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Becta: Does it deserve to die?

Rory Cellan-Jones | 12:57 UK time, Monday, 24 May 2010

In the spending cuts unveiled by the coalition government this morning, one victim will have stood out for the IT community. British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta), the quango which promotes the use of technology in schools, is to close, saving £65m next year. That means 240 jobs will go, and there will need to be a rethink of just how the huge programme to put computers and other technology into the classroom is organised.

Schoolboys working on laptopSo will Becta be missed? A few months back, I wrote here about the disquiet felt by some teachers about the Building Schools for The Future programme and in particular its ICT budget. The concern was that the programme was far too inflexible, with schools often ending up with out-of-date and expensive technology and not having the freedom to choose what they wanted, rather than what some bureaucrat felt they needed.

That's not all the fault of Becta, of course, but it has been criticised for being captured by technology suppliers and failing to keep up with trends like the use of open-source software. When I spoke to the Department of Education this morning that was the line they took about today's decision. "We're keen to move away from a top-down approach and give more freedom to individual schools to choose what they want," a spokesman told me.

But Becta feels that it has been made the fall-guy here, and has been defending its work and lamenting the decision to close it. The chairman Graham Badman and chief executive Stephen Crowne put out a statement describing Becta as a very effective organisation which, among other things, was giving laptops and broadband to over 200,000 of Britain's poorest children.

They also indicated that the closure would prove a false economy because the quango's procurement programme for schools and colleges saved them "many times more than Becta ciosts to run."

So what's the truth here? Can schools now prepare for a brave new future where they will have the freedom to splurge as much as they like on a state-of-the-art computer system - or stick with chalk and talk, and spend their money on teachers - without interference from the bureaucrats?

Bob Harrison, an ICT advisor who trains head teachers and works for one of the big technology suppliers, is sceptical. He thinks there is a danger that schools will be left without the advice they need. "We have a government that doesn't appear to have a clue about ICT in schools," he told me this morning.

"Who's going to be the voice for digital technology in learning? I think there's great danger that if you leave it to head teachers, those who are not visionary about this technology will be left behind."

That's one view - but all morning teachers have been opining about Becta on Twitter. One voice celebrating its demise has been Geoff Riley, who teaches economics at Eton and is also an advocate for the use of open-source software in education. His tweets this morning include:

"the decision to close Becta not really about money but an approach to IT in education and govt that is outdated - new models needed"
"open-source teacher communities are way ahead - so much more exciting than a top-heavy, acronym-flooded quango dictating from above."

But another tweeter sent me this:

"During my time as an ICT advisory teacher Becta was a wonderful source of guidance and information sharing."

So, top-heavy quango - or trusted guide through the maze of new technology? Let's hear the views of more teachers.


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  • Comment number 1.

    My experience of Becta is that the recommendations they give are often out of date, inaccurate, unhelpful and full of bad advice and bad practice. I certainly won't miss them.

  • Comment number 2.

    Have had a lot of dealings with BECTA and feel sorry for the staff. However it was an organisation that knew only how to help save some money when a lot was being spent. Times have changed and we now need to know how to reduce current costs when little is being spent. BECTA failed to embrace Open Source which has the potential to create national assets for schools rather than buy diferent technologies from many different companies and then pay again to get them all to work as one solution. When George Osbourne was extolling the virtues of Open Source in saving money, last year, what was BECTAs response in leading the way for schools? Nothing. Would George get rid of an organisation that managed to take his policy forward and generate savings from it? As for its flagship project, Home Access, £300M of 'free' laptops. Not really the sort of thing we need at the moment. Too many mistakes and not smart enough to rapidly change when a different approach was clearly needed.

  • Comment number 3.

    I'm of the opinion that BECTA could have provided value for money if it had done more to promote open source over expensive proprietary licensed software. I hope that local authorities will see this, start to switch and make better use of available budgets.

  • Comment number 4.

    I guess in a twisted way it makes sense.

    With the savage cuts being applied to schools and local authority budgets they will soon be unable to afford new computers and interactive whiteboards.

    Ergo, we won't need BECTA anymore.

  • Comment number 5.

    Until recently I was a school governor with special responsibility for oversight of ICT in a primary school. There are three very distinct facets to ICT in schools:

    1. The hardware, operating systems and networking platforms used.
    2. The teaching of ICT as a subject and the software tools used for this.
    3. The use of ICT across the curriculum and the software tools used.

    The first of these is generally good. School budgets determine when refreshes of operating systems and hardware can be done. Much of the guidance in this area is set at the level of the education authority (e.g. County). Perhaps this was based on Becta advice - but it's pretty simple stuff: Standard PCs, Windows networking, Windows operating systems and IE for browsing. Schools felt they could not go open source (Linux/Ubuntu) despite the cost savings, nor opt for Firefox or Chrome despite possible performance improvements. Perhaps this will change.

    On the matter of teaching about ICT, this is largely about how to use a browser, email, and how to do research on the web. Pretty straightforward stuff.

    Using ICT across the curriculum is more thorny. Presumably Becta negotiated some bulk buying deals for software and this would have been a cost saving. However, having looked at some of the software used and heard some of the frustrations expressed, it seems that functionality, usability and the ability to integrate with other products may have been a poor second to cost. It's a false economy. Giving schools, or school clusters, the ability negotiate their own deals might cost a little more, but the benefits gained by actually having software that does the job required outweighs the extra pence required at purchase.

  • Comment number 6.

    I worked inside Becta for a couple of years and it illuminated me to the amount of waste there was inside some parts of the public sector.

    No manager seems to be capable of doing anything without an administration assistant, booking their own meetings and getting their own train tickets seemed to be beyond many.

    Like many Quangos Becta was set up with a task to do but as that task was fulfilled it looked around for other things it could get involved in rather than reshape itself in to something smaller.

    School managers will still need advice and best practice on procurement and legal obligations, teachers will still need help with the best use of IT but does we really require an 80 million/year quango to do this? No...

  • Comment number 7.

    Perhaps some of the better geeks from Becta will be able to move back to Gt Smith St and infect the DfE with a little bit of technological know how. They need it.

  • Comment number 8.

    6.2B in cuts - right here! Right now!
    That’s how I read the dictates of Chancellor, George Osborne, and Chief Secretary to the Treasury, David Laws. They’re slashing expenditures.
    All this comes far less than one month after taking office, which clearly shows how little analysis has been applied. to "protecting the quality of frontline service".
    £95m through savings in Information technology (IT) - the study, design, development, implementation, support or management of computer-based information systems. This seems like a step backwards into ages that were rather bleak - before computers.
    The British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA), Chief Executive of Becta, Stephen Crowne responded, calling the cut a mistake. His justification: “Our procurement arrangements save the schools and colleges many times more than Becta costs to run.” He added: “Our Home Access programme will give laptops and broadband to over 200,000 of the poorest children."
    I don’t understand how the deficit should be cut (in the NOW) while impoverishing the technological capabilites of an entire future generation, especially when the world knows that advanced IT is where it’s at.
    The new Efficiency and Reform Group will be chaired jointly by David Laws and Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, Francis Maude. The group will have the power to make sure departments work together to tackle waste and improve accountability, including Information and Communication Technology or ICTs; so why then are we cutting the procurement specialist BECTA?
    The new Efficiency and Reform Group's first priorities, with immediate effect, will be to:
    Conduct centralised procurement for commodity goods and services to drive down prices. Well then shouldn't The Coalition Government be working with, improving, helping BECTA? I mean you don’t throw out your experienced people and then start all over again with novices, do you?

  • Comment number 9.

    Interesting to note that was established by BECTA and is a hub for information about Open Source in schools by teachers for teachers...

    I'd agree with Bob that the present government doesn't really have much of a clue in terms of ICT in schools - the innovation in this area needs to be nurtured if we are to develop 21st Century learning skills - we can't have our equivalents of Stanford and Google if people can't use innovation and ICT to further their learning and enterprise. It's cutting off the technological lifeblood of communities.

    The rise of TeachMeets ( where teachers organise their own Professional Development are becoming more the norm in ICT circles but they are still only about 1% of the teaching workforce. In order to magnify their impact these activities need more mainstrema exposure by the media.

