James Review on schools broadband and ICT procurement

It was good to see the James Review, published this week, referring to the need for more effective policy on ICT in schools. As The Guardian reported on Tuesday:
"The report ...says the education department needs to ensure a "clear menu" of core and additional regional broadband services for schools, so that schools select and pay only for the services they need. It calls for a strategy to get best value from existing public sector broadband networks, which would include establishing a minimum bandwidth standard of 10Mbps for primary schools and 100Mbps for secondary schools.

"On procurement, the education department should set up a central framework for schools management information systems and the exisiting ICT services framework, or similar approaches, should be used for all large scale ICT purchasing.

"It also says that a web based price comparison catalogue should be developed to help schools to get the best price for equipment."
The report recommends the creation of what it calls a "Central Body" to have responsibility for these areas.  Something which will include some of the functions previously undertaken by Becta, presumably. However, looking forward rather than backwards this does raise some serious challenges for the Department for Education, schools, and those providing services for schools. Sebastian James himself, in his letter to the Secretary of State, says "Putting my recommendations into practice will be a major challenge".

The  report calls for a "clear menu" of broadband related services as if such a thing has not previously been considered. Such a menu has existed for some time, in a document produced by Becta and the National Education Network. It is called "Building a Broadband Entitlement", and was published in December 2009. It outlined precisely such a menu, setting out the requirements of a broadband service under three headings:
  • Connectivity:
    • Bandwidth – appropriate to need, scalable and future proof as far as possible, and delivered where it’s needed
    • Reliability/resiliency/availability – managed, guaranteed services governed by appropriate service levels and contractual arrangements
    • Performance – sufficient to provide the required applications (in terms of, for example, response times, latency), including support for demanding applications
  • Applications:
    • Access to internet services
    • Communication and collaboration tools – email, videoconferencing,VoIP, instant messaging
    • Learning resources and tools – content, learning platforms, e-portfolios, MIS, resource discovery and search, online productivity tools
  • Safeguards:
    • Security – of networks and data
    • Safety – to guard against inappropriate content and contact (filtering, monitoring, authentication and authorisation)
    • Policies and procedures – acceptable use policies, security policies, user education, advice and guidance
Since the start of the National Grid for Learning programme this menu has generally been offered as a "Prix Fixe", regardless of how many courses are eaten.  The James Review now seems to believe it should be offered as A La Carte.  But I wonder whether that is consistent with the call for a strategy to get the best value out of broadband on a national basis.  I'm sure there will be a response soon from either individual Regional Broadband Consortia, or the NEN community as a whole, though at the time of writing I can't find it.

On procurement, it is unsurprising that I agree with the recommendation for a central framework for management information systems (MIS), though I would prefer to see it covering the whole spectrum covered traditionally by MIS and learning platforms.  Yet the recent OJEU notice from the Office of Government Commerce which covered school MIS in one of its lots has been pulled.  Perhaps so that the new "Central Body" can release a new OJEU notice soon?  Let's hope so.  The market needs it, not least because many local authorities are currently operating in breach of EU and UK procurement law in their purchasing of MIS, as reported by Becta in October 2010, and referred to in the review.

So, there is much to be welcomed in the review, but we will have to wait to see how the recommendations are implemented.  Interesting times...


Unknown said…
Hi Paul

Very much agree with your analysis. The James Review places the policy conflict between full local freedom and national VFM right on the desk of the SoS for Education. As you say - interesting days !!

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