Glow faces funding hurdles

25th May 2007 at 01:00
FUNDING PROBLEMS and technical issues could delay the imple-mentation in a number of authorities of Glow, the pound;37.5 million digital learning network for Scottish schools.

Some local authorities still face bandwidth issues that could restrict access, while others face problems such as firewall blocks, it was claimed at a major e-learning conference in Edinburgh this week.

Glow, hailed as having the potential to revolutionise teaching and learning in Scottish schools, will become available for authorities to take up from September.

However, Andrew Watt, senior development officer of Edin-burgh's e-team, admitted at the eLive conference this week that the capital's schools would not be able to link to it until Spring 2008 at the earliest. "Glow is a huge resource with many components, and authorities are planning to cherry pick and access just a few. When we go live, there will be sections we won't use," he said.

These included the virtual learning environments, a major part of the network. Over the past three years, Edinburgh has been piloting VLEs within Studywiz from Etech, a different provider, which is going live to schools across the city, so there are no plans to use the VLE on Glow.

Nor will Edinburgh schools be using its video-conferencing facility. The capital uses BT for its network, and the company's firewall security system will not allow the download of streamed video.

"We would have to involve BT if we wanted to use Glow video-conferencing and they have quoted us a six-figure sum," said Mr Watt. "Many authorities admit it will take time to link up. And there are one or two saying 'if'

rather than 'when' be-cause of funding issues."

Local authorities are still reeling from in-structions from the Scottish Ex-ecutive Education Department in February, that 75 per cent of the National Priorities Action Fund money must be spent on capital programmes, not revenue. "That upset many authorities, who have put things on hold until it can be sorted out. NPAF money has already been allocated by the vast majority of councils to revenue things like technicians' salaries or contracts with BT for maintenance of school computers," said Mr Watt. "This leaves a huge dent in budgets if we can't do that."

Director of learning and technology at Learning and Teaching Scot-land, Laurie O'Donnell, conceded there were technical and logistical difficulties, because of the legacy of different authorities tied into different computer contracts. "There are 32 authorities coming together,"

he said.

"We're trying to establish a common infrastructure, but they have to determine how they work. Ten have signed the customer agreement which would allow them to access Glow's services. We expect them to start this September.

"September 2008 would be a reasonable expectation for the vast majority of authorities using part of Glow. It could be three to five years before all are on board. Our job is to make sure that what Glow provides is of such high-quality that all authorities will use it."

Mr O'Donnell acknowledged the financial problems caused by changes to the NPAF money. He said the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland and the executive were in discussion.

"There could be a solution from the executive, perhaps by viring revenue from the Schools Fund."

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