    However - co-ordinating and aggregating and giving some semblance of direction will still be needed for schools. ICT really has become or will become the fourth service into schools but unlike electricity, water and gas the "how" of ICT brings with a whole cultural stepchange - a whole new set of literacies that pupils will need for the coming century.

    At present there is a vacuum and it seems like a big step back into the dark ages for innovation and progress in terms of this country's economic recovery. Instead of direction and progressive policies there is merely stasis and pruning. Where are the smart ideas - there seem to be none out there...

  • Comment number 10.

    This issue is not about procurement, open source vs proprietary software, it is about education direction and vision that affects the life chances of our children in the global economy. This will be the first time since computers became available to learners (around 1980) that the Government have deemed it not necessary to steer the direction of IT in schools by some sort of funding. Becta was after all the child of Government organisations before it and only relatively recently had been given responsibility for steering policy. Such policies included the Home Access scheme which enabled disadvantaged children access to the digital age. Becta's research initiatives gave us real evidence about the role of technology in learning and enabled the UK to become the world leader in educational technology.

    Critically, there is a vacuum. We are unclear how this present Government sees the role of IT in the future economic growth of the UK, and how education can prepare our young people to compete with the rest of the digital economy. The demise of Becta is systematic of that lack of clarity.

  • Comment number 11.

    One vital part of becta is the current senco-forum - communication by email - which has been running for fifteen plus years.

    Special Educational Needs Coordinators are generally a department of one in a school and the ability to link up with other professionals to ask questions or to give advice was my best resources when I was working.

    It has about 1000 members (sad when you thing that there are 25,000 or so schools) and I can say that it was life-transforming for a num ber of my students.

    No Special Needs teacher will know about everything and tha forum was my life-line when I wanted to know something new, share expertise, find out about anything to do with SEN.

    This is a very small part of what becta did - but someone somewhere in government needs to be looking at how not to lose what is a top resource for many teachers, and more importantly, for their students.

    For 10 years or so I was a judge for the BETT awards - the Education ICT Oscars. This was run in conjunction with BESA. I hope that these awards will continue.

    It did however amaze me that it used to be done with ten of us in a room with a pile of sandwhiches - and when I last went it was three days for well over a hundred people in quite luxurious surroundings. I also have to say that after being fairly critical about my final session I was never asked to be a judge again!

    The SEN element of becta appeared to be run on a shoestring. I hope that someone somewhere in government will feel strongly enough for senco-forum to survive.

  • Comment number 12.

    The shame with all quango cuts is that the basic requirements for existence remain (in the case of Becta, teachers need help with managing their IT roadmap), but the spending has been too high. Why does it cost £80m? It all goes on train tickets, assistants, taxis, lunches and not to mention pensions. All this in a public sector which has been demanding year-on-year pay rises when the private sector has been cutting back.

    Presumably the govt now needs a private sector firm to fill Becta's shoes at a fraction of the cost.

  • Comment number 13.

    BECTA could do one final good deed: release all the material it's produced under an open content licence, such as one of the Creative Commons suite.

    That would release value from the work BECTA has done already, while enabling people to carry it forward and make it more accessible.

  • Comment number 14.

    The gulf between schools who are capable of embracing technology with real learning outcomes, those who use technology with Victorian teaching methods and those who hardly ever use technology will become much wider without someone giving direction. Becta may have provided a range of advice that was sometimes outdated but it also provided advice and guidance that could really make a difference in schools.
    The SRF is just one excellent example of a useful tool for schools and this advice is available free to schools, albeit paid for by the Government.
    But having worked for Becta (on the original self-review tool) and for the private sector, I can see where money could have been saved or used in more appropriate ways.
    The correct decision would be to scale down Becta so that it focuses on the areas where it can make a difference, so that those schools who need the support can receive it and those who can cope on their own are able to do so.

  • Comment number 15.

    I am personally glad to see the end of BECTA. Good target for cutting waste as in my experience it is top-heavy and anything but cutting edge. Completely agree with the contributor from Eton. I don't think the chair, Badman, is right for an outfit that should inspire creative thinking and innovation - his handling of the issue of home education and the binning of his report for Balls somehow fits my perceptions of BECTA.

  • Comment number 16.

    Even if schools are free to make their own ICT purchasing decisions, will they necessarily choose open source?

    One of the biggest and perennial arguments for choosing a 100% Microsoft solution for server, desktop, email, productivity (office) software and browser is because there's a belief that those are the predominant products in use in the workplace (business and industry).

    It may be over-specced and very pricey, but the feeling is that it's better to use software that's almost certainly in use in industry rather than other products which may not be.

  • Comment number 17.

    The big question is, who'll do the work that becta was doing?
    Sure, they'll try to cut back on buying new IT gear, but let's face it, that won't work for long. Maybe they'll make some short-term savings doing that, but sooner or later they need to buy new computers anyway. It's not good to have computers which are 5+ years old in schools, the kids (and staff) will get annoyed at how obsolete it all is after a while.

    I can see a situation appearing where many schools, with their budgets seriously tightened, simply won't invest in new equipment, the parents (and employers!) will notice, and suddenly a new quango will need to be set up, to promote the use of technology in schools (and to "help" schools buy new equipment)...

  • Comment number 18.

    I agree with Andy Davies, waste in the public sector is rife. Maybe Cleggy & co could get rid of another technology obsessed organisation – Molenet - £12million invested in gadgets.

  • Comment number 19.

    It may be over-specced and very pricey, but the feeling is that it's better to use software that's almost certainly in use in industry rather than other products which may not be.

    The problem with that idea is the same as it always has been - by the time school children make it into the workplace things have changed. Even if it's still MS software it's newer, works differently, and has a different interface. Only the broad principles carry across, and those can be taught equally well on other OSes.

  • Comment number 20.

    Becta had their uses, certainly - for schools where there was limited IT knowledge, Becta served a very important purpose - to give those schools a hand up to reach an acceptable baseline of ICT to benefit teaching and learning. However, we're a very IT-centric school, and have heavily used, up-to-date, facilities, and we rarely needed Becta's input (though their data security guidelines were useful). So the question is whether that £65m was being correctly spent to get those schools who are behind up to scratch - the answer is probably not really, even if you take into account good schemes like Home Access. That money be better allocated than preaching from on high. Whilst to say that "open source is the answer" isn't right either, Becta appeared very in favour of commercial solutions, if not in favour of Microsoft.

    The REAL annoyance here is using the "give schools control" line to make getting rid of Becta seem OK. Becta only provides advice to schools, IT development within schools still laid in the hands of the Headteacher and the IT professionals within it. The lack of control for schools comes not from Becta, but from BSF - outsourcing such things as IT purchasing and development to an external company, providing a "one size fits all" approach to schools.

    If the Government really want to do that - stop using ICT as a sweetener to the private BSF investors, invest that saved money into the actually BSF buildings, concentrate on those schools that need the accommodation the most, and stop going for style over substance just so some "consultants" can be paid a tonne of money.

  • Comment number 21.

    #10 @admatters

    "This issue is not about procurement, open source vs proprietary software, it is about education direction and vision that affects the life chances of our children in the global economy."

    I'm totally with you on this.

    This is another one of those "DIY government" ideas from the new administration. I'm not convinced that they has done a thorough job of assessing what becta was meant to do, and finding a better and cheaper way to go about it. I had the privilege of working with some people from becta on one project, and one thing I know for a fact is that they were open to ideas from people in education as well as industry who knew what they were talking about, in terms of technology for schools. While I can only speak about the people I worked with for that one project, I have reason to believe this was the case with becta's other projects.

  • Comment number 22.

    Very happy to see the back of Badman - his report on EHE was a shambles of lack of sound evidence and the political conniving was dreadful - the words of a Select Committee member into that legislation (Prof. James Conway) says it as well as anyone could:

    "In my 30 odd years of professional life in education I have rarely encountered a process, the entirety of which was so slap dash, panic driven, and nakedly and naively populist."

    Nor was I ever convinced about the ability of schools to teach ICT at all - the syllabus for GCSE betrays a dreadful lack of knowledge of what happens in professional IT, and I think I can be accurate and kind in saying that teachers do not generally have good ICT skills.

    I'd bung poor people a laptop and let them get on with it. Much cheaper.

  • Comment number 23.

