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Mark Taylor

Written by staff at Sirius Corporation, the Open Source services group, this blog seeks to dispel any FUD around the use of Open Source software in the Enterprise and provide perspectives on business, economics, politics, philosophy and the environment.

Becta and school ICT: end of the line for the gravy train?

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Becta and School ICT: end of the line for the gravy train?

It's raining and I'm in Coventry. Unsurprisingly the time of year lends itself to epitaphs.

Coventry, once a proud industrial city was bombed flat during the Second World War, now it is home to a race of 'quangocrats' once powerful Government employees who have now been exiled from London for crimes we do not know.

Huddled among the diaspora are: the QCDA (nee QCA…Qualifications, Curriculum and Assessment), The Family Courts Welfare Dept, the National Probation Service and of course dear old BECTA, the schools ICT body...our old sparring partners.

Clearly the Government has a strict 'out of sight, out of mind' policy to do with departments that deal with children and where better to hide them than in the industrial wastelands of the Midlands?

But here is the rub… there is an election coming and our lost tribes are getting more than a little nervous as they survey the national debt, public sector cuts and party manifestos.

The Conservative party, who may well win the election have already pledged to shut Becta so maybe this is a good time to reflect on the doings of our old friends.

BECTA...the glory days

During the late 1990's a very rich country (the UK) poured money into school ICT, correctly seeing that a revolution was coming and that future prosperity of the country would be linked to some kind of digital competence.

At first there was chaos. Spending was as wild as procurement was, shall we say 'diverse'. Schools dumped their Acorns and 'the bloke down the road' installed a Windows 98 network for you if you didn't fancy going with RM.

Becta, bless their cotton socks, sought to bring order to chaos. Procurement guidelines were established, official suppliers were appointed and Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) were signed with a major software supplier.

At the same time a major project to connect up all schools to the fancy emerging broadband was put into effect.

Money was no object and time was short. Order was established, Becta was proud.

Trouble Looms

Long before the 2008 crash, trouble was brewing. Those naughty appointed vendors may have taken a few liberties with their market dominance and educationally discounted software.

Schools were now virtually all locked into Microsoft's Operating Systems and Office upgrade cycle...things were getting expensive.

In 2006 Becta told a group of Free Open Source software suppliers that the present situation was financially unsustainable. We all screamed 'Linux, FOSS, Licence Fees' in no particular order and hoped our day would come.

By 2007 the launch of the ill-fated MS Vista and the heavyweight Office 2007 caused near panic when the cost of renewing 80% of the school hardware stock to run it was revealed.

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