A positive impact on learning

Our 14th annual ICT in UK State Schools’ survey, carried out in September 2010, revealed that despite government funding cuts for ICT in education, schools appeared positive in their outlook. 58 per cent of the primary schools and 51 per cent of the 1,379 UK schools (812 primary, 567 secondary) had stated that they felt they were likely to maintain planned ICT investments for 2011/12. However, moving forward six months, sadly our schools’ views appear to be very different.

Our annual ‘Impact of New Technologies’ survey into the views of English Maintained Schools on a range of new technologies used by teachers and students carried out in conjunction with the National Education Research Panel (NERP) shows that an increasing majority of schools (56 per cent primary, 65 per cent secondary schools) feel they are now definitely unable, or unlikely to be able, to maintain planned new technologies investments for 2011/12.

As the education sector’s trade association, our role at BESA is to sit between the government and industry (schools and suppliers) to support improving standards. Our regular surveys provide the sector with an indication of changes and trends and our member’s code of practice ensures products and services purchased by schools are of the highest value, delivered with the optimum level of service and support.

The challenge

The challenge offered by the results of this survey focuses on the continuation of innovation in ICT, both in product development and in classroom practice. For the past decade the UK has been positioned at the top of the international education league in terms of the significant government investment in ICT in education and its corresponding implementation in the classroom.

However, the perception of educators today is that they now have no money for ICT. Many believe that they cannot try innovative new products and approaches; the apparent lack of interest in netbooks and smartphones is an example. Fewer than 30 per cent identified a high level of usefulness of netbooks and the majority of primary schools considered smartphones to be of very little or no use at all.

One of our members Barbara Higginbotham, sales director at Data Harvest, manufacturer and supplier of specialist educational science and technology equipment, recognises the current pressure felt by schools. She comments: “Secondary schools are still buying the new data loggers to deliver the modern science curriculum as the immediate feedback is seen as engaging and motivating. However, a perceived lack of funding is impacting our sales and will, in time, affect our ability to offer free training and ultimately to invest as much in new developments.”

Free content
For a sector that has built a reputation for its investment in, and utilisation of technology, this move by schools to avoid investing in new technologies is a shame for both the industry that has always responded to the needs of the sector by creating new, innovative products, and for pupils who receive new technologies with aplomb. The growth in the use of free digital content also reflects this. Unsurprisingly, in a time of budget constraint, the research identified that 86 per cent of primary schools and 64 per cent of secondary schools expected free content to be the most useful technology in the classroom by 2012.

However, looking at a free communication technology that has become a core part of both teachers’ and students’ lives, namely social media, the survey revealed that the majority of schools apparently make no use of social networking sites. Despite approximately 75 per cent of teachers and the majority of children using social media to communicate, 88 per cent of primary schools and 79 per cent of secondary schools confirmed that they made no use of the tool in the classroom.

Purchasing power
What is important to stress, however, is that schools do still have money. Despite the current and anticipated reduction in school’s ICT budgets, projected budgets for 2011/12 are expected to be the same as recorded seven years earlier in 2004/05.

The change that schools are experiencing is that there is now one centralised pot of money. The era of ring-fenced grants for ICT is over. Schools now have to make their own purchasing decisions based on their school development plan. School’s have the autonomy to decide how they spend their budgets. If their specific challenge is to improve standards in key stage maths, for example, what approach will they choose?

Madeleine White, head of marketing, Whizz Education and developer of Maths Whizz, comments: “Schools have had many years experience to recognise what has the most positive impact on learning. While our new, less rigid curriculum gives teachers the freedom to invest in resources, procurement and delivering results in the most cost effective way remains a key focus. In the majority of cases opting for a learning resource that is non prescriptive and therefore applicable to all students at each stage of development is seen as the most viable and efficient option.”

The fact that school’s still have money to invest in technology is supported by the fact that schools are still investing in specific technologies. Visualisers are one example of this. 75 per cent of primary schools and 68 per cent of secondary schools currently use the technology while 85 per cent and 66 per cent, respectively, forecast their use by 2012. More traditional technologies such as laptops were considered to be very useful to 49 per cent of primary schools and 34 per cent of secondary schools while budgetary constraints appear to have led many schools to feel they are unable to afford innovative new products and approaches.

Replacing existing technology
The divide in terms of current spending is based on school’s investment in emerging technologies that enhance and replace existing technology (e.g. tablets replacing netbooks) and those technologies that are a new way to teach and learn, but that do not necessarily replace any existing technology (e.g. learning platforms). In addition, new technologies that replace solutions with a cost-effective alternative (e.g. cloud computing) are likely to do well, while technologies that enhance, but do so at a higher cost (e.g. large LCD displays replacing IWBs) are more likely to struggle to compete.

Recent research by McKinsey on what makes successful school systems has shown that innovation makes a large impact on moving schools from ‘good’ to ‘great’ – so the question is, will schools remember the value of ICT in the classroom – we certainly hope so?

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