A sound investment in technology

Schools may feel burdened with almost daily policy changes. Secondary schools are being met with reformed GCSEs in English, maths, science, history, and geography, which will be ready for first teaching in September 2015.  

And for primary schools, the removal of assessment levels and a ‘freedom’ to assess and track their students’ progress using whatever method they wish, combined with the arrival of the new curriculum, adds to the demand on teachers’ time.

The challenges faced by all teachers at the current time are multiplied. The need to adequately support the new knowledge and skills dictated by the changes is resulting in an urgent investment in published schemes of work, text books and learning support material; not forgetting the resources needed to raise the skill level of teachers who, for example, in primary schools are now required to teach coding and modern foreign languages.

However, our recent market research shows that at least the funding is in place to support these modifications.

To keep up with the funding available to schools, we carry out a quarterly ‘Education Market Performance Outlook’ survey. In August it revealed a general rise in expenditure in schools. Spending in 2013/14 was projected by schools to increase by 2.7 per cent, after reported growth of 2.3 per cent in 2012/13.
This is good news for schools and technology suppliers. When we take into account the reduction in the cost of technology, this significant increase in expenditure will result in a higher increase in investment in real terms.

UK schools have led the world in embedding technology into the learning environment and our schools now have the experience to invest wisely to optimise the value of this technology.
So how are schools investing to support their current needs? In broad terms, the answer appears to be technology. Turning to our 16th annual ‘ICT in UK State Schools’ research, it appears that funding and investment in technology will reach an all-time high.  

The research, carried out in conjunction with the National Education Research Panel (NERP) provides analysis into the likely provision of ICT in UK state schools in the next year and gives extensive insight into investment based on current Government funding.
The survey ask the opinions of 1,238 UK schools (731 primary, 507 secondary) and was conducted in July 2013.
The research reveals that investment in hardware replacement, peripherals, software and technical support will reach £14,220 per primary school and £65,570 in each secondary school an increase from £12,720 in primaries and £57,580 in secondary schools in 2012.
The previous highest estimate of technology expenditure was in 2008/9 when allocations averaged around £14,000 in primary schools and £65,400 in secondary schools. This totalled an expenditure on ICT across all UK maintained schools of approximately £320 million. From 2009/10, average ICT budgets across all schools fell year on year until 2012/13, when secondary maintained schools indicated a 1.8 per cent rise in technology expenditure.

Mobile Devices
One of the most marked changes in technology investment is the unsurprising move from desktop computers to more mobile devices. While only 14 per cent of schools now have an extensive requirement for desktop computers in the current year, the requirement for laptop computers more than doubles to 32 per cent.
Our ‘Future of tablets and apps in schools’ research carried out in May revealed that schools now believe that by the end of 2013, more than 10 per cent of teaching computers (PC/Mac/tablet) in schools will be tablets. This is a significant increase from the 6 per cent forecast in 2012. If these figures are measured against data collated from schools’ IT managers, it can be estimated that by the end of 2013, 258,000 tablets will be used in schools. This increase is also set to continue, with schools predicting that the percentage of tablets will increase to 24 per cent by the end of 2015. 77 per cent of schools claimed to be under-resourced with tablet computers. It is fair to assume that the mobility of tablets and their price point make them more desirable options for classroom hardware.

Internet Bandwidth
As more learning content goes online, internet bandwidth requirements are generally increasing, with 34 per cent of secondary schools indicating an extensive requirement, compared to fewer than 10 per cent in 2005. It is probably fair to say that the majority of digital content in 2005 was on CD. Demand for Internet bandwidth in primary schools is less significant, but it remains the case that more than a quarter of primary schools have an extensive requirement.
The increase in secondary school ICT budgets in particular, is expected to continue into 2014 by a significant 11 per cent. Budgets may increase in secondary schools alone to more than £280m.

What to consider before investing
It is heartening to see the increase in budgets is resulting in a rise in technology investment to support the new changes. However, as the sector’s trade association we must remind schools to invest this money wisely. The following ten points are always worth consideration before investment.
Firstly, think about asset management. By carrying out regular reviews of the resources in each classroom, duplicating licences and other investments can be avoided.
Regarding suppliers, do you know the company you are buying from? Have other schools in your area used them? Are they a BESA member? If they are then you can be assured of the quality of the products and services they deliver. Visit www.besa.org.uk/suppliers to find a list of approved suppliers.
Is the product fit for purpose? Is it exactly aligned to your needs? Visit shows like Bett  (www.bettshow.com) and the Education Show where you can evaluate and interrogate the suppliers of a number of options before making your decision. This is a much more effective way of selecting resources.
Schools should also consider, if the product is digital content or other learning content, is it aligned to the new curriculum?
When investing in mobile hardware schools must consider compatibility. If you have historically purchased resources for the MS Windows platform you will need to check that this content is available for the new mobile platforms centered around iOS and Android, as these are the predominant operating systems used for tablets and smart phones.
Looking to the future, with the rapid pace of change in education always look for products that are going to last and be appropriate in the future.
Consider set up. If the investment is an ICT desking system, will the supplier deliver and set up the furniture free of charge? If it’s an interactive whiteboard, will the supplier carry out full installation?
Schools should also ask themselves if service and support is included in the purchase? If the product stops working after three months will the supplier be there to help, or supply you with a replacement. Before purchase try ringing the company’s support line to see how efficient the service is.
Regarding training, find out if it is provided free of charge with the product. The interactive whiteboard framework agreement is a perfect example of the importance of training with some products. At the time of the Government’s interactive whiteboard framework agreement, many schools looked for the cheapest price and ended up receiving interactive whiteboards from suppliers who considered, ‘plugging in the projector and showing the teachers how to switch it on’, as training. The huge breadth of learning potential that the technology could deliver was never realised, and sadly many were simply used as projector screens. Always ensure full training is built into the price of any appropriate product.
And finally, always remember that the cost of a product is never just the initial price tag. Always consider the ‘total cost of ownership.’ Is a warranty included? What are the terms of the warranty? If it is a software resource, do you receive regular upgrades free of charge?

Further reading