back to article Becta exec admits mistakes on education IT

The man charged with helping deliver broadband to more than a million poor children has admitted that government school IT initiatives have been poorly run in the past. At the BETT trade show earlier this month, Becta director of educational content Dave Hassell conceded that the education IT quango has been guilty of poor …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What is really needed

    What is really needed Is to have schools (have the money to) spend a realistic amount on support, even very large schools have tech support that is very poorly paid and consequently not much good. usually a single person that is reasonably well trained and a couple of techies that could they walk and talk slightly better, would be being paid rather more than the £10-15000 pounds that the jobs command.

    Peanuts and Monkeys come to mind.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    You're not kidding...

    In the school I Tech for, the ICT teaching staff know so little about computers it's untrue... Only one of them has any industry experience, and another has a degree in Media!

    Not belittling the Media degree folks out there, but let's be honest; if you're teaching A-Level ICT / Computer Science, i'd expect the staff to know what they're talking about instead of relying on homogenous PowerPoint presentations and web links.

    IT? icon, as they don't have a clue.

  3. Nick


    So....The guy in carge of computers at a school (usually the person who can type the quickest) is given 50 large to buy new notebook computers..

    He is told by several resellers that because of the environment (i.e. kids who could'nt give a toss about smashing them up) that the machines will be used in that he should go for a reliable business machine that has a good reliability record, long warranty and stable build and will cost him about £600 per box.

    What he chooses is the cheapest retail box that he can find to increase the number of machines purchased and then twelve months later wonders why half of them are no longer funtional.

  4. Andy Davies


    What I want to know is in an era of nearly ubiquitous broadband, why do we still have regional broadband consortia.. surly once their job was done they should have been dismantled...

  5. alex dekker

    Replacing good practice?

    From TFA:

    '''Becta's current emphasis is on replacing "islands of good practice" in individual schools and authorities with a more integrated approach.'''

    Interesting; if it's good practice, why replace it? Presumably 'islands' of good practice have arisen in spite of top-down 'integrated' approaches; what are they going to do differently this time?

    PS Why no Government Incompetence icon, you insensitive clods? I suggest a wad of £20s on fire, or perhaps an enveloped with two CDs in that has grown a pair of legs.

  6. Keith T

    Time, gentelmen, please.

    "Becta's chairman Andrew Pinder said teachers are unable to keep up with the pace of Westminster-driven IT rollout in schools."

    Doesn't he mean that they are pissed off with various separated bodies not only moving goalposts but also demanding they get repainted each time?

    Teachers have a constant stream of 'new ideas' to work at depending on what the latest teaching flavour is decreed to be. What they could do without is the idea that IT is the global panacea for educational woes that seems to be founded ion some odd notion that all parents are middle-class broadband connected educationalists.

    Not only that but there is a lot of paperwork created by this paperless process and the paperwork also has to be dealt with - sometime, but not during school time.

  7. Tom

    IT in Education is a joke...

    ... and not a funny one at that and BECTA are the biggest joke of all. I would have said the RM were, but we all know that there is nothing remotly funny about what RM do to schools. Luckily, being in Wales, I have managed to avoid much of BECTA's effuent output.

    I used to work as IT support for an local council and was attached to the Education department. Most of the IT teachers in the secondary schools had no formal IT qualifications, or (more importantly) experience. I was working in one secondary school and they were talking about networking. I was actually there working on the planning the new netowrk for the school - servers, clients, comms, wi-fi, etc and even offered to do some work with the GCSE class who were covering that topic, and offer which was declined. The crap the 'teacher' was coming out was terriable. They had blantently never worked in the real IT world as they had no idea of the what they were talking about. The topics they were covering didn't seem to have any real relivence to real-world IT. Why are pupils being taught in great depth about token-ring networks and nothing about wi-fi networks? The teacher was reading from a generic powerpoint slide which she had not created here self. In another lesson the same teacher used the terms authentication and authorisation interchangably and tried to explain public key encryption in such a way that I couldn't understand what she was saying.

