Slightly sceptical article in the 7/10/2006 Economist about the current English "building schools for the future" programme which will see nearly every secondary school in England completely rebuilt or heavily modernised over the next 15 years. Many (most?) of the contracts will be won by private consortia who will get a return on the 50% of the capital costs they put up by charging for their services for the subsequent 25 years. The Economist picks up on the use of the term managed learning environment by the consortium that has just won the contract to rebuild Bristol's schools:
"The technology is to be provided by Northgate Information Solutions, which currently issues most of Britain's traffic-infringement notices. Its "managed learning environment" will integrate many different educational programs. It will also allow parents to see what children are doing (by tracking attendance, homework and canteen purchases), teachers to see what students are doing, and bureaucrats to see what teachers and students are doing (by recording the cost of staff phone calls and truancy, for example).
From the point of view of ICT provision, a key concern will be how much scope a school has to make changes to the set-up, once the school is built. The costs of making changes to out-sourced ICT systems are typically high: the supplier will tend simply to "want to get its rent"; and teachers and learners wanting to try out new things may find they get short shrift. And you could imagine, when a Local Authority is choosing between different bids, that the long term suitability of the ICT offering from a curriculum point of view might be both a harder thing to judge, and of a lower priority, than the design of the buildings.