One head at a recent focus group took a very different view, "This year the value of our eLCs was much more than we had ever spent on software. We took some chances. I let every teacher buy something and told them to play with it themselves and then in their classrooms. Even the ICT Luddites have joined in and there are some really effective lessons going on as a result."
The biggest fallacy though is that eLCs are not being used. There is pound;100million to go by August 31, 2004, but by April returns showed that more than pound;50million had already been spent; that is a higher percentage that at the same time last year.
One complaint was that there was not much online content around and that high bandwidth was required to use it. ELCs are not restricted to online content and there are thousands of eLC-eligible, CD-delivered products from over 450 registered commercial suppliers from which to choose if your bandwidth is tight.
As a governor of a school with a substantial deficit I have sympathy with the desire to have choice to spend any income on a school's own priorities.
However, having recognised in my school that our successful standards-raising agenda has had much to do with the extensive use of ICT, I suggest we look at eLCs differently. We have doubtless all complained over the years that Government ICT policies and money appear fragmented.
For the individual school the pot of money available at any given time was often not right for our needs; money for hardware when we needed training or for training when we yearned for bandwidth. With hindsight we could have done it better, but spend a minute looking at how joined up the current policies and funding are.
We have a Standards Fund ICT grant, higher than ever before, most of which can be spent on almost anything to enhance ICT. Also within the Standards Fund is ring-fenced money to improve bandwidth. We have the interactive whiteboard scheme, coming up for phase 2, with a technology that is not only powerful in itself but also opens up any classroom where it is installed to excellent interactive ICT usage. So surely, eLCs are the next logical step. You have an infrastructure. You need to populate it and embed ICT across the curriculum. What the DfES is doing with eLCs is showing good leadership.
The criticism that eLCs are only for software is valid to the extent that you need more than software to deliver the full curriculum. However, Charles Clarke announced at BETT this year that he was changing the rules for schools' usage of their devolved capital budgets so that spending on ICT equipment is now eligible. This is then another source of funding for curriculum peripherals such as data-loggers and robotics which are essential to the curriculum but not covered by eLCs.
I have greater difficulty with the complaints of those who say they have used the eLCs for software, but can't afford to install it or train staff on it. Before eLCs, the value of the curriculum software market was around pound;85million per year. With eLCs at pound;100million - totally new money - the starting point was the substitution of that pound;85million from schools' own budgets with the ringfenced eLCs. The pound;85million was not taken away. True, eLCs were unfortunate in arriving just as financial pressures were mounting on schools. However, if 200405 is a little calmer financially, this is the time for schools to take stock, give a welcome for how joined-up DfES policies on ICT have become and take a strategic look at all the funding sources for ICT.
Dominic Savage is director general at the British Educational Suppliers Association
* Next issue the view from a Liverpool classroom