Schools continue to lean towards proprietary code

04 Mar 2009 View Comments
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IT in schools is tied to proprietary contracts

The head of the £45bn Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme has admitted that it is “unusual” for schools to avoid being tied into long-term software contracts, despite a new government commitment to use open source.

As part of BSF, schools and local authorities choose from a list of 16 pre-agreed IT suppliers and enter into managed service contracts for the provision of IT.

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But this arrangement has been criticised by MPs who think open source could be cheaper and by school IT managers who fear being tied into five-to-10-year contracts.

In a parliamentary committee on BSF last week, Tim Byles, chief executive of Partnership for Schools (PfS), the organisation responsible for BSF, said it is "unusual" for schools not to be part of a local authority’s managed service for IT.

"An alternative procurement case needs to be put forward and needs to be judged as value for money for that to succeed," he said.

So far only two out of 600 schools have made the alternative case.

A PfS spokeswoman said some service providers have provided facilities to allow teachers to use unsupported open-source software.

"The process of developing the IT output specification and the subsequent dialogue with bidders enables local authorities and schools to make bidders aware if they have a strong desire to use open-source products," she said.

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