Michael Gove has made the decision that the Harnessing Technology Grant for 2010/11 will be cut by £100 million to contribute to the development of “Free Schools” nationally. This translates as an in year cut to local authorities and schools of at least 50%.
This suggests essential ICT systems will be unable to be maintained and improved – unless schools can find smarter ICT solutions, or use technology to achieve efficiency savings elsewhere in the value chain. Here are some ideas worth exploring.
1. Switch your email exchange servers for cloud-based services
There’s a viable alternative to maintaining your own email exchange servers – services like Google Apps or Microsoft Live are free and both provide fully secure, branded virtual space for email, document sharing and storage. You can even retain your existing school-specific email address. London Grid for Learning estimates that London schools have saved approximately £11m since transferring to Microsoft’s service last year.
2. Forget software licences – go Open Source!
Open Source software for learning platforms and e-learning content enable development and ongoing upgrade costs to be minimised.
3. Upgrade to the latest OS and save on power management
If you upgrade to the latest operating systems you will be able to take advantage of enhanced power-saving features, saving costs of between £23 and £46 per computer per year.
4. Switch to remote access
Microsoft’s latest operating platform (Windows 7) makes setting up remote access much more straightforward. Additionally some VPNs make use of free software packages that need no special hardware or software on the network to enable remote access.
5. Allow pupils to use their own laptops
Recent British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) research revealed that secondary schools spend 48% per of their ICT budget on new computers. Schools may consider asking parents to contribute by providing their children with their own computers for school and home use.
6. Change the way you communicate
Like encouraging parents to provide computers, this requires a significant cultural shift. The way in which student relationships at school are formed and nurtured are being reshaped as hallways of classrooms switches to social networks on digital learning platforms. There are inherent dangers in students using social networking that need to be managed – however, safe messaging tools for use in the classroom and at home can be provided, enabling students to access multimedia resources in a controlled environment.
The NASUWT Teachers Union has said that trying to understand the full impact of the Education funding cuts at this time is ‘like knitting fog’.
Certainly, after the backlash over the scrapping of 700 school building projects, the chancellor announcement that there will be £15.8bn to “rebuild and refurbish” 600 schools should mean that schools won’t need to find this funding from other budgets – what’s your take?
The headline messages we picked out are:
- The schools budget will see a real reduction in Department of Education resource spending of 3% by 2014-15.
- 60% reduction in real terms in capital spending over the Spending Review period. However over the Spending Review period there will be a total of £15.8 billion of capital spending. The average annual capital budget will be higher than the average annual capital budget in the 1997-98 to 2004-05 period.
- Funding grants streamlined i.e. Education Maintenance Allowances ended; procurement and back office savings; 33% admin reduction in real terms by closing NDPBs, reducing headcount, reducing the costs of the DfE estate and cutting nonessential expenditure.
Next steps will include further details contained in a Schools’ White Paper, a Special Educational Needs and Disability Green paper, and confirmation of local authority allocations for schools and early years provision. We’ll keep an eye in developments and keep you updated on further announcements that are expected throughout the next three months.
As school managers will be aware, the Department of Education has been asked to prepare plans for cuts of between 10% and 20%. This would come to between £5.71bn and £11.42bn.
While it is now widely expected that front-line schools budgets (those received from local authorities via the Dedicated Schools grant,or DSG) will be protected from the worst of the cuts, the full impact on school spending will require very careful reading of the detail.
Of particular interest is the impact on ICT investments within schools. The cuts inevitably carry some threats to the modernisation of the teaching and learning profession – some projects have already been scrapped, including education facilitator BECTA.
On the other hand, there may be opportunities for schools to save costs and increase efficiencies – particularly in areas such as cloud computing, open source and even the prospect of local authority collaboration to achieve savings through sharing resources and/or technology expertise.
Whatever the outcome of Wednesday’s announcement, many schools will be looking very hard at the small print before making planning decisions for their next budget year.