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back to article Becta schools deal stuns British open-istas

The open source community is up in arms today following Becta’s decision to award its open source schools project to a little-known consultancy firm. Becta, the UK's education technology agency, yesterday stunned UK open source fanciers when it handed a £270,000 contract to AlphaPlus Consultancy to set up and run an open source …

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Alert

Value for money

Well I never, an agency that goes from being a Microsoft supporter a few years back and then gets into trouble then and now offering the best of both worlds still gets them into trouble.

I have to say though, going for a smaller consultancy will probably get them far better value for money - unlike going for one of the big guns.

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So lets get this right

they are one hand saying they want to move away from M$ but then people bitch when they don't choose a Red Hat backed firm. Soooo let's see:

Hello Red hat backed firm, what do you think we should use?

Our Software!

Any other options?

No.

Ok we'll go with you.

Yup seems like a free open choice to me....

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Snivel Snivel Sob!

<Mark Taylor>We pitched for business, we lost out to someone else, WE HATE THE WORLD ITS NOT FAIR! WAAAAAAHHH.</Mark Taylor>

Grow the fuck up. Jeeeeesus.

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Flame

Snouts in trough?

Seems that one has to look with a jaundiced eye at any Becta statements. Are they really for open-source S/W or is there an agenda to push M$ further interests here.

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You can't win...

Presumably the "open source community" would equally be "up in arms" if the contract were awarded to a company with a vested interest in pushing its own commercial open-source platform and agenda, such as Red Hat or Canonical/Ubuntu.

Anyway, the open source community != The Open Source Consortium. Could they perhaps be a bit miffed at having lost the contract?

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Unhappy

I'm not surprised

I have had dealings with these quangos in the past. The suppliers are a cartel who have insider access to the people at the top (who are normally too weak or easily led) and who block outside competition.

Your tax money is being wasted on a scale you cannot imagine all over the country by these Old Boys Clubs.

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The beauty of open source

Yep, that's right: you don't have to be an officially sanctioned member of the open source establishment to participate and do good things. Somebody get Mark Taylor a waaaaaaaahmbulance.

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Am I dreaming?

UK.gov agency snubs US-based interests for a UK company that isn't BT.

*Gasp* and they actually /Specialise/ in education.

Now, I've no doubt that there may well be some snouts in the trough but, call me jingoistic if I'd rather it were British snouts with some nominal expertise in the subject matter than a bunch of generalists in programming philosophy.

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Are they any good?

I can't say anything against this firm that won the bid, I don't know what their positions is.

So wait and see.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Am I dreaming?

Couldn't agree more. From the sounds of it the whole point of this contract isn't for the winner to produce the software, but to be the ones providing information to schools about what is out there. From that perspective I would think having experience in education is far more important than open source. After all, realistically anyone from the open source community is going to have lots of experience in a certain field of excellence, but it's unlikely anyone would be able to cover the entire scope of what is required.

Far better to let a group who know what is actually needed do the co-ordinating, rather than the people who know how to produce an answer trying to dictate what the best solution will be. It's like IT management. To get everything done properly you might well need good comms, infrastructure, data, security, hardware etc specialists to deal with their particular areas, but to work properly you need a manager co-ordinating the work. They need to understand what is required as an outcome, and which specialists to speak to in order to achieve that, not how the specifics work themselves.

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Stop

Not about the money

To those banging on about the lost business or making juvenile 'waaa' gags :-

Whats pissing a lot of people off is not brand X getting the contract versus brand Y - it's the fact the three main OSS tenders at least brought expertise with OS software, experience with software in the educational sector or both..

As best as anyone can tell currently, none of those accusations can be levelled at Alphaplus. If, when we hear from John Winkley, there are some fabulously well-guarded revelations, i'll be glad to listen to them and make up my mind more then (although I ain't holding my breath).

However, if you lot just want to hear the sound of your own voice - go stand in the bathroom..

Sheesh

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Go

Possibly a good move..

Looking at the AlphaPlus Consultancy, they seem to be primarily focussed towards education, and understanding what goes on in there.

What is really needed is someone who understands the target market (because they've worked extensively there), and what solutions are on offer in the marketplace as a whole.

Now, instead of having a highly fragmented Open Source approach, one can be managed carefully, playing vendors off one against another to provide best cost service for particular sections. Change is constant in the Open arena, and I honestly wouldn't trust BECTA to keep up to date with it, where I may trust a consultant with a good record to do just that (think small and agile, but with a reasonable hitting stick in terms of budget).

Seems the best move to me, having someone in place that comes from an education company and knows Open Source, rather than pitting an education organisation that doesn't really understand all the tech, and can't keep up, against a series of vendors who know the tech, but don't really understand all the ramifications of the education sector.

And at a very reasonable price too!

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Don't use a massive commercial company

Use RedHat instead!

Wait...

Perhaps they get better service/value for money from the smaller firm? Size isn't everything.

