[ubuntu-uk] EDM179: Response From Alan Johnson, Secretary of State for Education and Skills

James Tait james.tait at wyrddreams.org
Fri Dec 22 13:24:29 GMT 2006

Hi all,

I posted before to say that my MP, Margaret Beckett, wasn't able to sign
the EDM due to her position as a Cabinet Minister but would pass my
letter on to Alan Johnson, Secretary of State for Education and Skills.
 Well on Tuesday I got a response from Mr Johnson, via Mrs Beckett, as

Dear Margaret,

Thank you for your letter of 4 December together with enclosed
correspondence from your constituent Mr James Tait of *address withheld*
about open source software in education.

I believe that schools and colleges must be able to make an informed
choice about the software they need, be it open source or proprietary,
and to be aware of the total cost of ownership of that software,
including sustainable support and training.  The British Educational
Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) work with software
providers, both open source and proprietary, to ensure that schools and
colleges can make the most effective use of that software to support
teaching and learning.

Becta's procurement frameworks consist of a specified range of approved
suppliers of Educational ICT services and associated technologies.  All
of these framework suppliers have successfully completed a rigorous
evaluation process, conducted under EU regulations (often involving
practical testing as well as written-based assessments).  It is not
simply a list of approved products or an accreditation scheme.

Institutions are not mandated to purchase form within these frameworks,
but when selecting services outside the framework they are advised to
ensure that their chosen provider is able to deliver a service which
matches the functional requirements and offers comparable value for money.

I would also like to assure Mr Tait that because they are Government-led
ICT procurements at a national level (to be delivered locally), Becta's
frameworks have to be tendered under EU regulations so there are certain
requirements and expectations that have to be met and adhered to.
Acceptance onto the framework is by assessment of the capabilities of a
supplier to deliver and support a comprehensive suite of technologies
and not by providing a single, specific product.

That said, there is nothing to stop any supplier offering open source
solutions as part of a managed service, or a procuring authority
including open source functionalities within its Statement of
Requirements (SoR).  The whole issue of open source is therefore one of
measured inclusion rather than blanket exclusion.

Becta supports the principles of open source software and recognises the
value-for-money benefits that the larger scale deployment could bring.
Based upon a clearly defined SoR, which reflects the institutional
vision, open source has the potential to play a vital role in
educational transformation.  However it must be acknowledged that
realisation of the Department's e-strategy is not just software
deployment; it is a total, integrated service solution.


Alan Johnson

I think I need to read through it a few more times and annotate it to
really figure out what's being said.  There are also parts in there that
I recognise from somewhere (e.g. "measured inclusion rather than blanket
exclusion"), so maybe the response is just a re-iteration of official
policy.  There's an item on the agenda for the next Ubuntu-UK meeting to
discuss how we follow up on this.  I'm happy to keep the dialogue with
Mr Johnson going if the team wants that.

Let the discussion commence.

James Tait, BSc                        |    xmpp:jayteeuk at wyrddreams.org
Programmer and Free Software advocate  |      Mobile: +44 (0)7779 337596

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