    I think that BECTA grew itself during good times and didn't learn how to quickly downsize when it needed to, so the job has been done for them. It had a year of warnings about this and during that time increased its budget.....that's just not very bright.

    It is possible to put in a smaller unit that does the things that save money and I would agree that a complete cut will throw out at least one baby with the several hundred litres of bathwater. I hope that some intelligence prevails and a smaller organisation is retained, maybe within the Department of Education, to drive forward ways to implement ICT that are smart and economical.

  • Comment number 24.

    I agree with quite a few comments on here:

    Such as please can Becta make all the research and tools it has developed free to schools & with what will replace it? This country needs innovation & creative youngsters who are highly effective 21st century learners - who will advise schools now? Who will & how will teachers get the CPD in this highly expertise area? Like eyebeams said the most effective has been from things like teachmeet from actual teachers in the classroom but how do you open this to all teachers? It is low cost but how can it impact on all schools?
    I would be happier if I knew the money was being spent in a different way but still on education & in ICT but it isn't - what lots of you seem to be overlooking is that whatever quango is cut - many of them seem to be in education & although schools are not directly being cut (till 2011) all this money was being spent in education - some of it not efficiently but what it means is a reduction to education! Which is not good!

    Just blogged about this too!

    Bye bye becta - thank you for some of your good work, wondering if you really got to do what you wanted to do or held back by others!
    Cluck Cluck

  • Comment number 25.

    I am sure that there are many ICT heads in schools who can Twitter Tweet and Text and provide good advice on what software and services they believe they need. If a school head needs advice, this kind of up to date group with plenty of first hand experience can provide advice.

    Becta could have been easy for suppliers to influence, social network groups are less inclined to be swayed by fancy promises. We need less bureaucracy and more inter-department and inter-school communication to ensure the right decisions are taken. This is one area where the students can guide the teachers! They communicate with each other very effectively.

  • Comment number 26.

    IT focused areas of the public sector are a real concern. Ill-informed organisations burning money on the incessant stream of new technologies can only lead to waste. As Drederick comments, molenet is a prime example of this.

  • Comment number 27.

    Having worked for Becta I can easily see the pros and cons of such a Quango. Yes, it was a central point for education contact but it was also a point that wasted an awful lot of money.

    There were many times when I witnessed a number of people sitting surfing the internet and doing nothing constructive. There were directors employing relatives, without the necessary skills or qualifications for the job. There was indecision, conflict, manipulation of findings to suit certain manufacturers and a severe state of too may Chiefs and not enough Indians.

    Meetings were often called where we were told that we were not spending enough money and what were we going to do about it?! When I moved to another public sector organisation I could not believe the difference in the way things were run.

    Many will find it sad that Becta is laid to rest just as many will be rejoicing that such a blinkered organisation has gone.

  • Comment number 28.

    @_Ewan_ #19

    "The problem with that idea is the same as it always has been - by the time school children make it into the workplace things have changed. Even if it's still MS software it's newer, works differently, and has a different interface. Only the broad principles carry across, and those can be taught equally well on other OSes."

    Your argument would be true if you were arguing *against* why open-source software should be used. While the versions of Office, Windows etc that will be in use when children enter the workforce (let's hope now that Labour have gone they actually will...) will be different, the lesson's learned will very much carry across as Microsoft are committed to a consistent look and feel so that when each new release comes out your skills always transfer across. Not only is MS consistent in each app, but across all apps and even the OS. The beauty of MS is that if you have to use a new MS app you've never used in your life it will still be instantly familiar and you'll be able to carry out all basic tasks without any documentation or help.

    Contrast that with the majority of non-MS apps that all have their own idea how an interface should look and work and you get nothing but confusion and poor productivity. Microsoft intend that every app you do mimics the operating system's interface so that users are never confused. Unfortunately it's a model that isn't always adhered to.

    Also remember that the costs to schools of MS products are lower than the cost to consumers and business and I'm sure they get good deals and leverage on prices with their buying power. MS are very good with their educational licenses.

  • Comment number 29.

    Microsoft are committed to a consistent look and feel so that when each new release comes out your skills always transfer across.

    I'm sorry, but that's just blatantly untrue. If you compare the UIs of older versions of (say) Word there have been massive changes in both structure and behaviour, as well as in the layout of the interface. Many of these changes are trumpeted at release time as a great innovation. That they may be, but to believe that the changes aren't there is clearly deluded.

    The same is true of Windows itself; each of Windows 3, Windows 95, XP, Vista and now Windows 7 have changed the whole look and feel.

    The things that remain are only the basics - windows, buttons, menu bars a start/applications menu, and those are equally present in alternatives like desktop MacOS and the major Linux desktops.

  • Comment number 30.

    @28 Aidy
    " Microsoft are committed to a consistent look and feel so that when each new release comes out your skills always transfer across. Not only is MS consistent in each app, but across all apps and even the OS..."

    Really? didn't see much of that consistency in the jump from Office 2003 to 2007. Or in the UI changes from XP to Vista and Windows 7. nd don't ge tme started on the multifarious UI models that exist in the Windows world; things a re equally as bad as they are within the FOSS community. Compare the Photoshop CS5 interface to Word 2007 as an example.

    And no, I'm not just a Microsoft hater. Much of the curriculum for ICT is geared towards MS products because that is what kids are likely to see in many workplaces. It's not surprisng that the schools lean this way. However, in an increasingly competitive workplace, FOSS is likely to be seen more and more. any exposure that kids get is beneficial and allows them to be more adaptive and flexible - certainly more flexible than some of the people teaching them (how many have specialist ICT qualifications other than the little they get through QTS programmes or PGCE?).

  • Comment number 31.

    Wanna save money?

    Leave the "EU"!

  • Comment number 32.

    I'm not sad to see the demise of BECTA. I suspect that it, along with many other quangos, has a couple of golden eggs buried in amongst all the waste and the incoming government has decided to do a quick slash-and-burn of quangos to remove the waste in the hope that they'll be able to collect most of the golden eggs and consolidate them.

    If nothing else, moving duties back into the proper government department where it is under closer ministerial oversight and, more importantly, providing a clear line of responsibility to pin on a minister if it goes wrong, is to be welcomed.

  • Comment number 33.

    @ _Ewan_ and Darren

    I'm not going to waste time on your silly nit-picking. Obviously the OS interface will change (hopefully to improve) with each new version of Windows and each new version tends to bring with it some new UI elements too. Those new elements are brought into the latest versions of Office (like the new Ribbon bar) so that the Office suite (and all new MS apps) are consistent with the underlying OS.

    Beyond any new UI elements that OS might introduce, the vast majority of UI elements remain incredibly consistent. Anyone who uses Office/Windows/Other MS apps and denies there is an incredible amount of consistency must have ulterior motives. I didn't say every OS and app looks exactly the same and never changes...I said there was an incredible amount of consistency and I stand by that (even if it means some new elements along the way) as will any impartial observer.

    For building of applications MS have reams of documents that dictate how your app should look and behave and their development tools and practices mean you use the UI elements that belong to the OS itself. You install a proper Windows app on Win98, then XP, then install it on Vista, then Win7 and try different themes too. For each OS and theme note how the app (the *same* app) has its look and feel identical to the look and feel of the OS it is on and how you have configured that OS. It is one of the major fundamentals in developing apps for Windows.

    Then you fire up something like Photoshop and realise that some development houses just don't care :)

  • Comment number 34.

    Sorry, but yes Becta should go. I oversee ICT in my school, I have never used Becta and never bothered with the ICT Mark. We have had two consecutive oustanding Ofsteds. We have been commended by QCDA for our ICT provision and Ofsted inspectors alike. Becta produced guideline after guideline but did teachers really need them or read them? Lets see the back of a few more useless government departments. Maybe Ofsted might be among them. In the words of Lord Sugar "With regret Nanny State you are fired!"

  • Comment number 35.

    I've never voted for the Tories, but I like what I see so far. Scrapping ID cards and the 3rd runway at Heathrow, cutting back the DNA database and CCTV. And now Becta is going. However, I hope that the Open Source Schools project is saved and used as the flagship for IT in schools in the future. Now the government really has to push open source hard and replace the overpriced dross that Micros$$t churn out. When I started in IT, all software was free and open source, and I hope to see that day again soon.