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Credendials and Capabilities

That sounds like a sore loser to me. I thought one of the "great things" about Open Source is that as long as you are technically capable you can use it. Maybe I'm wrong and I've misunderstood the message coming from the Open Saucer camp.

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Paris Hilton

Relevance of Becta

My wife is the ICT Coordinator (no, I don't know why they need an extra 'C' either) at her primary school. And in her experience (and all the other schools she deals with), Becta has pretty much zero relevance.

Paris, 'cos she ought to have paid more attention at school.

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Paris Hilton

Sour grapes or cronyism

The obvious reaction from outsiders is that any criticism of Becta's choice should be perceived as sour grapes. Perhaps. That was certainly the intention as far as Becta were concerned.

But you can't get away from the fact that:

1) Alphaplus was the only non-Open Source firm/org invited to this *closed bid*. Becta hand-picked who they wanted to bid for this tender.

2) Alphaplus was the only bidder with no technical experience or knowledge in delivering Open Source solutions to schools.

3) Alphaplus has been approaching some of the other bidders today for help implementing point 2. How did they win without meeting this *fundamental* requirement of the tender?

4) Alphaplus has friends at Becta. They are 'insiders'.

It does strike me as a classic stitch-up job.

I've concluded that Becta are not actually interested in Open Source or Open Standards for that matter. They're probably not very interested in schools either, given that they've chosen the least qualified bidder in this tender.

What they are interested in is _self-preservation_. They can see the writing on the wall. The Brown government is on the ropes. Their likely replacement, the Conservative Party, has been working with OSS community groups to outline an Open Source strategy for two years now.

Becta thinks that stunts such as this will demonstrate their continuing relevance whilst maintaining their grip of school's procurement of ICT.

It's called realpolitik.

Flamers above should, honestly, read between the lines.

Paris, because she would have got a better score for technical ability than Alphaplus.

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I'm with alex dekker...

I think alex dekker summed it up perfectly... waaaahmbulance indeed.

Cry me a river, Canonical and Redhat. I love Canonical's work, but for an education contract, it's probably easier for a company that specializes in education to pick out the open source products that will be best than for an open source company to figure out what educational users want.

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Education credentials

I would just like to point out that there were bids from people with both solid FOSS *and* education credentials. OOo schools project lead, an assessor of the National Professional Qualification for Headteachers with a Masters in Education Management, Chief Assessor with an OFQual Accredited Awarding Body and another who is a Fellow of the Institute of Education Assessors. The winners were not the only ones with strong professional qualifications and experience.

If you look at the assessment method employed, it gives just about zero weight to FOSS experience. It was a generic document clearly used previously for a research tender. The assessment details were not given in the tender but it would clearly put any bidders who had seen the guidance from feedback in other BECTA tenders in the past at a significant advantage over any that had not, especially as any advantage of being FOSS experienced was effectively eliminated. It's a typical government cock up where the over focus on clueless procedure results in a weird outcome no-one actually questions until it's too late. Bit like the doctor that said the operation went well because the procedures went like clockwork. But what of the outcome? Oh the patient died ;-)

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Pirate

Bollox

"From the sounds of it the whole point of this contract isn't for the winner to produce the software, but to be the ones providing information to schools about what is out there."

Written, I suspect, by a person who is directly involved in this sham. I may be wrong, but I doubt it.

Every OSS organisation involved in this tender employed experienced educationalists:

The renowned experts in the use of Open Source software in teritery education (OSS Watch).

The founder of INGOTS + former teachers and a senior school's inspector (Learning Machine).

PhDs with +25 years experience in secondary/teritery education + responsibility for the largest educational OSS deployments in Europe (Sirius).

One of the bidders is even involved in a multi-million pound, EC-funded project that is producing tools to monitor OSS community building (another fundamental requirement of the bid).

Each one of these organisations could have done a fine job fulfilling the requirements of this bid. But they were not chosen.

Instead, Becta has managed to install their clueless cronies, discredit the other bidders through cries of 'sour grapes' by the uninformed and, it would seem, succeed in splitting the UK OSS community (again) by tempting some of its less 'high-minded' members to provide them with the technical skills they lack.

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tom
Happy

Gods Of Powerpoint

Who knows, maybe they just made a very, very impressive presentation.

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Paris Hilton

Not sure what to think.

It feels a little odd that the task went to an unknown firm. But on the other hand, we don't need the big boys pushing their own software over others.

Canonical and Red Hat can still contribute to the project. That's the beauty of Open Source.

I say make them learn Gentoo! Muahaha.

Paris, because her soft wares also go to the highest bidder.

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Alert

!PowerPoint

"Who knows, maybe they just made a very, very impressive presentation."

