Over the past 10 years, Mrs Thatcher and her successive governments have legislated on many aspects of British life and not least of these is education. The 1987 Education Reform Bill and 1988 Education Act are amongst the most far-reaching of those reforms, if only because the consequences are not confined to the immediate but […]
Over the past 10 years, Mrs Thatcher and her successive governments have legislated on many aspects of British life and not least of these is education. The 1987 Education Reform Bill and 1988 Education Act are amongst the most far-reaching of those reforms, if only because the consequences are not confined to the immediate but will affect the consumers of education in subsequent generations, and thus the society in which they live. The philosophy behind planned changes in education is to make the system more cost-effective and to devolve power from Local Education Authorities to the school level. Included in recent legislation are proposals to introduce a national core curriculum, compulsory open enrolment outside existing Local Education Authority parameters, the choice of opting out of Local Education control and assuming grant-maintained status, and the delegation of school management – both financial and personnel to school heads and governors. Essentially, schools are to be turned into business units and by linking financial performance with national curriculum testing, the efficiency and profitability of schools can be assessed. As with any other commercial activity, schools that achieve poor results cannot expect to survive. This is especially true since the population is falling and competition for pupils will be fierce. The added burdens of administration, of buying goods and services and the recruitment of staff, mean that large amounts of data and information will have to be stored and manipulated by schools, in addition to implementing the new core curriculum. A recent report by Coopers & Lybrand for the Department of Education & Science concluded that without computerised information systems, the burdens imposed on school staff could become intolerable, negating the benefits of local management. Consequently, the Government is making UKP75m available to education authorities that they may computerise information and train teaching staff in the use of technology once the devolution of management is complete. If schools are to run like small businesses and use technology to manage their affairs, then computer companies, with remarkably little effort, have discovered a new market, and we can expect to see a increasing number of players competing for a share. Previously, the education market was dominated by two companies, Relational Technology and IBM, but the first of the newcomers has emerged in the form of Bull HN Information Systems. Two contracts for Bull Bull has won two contracts from Gloucestershire County Council to run its Schools Information Management System on Bull personal computers. The company is installing 42 APM-45 personal computers and Compuprint 4/62 printers in secondary schools and 93 APM-45 personal computers in primary schools. In addition, Bull has teamed up with SIMS Ltd and apart from marketing its Schools Information Management System, has invested in UKP60,000 of equipment that they may jointly develop a system for education authorities called SIMMS-EDS. Bull also has an incentive package for schools whereby it will maintain hardware regardless of the manufacturer and is offering a 38% discount on installations, an attractive proposition given that a five-station local area network with printer and software costs in the region of UKP10,000. At present, Deer Park secondary school in Gloucestershire is acting as a county training centre and is using a Bull AP-45 micro with 40Mb hard disk running MS-DOS 3.3 with SIMS Finance module and Student, Teacher and Academic Record Module. Apart from the Gloucestershire contract Bull has also set up a number of pilot schemes in Essex, Camden, Hereford and Worcester, and two schemes at further education centres in Bromley and Manchester. No doubt Bull is the first of many to become aware of the commercial possibilities arising from the liberalisation of education: regardless of ideological arguments over thorny issues such as opting out, the appointment of financial managers, and teachers becoming administrators, there is now undeniable need fo
r technology in education – if only to leave the educators free to do what they they do best.