The message is in the medium

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Put a Victorian school teacher into a modern classroom, with books and blackboards, and he or she would find little had changed fundamentally. However a doctor or engineer would be totally bewildered by the technological advances that have affected their professions. But the world of education is changing. Information and Communications Technology (ICT) advances have already had an enormous impact on the classroom. The next decade will see even more dramatic developments in the world of teaching. This case study looks at Capita, a company working at the forefront of the modernisation of education, helping teachers to make the most of new opportunities.

 The Capita Group plc

The Capita Group Plc was founded in 1984 with just two employees. It has achieved exceptional growth and is now one of the UK's most experienced professional support services businesses. By focusing on building client relationships, Capita's partnership approach has resulted in a 1999 turnover of £327 million. It has long term contracts to provide a whole range of services to central and local Government and across the private sector. The services outsourced include human resources management functions, pay and pensions administration, recruitment and assessment, call centre operations and finance and billing services. Capita is a leading service provider to the education sector.

Capita's services to education include:

  • administering the Teachers' Pension Scheme and Individual Learning Accounts
  • operating payrolls for 48,000 education staff
  • providing managed services to 20 LEAs (Local Education Authorities)
  • giving direct support to 3,500 schools
  • supplying and supporting the key hardware and software for educational management systems in 23,000 schools, 156 LEAs, 500 higher education and further education institutions
  • recruiting teachers, 10,000 supply teachers placed each week
  • providing property services for school buildings and local authorities
  • the professional development of the teaching profession through such products as The Learning Network for ICT training.

 The external economic environment

The newly elected Labour Government made the raising of standards in education its stated number one priority.

Government policy is to provide Lifelong Learning for all, to create a knowledge driven economy. The key to economic success in the 21st Century will be a well-trained, highly skilled, flexible workforce. This cannot be achieved without a strong education system. Education UK is Economy UK. A society in which no one is excluded and everyone enjoys equal opportunities, needs a modern school environment, with the best technological equipment available to a modern economy.

Market Forces

Any economy consists of the public sector, being Government controlled and the private sector, containing privately owned firms. The private sector is ultimately controlled and determined by market forces. These ruthlessly penalise inefficiency. In a competitive market, the consumer chooses products and services, largely depending on the price. To remain competitive, a firm in the private sector must find the most cost effective, efficient methods of production. Loss making firms will simply be forced out of business.

There are however some products and services that, left to the market, would not be viable in their present format for the private sector to produce, although society deems these public goods necessary e.g. education, healthcare and defence. Governments have provided these public goods for many years. The public sector had earned a reputation for waste, bureaucracy and poor productivity. Without the pressure of market forces, there is no penalty for failure and therefore no tendency to change or improve. Since the 1980s in order to modernise and improve efficiency, many public sector organisations have been opened up to face the discipline of market forces, leading to the introduction of the concept of best value for local government services. This requires service providers and local authorities to undertake a fundamental review of their services and activities through the application of the four "Cs" - Challenge, Consultation, Comparison and Competition.

Outsourcing

One solution to providing reduced costs and improved services in the public sector has been to examine carefully the services provided for the general public and see if any can be provided more efficiently by firms in the private sector. This is known as outsourcing. Recently all levels of Government have identified such services and have invited private firms to tender for them. The contracts are awarded to those offering the best product at the best cost. The theory is that competition at the tendering stage forces irms to be more cost conscious, efficient and productive. Thus the private sector brings its expertise, allowing the public sector to concentrate on its core services and, in the long run, the tax payer will benefit from minimising costs.

Capita Education Services

By providing outsourced services, companies like Capita can work with the public sector to improve the services the country needs.

A vital aspect of the Government's investment in education is the classroom, where teachers still play a central role. Teaching has changed radically in recent years, particularly with the advent of information and communications technology (ICT). This adds new dimensions to teaching as it becomes integrated into the curriculum and is used to support learning in all subjects. It is only through a programme of high quality professional development that it will be possible for teachers to keep up with the pace of technological advances and raise standards in the classroom. This is critical to any plan to ensure all school leavers are ICT literate.

The Government has allocated £230 million of Lottery money from The New Opportunities Fund (NOF) to pay for a training programme aimed at all Britain's 500,000 serving teachers. Thus every school can receive approximately £450 per teacher to train them in the most up-to-date use of ICT. This includes:

  • the use of computers, the Internet and other software
  • television and radio
  • video, cameras and other equipment.

How Does it Work?

The Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) drew up a list of criteria that each organisation wanting to provide these services to schools had to satisfy. In particular, the training had to achieve a number of necessary outcomes agreed with the Teacher Training Agency (TTA). To receive official approval, a service provider had to demonstrate that its product met certain requirements. These included providing the majority of training through school-based learning using ICT in the classroom and using ICT-based materials and on-line support where appropriate. It had to be subject specific and increase ICT skills whilst showing how best to use ICT in the classroom. Teachers need to know when and when not to use ICT in the effective teaching of particular subjects. Finally, the organisations had to provide on-going support for teachers and both internal and external quality controls.

Having outlined the appropriate training, the Government allowed the different organisations to develop their products, which then had to receive official approval and a kitemark. Schools are given the money from the NOF and they are free to choose their training provider or providers. This is where the market forces come into play and all the organisations involved had to be acutely aware of all the elements of the marketing mix. With about 50 different providers in active competition, efficiency and value for money will be key determinants of success in any bid. Some local education authorities have organised NOF fairs. With many consumers (in this case the schools) and many providers, this is a highly competitive market. Economists would predict that this would result in lower costs and prices and therefore the most efficient allocation of resources.

 The learning network

Capita Education Services has produced The Learning Network, designed to be a total solution to a school's ICT training needs. Capita has developed separate packages for primary and secondary schools and subject specific material. It provides an integrated, school based learning programme that uses ICT to deliver and support the teachers. It therefore comfortably satisfies all the criteria set down by the DfEE and other stakeholders such as the TTA, but, in such a competitive market, it is essential that the product goes further still. The programme is fully interactive and makes extensive use of the technology it is designed to explain. To borrow a phrase from the world of advertising, 'the message is in the medium'.

The Learning Network is therefore simple, accessible and hands-on. All the course materials are designed around practical exercises, focused on developing teachers' ICT skills and in particular, their understanding of how ICT can be used to improve subject teaching and pupil learning. It highlights when and when not to use ICT to support learning. Any teacher joining the Learning Network programme receives support on three levels:

  • technical support with any hardware and software difficulties
  • administrative support in terms of delivery
  • professional support with trained mentors and discussion groups. The availability of fully qualified professional mentors on-line is a key element. The whole package isdesigned both to teach and build confidence.

Making the best use of ICT within the classroom

ICT is an invaluable resource for supporting and enhancing teaching and learning. It helps students work together and develop their problem solving, independent learning and research skills. It can be useful in all areas of the curriculum and can be a tremendous motivator for both students and teachers. Professional development and training are key motivating factors, identified in many motivational theories. ICT is more than just another, teaching tool. It has the potential to dramatically change the ways students learn and raise their standards of achievement.


 Conclusion

If it is to be productive and succeed in the 21st Century, it is essential that the British educational system produces highly skilled, ICT literate students to provide its future workforce. This needs teachers with the knowledge and expertise of the cutting edge of new technology. In such a highly competitive market, with many organisations keen to offer this training and support, Capita must ensure that it has the best product at the most competitive price. It is these market forces which will ensure that the private sector will make available the best possible end product and support to the public sector. Under these circumstances the private sector disciplines and expertise will contribute effectively to the modernisation of the public sector.