Blackburn with Darwen schools hit by IT problems

STATEMENT: Maureen Bateson

STATEMENT: Maureen Bateson

First published in News Lancashire Telegraph: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter

THOUSANDS of pupils have been left unable to use the internet and online learning tools after problems with a new IT technology..

Many Blackburn with Darwen high schools have been without basic IT systems such as email for months and one school, Newfield Special School, has been unable to access any e-learning facilities since September.

Hemel Hempstead-based technology provider Northgate was contracted to supply some of the most innovative technology to the borough’s schools.

Blackburn with Darwen Council and it partner in the scheme, Bolton Council, have put millions of pounds into the new system.

Northgate has carried out tests to rectify the problems.

In a move to appease St Wilfrid’s High CofE School, one of the worst affected, Northgate has given the school free goods and services.

A council report said: “Despite a significant amount of support and challenge being provided by both council and Local Education Partnership to Northgate the implementation of both core and full service did not go as well as it should have."

Both councils are jointly pursuing compensation and have submitted a case to the Department for Education.

The council provided a statement from Coun Maureen Bateson, Blackburn with Darwen's executive member for children's services which it said was from both itself and Northgate.

However, it did not address when the system will be working, how much it had cost or exactly how many schools or services had been affected.

It read: "It is unacceptable that schools have been facing these problems.

"When any major new systems are put in place there can often be teething problems. However, our main priority is to ensure students and staff have working access to a high quality ICT service.

"I will ensure the council continues to make the relevant representations through its partners to ensure any outstanding problems are addressed with the ICT providers, Northgate as a matter of priority."

Northgate was given a contract worth £41.3 million to put IT equipment in nine Blackburn schools and 15 Bolton schools that were to be revamped under the Building Schools for the Future scheme, which was later scaled back by the government.

Comments (14)

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1:13pm Mon 20 Dec 10

BuckoTheMoose says...

They could always pick up a book....
They could always pick up a book.... BuckoTheMoose
  • Score: 0

1:48pm Mon 20 Dec 10

HarwoodBiker says...

"Northgate was given a contract worth £41.3 million to put IT equipment in nine Blackburn schools and 15 Bolton schools that were to be revamped under the Building Schools for the Future scheme, which was later scaled back by the government. "

Sorry, what?

24 schools. £41.3 million. That works out as about £1.7 MILLION a school.

£1.7 million quid? How many computers are they contracted to put in each school?

Let's pretend for a minute that all these schools are absolutely massive and each of them require, say, 200 computers (though that seems pretty doubtful - most normal-sized secondary schools seem to have nowhere near that).

Let's also say that these computers cost £1000 each, although again this is an over-exaggeration, as well-specced desktop packages can be had from large brand name manufacturers such as HP and dell for less than half that.

So that's £200,000 worth of IT equipment. Add a server, network hardware, cabling and labour to set the whole lot up - maybe £100k (and, again, that would be at absolutely top-notch prices).

Right, so that's £300k a school. Tell you what, just in case my figures are inaccurate (please bear in mind that I'm an IT tech so have a fairly good idea of what I'm talking about), let's double that. £600k per school, including an extremely healthy profit for the suppliers.

Where's the other £1.1 million gone?

Is it any wonder that our government has no money?

LET, would you be interested in trying to get the council to provide a cost breakdown of this £1.7m funding? I bet most of it is going in someone's back pocket somewhere along the line.

I think this is disgusting and something needs to be done about it.
"Northgate was given a contract worth £41.3 million to put IT equipment in nine Blackburn schools and 15 Bolton schools that were to be revamped under the Building Schools for the Future scheme, which was later scaled back by the government. " Sorry, what? 24 schools. £41.3 million. That works out as about £1.7 MILLION a school. £1.7 million quid? How many computers are they contracted to put in each school? Let's pretend for a minute that all these schools are absolutely massive and each of them require, say, 200 computers (though that seems pretty doubtful - most normal-sized secondary schools seem to have nowhere near that). Let's also say that these computers cost £1000 each, although again this is an over-exaggeration, as well-specced desktop packages can be had from large brand name manufacturers such as HP and dell for less than half that. So that's £200,000 worth of IT equipment. Add a server, network hardware, cabling and labour to set the whole lot up - maybe £100k (and, again, that would be at absolutely top-notch prices). Right, so that's £300k a school. Tell you what, just in case my figures are inaccurate (please bear in mind that I'm an IT tech so have a fairly good idea of what I'm talking about), let's double that. £600k per school, including an extremely healthy profit for the suppliers. Where's the other £1.1 million gone? Is it any wonder that our government has no money? LET, would you be interested in trying to get the council to provide a cost breakdown of this £1.7m funding? I bet most of it is going in someone's back pocket somewhere along the line. I think this is disgusting and something needs to be done about it. HarwoodBiker
  • Score: 0

