Published: 02/03/2018 10:39 - Updated: 02/03/2018 11:12

Highlands pupils 'will suffer' if they can not access online learning

Written byEmma Crichton


Highland Council's £8m Wipro contract has been plagued by problems
Highland Council's £8m Wipro contract has been plagued by problems


Highland schoolchildren will be the ones to suffer from the failings of a problem-plagued £8 million IT deal.

Councillors have slammed Wipro, the billion-dollar company contracted to revamp the council’s IT, including in schools, after a string of complaints and upgrade delays.

Now former headteacher Graham MacKenzie has warned that pupils will not be able to study their chosen subjects if the problems are not fixed because schools are increasingly relying on online learning.

All schools are supposed benefit from a "network refresh" with upgraded broadband and equipment, including a new Chromebook for every pupil but the council’s corporate resources committee was warned at its latest meeting that delays are ongoing.

Council officers held crisis talks with India-based Wipro at the end of last year but the company has yet to produce an action plan to catch up on the delayed work.

Councillor MacKenzie, former rector at Dingwall Academy, said: "I’m extremely disappointed but to me this is not surprising.

"We have spoken to Wipro back in November but now here we are at the end of February with no improvement plan.

"We have been hearing that the Chromebooks have been delivered to these schools but in many cases they are not able to be used because of the network delays.

"We need to be more hard nosed about this.

"If we are rolling back staff and reducing the in-school curriculum it is vital that the ICT facilities are there so we can keep up the curriculum."

Nairn councillor Liz MacDonald agreed, saying: "This is very disappointing.

"Our schools have been very patient through this despite several delays.

"Not only are some pupils and teachers working in dreadful conditions, they are not going to be given the equipment to realise their potential."

In January the Strathy reported that crucial subjects including computing, business and administration are being axed from schools across the Highlands, mostly due to staff shortages.

The council is focusing on virtual learning, allowing pupils to remotely attend University of Highlands and Islands classes through a video link.

Last June a massive computer crash saw IT services in tatters at every school in the region, as well as leisure centres and offices across the region and left people unable to pay council tax through PayPoint systems

Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh councillor Ian Cockburn called for a risk assessment to be held to allow the council to prepare for the "worst eventuality".

A scathing report for the committee insisted that talks have been held with Wipro bosses, who are working on a plan to get the revamp back on track at no extra cost to the council, which was reiterated by ICT operations manager, Jon Shepherd.

He said: "I am telling Wipro that we need to have a plan delivered as soon as possible but at the same time that has to be a plan we can have confidence in.

"I give you my word that we will push hard to make sure this happens."

Nobody from Wipro was available for comment.

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