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IT News Thread, BECTA Technical Specification Working Group in Other News; Also, with the extentions, don't forget that Office 2007 the file extentions in Word, Excel and Access if I remember ...
  1. #16

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    Re: BECTA Technical Specification Working Group

    Also, with the extentions, don't forget that Office 2007 the file extentions in Word, Excel and Access if I remember right, have changed by default to .docx, .xlsx and .mdbx as they are now stored in XML by default.

  2. #17
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    Re: BECTA Technical Specification Working Group

    I shall require £1m and 3 years to implement all the daft and unreasonable demands from this document. I shall require a resonable regional broadband isp. I shall require users who can think for themselves and don't need to interupt me every 5 minutes.

    From what I've read, its just lots of ideas which convieniently ignore the issues of implementation. PoE? Ever costed a 100+ port PoE switch? I did for the new block, its more than twice my remaining budget this year!

    If I didn't read edugeek, how exactly would I find out about these ideas?

    As it stands I have 40% smaller budget this year, no money to replace the machines that I scheduled to replace when they were bought 4 years ago, and at least 1/3 of my machines have been vandalised (smashing the fronts up is fun for some reason, not that anyone *ever* sees it happen, god forbid that they might have been paying attention).

    I think becta and the govenment have no bleeding idea what actually happens in schools :/

  3. #18

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    Re: BECTA Technical Specification Working Group

    DMcCoy: Absolutely right. Whereas us techies in the "Real World" (TM) have to put up with diminished budgets as you mention as schools can divert them to whatever they want and LEAs vary from one area to the other. Very difficult to implement.

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    Re: BECTA Technical Specification Working Group

    Too true there doctor.

    Good points.

  5. #20

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    Re: BECTA Technical Specification Working Group

    The ring fencing of many budgets has now stopped and supposedly the school should have more freedom to buy what they need rather than be told they can spend it in certain areas only.

    For some schools this can work well as money now flows into the IT pot ... in others it goes the other way as fund previously slotted for IT are driected elsewhere.

    Please note that the specifications have the pre-requisite of FITS being in place (or started). This means you have that long term replacement strategy that DMcCoy spoke about ... but it is stuck to and moeny isn't pinched when it has been promised.

    Perhaps the presumption of FITS being started is a major fault.

    If people can highlight areas of the specifications that are unreasonable or unworkable can they *please* quote it, and if possible explain why it won't work, maybe giving alternatives.

    And yes ... for most people you would not get this information. This was a common complaint by those representing schools and interest groups (ie people like us and Schoolforge) ... and that is why we are now invited to these events ... to find out what is going on and put our views across.

  6. #21
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    Re: BECTA Technical Specification Working Group

    I should preface my comment by saying that much of what is in these documents is very reasonable and common sense. Laying common sense best practice down on paper (uhm, pdf) has got to be a good thing, especially if it keeps the Bectards from writing poorly researched piffle about Open Source Software etc..

    It does annoy me that Becta seem to be advocating a huge increase in the scope of I(C)T in primary/secondary schools whilst ignoring the reality of ever-shrinking funding.

    The time for this document was really before the money was pumped into schools via standards funds, when people had the cash to act on it. That money is now draining away. My main standards fund income has been cut by 1/3 this year. My eLC income has dropped by over 40% and that will happen again next year. I've always felt that eLCs were weighted far too heavily in the overall budgets, but I would rather they were made available to spend on worthwhile things rather than go away altogether!

    Some more nitpicks in the docs:

    Too many Grocer's apostrophe's! [sic] Dozens like these:
    Institution’s should disable features that allow an AP to be administered via the WLAN.
    Institution’s shall use as high a standard of authentication for WLANs as they do for their wired networks.
    Institution’s shall use WPA encryption and should use WPA2/802.11i security where possible
    They are advocating gigabit links from my edge router to my network core, even though the routers need only be 8mbit/2mbit. I don't see my LEA providing me with a 100Mb link (even just to them) within the next 5 years:
    There should be a gigabit connection between edge equipment and the LAN core
    and
    Routing devices shall support a minimum of 8Mbps/2Mbps for egress traffic (as per
    the DfES guidelines44).