2:55pm Mon 20 Dec 10

wing commander bomber harris says...

good comment harwoodbiker, it clearly shows that when it comes to spending money our councillors clearly like spending other people's money without a care in the world. Wasteful sh!ts!!!
good comment harwoodbiker, it clearly shows that when it comes to spending money our councillors clearly like spending other people's money without a care in the world. Wasteful sh!ts!!! wing commander bomber harris
  • Score: 0

2:58pm Mon 20 Dec 10

BuckoTheMoose says...

Vary well said Harwoodbiker. I've just fired off an FOI request.
Vary well said Harwoodbiker. I've just fired off an FOI request. BuckoTheMoose
  • Score: 0

3:34pm Mon 20 Dec 10

JohnR1 says...

Why do they need IT systems to teach these kids? Whatever happened to proper teaching, the old 'chalk and talk' that got generations of pupils through school with abilities required in the grown-up world. Nowadays with all this reliance on computers and the Internet we only seem to be able to produce people with no reading, writing or grammar skills. What price progress??
Why do they need IT systems to teach these kids? Whatever happened to proper teaching, the old 'chalk and talk' that got generations of pupils through school with abilities required in the grown-up world. Nowadays with all this reliance on computers and the Internet we only seem to be able to produce people with no reading, writing or grammar skills. What price progress?? JohnR1
  • Score: 0

4:04pm Mon 20 Dec 10

Good call says...

JohnR1 wrote:
Why do they need IT systems to teach these kids? Whatever happened to proper teaching, the old 'chalk and talk' that got generations of pupils through school with abilities required in the grown-up world. Nowadays with all this reliance on computers and the Internet we only seem to be able to produce people with no reading, writing or grammar skills. What price progress??
First Most teenagers do have decent reading, writing and grammar skills and second,the "talk and chalk" method might have worked for previous generations,but now how could we compete in a high technology age with other nations where many jobs are high-tech if we just used outdated methods.
[quote][p][bold]JohnR1[/bold] wrote: Why do they need IT systems to teach these kids? Whatever happened to proper teaching, the old 'chalk and talk' that got generations of pupils through school with abilities required in the grown-up world. Nowadays with all this reliance on computers and the Internet we only seem to be able to produce people with no reading, writing or grammar skills. What price progress??[/p][/quote]First Most teenagers do have decent reading, writing and grammar skills and second,the "talk and chalk" method might have worked for previous generations,but now how could we compete in a high technology age with other nations where many jobs are high-tech if we just used outdated methods. Good call
  • Score: 0

4:36pm Mon 20 Dec 10

Excluded again says...

JohnR1 wrote:
Why do they need IT systems to teach these kids? Whatever happened to proper teaching, the old 'chalk and talk' that got generations of pupils through school with abilities required in the grown-up world. Nowadays with all this reliance on computers and the Internet we only seem to be able to produce people with no reading, writing or grammar skills. What price progress??
I run a business. A young person who does not have good computer skills is as good to me as a young person who can't read or write.

Being able to use ICT is a basic skill businesses rely upon these days. If you can work out a way for me to sell my products to people in the 1960s and 1970s I might be prepared to change my views. Until then i need recruits who know how to use computers.
[quote][p][bold]JohnR1[/bold] wrote: Why do they need IT systems to teach these kids? Whatever happened to proper teaching, the old 'chalk and talk' that got generations of pupils through school with abilities required in the grown-up world. Nowadays with all this reliance on computers and the Internet we only seem to be able to produce people with no reading, writing or grammar skills. What price progress??[/p][/quote]I run a business. A young person who does not have good computer skills is as good to me as a young person who can't read or write. Being able to use ICT is a basic skill businesses rely upon these days. If you can work out a way for me to sell my products to people in the 1960s and 1970s I might be prepared to change my views. Until then i need recruits who know how to use computers. Excluded again
  • Score: 0

6:44pm Mon 20 Dec 10

BuckoTheMoose says...

