Archive for the ‘BSF’ category

Open Letter to Simon Kirby

May 12th, 2010

The upshot of the General Election for me was a change in Parliamentary representative in the form of the Conservative MP Simon Kirby.

There follows an open letter to Mr Kirby outlining my suggestions for cuts to the BSF program which would potentially save the country millions of pounds and safeguard jobs in to the bargain. I also mention the need to repeal or heavily rework the Digital Economy Act and to urgently look at Copyright reform.

I intend to publish here any response I might receive.

Dear Mr Kirby

Firstly my congratulations on your recent election success, and your parties subsequent proposed coalition Government with the Liberal Democrats.

As my elected representative, I’m taking a couple of minutes to put to you my point of view on a couple of important issues in the hope that you can take my views on board.

One of the stated aims of the Conservative Party is to begin cutting the budget deficit with immediate effect. May I suggest a thorough review of the Building Schools for the Future scheme and the quango appointed to run it (Partnerships for Schools) would be an excellent point to begin.

BSF in its conception was a revolutionary rework of state-funded secondary schools nationwide, however over time it has become clear that the needs of large businesses have been pushed to the fore and it is now the normal situation in a BSF scheme to spend millions of pounds unnecessarily on consultants, propitiatory software and replacing nearly new equipment like-for-like at each and every school it touches.

Education desperately needs its funding for ICT, but schools that have invested in their ICT services are being penalised by this levelling process that has been imposed by Partnerships for Schools.

Supporters of the BSF program would say that it’s possible for schools to opt out of the Managed ICT Service side of BSF – and it is, theoretically and on paper. In reality it’s a very long and difficult process to demonstrate that existing provision exceeds that offered by an MSP. It falls to the school – which is rightly working towards educating its students – to counter the claims made by dedicated teams from the MSPs. It’s not surprising that almost all schools that embark on that route fail to win their argument.

Please therefore consider cutting the monies spent on the BSF Managed ICT Service such that the remaining funds are spent directly where they are needed by frontline ICT staff, Headteachers and Governors in schools rather than wasted on consultants and replacing systems like-for-like.

The previous Parliament also presided over the farce that was the passing of the Digital Economy Act. The arguments surrounding that act are well publicised and I’m sure you’re aware of the pertainant points.

Nick Clegg made an election promise to repeal the Digital Economy Act if the Liberal Democrats were in power. I hope that the Con-Lib coalition will seriously consider repealing the act or at the very least undertake a major overhaul of the act to address the very serious shortcomings that it has.

And finally please use this period of Conservative-Liberal accord to tackle the issue of Copyright reform. The UK is still applying copyright laws passed decades ago to modern business practises and I’m afraid they just aren’t fit for purpose any longer. Indeed proper copyright reforms would largely address the contentious issues that the Digital Economy Act attempts to legislate around and would probably negate the need for its existence at all.

Yours sincerely

Alex Harrington

Could 2010 be the year of the Linux Desktop?!

November 20th, 2009

With the release of Windows 7 and Windows XP some 8 years old now, it’s getting to the point where it’s time to make some changes on the desktop.

Without signing the school up to a Microsoft Schools Agreement, we’d be looking at approximately ┬ú45,000 to upgrade to Office 2007 and Windows 7. We’d also have to start looking at running Samba 4 at the network core to support Windows 7, or, move to Active Directory which would be an additional cost (server licensing + 2008 R2 CALs).

It seems then that this might be an opportune time to consider alternatives. The school has alot of Linux at the network core. File servers, domain controllers (LDAP + Samba + bind + dhcpd), Learning Platform, VoIP, SAN, Virtualisation Solution and more are all Linux-based and we have the expertise in the technical staff to support those systems.

From a BSF point of view I’m hoping this is a smart move too. It will significantly reduce ongoing licensing costs and is pretty hard to beat for long-term sustainability. It also makes the job of any potential managed service provider bidding on our site significantly harder since the expectation will be that the philosophy of the school should not be fundamentally changed by a switch in service provision.

My Christmas holiday project therefore will be to get an Ubuntu 9.10 box to mirror the functionality of a standard teaching workstation as far as possible. We’re pretty sure we know where the sticking points will be, but like most things, you won’t really know until you try.

Main points as I see them now:

  • Support from Leadership
  • Support from Governing Body
  • Training for Staff (and Students?)
  • Support for Windows-only software
  • Support for Legacy files (Microsoft Publisher being the worst offender)
  • MIS software officially requires Microsoft Office to run and runs on .net 2 and 3.5
  • Desktop Lockdown
  • Monitoring
  • Updating software (local apt repo?)

I’ll be posting here progress as I go along in the “Open Source Schools” category.

BSF PCP Merger?

November 16th, 2009

It seems that PfS told the LA not to send in our readiness to deliver document. Hmm.

We’re awaiting official news from the LA but the whisper is that the LA are looking to bundle PCP (Primary Capital Program) and BSF together in to one round of funding, and one big deal.

