Nearly half of all schools are being forced to slash their ICT budgets because of harsher funding settlements, making it increasingly difficult to meet the needs of pupils, a major new report reveals.
Schools are warning that they will have to cut budgets in the next academic year, despite the report predicting a significant rise in the amount of class time spent using technology.
Experts have suggested that schools are being forced to divert money away from ICT to support the introduction of changes to assessment, such as the new Sats and GCSEs.
Just under half of primary and secondary pupils will spend the majority of their learning time using technology by 2017, according to the study by the British Educational Suppliers Association (Besa) and the ICT subject association Naace. But the research, based on a representative sample of 719 primary and 485 secondary schools, indicates that schools will find it increasingly difficult to meet the need for IT equipment.
The figures show that 46 per cent of primary and secondary schools will be “unlikely” or “definitely not” able to maintain their planned ICT investment for 2016-17 (see box, right).
Perhaps of most concern, however, is that the first cutbacks in ICT spending for several years coincide with an increase in the use of technology in education.
According to the study, by 2017, secondary schools expect that 47 per cent of students will spend more than half their teaching and learning time using technology. Primaries think 45 per cent of pupils will do the same.
Mark Chambers, Naace chief executive, said that the issue was “one of the key challenges facing the school community”. He added: “The reason that it is so important is because schools must ensure that education remains relevant to young people. But if, because of funding pressures, heads have to cut back on their technology, they will be reducing that relevance.”
The survey coincides with a YouGov poll for TES, which shows that almost half of heads and teaching staff do not believe that their school is taking full advantage of technology in the classroom (see page 7).
Kirsty Tonks, assistant principal and head of e-learning at Shireland Collegiate Academy in Smethwick, West Midlands, said that it was becoming “increasingly difficult” to provide students with the technology they needed.
“We are committed to offering every student a personal device, so it means that we have to make savings in other areas in order to meet our commitment,” Ms Tonks said. “For instance, some schools near us have 40 or 50 non-teaching support staff, whereas we have just six or seven.
“But there’s no doubt, it is very difficult and it is getting more so. We are definitely not in the years of plenty anymore.”
The anticipated fall in ICT expenditure would be the first since 2010-11, and is yet another signal of tough times ahead for school budgets.
The research comes days before the world’s leading educational technology conference, Bett, opens its doors in London.
Caroline Wright, director general designate of Besa, said that the combination of tighter budgets, rising pupil numbers and major government policies coming into effect meant that IT funding levels were suffering.
“It’s the first time for some time that schools are suggesting a percentage decrease in IT spending – that’s a real indication that budgets are tight,” Ms Wright said. “What we are seeing is an increase in spending on assessment and CPD, as the government changes come in. It all comes out of the same budget, so it means some areas have to be cut, and resources are usually the first to be hit.”
Ms Wright said that her organisation would be exploring whether the cutbacks pushed schools to adopt a “bring your own device” policy, with students using their own technology in the classroom.
Claire Lotriet, computing and enterprise coordinator at a South London primary, said that her school wanted to introduce more technology, but would need to think long-term.
“It will mean we will have to make technology go further,” Ms Lotriet said. “We want to give teachers the standardised kit but we can’t do all of that at once, we can’t afford it. It just means you have to be more savvy with the money you have and play a longer game.”
Read about a teacher’s week without tech on pages 24-30 and see Claire Lotriet’s world of ed tech column on page 43