Sunday, October 21, 2007

Becta - unfit for purpose

(the British Educational Communication and Technology Agency)
I was thoroughly amused to observe that Becta decided to report Microsoft to the Office of Fair Trading for anti-competitive trading in schools. The centre of the complaint is that the deal that Microsoft are offering schools is not good enough.
Back in January Dr Stephen Lucey, Executive Director of Becta negotiated an extension to the previous, anti-competitive deal saying:
"Becta welcomes this extension and the considerable savings already accrued under the MoU, estimated at around £47 million over the last three years. This extension will ensure that schools can continue to benefit from the discounts set out in the original MoU for a further 12 months. We work on behalf of schools to make sure that if they choose to purchase Microsoft products, they can get the best value from those licensing agreements."
This Memorandum of Understanding was originally reported to the Office of Fair Trading by members of the Free Software community some four years ago. Becta were dealing with a convicted monopolist - both in the USA and Europe. They were dealing with an organisation which is only interested in making money from its products. Becta may be ridiculously over funded for what they do, but they are as nothing compared to their adversary. Is anyone surprised that they ended up with a bad deal last time - what does surprise me is that they noticed this time!
If this was Becta's only failing then one might be prepared to forgive them. I have spent quite a bit of time working with them over the years, and have found them to be completely out of touch with reality. Here are a few examples...
  • Becta don't recommend products, they 'approve' firms. How stupid is that? So an approved company only produces good products?
  • Becta have no contact with real schools. I work in real schools - and have done for many years. Every contact I have had with Becta leads me to believe that their employees just never go to real schools.
  • Teachers don't use email. There is a clear failure of Government - and Becta their agents - to get teachers to use email. I know, I'm offering families free computers, and can't liaise with my teacher contacts because a good half of the senior staff I'm trying to contact do not use their email.
  • Failure to appreciate Free Software. Becta's misunderstanding of Free Software has been made clear over the past few years, and is possibly most obvious in its failure to appreciate the potential of Moodle.
There are some good people working for Becta, but they seem to me to be so tied down with procedures and bureaucracy that they cannot function effectively. The organisation has clearly run its course. They are followers not leaders - and educational ICT in the UK needs leadership.

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