Balancing the budget

7th January 2011 at 00:00
It might seem as if your IT budget has fallen off a cliff, but in many cases investments can still be made. Jack Kenny offers 10 suggestions on where your money can best be spent

The British Educational Supply Association (BESA) estimates that schools spent #163;577 million in 2009 and predicts they will spend #163;502 million in 2011. If they are right, ICT budgets will be down by #163;75 million. Nevertheless, BESA concludes optimistically: "They may be spending less, but they can get more for their money."


1. Make your work go further

Do you want to create great-looking content quickly and inexpensively and be able to use it over and over again? Jonathan Boyle at Madeley Academy is a keen user of Camtasia; Jan Webb at Weston Village Primary School near Crewe is more enthusiastic about the free program Jing. The justification for both is similar: Camtasia and Jing will record your voice and every movement and keystroke as you teach on a computer or whiteboard. Camtasia, in particular, allows teachers to create detailed presentations for students, record them and then share them across networks. A good lesson does not disappear into the ether, but can be preserved. Both programs are an excellent way to demonstrate a process or an idea. You can then edit the content and share it online in all popular streaming media formats.



2. Invest time communicating ideas online

"Investment is not always financial," says Dai Barnes, ICT teacher at St Benedict's School, Ealing. Mr Barnes recommends communicating with teachers who share your interests. "The use of blogs and Twitter and wikis are the best way to develop classroom practice," he says, "including the use of technology to enrich teaching and learning. Invest time listening, reading and fuelling conversation online." The most rewarding events for Mr Barnes have been TeachMeets. "They are about teachers presenting their classroom practice to other teachers. I get to meet lots of other teachers enthused about teaching and learning. It generates a buzz that makes me proud to be a teacher."

3. Reduce software costs by using Stream2School

In addition to saving money, the idea behind Stream2School is clever. Rather than buying software, you pay a monthly subscription to have it streamed into school. Kartouche's Romeo and Juliet would cost more than #163;350 to buy outright. From Stream2School, it costs #163;35 per month. When you have finished using it, you just stop paying. You can start it up at any time and the program is accessible on any machine in the school. The same applies across the range of software available for primary and secondary. Why pay for software you are not using?

4. Think long-term when buying computers

Recently a school told David Baugh, former ICT teacher in Denbighshire, that they had been advised to replace six three-year-old laptops because their batteries were no longer effective. The laptops concerned were happily working plugged into the mains. "This makes no sense at all," says Mr Baugh. "A tip for ICT investments is to buy for the long-term. Any type of computer should be capable of a long life if looked after. Look at longevity and total cost of ownership. Cheap does not equal value in the long run."

5. Make good use of what you already have

"I'd recommend schools make the most of what they have already invested in," says Ian Usher, e-learning co-ordinator for Buckinghamshire County Council. "It could be quality training based on what the school wants to achieve with technology - engaging learners in new ways, communicating with the wider school community or making data available to students and their families. Be cautious of training tied to specific software. Staff encouraged to think creatively will take these ideas and apply them to a whole range of tools you've never thought to train them on. There are plenty of instructional videos on how to use software so don't waste time replicating these with battery-hen-type training sessions."

6. Communicate, innovate, don't stagnate

"Desktop computers are dead; laptops are on Death Row. We have been layering 21st-century technology on to 19th-century teaching practice. Organisations such as BESA and Becta have ensured technology in the classroom bears no relationship to the outside world," says Graham Brown-Martin of Learning without Frontiers. Mr Brown-Martin believes ICT has moved on from PCs to mobiles and tablets. The danger in times of austerity is that innovation stops. Shifting focus from schools' technology to technology in pupils' pockets could save money.

7. Win-win situation: employ students while they learn

Paul Kelley at Monkseaton School has been working with the Open University to benefit his students, and save money. Monkseaton was the first UK school to use OU courses to bridge the gap between school and university. Students begin at 16, while still at school. The employer (the school) pays for the degree and students reach 21 with an honours degree, having worked in a cutting-edge environment and having been paid throughout. Students do not have to take on debt and the school has the services of highly technical students.

8. Save time with SIMS Dinner Money module

Capita estimates the time savings from the SIMS Dinner Money add-on module (cost #163;500) could be as much as half a day per week. Dinner money records are complicated as they hold data on pupils' names, classes, current balances, meal types and payments received. The software pulls through all data from the main database on to the module. Attendance and dinner number returns are combined and accurate numbers for the kitchen cut down on waste. The software can cope with changes - absences, school visits, refunds - and keeps accounts, produces statements for parents and sends out letters for those in credit or arrears. Tracey Pearson at Little Heath Primary School, Coventry, has been using it for two years. "The kitchen knows immediately how many to cater for against which menus. It's so easy to use, I can do the numbers in five minutes."


9. A commercial answer aimed at schools

"Think seriously about allowing pupils to bring in their own technology - smart phones, netbooks and laptops. Make more use of the kit that your pupils have," says Miles Berry, senior lecturer in ICT at Roehampton University. "If you can manage it, and if you can provide wi-fi internet access (with appropriate filtering), use the school-owned kit for those who don't have devices of their own, thus targeting school resources at addressing the digital divide." Dan Roberts, deputy head at Community School, agrees. "Most students have access to smart phones," he says. "By allowing them to use their own technology, you won't need to book a class set of laptops. Tap into the free and readily available resources, but develop with your staff, students and parents a safe framework and a collaborative acceptable-use policy and make sure everyone understands it."

10. Use the students' own technology

RM, the leading provider of ICT software, infrastructure and services to UK education, has been focusing on helping schools "achieve their ambitions in an age of austerity". The company believes the most successful strategy is not just to shave off a pound here and a pound there. A method it believes will be more beneficial for everyone is to offer schools baseline products that are shipped straight to them from the manufacturer. So computers built in China, for example, will not go via the RM headquarters in Abingdon, but straight to the school, with the resulting cost savings passed on to the school. The company will also look at software that can be bought on a long-term basis. They would create much more flexibility, so that not everything has to be paid for upfront, but costs can be spread over a longer period of time.



Aviary is a package of creative tools: image editor, screen capture music creator, audio editor, effects editor. The music creator allows you to bring in musical instruments and create loops and patterns, and is a good way of introducing students to creating digital sounds before moving on to more complex packages. Audio editor allows you to record and mix tracks and save the results on the desktop or on the server.


Skype is a wonderful way of reaching outside your classroom. All you need is a PC or a Mac, a microphone, webcam and internet connection. Few teachers seem to use Skype, despite it being free and greatly improved in video and audio quality. Skype can be used to set up video conferencing and to connect with other teachers and classrooms across the world.


Evernote is about creating your own archive where you can store text, pictures, email and voice notes and organise them into notebooks with tags, so they're easy to search, building into a powerful database, available wherever there's an internet connection. To use Evernote you need a basic account, which is free. Extra storage space and an ad-free premium account are available.


PowerPoint has become predictable and lost its appeal. You can hear groans around lecture rooms when people realise they are going to have one inflicted on them. Prezi is an alternative, non-linear way of presenting that takes 10 minutes to learn, after which you can zoom in and out of the screens, moving around in a way that is more interesting for you and the audience.


Ubuntu is a free operating system and a real contender to Windows. The best way to try it is on an old computer you are about to write off. Watch it bring the computer back to life. Ubuntu will send you a free CD of the latest version, but since that can take up to 10 weeks, it's quicker to download it on to a CD or USB stick. It's not yet as friendly as Windows, but it will enable you to enter a new virus-free world of stability and free applications.

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