    Also the pupils in the primary schools are well ahead of the teachers in the secondary schools. A lot of the primary school teachers seem more knowledgable, and more importanly - willing to learn, than their secondary counterparts.

  8. George Johnson


    Way out East they're simply diving in and making the best of what they can afford to do. No matter what technology they can lay their hands on, they are producing students with drive, ambition and inquiring minds. So the committees here argue and bicker, our kids lose out and then one day the now grown-up students from the East will lower themselves to come to the West and show our offspring how IT should be run. Finally we'll ask, how did we let this happen?

  9. MrT

    Not just support, but realistic lifecycles...

    Schools have always been sold short when it comes to central advice. NGfL advice, Interactive Whiteboards, assisted purchases etc, etc. Money was being bunged at schools in the late 90's, and they were told enough about where to go for 'approved' PC equipment, but told sod all about maintenance policy and replacement programmes. Often, before centralised networking became commonplace, individual departments would go off and buy whatever item they could get for their cash, and even 10 years ago to have a central purchasing plan for ICT was novel.

    Oddly, the head teacher who had oversight of the start of the NGfL push at the school I worked for spotted this omission, but he left before any of that batch got to 3 years old. The subsequent management staff have not addressed the issue. I gave up trying to advise them on even a five-year life cycle because the numbers of PCs in the place (over 600) would have meant this alone costing around £30-40k each year.

    Instead of chasing a lower pupil to PC ratio like it was the next most important thing on the league tables, they could do worse than look at utilisation factors, and make sure what they have is reasonably up-to-date, well supported and used for, say more than 80% of the time.

  10. MikeWW

    @Andy Davies

    Having until recently spent nearly 4 years working in a school as an IT Manager my immediate response to the question about regional broadband consortia is "jobs for the boys" and to retain the unique way of having no accountability or recourse.

    We had an upgrade from 4Mb to 10Mb that required the router to be replaced and that is when all the trouble started. Whilst trying to prove that it was the router at fault I demanded that they temporarily reinstall the old one, only to discover that they couldn't do that as the router was owned by another company and had probably been reconfigured and issued to a primary school. Over the course of many long phone calls I spoke to the ISP (broadband consortium), the company that managed the network infrastructure for them, the company that owned the router, BT who own the lines and finally our LEA's IT department!

    As this was the latest in a long line of problems we tried to go our own way with a different ISP but were then told that the LEA would still take the annual fee from us and that we would not be allowed access to the County Council's servers. As they knew we were tied to them and couldn't take our custom elsewhere we didn't have that leverage to pressure them into resolving the problem.

    Any handing of powers to the LEA sends a shiver down my spine as I know exactly what that means - one size that fits all but suits nobody. Wherever possible the school tries to move away from anything the LEA wants to do as it is usually expensive and doesn't do what they want it to do. The peanuts and monkeys analogy is usually true as well, with most problems of a slightly technical nature requiring the helpdesk to ring the supplier's helpdesk for them to then ring the school!

    Give the money directly to schools so that they get the full value (no top slicing by the LEA), can decide where to spend their money and can employ people who know what they are doing.

  11. Anonymous Coward


    Where is the Linux angle on this story? The only important issue in educational IT should be about breaking the monopolist stranglehold. That has to start in schools, where kids are not yet FUD-ised. You can save bucket loads of cash and maintenance by buying a decent LTSP server or several and using all the other machines as clients. Schools all over the world are doing this. What is happening in the UK?

  12. Jeff

    @Andy Davies and MikeWW

    I'm not sure whether the quango does anything useful, but it should certainly be lobbying the network providers and the government into upgrading our second-rate national telecommunications infrastructure.

    Compared to practically every other European nation ours lags behind in capacity and speed. Once we get to widespread ADSL2 in 5 (read 10) years time, we'll have no choice but to get everywhere connected via fibre, as that's the limit of what can be done with our obsolete copper technology. It's one of the very few areas where I feel a government subsidy would be justified. I don't like to envision a future where all our IT infrastructure is connected at foreign datacentres, but if our networks don't improve that's the way things will go.