  7. #22
    sahmeepee's Avatar
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    Re: BECTA Technical Specification Working Group

    Quote Originally Posted by GrumbleDook
    The ring fencing of many budgets has now stopped and supposedly the school should have more freedom to buy what they need rather than be told they can spend it in certain areas only.
    Come on Tony! You sound like the other Tony . Anyone who manages an IT budget in a school knows full-well that when the budgets are merged "to allow more flexibility for the school" the combined total shrinks significantly. That is the basis of the 33-40% drop we are talking about - nothing to do with the priorities of the school. You may remember this from the LfT era. It's an established trick.

    In this case the powers that be have managed to roll the IT budget into a headline-grabbing "increase in capital spending in schools" by moving it from a non-capital grant to a capital one. Whoop di do.

  8. #23
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    Re: BECTA Technical Specification Working Group

    The school has made every effort to allocate as much as possible, but all budgets have been reduced this year. My biggest problem as it stands is workload. I have begun to find the amount of jobs to do is increasing exponentially. I recently decided to write all my major jobs on my whiteboard, its probably around 18 months work, even without a VLE which we are still missing.

    Perhaps thats wrong, my biggest problem is other people! :P

    Just today I spent the entire morning sorting out online testing (not the rm system - edexcel) because no one bothered to give me the dates when it was to be used. I *was* supposed to be doing a great many other things. My virtual servers have halted at around 60% change over due to every other bloody job for other people (apparently) being more important than my own.

    Over a year the servers have been in now! My migration to exchange has ground to a halt. What I have done, I'm pleased with - I'm rather a perfectionist when it comes to computers, one of the drags on my time - jobs must be done *right*

    My install of one or zero was started months ago, however I got side tracked after I discovered that the ldap authentication wouldn't use ssl.

    I have the fits manual on my desk, where it has been since I printed it, I have been working flat out for the last 2 years - I've not even had time to reimage the computers, work out RIS, get to grips with the wininstall suite, install my latest version of antivirus, vlans, subnets or 802.1x.

    Most of this unplanned work is dumped on me from a height, school, LA, govenment. Things like sims.net have been a great excuse for users, as its *new* then they can just pass the buck for questions to me rather than engage their brains.

    If that wasn't enough I am now engaged in a slow siege warfare against out mac suite.


    These proposals will only make it worse, I have ended up working from home remotely from 7pm to 1am on several occasions recently, simply because people expect everything to be on all the time, and the hours I work are when I can't turn things off!

    I'm not saying the ideas aren't good, but we are moving towards an enterprise level of provision for schools IT, yet we do not have an enterprise budget or salary.

  9. #24

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    Re: BECTA Technical Specification Working Group

    OK. I thought I would be able to resist taking a peek, but I'm not that strong. Especially when Tony has done such a great job representing our concerns and interests and getting the information to us in the way he has. So- here's a long-ish reply to some of the points found in the "Functional.." document. I will do the same for the technical document if I have the time.

    The start of the document (1.2.1) is interesting- it speaks of reduced administrative burden on the one hand and taketh it away the next! Reduction of administrative burden is something we all strive for, but with current structures the way they are that may not happen too soon (or ever). It's a kind of management panacea- where they keep their jobs looking for this thing called "least burden" and we keep trying to fix things as they pile more onto us (OK- cynical view there). It would be nice- but lets see what else they say.

    1.2.1- They talk here of online curriculum resources, NEN, access to a "range of devices". They then say that the institution will need to decide which access devices are needed to meet the demands of the learner and educator. Of course, we do now don't we? So although this is a good thing to bear in mind as an ultimate "this is why you are here" thing, it really should be happening now.

    1.2.5- Secure email services. Yep. If you have an email server in your school that isn't "secure" then you need to change job. Now.

    1.2.6- "Should" have access to a learning platform. Agreed. And a good idea.

