How Schools Spend Their Money on IT
Education is a prized asset within the UK economy. It has an estimated annual export valuation of £19 billion. The UK boasts 3 of the world's top 10 centres of higher education. In the most recent PISA comparison, however, 15-year-olds in the UK educational system had slipped in maths and reading rankings. Although within the top 30, we lag behind several of our European counterparts.
Historically, the UK has been a leader in the adoption of digital technology in schools. Schools across the UK spend close to £900 million on EdTech each year. The median school spend on EdTech is around £400,000. In 2017, there were 3,392,100 in-classroom computers in UK schools. The average primary school had 69.8 computers. An average secondary school had 430.7.
In part, this has been achieved through allowing schools to adopt their own relationship to technology. From the late 1990s onwards, the Government pushed several IT-related programmes — starting a quango in 1998. However, much of the enthusiasm and success was driven by students and teachers. By 1998, only 1% of secondary schools, and 7% of primary schools were without any computers, and 84% of secondary schools were connected to the internet.
There are factors beyond IT that impact how schools perform. Although moderate use of computers in schools has been shown to correlate with improved learning outcomes. Very frequent use of computers has been shown to deteriorate outcomes. It is an absolute necessity to make the right choices when it comes to technology. In order to understand what choices are available, we need to look at the resources schools have available and how they have spent their money.
The average primary school budget in 2016/17 was £1,048,000, an increase of 1.6% from the previous year. The average secondary school budget was £4,617,000, an increase of 0.7%.
This, however, is in the context of falling budgets. In England, for example, there has been a flatlining of real-per-pupil spending since 2010. The recent uptick will only retain current per-pupil levels, leaving schools with less per-pupil funding than 2015/16 — according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS). Additionally, much of this money comes from restructuring the education budget — taking money away from building repairs and new schools.
Spending on IT
In the context of long-term budget depreciation, UK school spending on IT is set to rise in real terms for the first time in 3 years, according to the BESA (British Education Suppliers Association). This expansion is estimated to have a combined market impact of around £16 million.
The value of technology within the UK system has been increasingly recognised. BESA’s annual ‘ICT in UK State Schools’ found that in 2016, pupils are exposed to IT for 53% of teaching time — up from 50% in 2014. The adoption of mobile technology in UK primary and secondary schools has increased — 71% of primary schools and 76% of secondary schools were using tablets in the classroom in 2016, both up from 56% in 2014. However, there is widespread belief that funding is insufficient. BESA research indicates that only 33% of secondary schools and 60% of primary schools believe that they have sufficient IT resources.
Underutilisation of IT
Technology literate teachers tend to have an easier time integrating technology into their classrooms. Tech-savvy head teachers are more expansive in the deployment of technology within their school.
A report funded by Intel, Fujitsu and Birmingham University found that 53% of surveyed UK teachers and administrators wanted to invest in technology, but didn’t know how. 32% believe they lack the in-house experience to cope with IT complexity, and 27% feel that they need more training and support. A minority of teachers report having good or excellent levels of digital literacy. That breaks down as:
- 63% of primary school teachers
- 41% of secondary school teachers
- 37% of teachers in higher education
For many, digital learning is more of an aspiration than a reality. A 2015 OECD study indicates that many teachers are struggling to make effective use of the technology they already have. There are anecdotal instances of teachers pinning posters to smart boards because they never received training on how to use them. More, simply use them as glorified projectors — failing to take advantage of their full range of capabilities.
60% of teachers have made technology training a key aim for 2018. For schools, the main priority has been reaching a balance between ‘access’ and ‘security’ while improving staff digital skills.
It is more important than ever to make smart investments and be able to demonstrate the value of technology. IT departments pressured for funds are looking more closely at ROI (return-on-investment) and business cases for investments. Only 1 in 3 Bursars see the value of investment in education technology (EdTech).
Where Are Schools Focused?
As of 2017, 94% of surveyed UK education professionals stated that they wanted to use technology to achieve personalised learning. The focus for many schools has been putting in place the foundations needed to achieve that. Globally, 85% of secondary schools and 86% of primary schools have invested in WiFi over the last year, or intend to do so within the next year. In the UK, priorities are focused on security and access. Of surveyed UK IT education leaders:
- 100% want balanced levels of access and security
- 93% want improved network security
- 87% want to review or improve the reliability of devices and systems
- 84% want to be able to monitor what apps are being used by students
- 84% want to improve wireless coverage
This focus on infrastructure and security is encouraging. Achieving automated classrooms or personalised learning environments requires adequate connectivity and quality devices. Doing so safely requires secure networks. These foundations of IT are the bedrock of digital learning, just as they are for any digital project. These very foundations, however, are still letting many schools down.
Underdeveloped IT Infrastructure
Only 44% of surveyed schools thought their WiFi was sufficient to support their digital learning programme or ambitions. For UK primary and secondary schools, only 27% and 28% respectively thought their WiFi was up to sufficient standards.
The official international standard definition for ‘broadband’ is an ‘always-on’ connection that meets minimum download speeds of 256 kbps. This is so slow that a single student might struggle to watch a YouTube video at that speed. Getting these infrastructure basics right is essential.
Procuring the right device is another issue. Devices are delicate and children are rough. Only 46% of surveyed UK teachers think that they have the best devices for the job.
- 45% view devices as too easily damaged
- 34% see the cost of replacement parts as prohibitive
- 33% are concerned by poor battery life
- 27% think inbuilt security is insufficient
- 27% think their devices require too much IT support
Summary: Schools Need To Take Advantage of What They Have and Get the Basics of Infrastructure Right Before Moving On To Gadgets
Educating students about technology is just as important as the proper utilisation of technology for other subjects. Across the world, a digital literacy divide between advantaged and disadvantaged students exists, similar to that which persists in literacy and maths skills. Schools need to focus on technology in order to ensure that all students graduate with the skills required for the modern workforce. Bringing technology into the classroom is a great way to do that without having to focus precious class time specifically on digital education.
In order to get the most out of technology, schools need to make sure that teachers know how to take advantage of the technology they already have. It is advisable that schools ring-fence up to 20% of their IT budget for training. New IT won't deliver if teachers don’t know how to use what they already have. Schools also need to make sure that their infrastructure (WiFi access, bandwidth and network capabilities) are able to support their EdTech ambitions. If devices aren’t sufficiently supported, training and planning will fall flat. Overall, schools face opportunities, but proper planning and budgeting is required to deliver successful outcomes.