BECTA was the last reincarnation of the Micro-electronics Support Unit, created to support the DTI Micros in Schools programme which I had written into the policy proposals of both Conservative and Labour parties in 1979. The original proposal was for ten times the hardware funding to be allocated for shared software and support. It never happened. MESU had one tenth of the hardware funding, not ten times. It never reached critical mass but did valuable work until it was upstaged by the private sector suppliers to the Regional Broadband Consortia. The latter also provide Internet Services to schools, initially at 1 – 2 mbps, now being wound up to 100 mbps. They are potentially the key to providing 1 mbps to the heart of every UK community, however isolated, akin to the Obama broadband vision for small town America.
I knew BECTA was past its sell-by date when I learned that it would not be permitted to send copies of the CEOP Child protection material to every school. This would have to wait its turn behind the 100 page manuals for Health and Safety, Equal Opportunies and every other guidance tome from the bureaucracy hives of the DESc. I happened to know that one of the RBC suppliers was planning to update the guidance for the schools it supplied and put them in touch with CEOP. Within days they were talking. Within weeks the RBCs and their suppliers had agreed to not only issue the CEOP material to the schools they supported but to work together in the future. That relationship has evolved. A new generation of world-class material to educate children how to go on-line safely, protect themselves and report those who would prey on them is now being developed, in a partnership which involves the South West RBC and Childnet.
I can lament the passing of BECTA but I can also hope that the national education hierarchies which ensured it could not live up to its objectives will also go in the next round of cuts. I also hope that there will be a mechanism for services of genuine value to be picked up by schools collectives and survive the bonfire of the quangos into a new era focussed on co-opetition (mixes of co-operation and competition across public, private and voluntary sector boundaries) in delivering quality and value for money.