I have excellent IT skills *ahem* and I can read, write and spell.

The only computers we used at school were in business studies and they were pre IBM PC.

Over reliance on IT can mean basic skills are forgotten.

Some of my friend have children in primary and secondary school and they dispair at the rubbish being taught these days.

They spend their evenings undoing the schooldays damage and teaching them proper skills they will need.
I have excellent IT skills *ahem* and I can read, write and spell. The only computers we used at school were in business studies and they were pre IBM PC. Over reliance on IT can mean basic skills are forgotten. Some of my friend have children in primary and secondary school and they dispair at the rubbish being taught these days. They spend their evenings undoing the schooldays damage and teaching them proper skills they will need. BuckoTheMoose
  • Score: 0

6:47pm Mon 20 Dec 10

pinkfairyone says...

There are only 10 types of people in the world. Those that understand binary and those that don't.
There are only 10 types of people in the world. Those that understand binary and those that don't. pinkfairyone
  • Score: 0

6:57pm Mon 20 Dec 10

icannotrace says...

pinkfairyone wrote:
There are only 10 types of people in the world. Those that understand binary and those that don't.
Very good
[quote][p][bold]pinkfairyone[/bold] wrote: There are only 10 types of people in the world. Those that understand binary and those that don't.[/p][/quote]Very good icannotrace
  • Score: 0

7:56pm Mon 20 Dec 10

sparrowlegs78 says...

I totally agree that the money being paid for the BSF IT is a rip off, but some of the figures quoted are also miles from the truth - I work in IT and have also worked in schools.
Most secondary schools (especially "specialist" schools) have a lot more than 200 computers - often two or three times that number). They also have far more than one server (there will be file servers, school information servers, application servers, etc.). Servers costing between a few hundred to a few thousand pounds each.
Network infrastructure will also take up a very large amount of the budget with network switches being anywhere from about £300 up to £5000. Cabling tends to average around £50-£100 per network point (although, for big contracts this will be a lot less). There is also fibre optic cabling, wireless access points backup systems, plus allowances for failures of the hardware.

Getting back on track, though, people should be asking why the council signed up to this massive waste of money without putting in any sort of get out clauses for the schools - ALL of whom were bullied in to signing up on the promise of lots of fancy new buildings and other "sweeteners."

If you dig deeply enough I'm sure you will also find there will be some people who used to work for the schools now working in "better" jobs for these companies.

Despite not being a Tory, I do believe that what David Cameron said about it not mattering where a child is taught, but by the quality of the teacher, is correct. Give the power and the money back to the schools and let them shape the schools, NOT private businesses fleecing the schools to make a nice profit.
I totally agree that the money being paid for the BSF IT is a rip off, but some of the figures quoted are also miles from the truth - I work in IT and have also worked in schools. Most secondary schools (especially "specialist" schools) have a lot more than 200 computers - often two or three times that number). They also have far more than one server (there will be file servers, school information servers, application servers, etc.). Servers costing between a few hundred to a few thousand pounds each. Network infrastructure will also take up a very large amount of the budget with network switches being anywhere from about £300 up to £5000. Cabling tends to average around £50-£100 per network point (although, for big contracts this will be a lot less). There is also fibre optic cabling, wireless access points backup systems, plus allowances for failures of the hardware. Getting back on track, though, people should be asking why the council signed up to this massive waste of money without putting in any sort of get out clauses for the schools - ALL of whom were bullied in to signing up on the promise of lots of fancy new buildings and other "sweeteners." If you dig deeply enough I'm sure you will also find there will be some people who used to work for the schools now working in "better" jobs for these companies. Despite not being a Tory, I do believe that what David Cameron said about it not mattering where a child is taught, but by the quality of the teacher, is correct. Give the power and the money back to the schools and let them shape the schools, NOT private businesses fleecing the schools to make a nice profit. sparrowlegs78
  • Score: 0

9:35pm Mon 20 Dec 10

ChiRho says...

