Select Committee on Education and Employment Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary Memorandum from OFSTED (SQE 10)

  My Directors and I welcomed the opportunity to discuss our early years work and the issues emerging from my Annual Report with the Committee when we met on 21 March. You may recall I undertook to write to you on a point raised by Charlotte Atkins in connection with OFSTED's inspection of Information and Communication Technology (ICT).

  The question was whether OFSTED had evidence of a lack of structure or expertise within LEAs or schools that led to shortcomings in arrangements for the provision of computer hardware and software. The concern was that schools might find themselves tied to a single provider and its software, thus limiting the scope for making full use of other products in areas such as design and technology.

  There is some evidence that, on occasion, LEAs get the balance between advice and coercion wrong, sometimes giving unsuitable advice, for example, about the choice, siting and location of resources. Schools are, of course, free to opt for any supplier they choose, though some may be unaware of this. In practice, we find most are content to go along with LEA guidance since this brings economies of scale and ensures compatability with LEA technical support. However, it is equally true that schools sometimes make mistakes in choosing a different ICT path from the LEA.

  There is no provider monopoly, in commercial terms, as there appears to be a healthy range of suppliers under the National Grid for Learning scheme. In the particular field of design and technology, there are several initiatives to foster the use of ICT. In all areas, more than one company operates and market conditions apply, often creating strong competition and attractive offers to schools. It is, therefore, unlikely that schools find themselves necessarily restricted to a limited range of software products. There are some general issues which are not unfamiliar ones in the field of textbooks, also, concerned with over-hasty commitment of resources to a single scheme or approach. However, we have not received specific evidence that schools are buying unwisely on a wide scale or with detrimental consequences.

  I hope this information is helpful to the Committee.

Mike Tomlinson CBE

Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools

April 2001

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