that are thrown on the rubbish dump each year.

Unfortunately, when I tried this route I was told that my PC (an Athlon 2500) was not sufficiently modern to be recycled, despite the fact that it could handle almost anything (office, internet, video) but for the latest games.

My first PC was a 286 (swapped for an old TV when I was 11). It was way behind the times (Windows 95 and Pentium MMXs were the latest and greatest then), yet I still loved it and managed to gain invaluable experience that has formed the foundation of my career path to date. Surely better for those dis-advantaged to have a slightly older PC than no PC at all?

By atomz on 25 May 2010

Personally the quicker schools are allowed to get away from RM the better.

An equivalent PC from Dell costs close to 3/4 of the price and will have a better warranty. Smartboards, bought off book cost £5999 a piece compared to retail prices of £4000-4500. Their markup is utterly absurd and perpetuated by employing a senior civil servant/minister to their board every time they want the contract renewed!

By bubbles16 on 28 May 2010

There are plenty of companies out there that will recycle old computers, largely for free. IT Schools for Afica is a charity that will recycle computers from schools.

Also, there is no way a SMARTboard should be costing £4000-4500, unless I've misunderstood what you mean by a Smartboard, they should be around £200 including installation.

By Jamesicc on 31 May 2010

Smartboard

Yes, you have - you're thinking of a Whiteboard, something that you simply write on with dry marker pens.
A Smartboard, or Interactive WhiteBoard (IWB) is connected to a computer & has the desktop projected onto it. See http://smarttech.com/us/Solutions/All+Products

By greemble on 14 Jun 2010

@ bubbles16

What? Stop making figures up! EVen buying them from RM, a standard SmartBoard (68 inches) is around £1300. Even going for the integrated kit with short-throw projector and speakers costs well under £2500, even with professional installation (which you really don't need for Smartboards, as they're so bloomin' light, unlike Prometheans...)

So I have no idea where you're pulling these figures from, but I get the feeling it rhymes with 'sparse'.

Which is not to say that RM are perfect - far from it - but purchasing their network hardware and software enabled us to leap ahead in terms of usability and gave us a lot more time to resolve genuine issues. And we repaid them by buying our own cheaper computers in and using those instead - a fully supported option under RM, known as smartclienting.

By bioreit on 15 Jul 2010

Of more impact was the axing of the harnessing technology grant to fund free schools

story here: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/ukschools/archive/2010/07/
07/harnessing-technology-grant-kicking-a-grant-whi
le-it-s-down.aspx

By pauljmiller on 6 Jun 2011

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