The real issue here is procurement.

The process for procuring of services within local government is utterly ridiculous.

People are paid a lot of money to work in councils, and these people have sufficient skills to manage IT. However, due to procurement rules they are not allowed to manage. No matter how appropriate a solution may be they have to go out to tender which can involve months of work. When the tenders are returned they have to be reviewed and scored and effectively the "best" scoring tender wins - which may not be the one originally identified or the most appropriate.

What is needed is a modicum of common sense which is sadly lacking in local government.

Procurement rules are there to ensure fair play and to prevent favouritism influencing contracts. The result is many weeks and months are wasted in tendering for services. If the people employed in councils were allowed to manage as they would in the private sector a lot of these issues would go away.

Don't get me wrong, contracts must be awarded fairly and there should be sufficient audit in place to ensure this occurs but having all the red tape around the procurement process is tieing the hands of those employed to make decisions.

Responsibility for the decision on purchasing services is abdicated to the procurement process and as such no one is responsible, there is no vested interest, and value for money is not really a concern...
The real issue here is procurement. The process for procuring of services within local government is utterly ridiculous. People are paid a lot of money to work in councils, and these people have sufficient skills to manage IT. However, due to procurement rules they are not allowed to manage. No matter how appropriate a solution may be they have to go out to tender which can involve months of work. When the tenders are returned they have to be reviewed and scored and effectively the "best" scoring tender wins - which may not be the one originally identified or the most appropriate. What is needed is a modicum of common sense which is sadly lacking in local government. Procurement rules are there to ensure fair play and to prevent favouritism influencing contracts. The result is many weeks and months are wasted in tendering for services. If the people employed in councils were allowed to manage as they would in the private sector a lot of these issues would go away. Don't get me wrong, contracts must be awarded fairly and there should be sufficient audit in place to ensure this occurs but having all the red tape around the procurement process is tieing the hands of those employed to make decisions. Responsibility for the decision on purchasing services is abdicated to the procurement process and as such no one is responsible, there is no vested interest, and value for money is not really a concern... ChiRho
  • Score: 0

11:03pm Mon 20 Dec 10

HarwoodBiker says...

Sparrowlegs, thanks for your comment. I must admit that I have only ever supplied and installed small (20-30 clients at the most) networks and as such I am not the most qualified to comment - I did also suspect that my quoted number of workstations may be off the mark (though I am surprised - I remember when I went to Blackburn college about 8 years ago and I would be surprised if there were 500 workstations on the whole campus!) Still, I'll wager that there is still absolutely nowhere near 1.7 million worth of IT equipment installed in each school - even allowing for software licensing and maintenance contracts which were the other two considerations I could think of.

Cheers.
Sparrowlegs, thanks for your comment. I must admit that I have only ever supplied and installed small (20-30 clients at the most) networks and as such I am not the most qualified to comment - I did also suspect that my quoted number of workstations may be off the mark (though I am surprised - I remember when I went to Blackburn college about 8 years ago and I would be surprised if there were 500 workstations on the whole campus!) Still, I'll wager that there is still absolutely nowhere near 1.7 million worth of IT equipment installed in each school - even allowing for software licensing and maintenance contracts which were the other two considerations I could think of. Cheers. HarwoodBiker
  • Score: 0

9:01pm Tue 21 Dec 10

Slimplynth says...

Even without the full facts i'm with HarwoodBiker. Everyone takes their 10% cut.. that's why a computer which costs around 400 quid in PC world ends up costing +1000 when it's for a business... the joy of purchasing depts.

Suppose money has to be spent somewhere along the line but 41 million squids seems like a lot.
Even without the full facts i'm with HarwoodBiker. Everyone takes their 10% cut.. that's why a computer which costs around 400 quid in PC world ends up costing +1000 when it's for a business... the joy of purchasing depts. Suppose money has to be spent somewhere along the line but 41 million squids seems like a lot. Slimplynth
  • Score: 0

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