Here goes at trying to set the record straight. The bulk of this email is based on a recent response I did to queries about BSF from City Learning Centre managers. I think it addresses most - if not all – of the points raised in the thread on BSF and Learning Services over the past few days. I won’t re-iterate the correct information which Andrew Flowerdew (who has direct experience of working client-side in two BSF procurements) has already provided. However, it is worth re-emphasising that individual schools’ experiences of BSF will be a function of the way in which their local authority handles the process. Partnerships for Schools’ role is to advise local authorities, monitor their progress and to challenge them when we feel that their process is inadequate. However, we are not party to or present at most of their interactions with schools – we simply don’t have the resource to do this even when we are aware that the relationship and trust between the LA and the schools is not all it might be. The new Output Spec for ICT is constructed to ensure that individual schools are properly consulted as part of the process. The section from the BSF Project Governance and Management Guide reproduced below indicates the importance we give to the involvement of headteachers.
“Head teachers are central to a successful BSF procurement. It is now standard practice to have one or a small number of heads involved on the project team, in drafting contract documents, setting standards, and evaluating bids. It is important to use the knowledge and experience that these heads bring …
Head teachers need to be involved in every aspect of the project, because they will generally experience the operation of the contract at first-hand later on. A thorough understanding of the operation of the payment mechanism, the building specification, and details of the catering management arrangements proposed by the private sector partner, for example, will assist greatly in the smooth running of the contract. However, it is also true that heads and other teachers may not have sufficient time to devote to this. Many authorities provide funding to schools to assist with additional school costs, such as buying in extra supply teacher time to release other members of staff for developmental activities. In addition, 4ps is providing a training course specifically aimed at head teachers and governors who want a deeper appreciation of how the involvement of a private sector partner will impact on their school. “
I also want to take this opportunity to make clear how the Becta Learning Services Framework relates to BSF. PfS's position is quite straightforward. We believe that the framework sets a helpful and challenging benchmark for such services and that local authorities procuring BSF ICT solutions should check that they are being offered a learning platform solution which has been tested and approved as part of the Becta Framework. If this is not the case, they should take steps to reassure themselves (and us!) that the alternative offered meets or exceeds the current Becta specifications.
Folks might also want to have look at the joint local authority / ICT partner enhanced podcasts from our BETT stand presentations which will be up on the PfS website in a few days time. These reflect the real partnership working in six of the LAs that have got beyond preferred bidder stage.
Now for the myth-busting
I have been told that BSF goes much further than connectivity (FACT)
It certainly does! The BSF ICT Output Specification Template and Guidance (available in the publications section of the Partnerships for Schools web site www.p4s.org.uk
) sets out the MINIMUM functionality of the ICT service which the Local Education Partnership (LEP) will provide. The local authority and its schools then enhance this basic output specification to meet the needs and aspirations of the locality. In fact, broadband connectivity is one of the few things not directly funded through BSF. The BSF service should build upon the existing broadband infrastructure that has been funded through grant over the past few years. Local authorities should use the remaining broadband grant to ensure that secondary schools’ broadband circuits are at least 10Mb and, ideally, 100Mb or better.
Schools are directed/given ICT hardware IN their schools (computers/whiteboards etc) by their ‘partner’ (ICT provider) (MYTH)
No-one directs anybody! Although the schools should get to directly shape the ICT Managed Service by completing their sections of the ICT Output Specification and participating in the clarification and evaluation of bids to run the service (the LA should ensure that this happens and schools should insist if it doesn’t!). The aim of the managed service is to free schools from the burden of procuring and managing their own ICT systems thus allowing them to focus on their core business of teaching, learning and enhancing the life chances of the young people who come through their doors.
… and have no choice but to take what they’re given. (MYTH)
They have a huge amount of choice. For example, the recent BSF procurement in Manchester gives schools choice over how 75% of the available funding for hardware and software is spent. In all BSF procurements, between 10% and 20% of the hardware / software funding is allocated to a “local choice fund”. This money is spent by schools on ICT equipment and software of their choice. It is true that for basic hardware – desktops/ laptops etc. – schools will not have a choice of brands. This enables much larger aggregated orders to be placed with consequent reductions in cost.
They then don’t own their computers and are told when they can change/update them …(MYTH)
Ownership of the equipment passes to the school. This is not a PFI scheme where the school leases the equipment from the PFI provider. The refresh cycle is partly funded through the initial capital sum and partly through schools’ annual contributions to the managed service. Schools can choose to “overpay” and build up a larger refresh pot which will allow more frequent changes of equipment.
… and what can be put on them. (MYTH)
Usually, schools will have to check with the managed service provider that an item of software is approved for use on the network. This is no different from the situation which already pertains in many schools where the network manager does not allow staff to install software that has not been checked for network compliance. Another emerging feature of the BSF solution in some local authorities is that new PCs have a managed and an unmanaged side. The school can install software on the unmanaged side of the machine without reference to the managed service provider. However, they do so entirely at their own risk and the managed service provider will not sort out the mess without additional charge if things go wrong as a result.
They will no longer ‘own’ their own technicians and with “managed services” they would call upon their partners technicians to sort out in-school problems with kit (remembering that they don’t own the technology anymore). (MYTH)
As part of the Managed Service, technicians in schools will be given the opportunity to TUPE across to the company running the Managed Service. However, this does not mean that technicians will disappear from schools or that someone will have to be “called in”. The local authority and its schools specify the level of technician support which they expect from their managed Service partner. This might include the retention of one or more full-time technicians on-site in each BSF school. In such circumstances, the technician might be the same person with a different badge on their shirt. They would be working to a clearly defined set of service standards and would be trained to help them achieve those standards. If those standards are not achieved – i.e. the school does not get the level of service for which it has contracted – then the company does not get paid in full.
We know that many “technicians” actually perform a much more varied role in schools. With the increasing reliability of hardware and software, many schools have developed their technicians so that they provide direct support to learners and teachers in the use of ICT. In early BSF waves, schools are sometimes choosing to re-designate these posts as non-technical so that they can retain these staff under their own control. In such instances, these staff are themselves supported by technicians working for the Managed Service provider.
And in this, schools have absolutely no choice! (MYTH)
I hope that what is becoming clear is that schools have lots of choice! This is not a “one size fits all” solution. However, the relationship between local authority and schools is crucial. They need to work together from the outset of the BSF process and to trust one another. Transformation of secondary education through BSF is only possible if schools don’t feel that BSF is something that is being done to them. They must be actively involved from the outset in shaping the local solutions within the broad parameters of the national programme.
The only stipulations of the national programme with regard to ICT are that the solution should remove from schools the burden of procuring and managing ICT; that an area-wide solution should be procured which recognizes the new dynamics of Every Child Matters and the changes in 14-19 education; and that the ICT solutions procured should meet or exceed the latest Becta functional and technical specifications
Strategic Director - ICT
Partnerships for Schools