Becta is getting serious about Open Source software for schools. The Government ICT agency has just gone out to tender for a "School Open Source Project" and its Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF) is getting industry recognition for its implications for Open Source.

The new tender has two specific aims - to: "support a sustainable and significant community of schools who use and develop open source products by April 2010; provide schools specific content development on open source implementations."

Becta wants all schools to be aware of the potential of open source software and be able to exploit. It is running the new project, worth around £270,000 over two years, to ensure sufficient awareness among school leaders, with support and 'community' in place for them.

The development is not the only Becta initiative that is recognised as an important step forward for Open Source in Schools. A recent article on the ComputerWorldUK website - "Is Becta loosening Microsoft's grip on UK schools?" - points to Becta's work as holding dividends for Open Source. It believes SIF can help break the "closed shop" of school management software based on Microsoft's MS-SQL technology. And the website used a Freedom of Information request to the DCSF to unlock fascinating insights into the Unique Learner Number (ULN) database which has already cost a cool £20 million.

Key revelations in the article, by John Spencer, include:

"The cost of the ULN so far is £20.5 million, the database of choice is Oracle and the project is being implemented by Logica. The Government’s confidence that it will be 'rock-solid secure' presumably reflects the brand strengths of the database vendor and implementation partner rather than based on any empirical evidence.

"The Unique Learner Number will not apply to students at Independent schools (unless they sign up to specific 16-19 Modules) and, in the future, registration will only be optional for Independent schools.

"Students will be allowed to edit incorrect entries but not to delete entries.
All Local Authorities have been instructed to include ULN's in their databases for Autumn 2008."

"Invitation to tender for the "School Open Source Project" was issued on May 2 and tenderers should submit questions and comments on the documents by noon, May 9, and, following Becta's response, get their tenders in by May 20. The final award will be made on June 12 (Becta contact David Carey, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)."

You can read the full ComputerWorldUK article at: