Technology - Schools say yes to tablet computers as ICT spending soars
Spending on computer equipment in British schools is expected to rise dramatically to nearly #163;600 million next year, its highest-ever level, despite overall school budgets being frozen for the past three years.
The British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) has forecast that UK schools will spend #163;596 million on information and communications technology (ICT) kit in 2014-15, up from around #163;550 million this year.
Expenditure on technology in schools has increased significantly around the world, with the mobile computer market, which includes tablets and laptops, contributing to the rise.
The adoption of tablets in US schools has doubled in only a year. In June, Apple announced that it had struck a $30 million (#163;18.85 million) deal with the Los Angeles school district that would lead to each of the region's 640,000 students being given their own iPad.
Demand for tablets and mobile devices has also contributed to the spending rise in the UK, with 260,000 devices bought by schools in 2013, up from 100,000 in 2012.
The figures contrast with 2009-10, when the current UK government came to power and announced that school budgets would be frozen until 2015. ICT spending fell subsequently until 2012-13, when secondary schools reported a meagre 1.8 per cent increase.
Caroline Wright, director of BESA, said the surge in spending expected over the next 12 months was down to school leaders and governing bodies gaining confidence that their budgets would not be cut further by the government.
"Spending on ICT in schools has been artificially lowered over the last few years. While school budgets may have gone down in real terms, I think there was a great deal of worry and fear and so schools sat on their budgets for a while," Ms Wright said.
"In fairness to the government, they have left spending up to schools, so whereas before a local authority may have decided what schools would receive, now headteachers and their teachers are realising that they can spend the money on what they feel they need."
The shift in mindset has led BESA to predict a 4.1 per cent increase in spending across primary schools and 10.9 per cent across the secondary sector.
Experts have welcomed the growth as an endorsement of technology aiding learning, but some warned that more proof of what works was required to inform school leaders before they buy.
Miles Berry, subject leader for computing education at the University of Roehampton and chair of the board of UK ICT subject association Naace, said that technology could have an impact on learning but came at a high price.
"School leaders clearly believe there's a positive impact from investing in the right education technology," Mr Berry said. "But there's a need for more quantitative evidence on whether there's a good return on investment for each of the different technologies that school leaders can choose between.
"(Independent charity) the Education Endowment Foundation's toolkit suggests that, overall, digital technology has a good impact, but comes at a fairly high cost."
Cost does not appear to be putting other countries off spending vast sums on computer equipment, with Turkey, Singapore, India and Jamaica all committing to supplying tablets to each of their students.
The Australian education technology market has also gone through a boom period as the country's government has poured money into infrastructure. Analysts said that the entire education sector had spent AUS$2.7 billion (#163;1.59 billion) on computer equipment this year, with nearly half going on actual hardware.
Emilie Ditton, an analyst from the International Data Corporation, said that a number of big ICT projects in Australian schools had now been concluded and predicted that the rise in spending would slow down to a total of AUS$2.8 billion (#163;1.64 billion) by 2016.