It has become trite to say that the Government's Building Schools for the Future Programme is more than "bricks and mortar". What is less widely recognised is that the provision of the ICT Managed Service under the BSF Programme is more than "boxes and wires".
Under the standard form ICT Services Contract, the LEP has, in addition to its obligations to provide new kit and refresh it over the course of five years, obligations to provide change management services and, in many schemes, the provision of a managed learning environment.
Local Authorities embarking on a BSF project should ensure that they undertake a rigorous test of the ICT contractors' ability to provide these change management services during the BSF procurement. In many respects, it is these services which will provide the educational transformation which is so key to the step change in educational attainment which is the overall goal of the BSF programme.
Once the capability of the ICT contractor has been tested as part of the dialogue, Local Authorities will need to work with bidders to structure the ICT Services Contract appropriately. The current standard form provided by Partnerships for Schools does not currently provide for some of the more transformational aspects of many BSF ICT solutions on the market, including early provision of central services, provision of services to non-sample schools, use of legacy equipment in the managed service, refresh of equipment and provision of services to an Authority's whole scheme through one contract. These matters can be incorporated into the contract, but Local Authorities should be clear as to what they want from their ICT solution as early as possible to avoid extra time and cost during the procurement process. Local Authorities which already provide a managed learning environment or wide area network will also need to consider whether this is something that they wish to continue providing themselves, or whether they would prefer to have the Local Education Partnership provide all of these services. In these circumstances, further amendments may be required to the standard legal agreement.
With many innovative solutions for transformational services being proposed by many of the major players in the BSF ICT market, Local Authorities may wish to consider whether or not there are additional key performance indicators which could be incorporated in the contract to properly assess the ICT contractors' performance against the Authority's educational transformation goals. These should not be set unrealistically high, but should be worked up during the procurement to ensure that Local Authorities are obtaining a value for money solution which fulfils their objectives.
Of course, while ensuring that enough focus is given to the transformational aspects of the programme, Local Authorities must not lose sight of the fact that good equipment will assist in providing the desired transformational outcome. It is therefore important to assess the solution as a whole, taking into account both the device and kit strategy proposed and the change management programme which is advocated, and this will require a joined up approach within the Local Authority's project team, from educational, ICT, technical and financial advisors through to in-house members of the team responsible for these aspects of the overall project.
In summary, while it is the technicians on the ground with the screwdrivers that come to mind when you think of ICT, in the context of the educational transformational goals of BSF, Local Authorities should be aware that it is the people teaching the teachers and students how to use the equipment and software that is installed that are arguably more important to the success of the programme as a whole, in much the same way that many argue that the ICT provision is more important than the building and refurbishment of schools in the BSF programme.
It may be that the effectiveness of these change management services and the impact that they have on teachers and pupils will be what determines whether a Local Authority's BSF Project is a success and this should not be ignored during the procurement process.
Mark Henderson is an experienced solicitor in Trowers & Hamlins' Public Sector Commercial department. He has advised local authorities in Australia and the United Kingdom on major projects and commercial dealings since his admission in 2004. In particular, he has advised over 10 local authorities across a number of waves in relation to their participation in the BSF programme, on matters including the Competitive Dialogue, ICT, Facilities Management and Governing Body Agreements.