    1.2.7- Collaborative tools. Again- this is a sound thing for schools. We are buying into TALMOS for similar reasons, and it doesn't look too bad. If you have the money.

    1.2.8- LA/RBC advice on access devices. The term "should" is used here. According to Tony's definition of these key words this can be translated "highly recommend". OK. I concede that sometimes the RBC has your best interests at heart and will give you sound technical advice in an impartial manner. Sometimes. That hasn't always been my experience- but I'm sure this will be milk and honey to heads and SMTs who need that advice because they are undertaking large changes in their infrastructure. It's generally good advice and probably worth following.

    Flexible working and ICT section has me a little worried. The overall theme is some kind of remote capability (what about remote viewing ;-) There is a good focus on avilability of resources for SEN students and those who for whatever reason find themselves out of school for long periods of time. I think this would be worth looking at some more.

    2.2.1- Parents having access to the inst. "services"? What does this mean? And 24/7 access- I wonder where these ideas come from at times. Have people thought about support needs for this 24/7 access and what this means for ICT departments who are underpaid, undervalued, and underfunded?

    2.2.3- Parents access to child's work *and* administration data related to that child. What? So if I look at this sideways it perhaps looks like a good idea. But then see above. What with remote access security needs increasing with each idea that is bounced off the wall, it becomes necessary to smoke something very hard-core before you can look at this one and smile and catch the flame of it; and then to get excited about it? You would need to be brain dead. This is a proposal that stinks of Freddy from Elm Street...

    2.2.4- Sounds good. What do they mean by tools? We need more definition than this of exactly what they mean. I'm thinking things like TALMOS and collaboration again. Would that be right? I don't know any decent technicians who would object to this or stand in its way. But please define it more than you have.

    2.2.5- Yep. That's obvious. Wired networks have better security, better speed and scalability. Nothing new here. Move along.

    2.2.6- Secure wireless that will complement wired networks. Yep. And obvious one that. I like it more now.

    2.2.7- I know this is written for perhaps the less technical person but this is a given. Wireless security is better now than it has been, but it still needs a lot of work. But good points.

    Protection from inappropriate content, data security and integrity (4.1.1), content and email filtering systems (4.2.1) and although I would question how this should be "managed by LAs/RBCs in discussion with institutions" they do concede (thankfully) that this filtering should be "refined" at institutional levels. This is extended in further sections to cover "safe and secure internet access", documented security procedures for all the above, and protection from both internal and external attempts at damaging the network or (I suppose) its data. A good section with some common-sense attacks at dangers "out there".

    4.2.5- This is probably at the top of any clean-living systems administrator out there (are there any clean living ones ;-). I recently updated our disaster recovery plans (there were none in place and never have been before this) and made ASR tapes, boot floppies, installed recovery console, make tapes for off-site keeping and utilise external backup media as another layer of safety. This is basically what I think is being promoted here- there needs to be some way to make sure that your school's data is safer and recoverable should the possible happen. Good common sense ideas here that you find in about every good Windows Server manual.

    4.2.8- SSO. It's called Active Directory Directory Services Authentication. Or Open Directory if you use Macs. But what do they *mean* by "external resources"? And how are they proposing this SSO?

    This isn't a rant- just some observations and a summary of what I've read from the document. It's good- but it's just fluff with very little substance. As Dr McCoy pointed out- there are too many admins out there who have far too much to do than worry about BECTAs latest and greatest research/findings/data/proposals. It's nice to have them, but *how* are we going to put all this in place with things the way they are now?

    Sorry for the longevity.

    Spank you kindly for reading.

    Paul :-)

  10. #25

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    Re: BECTA Technical Specification Working Group

    I sometimes think that I live in an alternate universe.
    I have skimmed through all this stuff and, although some of it looks great in principle, the reality of it is that to me, it is as if I am living in 1750 and am reading a specification for a spaceship!.
    I know that we must look to the future but we must also try and improve current systems and practices so that we are at least within reach of these sort of proposed improvements . I do agree with getting standards down on paper, but I feel that they need to be a little closer to the real world to have any sort of impact.
    I don't work in small rural schools, but in a large (390) first school and a medium sized middle school, which has the first two years of conventional secondary education (7 and 8). Neither school has an IT budget as such, and we are far too busy trying to get 7 year old computers to keep going than worry about switch specifications!
    The point about actually getting the info is a good one too - even if the info got to either of my schools it is very unlikely ever to get to the IT coordinator, or me, so it becomes a little pointless.

