On Friday 29 October, Becta released a report entitled 'School Management Information Systems and Value for Money 2010'.

The report sets out a series of recommendations with the emphasis placed on local authorities to review school's Management Information System (MIS) arrangements, procurement approach and examine whether alternative options would deliver better value.

Key findings, which echo Becta's 2005 study, suggest that the school MIS market is:

  • Still uncompetitive;
  • Still dominated by a single supplier;
  • Still distorted due to the impact of the statutory returns process which increases costs;
  • Still characterised by a lack of understanding of the relevant EU and UK procurement regulations at the local authority level, and concerns round the cost of change;
  • Still impeded by a lack of a mandated interoperability standard; and
  • Still supported by specialist teams, almost always operating at the individual Local Authority level, and consequently unable to take advantage of economies of scale.

Re-examining MIS strategy and how to achieve more with less:

Set against a backdrop of austerity, the report contributes to current thinking and debate covering how local authorities and schools can 'achieve more with less'. And the savings could be substantial. The report forecasts that over the five year lifetime of this parliament UK school MIS costs are likely to exceed £550m.

Against this cost, the report also recommends that local authorities investigate the cost savings that flow from adopting a hosted (or cloud-based) MIS system. Investment in web delivered MIS systems started in earnest following the 2005 report; three out of the four major MIS providers now have offerings in this area and RM's analysis suggests that a primary school moving to a cloud-based system can look to save around £1,000 per year.

Considering the legal implications:

Local authorities have been strongly encouraged to review their legal position, particularly where annual renewals have taken place without a competitive tender. As all involved in school MIS provision know, this happens more often than not. The study identified only 18 MIS-related procurements in the last five years, which have been through the formal Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) tendering process. The number included five BSF projects.

Furthermore, local authorities have been steered to ensure that systems have been appropriately procured and if an 'appropriate procurement mechanism' cannot be organised in time, then the report offers a 'de minimis' requirement that allows for a limited extension of current services.

It's not that simple:

We also know that it's not that simple. Many schools and local authorities are concerned that the cost of change will outweigh the savings that can be made, and changing MIS does have challenges.

For a group of primary schools the changes are relatively straightforward. Including data migration and related training, a primary school can be up to speed with a new system in around a week. Secondary school changes tend to be more involved, and from experience, could take around a term to transition.

Overall positive news:

Overall, RM welcomes the thrust of the report, which serves as a useful reminder that it's worth stepping back to properly review the options and the relative benefits – both educational as well as economical.

Given many local authorities are already thinking about how they can 'achieve more with less' and potentially facing other difficult choices, it makes sense to review options for MIS systems. Most MIS arrangements are aligned with the April-to-April spending year, which means that it is unlikely Authorities will be able to complete a proper review before April 2011. Consequently, we envisage that April 2012 will see the greatest movements in the market.

Click here to view the report in full.

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