    Now, Rory, how about that Ubuntu review, or Fedora perhaps.

  • Comment number 36.

    I'm not going to waste time on your silly nit-picking.

    If what you've got to say can't stand up to even a hint of opposition then you don't really have anything to say.

    Obviously the OS interface will change (hopefully to improve) with each new version of Windows and each new version tends to bring with it some new UI elements too.

    That was entirely my original point - the point that you were objecting to. If the entire interface, apps and OS, has changed between the versions that children are trained on in school and the versions that they use later in work then some of that training is wasted. Only the general principles remain, and they are equally as portable across OSes as they are across versions of Windows.

    Office suite (and all new MS apps) are consistent with the underlying OS

    That may be true, but it's irrelevant to the point at hand; you may have a completely self-consistent system now, and move to another completely self-consistent system in the future, but if they're different from each other (and they will be) then your knowledge of the older system is as obsolete as it is.

    For each OS and theme note how the app (the *same* app) has its look and feel identical to the look and feel of the OS it is on and how you have configured that OS. It is one of the major fundamentals in developing apps for Windows.

    Well for one thing, it's hardly fundamental to 'developing apps for Windows', as you noted yourself, many applications, including major ones, don't fit in with those theming guidelines. The situation is similar on other OSses too; I can tweak the desktop theme on my Linux system and virtually all the apps follow the changes, without any further effort. There may be some awkward apps that don't, but the situation is certainly no worse than on Windows, and in my experience it's considerably better. For consistency of look and feel across a single desktop MacOS X would likely beat all the other contenders though.

    However, I'll say it again because it bears repeating, consistency within a single desktop is not the point. The point is whether or not buying MS gets you consistency between today's desktop and the one that will be common in five to ten years time. And it doesn't.

  • Comment number 37.

    I'm not sure about Becta but the IFL should go next.

  • Comment number 38.

    I'm a Network Manager at a school and to be honest some of the comments here seem to be coming from those with no experience of working in a school.

    Becta is going, and I for one am not going to see the back of it. It did some good work, but at far too much expense.

    It really should have been forcing companies to lower prices, or convincing LA's to purchase in bulk in order to gain significant savings for schools.

    In the most part, it's framework were good advice, but many Schools and LA's chose to ignore it.

    The FITS Foundation (which has been spun off from Becta and will continue as a business) is providing Training which will raise the standards throughout educational it.

    FOSS as an idea is fantastic, but not perfect and if they addressed the following I would look at using it more:

    1) I need Group Policies (or the equivalent) in a structured and documented fashion in order to lock down the desktops.

    2) I need good management tools. I cannot afford to visit every one of my 150 machines one a week to install software and patches

    3) I need documentation - lots of FOSS doesn't have this at all.

    4) I need longer term releases - how many ubuntu updates have there been since XP came out? How many of those are still supported?

    An IT Technician in a school will expect to earn about 16k per year, with no training allowance. You cannot expect someone to know how to write drivers for the latest version of the linux kernel, or spend hours going through the documentation to find out how to do something. With Microsoft its pretty easy, and it's there. If you want to be paying them £35k a year then you may get someone with the appropriate skill set.

    So long Becta, there are so many problems that you should have addressed, but were too busy spending money!

  • Comment number 39.

    @_Ewan_ #36

    "If what you've got to say can't stand up to even a hint of opposition then you don't really have anything to say. "

    Not at all. You are conducting a straw-man argument which is fundamentally a fallacy. Why am I going to waste time arguing about points that I haven't made simply because you have said that I made them?

    "Well for one thing, it's hardly fundamental to 'developing apps for Windows', as you noted yourself, many applications, including major ones, don't fit in with those theming guidelines."

    Then those applications have not been "developed for Windows", they are simply stand-alone apps, normally using interfaces and code that has been ported from the same app on a different OS. It actually takes some effort *not* to do a Windows-suitable app.

    Microsoft aren't Apple, they can only lay down the guidelines, they are not going to force you to comply even if the end-result probably would be better for everyone.

    "The situation is similar on other OSses too; I can tweak the desktop theme on my Linux system and virtually all the apps follow the changes, without any further effort."

    All OSs have similar systems, it's one of the benefits of using an OS. With Microsoft apps it goes beyond the visual and the "look and feel" and permeates through the entire application. Like I said, there are entire books on the rules of writing "proper" Windows apps.

    "The point is whether or not buying MS gets you consistency between today's desktop and the one that will be common in five to ten years time. And it doesn't."

    It most certainly does. Most people of a reasonable age who have used Windows over the last five years (and even 10) will agree there is an incredible amount of consistency across Windows apps, especially ones produced by MS.

    Just get off your anti-MS bandwagon for a second and be honest and reasonable and admit that MS apps work in incredibly similar ways, using similar methods and look and feel across all apps.

  • Comment number 40.

    If this means an end to schools being force-fed on overpriced, mass-market-incompatible systems that are all-but-obsolete on day of installation, bring it on.

    To my mind, far too many dabblers in local authority politics like to think they know what they are talking about in terms of IT when, in practice, they are being puppets of one or two [admirably British but despicably over-priced] "education" computer suppliers.

    But then, what do I know? The last quarter-century of my career has seen 17 years computing in industry and government, followed by eight years teaching ICT and Computing in secondary schools. I am more than a little tired of trying to explain to pupils why things "don't work properly" when the truth is: there is no good reason beyond "rigging" by some suppliers and a modicum of forgiveable ignorance on the part of well-meaning but easily mislead managers in some schools.

    I have never considered BECTA to be of any great help in this area.

  • Comment number 41.

    I would enter the argument about consistency in detail. Suffice to say, get a couple of users of an older MS Office version and give one the latest MS effort. Give the other Then compare their productivity and also how much change they have in their wallet.

    As a taxpayer, I would rather see my money going to Ubuntu (Not that I'm a particular Ubuntu fan! I use SimplyMEPIS) which is UK based and Open Source rather than MS which is a US company and is firmly closed source. As a parent, I recognise that my children need to have familiarity with MS products but they also need to know there are alternatives and what's more, be able to use them. As it happens my children are comfortable using whichever desktop environment they find themselves using, be it KDE, Gnome, LXDE etc. or even Windows... They are also familiar with and able to be productive with any number of open source applications. Better prepared than a lot of children who are only exposed to an MS environment no? If BECTA had gone some way to enabling school children to gain that experience then I would have been sad to see the organisation get wrapped up. As it is...

  • Comment number 42.

    One Quango, BECTA, closed. Is that it? How many more are there?

  • Comment number 43.

    James Rigby writes: On the matter of teaching about ICT, this is largely about how to use a browser, email, and how to do research on the web. Pretty straightforward stuff.

    Sir - there is evidently a world of difference between being a school governor and actually teaching ICT. The GCSE, OCR National and other Key Stage 4 syllabi require students to demonstrate a vastly greater range of knowledge and applied skills than you summarise.

    From a variety of ways of presenting information using different packages for different processes, a reasonable technical understanding of the basics each of spreadsheet and database design to some [at least conceptual] understanding of intelligent systems, control and what the innards of the box on [or under] the desk actually does. I would humbly suggest that no school governor can really take-on the responsibility Mr Rigby declares, without a reasonably sound understanding of the content of the syllabi taught in the school, and some liaison with those professionally qualified to deliver it in the classroom.

    With Respect.

  • Comment number 44.

    @ linuxrich #41

    Price isn't everything, esp in real industry where functionality tends to be king. It's always a good idea to show that there are alternatives, but it would be folly to not expose children to the kind of software they're most likely to be using in the real world. And regardless of what specific software they use the general principals they learn will carry over to anything.

    @ ChairmanAde #42

    Hopefully it's just the start. I'm sure there are a lot of worried people in the public sector right about now.

  • Comment number 45.

    @ Aidy #44

    Funny, I thought the whole principle behind this story was, indeed, money. Apart from your comment on price, I broadly agree with you. Students need to be familiar with as wide a range of environments as possible in order to provide them with the ability to quicky adapt.

    The other thing to consider is that FOSS seems (To me.) to be a good fit with the Big Society philosophy of the current government. I hope decision makers will see this and reap the benefits while contributing to the FOSS community. It's probably going to be hard going as, in my opinion, an awful lot of people don't 'get the point' of the FOSS community. They probably don't really appreciate the government's Big Society policies either.