Now that’s doubly interesting because the LA has a very good support service available to primary schools and employs a significant staff to service that contract. Surely then it looks more likely (and I think it would make sense) that the LA would seek to extend their existing service in to a full Managed Service to service at least the PCP part of the deal, and perhaps to cover BSF too?!

Watch this space!

BSF Update

September 20th, 2009

I’m still here and I’ve not been gagged ­čÖé

Here’s an update on how things are progressing BSF wise.

Our readyness to deliver document is ready to be submitted to PfS for inclusion in the 2010 round of funding. We’re not “on the programme” yet beyond our initial wave 12 positioning.

The BSF meetings have continued, with a focus on ICT visioning and self-assessment such that when the time comes, we’re in a better position to set out the services each school currently provides, where that sits in the national picture and our own strategic plans to deliver “the vision” over a 5 year period.

This “sets the challenge” to poential ICT Managed Service providers to beat us on service delivery and strategic leadership.

More once the RTD document is public.

Meeting 2

March 5th, 2009

Meeting number 2 today. Various interested parties managed to get Managed Services on to the agenda for the start of the meeting. It was very clear that this was not a topic the consultants wanted us to spend any time talking about.

In fairness, despite some rather desperate pleas to “look at the bigger picture” coming from one corner, a very helpful discussion about Managed Services and what the likely outcomes of that would be was had.

Interestingly, a short section of the meeting discussed the possibility of working with the LA to form an alternative business case.

The outcome was that the consultants are to spell out to the Heads meeting that a MS is “part of the deal” (as this seems to have been omitted so far – conveniently?) and we will, for the time being, concentrate on vision. I think this is wise as before we can consider MS or an alternative, we should quantify what we want ICT to be like. (I feel a disagreement about individual devices for students coming on!)

It was disappointing that the representative from BHCCs ICT team wasn’t there. I feel he would have been able to provide some useful input.

Network Managers meeting is up next – so we’ll see how many other NMs have got wind of this ­čśÇ

Hands Off My Pension

February 23rd, 2009

Another non-local issue here, but worthy of note I feel.

Apparently PfS are now seeking to use LGPS funds to replace private finance – since investment cash is that much harder to come by.

The pension funds are returned over time, with an agreed rate of return – which to my mind means that money will be taken from schools and put in to pension funds?

It all seems mad to me.

Full story is in the Times, here:

via Ian Usher @iusher on Twitter

National Coverage

February 17th, 2009

Not really a local issue, but Matt Charlton on Twitter pointed me to an article in the Guardian today questioning whyschools should have to discard a perfectly good ICT system because BSF demands it.

You can view the article here:

All I can say is I hope this kind of national coverage of the issues will have some impact on the process for us.

The First Meeting

February 12th, 2009

We had our first official BSF meeting today.

I was heartened to see the turnout, and the variety of people attending. There was a good range – Deputy Heads, ICT Co-ordinators, Network Managers and┬árepresentatives from the LA┬á– which should make the discussions worthwhile and balanced.

As I feared, we were told that an ICT managed service is basically non-negotiable, and will form part of the BSF bid. I was glad that I wasn’t alone in raising my eyebrows at that point.

The rest of the meeting was basically a meet and greet with the consultants, and a very brief overview of the process and an approximate timeline.

The good news is that we are literally at day 0. Nothing has been done or decided yet, so schools should have good input in to the process. Full credit for this goes to Brighton and Hove LA.

The Opening Salvo

February 12th, 2009

Welcome Dear Reader.

I suppose I should first detail my reasons for putting my thoughts down for the world to see.

I’m a Network Manager in a large Secondary school near Brighton, East Sussex – although we are part of the Brighton and Hove LA. The school is generally considered to be improving, and working in this environment is both stimulating and fulfilling professionally.

Building Schools for the Future (BSF) is a government programme to refurbish all of Englands secondary school buildings, and to revolutionise the use of ICT within them by proving £1675 per student to be spent in this area.

A noble cause. There are areas of our school building that are in need of redesign and refurbishment to make them useful for todays teaching methods, and ICT is always in need of further investment to keep pace with changing technologies.

It seems that part of the BSF “deal” is that schools move away from their current ICT systems in favour of a managed service provided by a large company (such as RM, Ramesys, Sun) – effectively outsourcing their provision.

What concerns me here (at least at this stage) is the assumption that whatever ICT provision a school has in place, a manged service would be able to deliver it better, and possibly cheaper than is possible at the moment.

There is a saying that goes something along the lines of, “Strong, lightweight, inexpensive – pick any two”. Basically something has to give. The companies running these managed services have to make money from doing so, whilst keeping staffing levels in schools similar (and due to TUPE legislation, those staff will be on the same sallaries).

The potential for BSF ICT money in Brighton and Hove is enormous, and could be put to engineer a cross-authority solution that would be transformational in its effect on how learners view their “home school”. I question though if such a federation of schools is mutually inclusive of a managed service provider as BSF appears to dictate.

In this blog, I aim to document the BSF process in Brighton and Hove LA. I am heartened to see that the LA has asked for input from schools right at the start of the process, before the business plan has been drawn up, and before and output specification has even been discussed.

Watch this space to see how things progress!