The grim reality of COL

3rd January 2003 at 00:00
Your articles on Curriculum Online (November issue) paint far too rosy a picture. The reality as perceived by many suppliers in educational software is that Curriculum Online (COL) is a half-baked scheme that has wasted taxpayers' money, done irreparable damage to small businesses and will fail to deliver what schools really need.

Some small software suppliers have already gone bankrupt due to the fact that schools have stopped buying software from them while they have been waiting for their e-LearningCredits.

The time-consuming tagging procedure (if it finally works) and terms of the DFES contract are impossible for most small software suppliers to cope with and many have simply ducked out of the COL initiative. So when the COL portal finally opens, teachers may find their favourite software supplier no longer exists or is not listed at the COL website.

COL-registered products are therefore likely to be restricted to those produced by larger companies that have the technical and accounting resources to comply with the incomprehensible COL procedures and demanding DFES contract (42 pages, including appendices). The main outcome is that teachers will end up with fewer software products to choose from.

There does not appear to be a rigorous screening of products either. We sent details about one of our products to the COL team, including information on how it related to the national curriculum, and it was accepted with no further questions. We were not even required to supply a sample; we were just told to get on with the tagging process, which did not work and would have been difficult to apply as the list did not include tags we needed.

So if a product appears at the COL website, it is not a guarantee of quality, merely that the supplier has had enough stamina to cope with the technological and bureaucratic procedures. We have complained to the COL team and the DFES, neither of which answered our letters.

Why can't the Government just release ring-fenced money to schools and allow teachers to choose what software they buy and where they buy it? There is a desperate shortage of MFL software in schools - I've seen it first-hand as a New Opportunities Fund trainer.

Professor Graham Davies, partner at Camsoft and academic co-ordinator of the ICT4LT Project

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