  • Comment number 46.

    "Funny, I thought the whole principle behind this story was, indeed, money"

    And as I've already said, schools don't pay anything like what businesses pay for MS products. MS are keen to promote their products in an educational environment. For many universities (for example) the cost of development products directly dictates what platforms they choose to teach their students and MS have an active interest in them choosing the MS path.

  • Comment number 47.

    Having worked for Becta, have to agree that it was a prime candidate for closure. A vast array of senior managers, all with pressing need to 'work from home', usually on a Friday. One senior manager, on a 4 day week, was only in attendance in office on Mondays and Tuesdays, as it was in contract that he worked at home on Wednesdays and Thursdays. First class train travel standard for managers, not for their assistants who would travel in standard class to London, while the clique in first class, then meet on the platform at Euston. Family members appointed to lucrative posts, indecision, inefficiency and clock-watching prevalent. Not a particularly effective group.

  • Comment number 48.

    Personally, I view this department as one that is now actually outdated. Whereas ten or fifteen years ago, when computers were almost solely a work orientated product for many and not part of everyday life, these days children are more computer literate than their teachers and parents. Children no longer need encouragement to use computers and will do so at every opportunity. The greatest skill that has come about with the increase in computing technology in our daily lives is the ability to just pick up a piece of software (obviously excluding specialist tools here) and use it (to a basic level) with little to no training. Throw a ten year old in front of a computer running any OS and he/she will have muddled their way around the basics with no instructions in no time and after a couple of days will be fairly comfortable with using the OS for almost anything. Some advise on where to spend IT budgets would be useful, but for the most part, the computer technicians will have a fair idea themselves. A government quango demanding millions of pounds a year is definitely not needed.

  • Comment number 49.

    Yes It should die, screaming hopefully.....

    This is the bunch of idiots who had the story of the three little pigs banned, in case it offended Muslims and builders.

    They will not be missed

  • Comment number 50.

    "And as I've already said, schools don't pay anything like what businesses pay for MS products. MS are keen to promote their products in an educational environment. For many universities (for example) the cost of development products directly dictates what platforms they choose to teach their students and MS have an active interest in them choosing the MS path."

    Isn't that exactly how drug pushers get young people hooked?

  • Comment number 51.

    You are conducting a straw-man argument which is fundamentally a fallacy. Why am I going to waste time arguing about points that I haven't made simply because you have said that I made them?

    Hardly. You don't seem to be able to make up your mind what your point is. At various times you're asserting that:

    - MS apps on running on a particular OS at a particular time are consistent with each other and the OS.

    - MS apps running on a particular OS at a particular time are consistent with MS apps from several years previously running on an OS from several years previously.

    You're also conflating the two, actually completely distinct, points.

    I agree with the first point, and disagree with the second, and the evidence for both is plain to see for anyone that's actually used MS systems for any length of time.

    My point is that there's no advantage in buying MS when the interfaces change so much over time. What, exactly, was your point?

  • Comment number 52.

    I currently work for a supplier of IT solutions into education and I definitely think Becta will be missed and that without them something will need to step in to fill the gap. That said Becta was very poorly managed and very wasteful. The job could be done for half the money they cost.

  • Comment number 53.

    "Isn't that exactly how drug pushers get young people hooked?"

    I can't work out if you're in favour of cheap/free software or not. Your views seem to just be the opposite of whatever point is currently on the table even if it means contradicting yourself.'re not just one of those tedious haters, are you?

  • Comment number 54.

    @ _Ewan_ #51

    Ok, so you don't believe that MS has consistency in their applications. We'll just leave it at that.

  • Comment number 55.

    I don't believe that there's consistency between MS apps at one time and MS apps years later. And according to this:

    "Obviously the OS interface will change (hopefully to improve) with each new version of Windows and each new version tends to bring with it some new UI elements too."

    neither do you. I'm sure everyone else here can make up their own mind based on their own experiences of coping with the upheaval every time MS change things around.

  • Comment number 56.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • Comment number 57.

    "'re not just one of those tedious haters, are you?"

    I try quite hard not to be but when large companies (Not MS exclusively.) come along with their less than benevolent business practices (Oh, they may walk the walk...) I'm not always successful. If a company can't compete on solely the merits of their product but have to resort to bullying tactics (As an example, take MS and it's policy of threatening smaller companies with their unsubstantiated 'Linux infringes our patents' claims.) then I do tend to despise them.

    Also, I don't for one minute think _Ewan_ is trolling. I beleive that for most users, switching a Windows version or two would probably be on a par or even harder than switching to an alternative OS.

    Which, to get back on topic, is for me why BECTA could have done so much better and perhaps have been kept going if it had actually done more to save taxpayers' cash and promote fairer competition in their particular field.

  • Comment number 58.

    56. At 01:25am on 25 May 2010, Aidy wrote:

    # Troll, troll, troll your boat...gently down the stream #


    Patently untrue, and you might want to look in a mirror first. The comments added have been anything but trollish about alternatives, with the exception of you resorting to childish personal attacks based on your blind defense of MS.
    It's simply not true to say MS should be the only option, as the IT sector often uses specialist non-MS based software to manage or provide communication and process infrastructure in businesses needing a particular requirement. The case for opensource software is a strong one, not only as a base from which students can expand into other OS, but it's steadily increasing takeup in countries across Europe, Russia, Asia, etc.. The entire Thailand government system is opensource based, along with the french police system, a decent chunk of the German administrative system, and so on. Most Scandinavian countries use opensource of one variety or another, and Eastern European countries are fast becoming opensource by default.
    But you miss the point of teaching kids IT skills, in a spectacularly clumsy fashion.
    Any reasonable teacher will tell you that their job is to train kids to absorb, collate, reason with, and learn to adapt. It's not about shoving only one way of working in kids heads, quite the opposite.
    Modern linux, for example, is a generic system that provides the core functions, and most of the main app functions that are found in commercial alternatives (and it's fair to say that many opensource apps are much better built than the commercial alternatives). From globally recognised keybindings, to OS architecture, linux systems provide a great way to get kids into computing, from which they can expand further. The clean, layered, and responsibility based framework not only gives kids the basic computing skills common to all computer operating use, but teaches them to manage their skills more responsibly.
    From a government expenditure perspective, opensource is an opportunity for massive savings, and a freedom from the sometimes brutal and expensive lockdown of a proprietary system. It's a false economy to say MS education licenses are cheaper. They're still expensive, and when you add that up across the nation, it's a huge chunk of money that could be better spent on providing hardware, better training, and sponsorship of development of opensource software.
    From a government integrity perspective, opensource provides a non-partisan, generic base, to use, outside of commercial considerations, or accusations of favoritism. Modern linux is no longer the disparate collection of apps that past perceptions and commercial OS fans like yourself still linger over, and cling to, as a desperate excuse to wave your own flag. Distros like Ubuntu, for example are integrated well, and have what is now a vast collection of drivers and modules for much of the hardware available in the high street and beyond, not to mention over 20,000 free applications for users, all free, and all opensource, meaning the kids who are interested in learning to code, get real life examples to follow. A great teaching tool in anyone's book.
    Had BECTA embraced opensource in the first place, not only for the economic advantages, but for the opportunities it provides for kids, including learning to browse and send mail, but also being able to learn to code their own apps, in an open collaborative environment, free of proprietary restrictions, they might have been able to further justify their existence.
    Your non-comment and accusations of trolling only reflect on yourself, and the growing fear in MS and beyond, that opensource is not only a viable alternative, but as 80% of the world's servers run linux, and more and more governments take up the "IT secular" nature of opensource, the MS way is no longer the only way, or even the right way.
    You might want to grow up a bit, and get past the frantic brand based flag waving, so the discussion can continue in a more intelligent fashion.

  • Comment number 59.

    Last year, several of my friends and I, all IT professionals, offered our free time to a local school. There was a pressing need, we were told, for extra IT tuition, not only for the children, but also for after-school-hours, adult education classes the school wanted to offer.
    The school had no qualified IT teacher, despite several years of requests for one.

    We all went through the usual checks and forms to allow us to work with children, and everyone was very excited about it.

    Then Becta put their oar in.

