Glow Futures snuffed out as Russell pulls plug

9th September 2011 at 01:00
Education Secretary reveals tendering process for schools intranet has halted

In a surprise announcement on the future of Glow, the national schools intranet, Education Secretary Michael Russell has pulled the plug on Glow Futures, the next stage of development, for which companies had been invited to tender.

Making his point yesterday in a video blog on YouTube, Mr Russell said the tendering process for Glow Futures had been stopped with immediate effect and the pound;8 million saved in the procurement process would be invested instead in Glow and technologies for learning.

Critics of Glow had complained in recent years that the system was slow and clunky, difficult to access, limited in its email provision, and a source of frustration to teachers and pupils.

Earlier this year, the Scottish Government issued a notice inviting companies to tender for a seven-year contract for Glow Futures. The new licence was due to start in 2012.

Instead, the Government now plans to invest in broadband access and equipment for schools. In future, Glow's core will consist of "the variety of free tools and open source services that already exist on the web" via the Interconnect - a broadband link-up of all 32 local authorities, key education websites and Education Scotland's website, said a Government spokesman.

Mr Russell acknowledged last year to TESS that Glow "must improve". Yesterday, he said the system, which was previously administered by Learning and Teaching Scotland and now by Education Scotland, had to evolve, become more "dynamic" and gain more credibility with young people.

"Glow is a phenomenal resource and has given thousands of teachers access to tools and shared learning resources for a number of years. But in more challenging times we need to do things differently with a more exciting and imaginative approach," said Mr Russell.

Over the next few weeks, the Government will hold an online discussion to share its thinking on the future of Glow, followed by an ICT summit in Stirling on 17 October to look at the next steps.

A spokesman for the Government said: "Glow has supported the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence, enabling professional learning communities to develop new ways of learning and sharing learning opportunities nationwide and across sectors.

"However, Glow has to evolve and begin to more closely resemble the real world of the web. This includes harnessing of readily available tools and services that our children and young people are familiar with."

Mr Russell praised Scotland's reputation for the development and use of technology in schools, describing Glow as "the world's first national education intranet".

But while it may have been at the cutting edge of technology at the outset, criticisms had mounted as teachers and pupils found social networks outside Glow more accessible, exciting and intuitive to use.

Jaye Richards, an early advocate of Glow who found it helped raise attainment in her biology classes, wrote last year in TESS calling for a moratorium on future development until it became more usable on a regular basis. Teachers had difficulty finding and sharing resources on Glow, and many were put off by its "clunky" navigation process, she said.

Craig Clement, who analysed the returns of a membership survey carried out by the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland last year, said Glow should not be tied to a specific platform when the contract came up for negotiation.

"We need something that is sustainable and developed in such a way that it is not just for a point in time but can be readily adapted," he said.

A spokeswoman for Education Scotland said it "looked forward to contributing to the Scottish Government's debate on how our education system can best harness ICT in future". "Within Glow there are 108,401 communities of practice and other online forums, and more generally, there are 456,941 education professionals and young people successfully using Glow to develop and improve learning," she added.

Elizabeth Buie, elizabeth.buie@tes.co.uk.

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