Granted, it will be another good year
2004 was a good year for ICT, and 2005 looks to be even better.
Official figures released in January showed that average spending on technology in secondary schools rose from £65,000 in 2003 to £88,200 in 2004. That equates to £91 per pupil.
The government is continuing its direct investment in ICT in maintained schools, which is estimated to rise to £900M by 2006.
The main funding for 2005-06 is referred to as ICT in Schools (ICTiS) and will be made available under standards' funds grants 31A, 31B and 31C. As with most standards funds, the money can be spent to the end of August 2006.
Grant 37, which funded the purchase of interactive whiteboards, has reached the end of its planned two-year life, although the funding can be spent up to the end of August 2005.
The first grant, 31A, covers funding for school infrastructure, interactive whiteboards, laptops for teachers and interestingly, "hands-on support for teachers".
This is to be a programme of peer support in classrooms and achieved in close co-operation with the LEA. In secondary schools it will be coordinated by the LEA Key Stage 3 strategy manager.
Grant 31B is intended to support broadband connectivity for all schools by 2006. Target connection speeds are 8Mbs for secondary schools and 2Mbs for primary. Many schools exceed this already and all schools should be aiming at much higher connectivity.
This money can be spent by the LEA on participation in a regional broadband consortium. However, the LEA can put forward a case for not doing this, in which case funding should be devolved to schools.
Grant 31C is for 'e-learning credits', which were initially known as 'curriculum online'. It is paid via the LEA to schools and must be spent on approved software and cannot be redirected elsewhere.
The government has said that devolved capital funding can also be used for computer purchases. Although there are probably a myriad of demands on this funding already, nevertheless it does provide a potential source of money for major upgrades where the funds under grant 31 and the school's own budget are not adequate.
First of all, schools need to find out how much money they have been allocated and how it was done. Most of the money has been allocated on the basis of pupil or staff numbers, as appropriate. LEAs need to have talked to their schools about how they decide individual budgets.
With regard to regional broadband consortia (grant 31B) schools should work with their LEA to ensure that the service delivered is high quality. There is a substantial amount of money being invested in this and schools are entitled to know that it is invested wisely.
The third grant, 31C, is allocated on pupil numbers and is totally within the control of the school. Leadership teams need to decide how to spend these e-learning credits - and to make sure that the money allocated for 2004-05 is spent by the end of August 2005.
It makes sense to look at the overall spending on software that the school is likely to make and to use the e-learning credits first for eligible packages.
The website will help individual subject teachers and departments to see what is available but financial audit requirements are likely to mean that they cannot go straight onto a website to make their purchases.
It might be worth also trying to ensure that e-learning credit purchases are for reasonably large amounts of money, to cut down the amount of administration within the school office. There are fairly tight restrictions on the use of this money and it must be for curriculum software.
Value for money
It is important to get value for money when making major ICT purchases. However, considerable sums are being spent on ICT in schools and sometimes it is easy to forget that the purpose of all this is to lead to enhanced learning by students. If this is not happening, the money is being wasted.
Since the introduction of interactive whiteboards it has become easier to convince teachers of the value of sharing.
If a subject department with five staff share all their resources, via the school's network, each teacher can have five times the amount of resources available to use with classes.
Schools should begin to prioritise this area of their work and look at allocating resources where they will give most benefit to the students. This is probably the most important current issue.
Even better is when schools get together to share resources and expertise. Schools should discuss these possibilities with each other: if the LEA can be persuaded to take a proactive role in this so much the better.
It is not yet clear whether the government will continue to allocate money for ICT developments through ring-fenced grants or whether it will simply be given to schools as part of one allocation.
Either way, schools need to recognise that spending on ICT will be necessary in the future.
By Jim Donnelly, head of Litherland High School, Sefton, Merseyside. He is currently seconded on a part-time basis to the LEA as schools' ICT project director.
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