    We were not a 'recognised' organisation. Well, no - we were doing this as private individuals - on a voluntary basis. No pay. No benefits, other than giving back to the community.

    We were not on the 'approved' list. Again, how could we be? We didn't know there was one!

    The school was ordered to stand down. The project was cancelled.

    To date, the school still has no IT teacher. Their pupils are suffering, and not receiving the education they need. The teachers are doing their best - but freely admit that they wish they had someone who actually understood the work.

    Good bye, Becta. You will not be missed, and I suspect many of the staff of that school will be very, very happy. I know I am.

  • Comment number 60.

    @Alexandereski #58

    "Patently untrue"

    What else would you call it when someone makes a straw-man argument and then when I refuse to defend comments I didn't make, those comments are simply escalated to the next level? It seems to me that's a text-book troll as I wasn't drawn in the first time so the comments were made even grander in the hope that I'd be drawn in a second time.

    "It's simply not true to say MS should be the only option"

    I said no such thing, and neither has anyone else in these comments (that I recall anyway). Do you know what a straw-man argument is? It is when you invent arguments that are easy to defeat such as "MS should be the only option", and wrongly attribute that argument as coming from a certain person. It is a useful trolling device as a) it gives you the sense that you are "winning" the argument as you are "defeating men of straw" b) when the person says "...but I didn't say that" you can take the argument off-topic and onto "so now you're disagreeing with yourself? You said something and now you're denying it?" Again in an attempt to bolster the appearance of your own arguments.

    Do you now see why his comments (and your own now) are trolling?

    Now I'm not going to respond to your post in any detail. Not because I have no conviction in my opinions, not because you have bested me, not because my point of view is indefensible....but simply this....I never said that MS should be the only option.

  • Comment number 61.

    59. At 07:59am on 25 May 2010, Retro Knight wrote:

    A sad story of government micro-management and control freakery taking precedent over community participation. If this is an across the board intent on the part of BECTA, it's perhaps better that it dies. Hopefully the new government won't be so narrow minded, and implement a more society based spirit of co-operation.

    I participate in a small community of opensource developers and power users, who bring recycled computers and training to those who can't afford either, and although it requires a lot of hard work and patience, it's thoroughly rewarding to see people, kids and adults alike, get that sparkle in their eye, when they achieve something, and share their successes, however large or small. The sense of hope they get from "catching up" is worth any price, and the society as a whole benefits from them being more active members. We've just put 10 computers in a tiny school with a very modest budget, and two of our team members, 1 60yo, and a 45yo, give regular lessons in the evenings to kids and adults who want to learn, and are willing to make sacrifices to do it. Where i live, the local government is more than willing to see us contribute, and supports us strongly, often providing vehicles and manpower to make a new install. (They don't have a big budget either.)

    Sorry to hear your effort and altruism was wasted on this occasion. Perhaps you could form an independent non-profit group, and simply contact the school, let them know what you're doing, and make some arrangements outside of the system. At least the kids will get the extra help denied them by an excessively controlling government and its representatives. A local businessman here gave us a premises to work from, and store hardware in, at the back of one of his outlets, rent free, as his kid is one of those attending the tiny school.
    Community participation is an important part of community self development, and the more that participate, the better the educational standard. At least in my experience. It's projects like this that need a government to offer support, not extinction.

    And of course, opensource software gives those people a chance to get ahead, without facing expensive proprietary license fees, crippling malware problems, and ongoing security issues. They can spend all their time learning, instead of fixing.

    Good luck.

  • Comment number 62.

    You can tell the OpenSource brigade are out with pitch-forks and all, yet again professing how OpenSource will save the world. Dream on.

    Well, to reiterate, the demise of Becta has little to do with Opensource vs proprietary or whatever. The Conservatives devised their plan to get rid of Becta long ago based purely on ideology, which is so wrong.

    As someone else has pointed out already, Becta could have tried to restructure and make itself more efficient years ago. But that does not call for scrapping the whole lot. There are some good projects and invaluable guidance that came out of Becta which many schools have benefited from. Of course you've got to weigh the benefits against the cost and find a good balance. I do not agree with scrapping Becta altogether.

    You simply cannot have a DIY type government. There's no App for it!

  • Comment number 63.

    There's a bit of a chicken and egg situation here, in that schools may be reluctant to adopt open source solutions because they can't get the support and some network management features are lacking. However, if there was a market for that support and the management software, someone would have an incentive to provide it. It's all about critical mass - a group of schools needs to take a joint plunge and go for it in partnership with business and then it can grow now that BECTA is unable to interfere. Funny, that sounded a bit like something you'd find in a Tory manifesto, so I guess they can't be all bad.

  • Comment number 64.

    Ah! the return of the nerds. One whiff of the letters ICT and the geeks jump out of the woodwork (or should that be technicians cupboard). Becta will be missed and yes as an organisation it could have done more but as you have demonstrated amply once you lot start wittering on about operating systems and open source 99% of teachers drift off into la-la land. The use of technology in schools to enhance learning and teaching is still an unfulfilled prophecy. Who will champion that now? Who will showcase the pockets of outstanding and visionary work and perhaps encourage others to embrace them? The coalition have clearly demonstrated that they can't see that IT can actually increase efficiency (it appears high on every "Cut" list). I wonder what all those apprenticeships being touted will be about...clog making and iron founding? Welcome to the twenty first century.

  • Comment number 65.

    I work as a non-teaching ICT Strategic Manager at a state school. I've always viewed becta as offering reasonable support to the schools who have no expertise and needed some guidance on forming an ICT Strategy. For schools like mine, who have invested money into not only infrastructure but dedicated and qualified people to support it, its not necessary. Its frameworks were also often shamefully slow to react to the speed of change in the IT industry.

    All the talk of open source vs commercial is not the important issue, and i believe different solutions will work for different schools. We operate a mix of both, and that works for us. It's fair to say though that open source will not work for schools without expertise, and the government seems to believe in taking the expertise out of schools and handing the reigns to commercial suppliers under the BSF scheme.

    What i find shocking is the comments here from previous becta employees who are basically suggesting that the organisation was taking education money and wasting it to satisfy individuals within becta. Thats not just wasteful but morally wrong and these people should be held to account. Prior to reading these comments i wasn't sad to see becta go, having read comments from previous becta employees i'm celebrating their demise...

  • Comment number 66.

    Surely the truth of these sorts of things is always in between the extremes - organisations like this will tend to hold back the best schools in their area of expertise, but push up the worst schools. So it comes down to whether you want all schools to have a minimum level of capability within ICT, or you are willing to sacrifice some schools to allow others to excel in the area.

  • Comment number 67.

    This is the same Government that thinks that every single IT project in the entire public sector is a 100% waste of money. Their contempt for new technology is almost palpable, so anything to keep the stuff away from kids must be a good thing in their eyes.

  • Comment number 68.

    First becta next they need to get rid of other big waste in education which are the LEA who have too much power, must cost uk tax payers more than 2 billion a year money could use to build better sports facilities across England or build community, i understand becta had around 250 staff I wonder how many of them were management

  • Comment number 69.

    'One voice celebrating its demise has been Geoff Riley, who teaches economics at Eton'

    I am not sure if quoting a teacher form Eton is a good example of what teachers are thinking as the rarified air of Eton is hardly in keeping with the rest of the schools sector and i include the grammar schools in that!!!

    As for open source I wouldn't use it as my OS however Open Office and it's other variations would be ideal in a school situation and as for support, well not much needed!!

  • Comment number 70.

    And schools having incompatible hardware that's out of date before it's installed is hardly new. Who remembers the mania for the RM Nimbus in the 80s and 90s?

  • Comment number 71.

