Bring back Becta

Who? For those of you with long memories, Becta was the education ICT quango which had the dubious honour of being the first to be abolished by the new government. During my days as an Open Source apologist I often found dealings with Becta frustrating because they clung to their Microsoft world with such limpet-like tenacity that one wondered just what was needed to break into the cartel-esque approved suppliers. 

I need not have worried, for when eventually my firm was accepted as a supplier, it made not a jot of difference. The school ecosystem was XP and Office and that was that. Ironically one of Becta’s last acts was to realise that the majority of schools had a hardware inventory that could not cope with Vista or Windows 7 and so, warned schools and colleges not to upgrade. So successful was this advice that a decade later, XP is the universal desktop in schools.


...a lot of schools were forward-thinking and wanted the latest and best for their students. This meant laptops and the latest Microsoft operating system in order to gain sufficient bragging rights in edu-pubs. The problem was that unlike businesses, schools had largely acquired their hardware prviously in ‘spending-fests’ which were in effect, ring-fenced windfall grants to encourage the uptake of ICT in schools. 

Most did not budget for replacing these ‘gifts’, as the write down costs would have blown their budgets as every company that has to do this knows only too well. The solution, as so often happens with the fiscally challenged, is to look for a solution which broadly says ‘have whatever you want now, pay nothing now and do the rest in easy payments over’. 

Suckers, what so often happens in the instant gratification culture is that there is a small army of vendors and financiers only too ready to oblige and so it was with computers.

It’s hard to exaggerate the toxic mix of mis-selling with naive purchasing. Suffice to say it was so bad that the courts have got involved, some banks ordered to re-pay monies and some schools are to close through unbearable debt. A contract is a contract so pity these fools as there is little way out.

People are trying to help but the problem is huge. The Leasing Advisory Service says it is helping one local authority which had to pay nearly £500,000 to settle a lease on behalf of one school for photocopiers worth just £45,000.

Another primary school was left owing £500,000 for 125 laptops! I could go on but you get the idea. Hundreds of schools are affected. Becta must be shaking its ghostly head in dismay. They worked hard to rationalise and make sane the early ICT market by checking suppliers, giving advice and generally keeping the ship upright. Ok so they annoyed the hell out of me, as I was trying to promote free software at the time, and the ‘box-set’ scandal with Microsoft Office was one scam they failed to flag up, but now schools are out on their own and it looks like they are not up to it in the big bad world.

Come back Becta, all is forgiven.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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