LAs 'raid school piggy banks' to cover ICT cuts
Technology funding for schools has become mired in chaos as councils take drastic measures to cope with unexpected cuts to Government grants for IT.
The Government announced a 50 per cent reduction in the Harnessing Technology budget earlier this year, slashing pound;100 million from local authorities.
The grant was used to pay for new computers and broadband schemes and is administered by councils, which are now deciding what proportion of the cash to give to schools.
Rather than a simple 50 per cent cut, some schools will get nothing and others will have to start paying for services previously funded by local authorities.
Martin White, head of Drayton CofE Junior School in Norfolk and a member of the Norfolk Schools Forum, has lost most of his pound;4,741 Harnessing Technology grant.
"The amount of remaining funding we have discretion over is minimal. Children have to have pens and books to write in," he told The TES.
"We already ask for voluntary contributions for all school trips and we can't (afford to) redecorate the school. Even a small cut now has a real impact.
"I certainly don't blame the (local authority). But the children are going to be penalised. They will have larger classes and limited resources, through no fault of their own."
West Sussex County Council, in consultation with its schools forum, is increasing the proportion of the grant it keeps from 37 to 74 per cent.
Keith Todd, head of Greenway School in Horsham, said he was angered by the decision. His allocation will fall from pound;5,619 to pound;1,208.
He said: "I feel there is some room to tighten our belts - but at every level. Four thousand pounds for us is a small percentage; it means we can't afford some one-to-one tuition or to subsidise a trip, but it is the principle of the matter. They are raiding the school piggy banks to keep their projects intact."
The TES contacted 30 authorities and found eight had increased the amount retained centrally, 18 had made no change (including five where the entire amount was kept centrally) and four had taken a larger cut themselves.
Surrey County Council had been planning to retain 60 per cent and is now retaining 20 per cent. A spokeswoman said: "The reduction was necessitated by the grant cut and will need to be made up by charging schools (for IT and broadband services), unless savings can be made in the cost of delivery - and there is no reason at present to think that such savings can be made."
Northamptonshire County Council retains its entire grant, which has been cut from pound;3 million to pound;1.5 million, and is now asking schools to pay the charges for their broadband connectivity and services from October 2010 onwards.
Sion Humphreys, assistant secretary of heads' union the NAHT, said: "The key issue is that (schools minister) Nick Gibb said that ICT was well embedded in schools and therefore there was no need for further hypothecated expenditure. We would question that. There has been a lot of good work in the area but it is work in progress."
- Original headline: Chaos as LAs `raid school piggy banks' to cover ICT cuts