Academy schools to open up to free market IT

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London-based services company, Capita, has been chosen as one of the suppliers for Government Procurement Services Information Management and Learning Services Framework. What this boils down to is Capita’s management can have its systems selected to be rolled out across local authorities and, specifically, schools – a market that is undergoing a transition phase.

London-based services company, Capita, has been chosen as one of the suppliers for Government Procurement Services Information Management and Learning Services Framework. What this boils down to is Capita’s management can have its systems selected to be rolled out across local authorities and, specifically, schools – a market that is undergoing a transition phase.

With the UK’s Coalition government introducing the Academy model – essentially handing more autonomy to the secondary schools across the country – many are taking it upon themselves to depart from the traditional local authority route and are seeking their own customised services.

Following a tendering process, part of these will be the approved Capita Openhive learning platform and Capita’s SIMS management information system. SIMS, Capita said, is the most widely used management system in education – with over roughly 22,000 schools using it daily.

Phil Neal at Capita talked ChannelBiz UK through it. SIMS does the lot: handling pupil and personal records, timetabling, and finances – essentially every management task a school needs to operate.

IT in education is a market that presents its own set of opportunities. Although Capita has the lion’s share, which scares some companies from competing, Neal says that there is competition to be had. “Three other major PLCs are competing,” he said. “Certainly, we don’t regard it as a done deal by any means – because things can change so quickly when there’s a technology change.”

Capita points out that in terms of costs, the Department for Education has been publishing misleading numbers. “They are massively inflated in what this market is actually worth,” he said. “What they’ve done is include all the software costs, the people cost across all local authorities, and so on. The actual revenue going to suppliers is a tiny fraction compared to DFE statements.”

But those opportunities are there. “It’s a market that is changing quite dramatically,” Neal said. “Local authorities have traditionally been supporting schools within their domain, employing teams that have supported whoever’s management software had been implemented. Those teams are holding up reasonably well, but there’s a question mark over their future because of the academy movement.”

Now, a significant portion of secondary schools are academies – and most are buying back from their authorities at the moment. “There has to come a point,” Neal believes, “when they consider twisting the open market for support. The local authorities have a challenge on their hands to provide services the academies want to buy back.”

There are some local authorities which do not think that their role is to even provide the services any more. “Some are pulling back and saying go out to the open market,” Neal said. “It is an interesting, changing world at the moment.”

The market is fragmenting “a bit”, according to Capita. Each academy is on its own, Neal said, except for the ones who are part of larger groups. “By and large, most are independent schools, so you’re talking about having to reshape the industry to support individual schools, rather than large customers with lots of schools.” In the end, Neal agrees that this is yet another industry where hybrid models with customisation options for individual end-users will find their way.


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