Monday, 8 November 2010

The impact of capital cuts will be felt most keenly by learners

If rumours are to be believed, part of the 60% cut to capital spending on schools is to be found in the dedicated ICT funding all new builds and refurbished schools received under BSF and other programmes.
ICT funding for Academies and BSF projects has for the past few years been based on a formula which saw schools receive £1450 per-pupil for ICT equipment and £225 pp for infrastructure. The two sums were kept separate, the infrastructure money typically attached to the main budget, with the build partner delivering the ICT passive infrastructure (cabling and containment, mostly) and an ICT provider being procured through whom to spend the £1450.


These levels of funding (about £1.8m for the average sized secondary) have proved time and again in my experience to be just sufficient to achieve the school’s/ LA’s ambitions for learning, granting schools the freedom to innovate with the interface between space and technology in ways which would otherwise be out of reach for most. New Line Learning, a federation of Academies in Kent, is a particularly good example of this.

However, from talking to several interested parties (builders, ICT equipment providers), the whispered consensus is that this £1450 equipment funding is regarded by the Government as overly generous and will be reduced to somewhere around £800. Presumably this is predicated on the generalisation that ICT is ‘well embedded’ in UK schools and doesn’t require additional investment. Quite how this applies to new builds I am unsure.

This will inevitably impact disproportionately on learners. The cost of server infrastructures, wireless network, smart cards, Management Information Systems and a host of other ‘must haves’ don’t scale very neatly; they cost what they cost. Schools’ only real option will be to reduce their expectations of the number of mobile devices, visualisers, projectors, cameras, etc which their students will benefit from. They’ll simply be able to afford less stuff for learning. The first casualty of this funding skirmish will be innovation, as ‘luxury’ of experimentation will no longer be affordable when set against the harsh alternative of having some spaces lacking even the ability to project, for example.

Some will offer the specious logic that even now some schools don’t have technology in every learning space, but I just can’t see how that has any relevance to an argument about how we should be building (today) the absolute best environments for the next 25 years of children to learn in.

It is probable that the £225 for infrastructure will also suffer similar cuts, which will only serve to hamstring the new environments & approaches it is supposed to enable. Even under current funding conditions, build partners invariably resist schools’ requests for floor boxes (to provide flexibility away from dado trunking) and redundant cables (e.g.providing capacity to expand wireless in future) on grounds of cost. The common number applied is 1.5 data points per student, which is just enough, in my experience. If the £225 becomes, say, £150, I fully anticipate the next round of new/ refurbished schools will be built with partial networks (them::“What do you need it in the sports hall for?” me: “Um, to improve learning in sport through technology?”) and an over-reliance on wireless, in a landscape of ever increasing data demand from a personal devices and changing behaviours. It’s a recipe for unreliability, unavailability and continued reliance on traditional methods. Which is probably the point.

Dom Norrish

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