    I worked at Becta for a number of years and the bottom line is there is nothing in the current Tory/Lib dem thinking to replace Becta - this is very shortsighted and will be costly for the education system in the long run.
    Sure there is waste within Becta; nepotism, former minister's daughter on ridiculously high salary,anti OSS feeling in some senior quarters; but the overall good of Becta outweighs the bad.
    Take procurement: left to their own devices, where are Heads going to get their equipment from? Well, the good heads will make good decisions and the bad ones will inadvertantly break the law, make stupid costly mistakes, be conned into proprietary systems and contracts they can't get out of, and purchase from companies that will fold and take all their money. At least with framework agreement there are standards to adhere to and suppliers who are financially sound.
    Becta has always had to tread a careful line between the best interest of schools and the system as a whole on one hand, and a huge multi billion pound, lobbying, cajoling, downright deceitful at times, ICT industry on the other (and the OSS community are not immune from this either).As a national agency, there is also a bigger picture in which Becta played a part with BESA in the promotion of British companies.
    My experience at Becta was that the overwhelming majority of staff were knowledgable and genuine in their belief in the role of ICT to make a difference to schools.
    When you post on here saying "good to see the back of them" rememmber there are 240 people out there losing their jobs and be realistic in your assessment of exactly how many deserve that.

  • Comment number 72.


    They are hardly anti-tech, however they do seem to have an aversion to "Bit IT" projects which is hardly surprising given they tend to promise much only to under-deliver late and over budget.

    I hope there is space in the gap left by BECTA for more engaged groupings to come together around helping schools navigate the treacherous ICT waters. You hardly need a gold plated QUANGO to form a on-line community of like-minded professionals supporting each other.

    Personally I think ICT in schools took a wrong turn when it it was no longer possible to do basic programming to get the qualification. But that could just be me...

  • Comment number 73.

    It seems that the general consensus is that the BECTA does a job that is necessary, it is just that the organisation was badly and wastefully run. Closing this particular badly-run quango may be a success in some ways, but the core root of government inefficiency is still there. If the job that BECTA did is still needed then what is going to replace it? Another badly-run quango with a new name? One that is top-heavy and expenses rich where family members are put on the gravy chain? And what of all the other government agencies that are wallowing in troughs of tax payer's money, safe in the knowledge that it'll never run out?

    Closing BECTA may have been a short-term win but in the long-term the government needs to tackle the attitudes that make these organisations perform so badly in the first place; practices and behaviours that just wouldn't wash in the private sector. If this issue can be resolved across the board then government spending will plummet and efficiency will soar.

  • Comment number 74.

    As ever we see the separate camps of pro and against. BECTz may have had a place if the population as a whole was not becoming more and more tech savvy.

    We do not need any new QUANGOs. Schools shoould have clear guidelines that aenable the use of least cost Hardware and Software. There should be a focus on green technology and open source.

    All of this can be supported by organisations such as ITIL and British Computer Association probably as part of the Big Society.

    So lets get real - it is a tragedy for the staff; In reality they must have known the writing was on the wall. Good luck to the staff but it had run its course and had to die.

    Let us hope other QANGOs will now choose to close and end the missery they cause to us all.

  • Comment number 75.

    People are forgetting 2 things in this argument
    1) The human cost of these cuts.We all have jobs and families. Its all very well cutting costs, but to what the bankers a new Carte blanche?

    2) Becta fund over 100 City Learning Centres all over the country. Without funding these will all close too and direct technical, strategic and curriculum support goes too.

  • Comment number 76.


    I couldnt agree more with your comments. There are too many many people posting on here who have no idea how IT or indeed ICT works in schools.

    I am a network manager in a school of around 2000 pupils and to be honest we have extremely little involvement with BECTA apart from some of theit guidelines on things like the DPA, which were very useful.

    Lots of schools make their own IT procurement decisions and are not forced to use equipment or suppliers simply at the behest of BECTA. Where they are (or rather were) used is by the BSF schools and by those schools who dont have the expertise to make choices about what could be important technology purchases. Having an organisation that can provide sensible unbiased information (rather than the purile 'My OS is better than your OS' comments some have posted) surely cant be a bad thing.

    BECTA may have had its points and have become a bit bloated but it certainly wasnt some IT Anti-Christ.


  • Comment number 77.

    "many times more than Becta ciosts to run"? Ciosts? Come on, BBC

    Less bureaucracy is always a good thing IMO.

  • Comment number 78.

    Well, if we're going to be talking about culling wasteful QUANGOS, government departments and all, why don't we put the House of Lords on top of the agenda, which costs us £100m a year? But oh no, we can't go there, Lord Ashcroft is there!

    Peers have little to lose in comparison to the 240 BECTA and 1000s of employees elsewhere facing the cull. Yes we need the House of Lords to support the (current) structure of our democracy, however just as we can live without BECTA we can live with peers.

    Mr Cameron promised to cut waste in government, emphasising on cutting "paperclips, flowerpots", etc and hardly mentioning the human lives he was really targeting. But just as the likes of BECTA may have misplaced their priorities, so has he.

    The web science institute is now going to be history too. To me it appears that these cuts were made ideologically rather than as a matter of priority in the clear and present economic climate. You only have to look at the haste with which they came up with the list.

  • Comment number 79.

    Don't know about Becta personally but as a techie kind of guy who works in IT I think its worth mentioning just how bad the IT was at my school (not that long ago but a few years now).

    Predominately old systems with a massively out of date OS and office package. The whole network was a mess and very poorly implemented, I shouldn't even know that as to find out about the infrastructure involved more than the allowed use. what can I say I was young and there was no barriers to stop me poking about as I seemed to know more about computers than the entire school staff combined(I really hope that wasn't the case).

    The biggest joke of all was the CD ROM Drives from my earlier school days. every year in assembly we were told how many new CD ROM drives the school would get mainly based on computers for schools type schemes. sometimes dozens other times many many more but it was a waste of effort as the drives were rarely connected! sometimes glued shut and best of all because of the network privileges totally useless anyway(students had no access to install anything nor did they have the space for anything on there profiles and the machines themselves were in effect dumb terminals with a HDD barely big enough to fit the cut down OS on).

  • Comment number 80.

    There was an earlier comment saying that the Open Source v. Proprietary argument is irrelevant and that when us tech types come out and start debating, teachers fall asleep in effect. Well, excuse us but this is a tech blog we're reading and it's refreshing to be able to comment on tech and politics after what seemed like many weeks of just politics! The future shape of the IT landscape is not an irrelevant subject for discussion where it concerns IT education and if there are teachers who are bored by the debate, maybe they should go and teach a subject they can relate to and allow others who do have an interest in the subject to really educate our children. Contrary to what seems to happen at the moment (Judging by the majority of the comments on the standards of IT teaching.) they need to know how to use computers, not just how to use MS Office! Apologies to the teachers who do have the necessary passion for the subject and who do actually teach IT & not just office skills. Hopefully you will now have a bit more freedom to do your thing now a bit of decentralisation is going on.

  • Comment number 81.

    Becta's demise saddens me immensely because of the contribution made by the agency's Inclusion team over many years to the cause of special educational needs in this country. The online discussion group SENCo Forum, created and administered by this group of committed professionals, has provided a lifeline for special educational needs coordinators in schools who often work in single-person departments and have to source reliable specialist knowledge and advice quickly to assist and support vulnerable students with unprecedented needs within their institutions. SENCo Forum is the envy of other countries' educational inclusion practitioners, a world-class institution in its own right, populated by professionals from a wide range of special educational needs disciplines, the subject of several university research reviews which have all confirmed its indispensability to lone SENCos. All this is due to the tremendous efforts of the members of BECTa's Inclusion team and the loyalty they have generated among SENCo Forum's many contributors.

  • Comment number 82.


    Do you know what is taught in schools? Firstly its ICT not IT (there is difference) and part of it involves using MS Office (other productivity suites are available) because thats exactly what the majority of them will be using when they leave school. The also use programs like Dreamweaver, Flash, Scratch and so on, but they are really only tasters.

    The vast majority - and I do mean vast, have no interest in how to recompile a Linux kernel or how to program in C++. They dont want to work in IT or have long discussions on the pro's and cons of the Wireless N standard and teachers have to teach the majority - not the geeks I'm afraid.

    Those kids that really are interested will tend to study the subject at A level and then at Uni, which is how it should be.

  • Comment number 83.

    Many comments in here that seem to extol Becta or pillory them.
    From the inside it was like many govt depts, good at somethings and bad at others. Heart definitely in the right place, it always seemed to be something of a disjointed organisation - lots of initiatives that didn't always seem to complement each other. Seems that it would be worth picking carefully and extarcting the value that has been generated and created, and also the plans that could generate real value.
    On Home Access project, if you see it as bridging the digital divide and giving inspiration to many families to do better - it did... if you saw it as a cynical vote-getter/foolish luxury... consider the impact of being able to have 278,000 households able to conduct some of their family business more standing in post office queues, tax online, benefits online,... any opportunities to make efficiency savings?
    We are where we are, so lets use the opportunities we now have. Build on the good stuff.

