Unfair and inaccurate;Letter

19th June 1998 at 01:00
IT is our considered and collective view that the linked articles "Scots get their SCETS on" and "Latecomer saved by going on trial", which were published in Online Education (May 15) not only contain inaccuracies, but also appear to call seriously into question our decisions and practices in replacing the SCAMP (Schools Computer Administration and Management Programme) software from the Scottish Council for Educational Technology with that of the Phoenix package. We would assure our Scottish education colleagues that our methods for selecting and approving software for use in our schools are both rigorous and professional.

In the main article, Nigel Paine suggests that the days from April 1-6 1997 represented the definitive decision watershed for councils in deciding whether to go with Scetworks 97 or to opt for Phoenix. In fact, a good number of councils had already carried out their evaluation activities and made up their minds before December 1996.

Nigel Paine goes on to suggest that these same councils did not give Scetworks 97 "fair" consideration before they selected Phoenix. These are the councils that had remained loyal to SCET, in terms of both financial and human resource contributions, during the development of MPowerScetworks throughout 1995-97. Far from bending over backwards to produce the required product to meet the agreed needs of SCAMP councils, SCET singularly failed to do so by June 1996. Nigel Paine appears to pin the blame on some unreasonableness on the part of these councils, who had willingly provided, at the request of SCET, school-based representatives to work closely, in partnership with SCET, on the development of MPowerScetworks.

Central Region - now Clackmannanshire and Stirling authorities - had commissioned an independent report in 1995-96 that compared the software systems then available. This was followed by rigorous evaluations in schools before selecting Phoenix. Dundee and Angus councils visited Norfolk in September 1996 to investigate Phoenix in use on a council-wide basis as part of their evaluation. We are confident that there was no unconscious domino effect based on Edinburgh's decision to go with Phoenix in 1997.

The article reports that Western Isles council has contracted to Scetworks 97. Our understanding is that Western Isles is still in the process of piloting the product.

The short piece on West Lothian reports Nigel Paine again suggesting that the Phoenix councils had made hasty decisions and that only West Lothian had bothered to take the necessary time to evaluate the competing systems properly. We are at a complete loss to understand how and where he acquired the evidence to enable him to make such an accusation. We are particularly saddened by his implication that our individual and combined professionalism is somewhat lacking when it comes to the evaluation of administration software for schools. Any lack of rigour has been amply demonstrated by West Lothian in its idiosyncratic evaluation in a single 20-pupil special needs school.

Bearing in mind SCET's continuing ability to produce award winning education software, it is unfortunate that it was unable to develop a Scottish management information system to match Phoenix.

Phoenix User Group, comprising representatives from Aberdeenshire, Angus, Clackmannanshire, Dumfries and Galloway, Dundee, Edinburgh, Falkirk, Fife, Highland, Midlothian, Orkney, Perth and Kinross, Scottish Borders, Shetland and Stirling councils

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