Open Source software in education in the UK

The Open Schools Alliance are asking people to write to their MP in support of an Early Day Motion by John Pugh, MP. It reads:

That this House congratulates the Open University and other schools, colleges and universities for utilising free and open source software to deliver cost-effective educational benefit not just for their own institutions but also the wider community; and expresses concern that Becta and the Department for Education and Skills, through the use of outdated purchasing frameworks, are effectively denying schools the option of benefiting from both free and open source and the value and experience small and medium ICT companies could bring to the schools market.

I’m entirely in favour of this campaign. Every time I go to Niamh’s school I think that they could be doing so much more with IT if it wasn’t that they can’t do what they want. Sam tells horror stories about software for teachers. It needs fixing. So I wrote to my MP. Why don’t you write to your MP too, if you agree?


Dear Lynda Waltho, John Pugh MP has tabled Early Day Motion number 179, entitled Software in Education, which I found at http://edmi.parliament.uk/EDMi/EDMDetails.aspx?EDMID=31752&SESSION=885. The text of the EDM refers to the Open University and other educational institutions using free and open-source software, and expresses concern that Becta and the DfES are effectively denying schools the best choice of software by making it difficult for them to use open source. Open Source software is software that is free of cost to everyone, and can be worked on by everyone. You may have heard of Linux, which is an open-source alternative to Microsoft Windows. Linux is created by a worldwide community of computer programmers, some employed by large organisations such as IBM and others devoting their free time to it. The idea behind open source software is that it gives IT staff the freedom to work with the software that they have; they can make changes to it to make it better or more appropriate to them, and the software isn’t controlled by one organisation who can refuse to fix the problems you find in it. You can find out more about open source software at http://opensource.org/advocacy/case_for_business.php. Speaking as one of your constituents, as an IT professional, and a father with a 6-year-old daughter at [redacted] School, I’d like to encourage our government to encourage schools to look at open source software as a way of saving cost and of helping schools work together to make the software that they need, rather than the software that large companies choose to give them. The e-Government unit published a report recommending that government agencies look at open source software as a strong candidate for software rollouts, with phrases such as “UK Government will seek to avoid lock-in to proprietary IT products and services”, and “UK Government will only use products for interoperability that support open standards and specifications in all future IT developments”. (I read their report at http://www.govtalk.gov.uk/policydocs/policydocs_document.asp?docnum=905 but you may have access to it some other way.) The issue that John Pugh’s EDM is hoping to address is that schools receive questionable advice on IT procurement from Becta, the government agency responsible for the use of IT in education. BECTA’s framework agreements look only at the long-term financial performance of suppliers, which seriously hampers the involvement of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). There are large software houses which tender to the education market, but there are real opportunities for SMEs to become involved in software provision; this would allow a small software house to concentrate very specifically on a particular area of educational software, which brings employment across the country (rather than just at large 1000+ employees conglomerates). Concentrating on solely large enterprises ignores the risk that schools could become locked into expensive and restrictive contractual arrangements. Becta’s lists of approved suppliers are very limited both in number and variety - only fifteen suppliers for non-curriculum software for example, none of which has any commitment to open source software despite both the e-Government report above and that Becta’s own case studies found considerable savings in cost for schools using open source software. Thanks for reading through this. I’d like to urge you to consider adding your name to John Pugh’s Early Day Motion. I’d be happy to talk to you further about this issue if you feel you’d like more information! Yours sincerely, Stuart Langridge

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