Becta's schools software scheme reported to EC

Small firm complains about Becta and big business

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An advisor to Becta, the education technology quango, has complained to the European Commission about its procurement process for firms to provide online learning platforms and content to British schools.

Of 119 suppliers who expressed an interest last year in tendering to supply Learning Platforms - personalised, online learning environments for school children - under a European framework agreement, Becta (British Educational Communications and Technology Agency) admitted just 10 suppliers into the framework when it was awarded last week.

Crispin Weston, managing director of Alpha Learning, said none of the suppliers awarded with places on the framework met mandatory criteria established at the start of the procurement to ensure their software programs were interoperable with one another, and could also work with electronic learning materials from any source.

Weston told The Register that he helped draw up the criteria Becta used to select suppliers for the Learning Platform framework, but was forced to complain about the quango to the EC Competition Commission because it subsequently overlooked the criteria when it appointed framework suppliers.

"EC regulations demand that criteria for [bidding] companies be announced beforehand and then implemented objectively. The purpose is to prevent back-stairs deals," said Weston, who had not bid for a place on the Learning Platform framework because his firm was too small to satisfy BECTA's other criteria.

"Becta realised that if it enforced the criteria then no-one would win [the procurement]," he said, "so they didn't enforce it."

European procurement rules stipulated that a company must only appoint suppliers who met the criteria set out in the original invitation to tender, said Weston.

The UK Treasury's government procurement sheriff, the Office of Government Commerce, had advised Weston that Becta had "very likely" breached EC procurement regulations, Weston said in his letter to the EC competition police.

"The British government is supplying £40 million to Local Authorities to acquire learning platforms, with the strong recommendation that they select successful candidates from Becta's approved list. Schools wishing to use platforms not selected by their local authority are free to do so but must find the money from other budgets," said Weston's letter to the EC.

Becta had overlooked two criteria that had demanded that firms implement technical standards that would ensure their software was interoperable - that it would work with that of any other firm supplying similar programs or electronic learning materials.

Weston maintained that most, if not all, of the 10 suppliers awarded places in the framework had not implemented the interoperability standards in their software.

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