Hang ups

2nd February 1996 at 00:00
In a survey carried out in May of last year, 90 per cent of schools confirmed that there had been an increase in the number of surveys in which they were being asked to participate.

The 478 schools surveyed were those that had failed to respond to a previous survey. Thirty four of them claimed to have a policy of not participating in surveys (except presumably for surveys into why they didn't participate in surveys) while 65 resorted to that good old stand-by of saying that they didn't know anything about it. There will be no way of knowing if this survey into surveys was a one-off until someone has the bright idea of instigating a survey of schools to discover how often they are being surveyed on the subject of how often they are being surveyed.

Some statistics are compiled merely to furnish jittery Cabinet Ministers with something to ward off Paxman - like those bunches of garlic terrified virgins wave at Christopher Lee; others, however, serve a purpose in the real world. Indeed, it wasn't some zealous Sir Humphrey with nothing better to do with his time that quizzed those 478 schools on why they hadn't completed a previous questionnaire, but the British Educational Suppliers Association.

And BESA's members would far sooner be making money than making more work for hard-pressed teachers. It's in order to keep the cash registers ringing that BESA regularly trawls for information on how much money schools have to spend, and what they intend to spend it on. Its 1995 report on trends, although intended primarily to improve the marketing strategy of suppliers, provides teachers with a reliable guide to what things are really like in the mythical "average school".

For instance, BESA's survey revealed that the average secondary school had 80 computers (excluding ancient BBCs and other heirlooms). The average primary school had 9.9. Many teachers will be all too familiar with that 0.9 of a machine. It's the one that you think can do everything until, at the crucial moment, you discover that for some mysterious reason it isn't able to SAVE or isn't on speaking terms with the printer.

The 63 per cent of primary schools that had joined the multimedia age, had on average 2.2 CD-Rom drives, and 7.4 CD-Roms to play on them. The average secondary school had nearly six drives on which to play its 15 CD-Roms. However, schools are keen to buy more titles - especially British ones which, the survey revealed, are more likely than American products "to match or exceed expectations". In theaverage primary they hope to buy a further 10 over the next year or so, while at the secondary they have their hearts set on another eight.

Considering how many excellent packages catering for the whole curriculum are now on the market, these figures seem absurdly low. But even so, according to BESA, schools are planning to spend about 2.5 per cent more on software than they have done in past years. But the report also includes grim news for the manufacturers: in 19951996 the primary sector will spend almost Pounds 15 million less on hardware than it did in the previous year, and secondary schools will cut back by Pounds 5.1m. At the end of 19961997, the average primary will have managed to buy only another two computers while the typical secondary will have acquired 30 new machines.

But, of course, even as new computers arrive, the older machines are giving up the ghost or being shoved to the back of a cupboard because they aren't powerful enough to run the latest software. It's an inevitable consequence of embracing new technology.

Hangups' e-mail address: arnoldevans@easynet.co.uk

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