  • Comment number 84.

    It is a shame when people losw their jobs, of course. This is, however, a quango no one needs. Advice is often ill-informed and out-of-date - perhaps even short-sighted. I'm head of ICT (the taught subject in schools) and we do our best to ignore many of the Becta's recommendations - the result is that we have a top-notch network, with good kit and industry-standard applications. We upgrade (subject to funds being available) so that kids are prepared for what they'll meet in the real world - Becta was dead-against Office 2007, & very keen on open source with no consideration for support costs, etc. Glad to see it gone.

  • Comment number 85.

    The SENCo Forum must continue. There are more and more children with SEN and we need to be able to share/liaise with other professionals to ensure our support for these children is the best it can be.

  • Comment number 86.

    I work for a City Learning Centre - we're funded by BECTA so as from April 1st 2011, I, and many others, are out of a job. It's great that one of the new Governments first acts is to make me redundant. Thanks for that!

  • Comment number 87.

    "Not only is MS consistent in each app, but across all apps and even the OS. The beauty of MS is that if you have to use a new MS app you've never used in your life it will still be instantly familiar and you'll be able to carry out all basic tasks without any documentation or help."
    This is simply not true. Here are some (of many) examples:
    Even Microsoft knows this: see and for their efforts to clean it up.
    The most consistent set of applications I can think of are the major, official GNOME and Ubuntu apps (and others, like Inkscape, that use GTK well), which are not only normally highly consistent but also stay consistent in multiple different themes and even in different desktop environments.

  • Comment number 88.

    I could not possibly comment on the possibility that parts of BECTa have been wasteful, slow moving and out of touch. I am, however, reminded both that "throwing the baby out" is a risky business and that "bath water" is an increasingly useful and valueable commodity that needs, at the very least, to be recycled and re-used.

    I am also very sure, in my obviously biassed way, that there are significant areas where the information and experience gathered and distributed through BECTa, as well as many of the projects BECTa has promoted and supported, have been influential. Many of the comments posted here appear to have been demonstrated this even though there seem to be many which suggest not.

    The benefits created by BECTa staff and projects are especially seen in the work of the (very low-key) Inclusion (Special Needs) Team. This team has been a long term, low cost, big influence group both within BECTa and within the UK's special needs and disability community. The wide ranging stable of groups, both face-to-face and digital, that have been promoted and supported by and through the BECTa Inclusion Team is, I believe, universally well regarded. This means there are at least two very positive ways that the Inclusion Team is unlike other parts of BECTa and its future deserves to be considered separately and very carefully.

    It is unthinkable that these communities will die without BECTa but we are in the position of needing to invent a replacement for an effective working organisation. Although I belive we urgently need to plan for an alternative future, I feel we must also make it clear that the bonfire could consume much that is good but that this need not be so given goodwill and a relatively small amount of support.

  • Comment number 89.

    Hi legio_noctis, here's a another link for you to look at;

  • Comment number 90.

    I too worked for Becta and witnessed the amount of public money spent employing incompetent managers, on posh hotels for senior managers ‘to wine and dine in’, the changes of direction based on Cabinet reshuffles regardless of how much money had already been spent on a project. I also encountered a number of people who genuinely believed in their work and earned every penny they were paid. Unfortunately they were in the minority. I am not sad to see Becta go; it was one of the reasons why I voted Tory.

  • Comment number 91.

    Many contributors have expressed the view that the products developed by Becta should be made available to the community. Becta had already started to move in this direction. The FITS Foundation was set up with support from Becta to take FITS (Framework for ICT Technical Support) forward, provide much needed accreditations for schools technicians and in the process make it self-funding removing the need for Government funding in the future.

    The FITS Foundation was to prove the model for other Becta initiatives to follow. The Government seem to have missed this point entirely. Thankfully we in The FITS Foundation beat them to the punch so the future of fITS is assured, at least.

  • Comment number 92.

    The whole concept of teaching IT in schools is flawed. It focuses on teaching kids to use applications (Word, Excell, Powerpoint, etc), rather than teaching them about computers, computing and information technology.

    Its a bit like chemistry lessons teaching kids to use laboratory equipment without actually teaching them about chemistry.

    The upshot of this is that kids that are interested in computing are bored, those that aren't interested in computing are bored anyway and good IT teachers leave for industry jobs because they are fed up with teaching secretarial skills rather than the subject they enjoy.

    Make "ICT" a curriculum for learning about computers and computing instead of a mere PC driving lessons.

  • Comment number 93.

    81. At 4:09pm on 25 May 2010, David Wilson wrote:

    > [ Concern about the loss of a mailing list. ]

    No worries, you can get the service you need from either Google Groups or a Wordpress blog.

    Three clicks on either to get going. Choose the one which looks to be the best for your mneeds.

    You do not need BECTA or any other QANGO to do that for you. Just read the instructions and do as it says.

  • Comment number 94.

    I have a company that sells IT hardware and we found Becta very difficult to deal with and eventually pulled away from them, others did this too and Becta ended up supplying goods from a narrow range. When it was set up I think a level of hand holding was needed that just is not necessary any longer. IT is child's play now, even if the teachers don't 'get it'.

  • Comment number 95.

    An organisation that accounts for well over £1000 per unit for giving away a laptop and free broadband is demonstrating very poor use of money. With no bulk purchasing it would be easy to get a good quality new laptop and 3 years broadband for substantially less than that.

    If there main other service was supporting the odd teachers IT forum (something that can be done for a nominal amount) then it seems that they were an obvious candidate to be culled.

  • Comment number 96.

    I firmly believe the abolition of Becta will promote growth in ICT in schools:

  • Comment number 97.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • Comment number 98.

    It would be good if some of the more spiteful posts here remembered that Becta has not run away with the taxpayers' money - its demise is to pay back the (private sector) bankers. Like most public sector organisations, it could have saved money and have been better managed. However, what we'll be losing is a source of helpful advice for schools and local authorities, excellent support for the special needs communities and research into ICT that no one else will be doing. Given the huge amounts of public funds that have been going into schools and colleges for ICT, wouldn't it be useful to know how effective it is? Given also that Becta has long fought for assistive technology for learners with disabilities, who else will take up this non-commercial battle?

  • Comment number 99.

    Notes from my time as a Becta employee - there were many hard working, qualified, dedicated and well intentioned people within becta. I am sad to see these good people lose their jobs and wish them well.

    Sadly, there was also a significant clique who had become complacent, greedy, lazy and self-serving. Too many comfortable years without scrutiny. Public sector ethos of 'spend it or you lose it'.

    Some people within organisation were undoubtedly pushing things a bit far e.g. appointment/promotion of family members to lucrative contract posts (becta always paid as a minumum private sector contractor day-rates, often above). Very many managers keen on working from home, with no clear output on the days on which they out of office. Not easy to contact them while they in their 'home offices'. One senior manager in particlar tended to have the sound of a screamming kid (who, we were informed was in full-time child care) in background whenever contacted at home on the fixed days on which he 'worked from home', every week. Not just occasionally, but every week. This guy had a four day week and could only attend meetings in office on a Monday or Tuesday. That presented problems, constantly.

    Usual public sector compulsion to spend up to and exceed budget, just in case allocation reduced in subsequent years.

    One of worst things I witnessed there was the appointment of a very young girl (ex-Labour govt. Minister's daughter), without any relevant experience or qualifications, to a post that would normally be taken by someone suitably qualified and experienced. Top-notch pay too. Even sadder was to witness the senior clique's thinly veiled sycophancy while in this girl's presence.

    They now have time to reflect on this.

  • Comment number 100.

    Graham Badman conducted the now completely discredited "Review" into Education Otherwise than at school.
    His "Independent" report was littered with half truths, mistakes and total inaccuracies, used incorrect, misleading and wrong statistical "evidence" which always seemed to be always wrong in the reports favour.

    BECTA and it's chairmans "Review" represent the worst of whet Labour did to the process of Governance in this country and I am heartily glad this waste of money that has been a vehicle for so much that is wrong will be binned.


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