Becta's Home Access Scheme...not really a scam
Published 13:43, 15 March 10
I was asked by a colleague in Holland to explain Becta's Home Access scheme and give an update on how it was going.
He was concerned that 'it had all gone a bit quiet' and he could not find out much about it.
As an (sorry, the only) accredited supplier of Free Open Source software to schools we had looked into tendering to become an accredited supplier of the Home Access Package so this presumably is why he thought we might know something.
My current interest in the topic was quite low but was given a fillip by two things:
1) Today the Conservative Party (the ones who would abolish Becta) published its Technology Manifesto which states that it would create a 'Level Playing Field' for Open Source software providers and encourage SME participation in Public Sector IT...cool stuff.
2) Two responses to my earlier Becta blog concerning its potential demise (see above) accused me of a myopic view...
Well, suitably piqued, I now have my glasses on, so let's have a close look.
We have long complained that Becta's very public conversion to the virtues of Open Source software is a little longer on words than it is on action.
The suspicion is that they are playing 'lip-service' to FOSS while the edu-world continues to spend millions of pounds of money they no longer have (sacking staff as a result..oh the crocodile tears) on expensive proprietary products... exactly as before.
So, without any myopic disadvantage let's scrutinise Becta's latest work...
Becta's Home Access Scheme (explained). Who qualifies for free stuff? From Becta's site we have the following:
'The new BECTA Home Access Scheme has been launched and parents or carers who meet the following criteria are eligible to apply for a free laptop and internet package from CAPITA (the company running the scheme).
The criteria are:
- The child is eligible for free school meals or, that a parent or carer is:are (sic) on income support
- receive income-based job seekers’ allowance
- receive Child Tax Credit and have an income of less than £16,040
- have guaranteed pension credit
- have an income-related employment support allowance
- receive support under part 6 of the Immigration and Asylum Act'
From this we know that the target group are children from disadvantaged situations and that the scheme is run by Capita. Next we need to know who supplies the packages:
- Bli Education
- Positive IT Solutions
No RM note... Why not?
From the above's web sites we find that the laptops are either modest ACER, Toshiba and Samsungs and have prices (with software bundle included more of which later) approximately £100 above the Internet equivalent/actual model price.
Finally, we need to know what software comes with the laptops. So back to Becta's sites for more quotes:
"Home Access packages have been designed with learners’ needs in mind, and consist of:
- a user device – portable or desktop PC
- pre-installed productivity, e-safety and Assistive Technology
- 1 year service and support including warranty and re-instatement service
- One year broadband connectivity (currently mobile only).'
Bullet point 2 is the software bit and also the start of a very odd trail.
Looking at Becta's site and Capita's and each of the suppliers one is struck by the lack of information about the operating system and the productivity suite.
This is deliberate of course. The language used by Becta and clearly mandated down the food-chain to the suppliers makes it very clear that there is indeed a level playing field where all OSes are allowed and any Office productivity suite will do.
However, further probing and visits to shops turns out that all offerings come with Windows OS and only one company uses Open Office (Positive IT Solutions): that's it for FOSS. From the £30 million fund one minor supplier give users Open Office!
This of course begs the BECTA question to the likes of us,
'Why if you are so pro open source software, and you are an accredited supplier, and you can see we don't specify MS Windows and MS Office in our blurb, then why are you not taking advantage of being a Home Access Supplier?..stop moaning, start contributing!'.
Fair point. That is fair until you look at the e-safety and Assistive Technology packages that must come with the Home Access bundle.
Becta have (on their web-site) a list of approved Assistive Technology software packages...as you would expect, but..
They are from Matchware (Mind Maps) TextHelp and Sherston. These add value to the laptop price, one company even claimed it amounted to £570!
...and yes they run on good old-fashioned PCs (this means Windows) some do Mac but not Linux.
So there you have it folks. Taxpayers' money has been used to supply disadvantaged children with almost exclusively proprietary software while effectively excluding any Open Source offering in the process.
No irony there then. But that's what we mean by 'Lip Service'.
A myopic view of Governmental shenanigans you bet, next up?