One reason for the Conservatives' reticence to discuss its strategy for learning with ICT before the general election became clear last week. It sees schools ICT as a resource to raid for cash for its new "free" schools.
The Government has snatched £50 million from schools' £200 million Harnessing Technology pot. And a confidential briefing document for education minister Michael Gove MP, explored on Channel 4's FactCheck Blog, shows that he considered taking money set aside for extending free school meals to reduce poverty. More bad news is expected in tomorrow's emergency budget, and ICT education organisation Naace is brokering a joint statement for Gove.
Apparently, plans to raid money for Building Schools for the Future, a major source of ICT funding (Barking and Dagenham, for example, stands to lose £25m ICT funding in BSF cuts) were not acted upon because advisers feared resistance by the Treasury.
All the most recent research indicates that most schools are still not using ICT effectively, and the decision to take away £50 million of ICT funding can only exacerbate that situation. Worse some schools may have to claw back Harnessing Technology funding they have already spent.
The following information, confirmed by the Department for Education, was issued by the British Educational Suppliers Association:
- Being a capital grant, Harnessing Technology was excluded from promises made to protect the revenue budgets of schools.
- This change does mean that the £50million is being clawed-back in-year and therefore that the allocations to individual schools will reduce. The implication is that any school that might have spent its whole grant as previously advised will face having to find the clawed-back amount elsewhere from its capital allocation.
- The Department does therefore expect to be making capital grants to new free schools during this year.
That's why there is some urgency to the work being under way by Naace, the national membership organisation for ICT professionals, to communicate the importance of ICT to the Coalition Government. The issue was raised at a national think tank recently held in London and attended by 36 Naace members and allies, representing more than 26 organisations. And an agreed joint statement on ICT policy is due to be sent to Michael Gove.
The key challenge is how to get messages about the importance of ICT for learning, and for the administrative efficiencies it can bring, to a group of people who have, so far, not appeared interested in having a discussion.
'We all have a shared interest in ICT and its power in the classroom'
Naace chair Mark Chambers says, "What brought us together is a passion for a shared interest in ICT and how effective it is in advancing education. That’s why many of us gave up leave and took time out from our regular commitments to come to London and work together on a common position – because we believe that together we represent a more powerful voice than individually. We all have a shared interest in ICT and its power in the classroom and its contribution to the effective learning of young people and adult learners.
"You will see, coming from this think tank, some key messages that will help schools and individuals to understand a rational argument for the place of ICT, and we hope to provide that support.
"So if anybody out there wants to know what do I say when people question my use of technology, what do I do when it appears that politicians or other parties are suggesting that ICT is less important, here are some key messages. And those messages are around our place in a competitive world, they are around the relevance of our education system to young people, they are around their place in society and the rapid changes that are taking place, and how ICT helps give people a position within our society that is beyond their ability as an individual to contribute.
"I think our challenge is how to persuade others that this passion is something that we believe they should share in. That now is the challenge for each of us as representative organisations... I am not saying that ICT is the only tool for school improvement or the only way in which you can empower people within society, but it’s definitely not a tool that should be ignored. It’s a tool that has demonstrated effectiveness in each of our personal lives – it's made a huge difference for me, and in the opportunities that I’ve had – and I believe that it is an entitlement of every learner in our society."