Sparking the school revolution;Watershed;Interview;Alan Teece

14th May 1999 at 01:00
After dropping his physics degree, Alan Teece's life took a new turn after using a Commodore Pet. He explains all to Chris Johnston.

Ia roundabout way, Alan Teece has a Commodore PET to thank for becoming general manager of ICL's education systems business. In the mid Eighties, he enrolled in a physics degree course at what was then Portsmouth Polytechnic, but quickly realised it was not for him. His use of the Commodore computer during those few weeks was enough to influence his switch to a combination mathematics, statistics and computer science course.

His association with ICL began in Portsmouth - the college's mainframe computers were made by the firm. During his three years there, Teece wrote a program to make maths more interesting by visualising equations. And after graduating, he took a computer programming job with ICL in Bristol.

He eventually moved into a sales role, mainly working with local government, before becoming the company's education sales manager. Weeks later an internal reorganisation saw him elevated to the position of education general manager at the age of 30. "I had to learn about being a general manager, running a business and education all at the same time," he recalls.

The Bristol Education Online Network was the second watershed. BEON is a project that stems from CyberSkills, an ICL training programme which aims to engage people who have no prior experience of using information and communications technology and make them aware of its potential. The aim of BEON is to find ways to improve learning experiences using ICT. Five years ago, a high-speed network and multimedia computers with video-conferencing facilities, email and Internet access was put into 11 schools in the Withywood area of Bristol. ICL and BT contributed pound;2 million each to the project which convinced Teece that ICT can make a significant impact in education.

"It was seeing the transformation of those schools and how ICT really engaged pupils that did it. It's a tough area and it was the many individual success stories that impressed me. I'm quite passionate about the benefits of ICT for learning. I believe ICL has a good story in this area and I want to ensure we continue to be successful," he says.

The BEON project has become the company's model of how ICT should be used in education. It was built on three cornerstones: providing access, managed services to maintain equipment, and training teachers to use ICT in class. ICL used the concept of a national grid - a notion that was taken up by the Labour Party, they say.

With a multi-million pound turnover in the education sector, ICL is a keen player. Teece is a firm believer that the bigger an ICT contract is, the better value it gives. He says that devolving funding to LEAs and schools means more purchasing decisions: "all of that just wastes a lot of money". He believes that Northern Ireland's desire to create a uniform infrastructure is a good idea, as long as it still allows flexibility for individual schools. ICL has teamed upwith arch rival RM to bid for the contract Teece believes it is important to ensure that government funding is spent efficiently. With so many different departments and agencies responsible for allocating public cash for projects, he argues that there is a need for more co-ordination, not only to get the best value for money but also to get the best results.

Teece thinks Britain is heading in the right direction with ICT in education. "Learning is at the top of the agenda, funding is flowing, there's a buzz and excitement about it. Yes, there are going to be difficulties in deployment and detail, but broadly we're on the right track," he says.

"We'd like more companies to innovate and be in the market place, but with the kind of returns available it's difficult to see where new entrants are going to come from." However, he says the advent of managed services could bring new competitors. "Education is a bit of a closed shop in a supplier sense, but that is not really going to change while the returns are relatively low," he adds.

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