  13. Paul Murray

    Wireless mesh networks

    Wireless mesh networks, and to hell with the ISPs.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    Of course, the computer industry is not designed to be compatible with the requirements of Education. You can apply terms like "free-fall" and "feeding frenzy" to the way it works. It is driven by the market economy and the desire to make as much money as possible. This means the development of technology follows the money and not the needs of schools.

    Truth is, as others have said, that the kids are already au fait with all the gadgetry and shiny buttons of technology. The paradigms of the user interfaces in software were invented by kids, rather than politicians, teachers, or even older people in the IT industry. They have a head start.

    All this means that those who legislate are, of necessity, hopelessly out of touch, but nevertheless desperate to catch up.

    And lots of kids in secondary education are already moonlighting into business to provide IT support, design, and Internet facilities. As their teacher stumbles through abstract concepts in class, concepts that he/she doesn't fully understand using equipment that has been forced on them by the LEA or business partner and for which they have recieved no comprehensive training, these kids sit at the back smiling knowingly, checking their messages from their social networking accounts, under the desk on their mobile phone.

    What kids really need to be taught about IT is the stuff that they aren't already good at; social responsibility in usage, and awareness of the dangers, for their own safety.

  15. Stuart johnson

    Not quite accurate guys!

    Im a Sysadmin in Norfolk. First point is that Regional Broadband Consortia are NOTHING to do with the actual provision of network service to schools and never have been. RBCs are about content. E-learning platforms, such as E-schools (Netmedia, Moodle, LP+ etc) are sourced, hosted and maintained by RBCs and the amalgamation in this respect generates huge cost savings for schools. (Not that cost should be the only factor, and thats where the issue is.)

    Secondly, MrT, you are half right in that some IT support staff accept cheap naff PCs as they think they can get more for the money. Wrong. They need to learn a bit about market forces and the good old tradition of HAGGLING! I buy top spec HP PCs which have a life cycle of 4 years in my school, and I pay £300-£400 tops for them including TFTs. They more than pay for themselves in reliability.

    Where is linux in UK schools? Where it should be - underlying the rest of the infrastructure! Doing the tasks that matter, and leaving the masses to Windoze.

  16. MikeWW

    @ Stuart Johnson

    You sound fortunate enough to work where the RBC offers you good value and although I don't know whether that is widespread I do know that ours didn't.

    The e-learning platform was not intuitive (even though it was also aimed at primary school children), had content that was quite poor and was often inaccessible as centrally hosted sites don't work if the internet connection controlled by them fails! Just before I left the school paid for it's own Virtual Learning Environment that was much more user friendly, powerful and expandable. The anuual cost was less than that taken off us by the LEA.

  17. Ishkandar

    Sounds like my old science teacher...

    "The teacher was reading from a generic powerpoint slide which she had not created here self."

    ...who said that atoms were the smallest indivisible particles in the world because it said so in her book. When I disputed that with a book from the library which said that atoms were made up of protons, neutrons and electrons, she booted me out of her class for being a "disruptive element" !!

    I am still trying to find out if she is a member of good standing of the Flat-Earth Society !!

    @Anonymous Coward - "All this means that those who legislate are, of necessity, hopelessly out of touch, but nevertheless desperate to catch up." I dispute that statement. They are making *NO* effort to catch up !! They just love the sound of their own voices !!

    @George Johnson - Surprise !! Surprise !! It's already happened, albeit, the thin end of the wedge !! Watch this space !! More will come !! For more proof, do a headcount by race of the working population of Silicon Valley then look up the meaning of the term "Bangalored" !!

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    adolph marzipan

    Andy Davis hits the nail on the head. Problem is the content has been tied to the provision of broadband. A school can't have one without the other. In the case of the South West Grid for Learning (SWGfL), the RBC is 'owned' by the Local Authorities, so any complaint about the RBC is a complaint about the LA. One reason that the LA armtwists the schools to sign up with the RBC is that the LA loses or has to return a largish amount of Government grant. A case of anti-competitiveness in my opinion. It is indeed jobs for the boys on the gravy train. RBCs should be disbanded and their employees obliged to look for a job in the real world.

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