Call to fine BT over Schools internet boost delays

The Capital is failing to offer the quickest IT technology in classrooms. Picture Ian Rutherford

The Capital is failing to offer the quickest IT technology in classrooms. Picture Ian Rutherford

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FURIOUS parents have demanded telecoms giant BT pays up to £340,000 in penalties after it emerged a £1.7 million contract to boost internet speeds in Edinburgh schools is running months behind schedule.

BT Openreach was due to complete a bandwidth increase at 137 schools and other learning establishments by the end of September last year.

But education chiefs said “communications and resourcing” difficulties between the firm and its sub-contractors meant the estimated finish date had to be put back to May 2014, with dozens of sites 
waiting for work.

Teacher and parent leaders branded the delay “very poor” and said it would fuel fears the Capital has fallen behind in the race to offer the quickest IT technology in classrooms.

Tina Woolnough, Edinburgh representative for the National Parent Forum, said BT Openreach should cough up between ten and 20 per cent of the contract value in penalties.

She said: “What’s important from the public purse point of view is that there are fines for companies if they fail to deliver. Edinburgh seems to have real problems procuring this kind of thing effectively and I know schools have been struggling. Headteachers in particular have had such a struggle and I just feel that adults have once again been letting children down.”

News of the delay comes after data indicated the Capital was failing to ensure schools meet recommendations from the Scottish Government’s ICT in Education Excellence group that they provide a minimum internet speed of 100 megabits per second.

Although a number of city schools have been boosted with the roll-out of iPads, the data suggested Edinburgh’s performance on overall internet speed had been particularly weak, with not one campus hitting the minimum standard.

Critics said the figures made news of a delay in upgrading bandwidth particularly worrying at a time when connectivity has become crucial.

Alan McKenzie, acting general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association, said: “The delivery of so many lessons, which today involve white boards and so on, relies on high-speed connectivity – any compromise to the efficiency of the schools network has got to be a worry.”

BT chiefs insisted most of the work to upgrade IT capacity in Edinburgh’s schools was on schedule and that completion dates could often change on major projects.

A spokeswoman said: “The schools’ bandwidth roll-out contract with Edinburgh City Council was agreed on the basis that no guarantee could be made on fibre delivery dates, as these are dependent on Openreach upgrades in each local area. BT has completed all other aspects of the schools refresh programme to time, cost and quality.”

A council spokesman said: “Despite the delays, nearly two-thirds of the sites have been upgraded and we’ve received very positive feedback from schools who have been refreshed.”

johnpaul.holden@edinburghnews.com