    Finally - DMcCoy - STOP doing so much extra, unpaid work! It is people like you that make the powers that be think that we CAN do the job on the money they pay us!
    Seriously though, I do worry about the extra hours that most of us put in to get the job done, and agree that this can only get worse, especially if we are expected to implement the BECTA stuff.
    But then again, that won't happen because, at least where I live, there will NEVER be the money to do it.

  11. #26
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    Re: BECTA Technical Specification Working Group

    Quote Originally Posted by kingswood
    4.2.8- SSO. It's called Active Directory Directory Services Authentication. Or Open Directory if you use Macs. But what do they *mean* by "external resources"? And how are they proposing this SSO?
    Paul, really interesting post!

    On the bit I've quoted, they are talking about a scheme called Shibboleth (or AAA depending on where you look). It seems to be a more open version of what Microsoft tried (and failed) to do with MS Passport.

    Google wasn't very helpful as Becta move their documents every week to improve our searching skills, so here's some reasonable starting point links:

    http://schools.becta.org.uk/index.ph...o_03&rid=11277
    http://industry.becta.org.uk/display.cfm?resID=14598

    As to how it works, it's quite hard to find docs on that, but they have conducted research so I'm sure it'll be fine.

  12. #27

    russdev's Avatar
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    Re: BECTA Technical Specification Working Group

    Quote Originally Posted by sahmeepee
    Quote Originally Posted by kingswood
    4.2.8- SSO. It's called Active Directory Directory Services Authentication. Or Open Directory if you use Macs. But what do they *mean* by "external resources"? And how are they proposing this SSO?
    Paul, really interesting post!

    On the bit I've quoted, they are talking about a scheme called Shibboleth (or AAA depending on where you look). It seems to be a more open version of what Microsoft tried (and failed) to do with MS Passport.

    Google wasn't very helpful as Becta move their documents every week to improve our searching skills, so here's some reasonable starting point links:

    http://schools.becta.org.uk/index.ph...o_03&rid=11277
    http://industry.becta.org.uk/display.cfm?resID=14598

    As to how it works, it's quite hard to find docs on that, but they have conducted research so I'm sure it'll be fine.
    AAA is is becta's name for the project shibboleth is technology...

    http://shibboleth.internet2.edu/

    Russ

  13. #28

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    Re: BECTA Technical Specification Working Group

    Thanks for the info. That makes it a bit clearer for sure. I'll have more of a read later.

    Paul

  14. #29


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    Re: BECTA Technical Specification Working Group

    As to how it works, it's quite hard to find docs on that, but they have conducted research so I'm sure it'll be fine.
    Basically, Shibboleth is due to replace Athens in Universities by 2007.
    The history of this is that Athens has been running for years (early 90's) as a centralised authentication source for Universities services (eg web of science, library services etc) that all universities can access. It currently requires Uni's to set up students accounts with on Athens. The replacement is Shibboleth. The advantage of Shibboleth is that a centralised authentication source is not required as it can use the universities local authentication server (MS-AD, OpenLDAP, SUN iplanet, Novell e-directory,whatever). Shibboleth can then hook into web services etc and users are authenticated against their local auth server. For example Apache has a Shibboleth plugin - so If I wrote an educational resource site I could use the plugin to authenticate people from different sources without setting up accounts.

    Becta's plan is to extend this idea to schools

  15. #30
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    Re: BECTA Technical Specification Working Group

    Could someone tell me what is meant by 4.1.3:

    Caching and Content Delievery second bullet point:

    Caches shall not be in-line with the instituation's broadband connection?

    We currently have a content-cache server which redirects people to the proxy server and then outside would this be counted as in-line?

    Wes

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