***...Using OpenOffice Impress! ***

Anyone turning up with PowerPoint was probably docked 5 points before they started

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@ RichyS

I spent nearly 4 years as the Network Manager in a Secondary School and BECTA had no relevance at all. Unfortunately, in the majority of schools these posts are filled by teachers as an additional responsibility and not professionals as a prime one. They therefore don't necessarily have the experience or depth of knowledge to recognise this irrelevance. Consequently they rely on BECTA's guidelines, sharp talking salesmen and often incompetent LEA advice when making important decisions.

BECTA has previous when making decisions that help its friends and it is unlikely to stop.

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Dead Vulture

I actually worked for Becta for a while

If you ever need an organisation that's a waste of our tax money, Becta is a fine example.

The leadership there is far to concerned with being politically connected and the appearance of being important rather than improving the outcomes in school.

Time to close it and save our tax money...

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Linux

Of course they may actually know something you don't.......

>The founder of INGOTS + former teachers and a senior school's inspector (Learning Machine).

Can't believe Canonical are backing them, with friends like that Ubuntu doesn't need enemies.

Totally depressing they had so few credible bidders, but refreshing to see that Becta still do their research before handing out my money.

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Anonymous Coward

Tories, Open Source and question

Umm, the Tories are a bit further than *just* using Open Source. Remember that they *understand* how money works, and would always be interested in anything that is more cost efficient because it makes them look good, even under a thorough audit (assuming they throw current management out - I have insight knowledge of things the NAO missed so I'm not impressed).

The eGIF standards appeared under Tory gov (and were subsequently mostly ignored by New Labour because it got in the way with their MS love-in, hence the unnecessary proprietary nature of the gov gateway) and it was also in that time that all gov websites were converted to Linux, overnight, with nobody noticing anything at all until some spotted that the Queens website was on Linux - look for a Slashdot interview with Mick Morgan if you need a date. That organisation was swiftly closed once New Labour came to power.

A whois of "gsi.net" will show you that the UK Government Secure intranet (GSi) was also an idea developed when Tories were at play (check the registration date). Note that that carrier underpins *everything* in central government and is probably the most successful IT project ever, saving the government a fortune in comms bills and email - but unknown because it just works. Compare that with the hugely consultant infested rubbish New Labour has tried to get going, and just think how much money that has wasted. Money YOU paid in the form of the multitude of taxes and losing a substantial chunk of your pension.

Now, a question: is BECTA subject to FOI? Anyone tried a Freedom Of Information request yet? Has anyone briefed their local Tory MP? Without some insight into the decision parameters you can't judge at all if this is pork-barrel preservation for when the government changes (I think we've passed the "if" stage) or that there were indeed aspects on the table that were a better match. That depends on the quality of the bid request as well, I'm sure you know how bids can be written towards a "preferred" provider. Until you have that information you're at best guessing, at worst libelling..

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Stop

@AC

What the hell does 'teritery' mean?

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Go

Come on El Reg

Submit a Freedom of Information request pronto and get to the bottom of this... the tendering process should have been well documented !

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Bronze badge

Something else doesn't add up.

I'm not sure if I'm reading something into the report which isn't there, but they seem to be talking about some of the open source software coming out of schools.

Are the skills there for this to happen?

Do the staff have the time to use their skills to create software?

Is this going to do anything to change how the software is written, or will it just be a different way of paying the educational software industry?

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Anonymous Coward

Where are the British Linux Distros?

We don't even have a Linux distro based in the UK.

I am not surprised it had to go to some, just switched over from windows, Consultancy.

They are using PHP on the site, which is not always a show for real open source enthusiasts, Perl or Python would give a little more credibility.

And there is a bit of flash, perhaps they used Ming, but I rather doubt it.

Looking around a bit more we come across the toolslibrary, and a quick glance at the contact form shows ASP being used, not really an opensource language that one.

So, I suppose the question is are their internal systems developed on an opensource platform, or have a group of window's heads struggling to make the transition themselves, just been hired.

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Look at some evidence?

If you go to http://theingots.org/community/node/3769

You can look at a page summarising BECTA's required outputs for the project and the SF-UK/TLM provision for the *starting* point. Given that this far surpassess the targets set it's difficult to see how the bid then scored badly on value for money and ability to deliver. The bidder already surpassed the targets without any public money. The full bid is available at http://theingots.org/community/node/3768

We don't really know what the others actually submitted but invite them to attach their bids so everything is open and transparent. Strong bids have nothing to fear.

The fact that the guidance for assessment was not made available to all bidders at the time of submission is in my view a serious flaw in the entire process no matter which bid is stronger on paper.

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Happy

Gotta say.

It makes sense to hand athis contract to an educational software specialist rather than a pure open source group.

These people are liable to have some knowledge of the alphabetti spagetti of initiatives, guidlines, standards, programs, metrics etc. that pour forth from Whitehall. An indepth knowlege of IPV6 routing tables will get you nowhere in this New Labour/Kafaesque nightmare.

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Anonymous Coward

odd

In the US the BECTA schools specials usually start in August.

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Joke

Gods of Powercash

Who knows, maybe they just made a very, very impressive brown envelope.

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