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Dr John Spencer began his teaching career in 1981 armed with a Sinclair ZX81, thereby demonstrating two things at once: Firstly he was in at the very start of ICT in the classroom and secondly he is a sucker for duff technology. Thereafter he taught joining a start-up open source company as their Head of Education in 2002. Now John is bringing his iconoclastic disposition and tendency to throw a spanner in the works to blogging.

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Academy Schools: The next big ICT spending spree

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The new Secretary of State for Education has written to all schools wondering whether they fancy becoming Academies and thereby become free of the Local Authorities.

They should do so (according to Micky's message) because:

  1. They would get the 7-10% of the funds currently kept by the LA (about £200,000 extra for a secondary school)
  2. They would be free to follow their own curriculum
  3. They would be free of LA bureaucracy (which is shorthand for general interference) and demands.
  4. Teacher salaries will be freed from National Agreements.

The chances are that many thousands of schools will go 'Academic' judging by my own borough in which 3 of the 5 secondary schools say that is the way to go. Word is that in my area the schools that intend to leave the LA are the ones that are being 'got at' to perform better...not quite what was intended but that's real life for you.

Anyway, for whatever reason, it is safe to assume that this time, unlike the previous Direct Grant School incarnation of the idea, an awful lot of schools will break free of the LA.

Given this, what does it mean for ICT?

1) Lots of spare cash for new toys

First of all these newly LA-independent schools will have more cash to spend. What will they spend it on? Well, it won’t be salaries, that's for sure. Freed from national pay scales they will create pay structures similar to the Independent sector.

This sector on average pays less than the state sector by a considerable margin, although larger wages are to be found in a few elite and metropolitan schools.

More cash and a lower teacher wage bill means lots of spare cash for buying stuff. In the past, as happened catastrophically in the Independent sector, the spare cash was wasted employing admin staff. Many schools in this sector have a 1:1 ratio of teaching to non-teaching staff.

I don't think this mistake will be made again so we are back to buying stuff!

What stuff? Shiny stuff...more later.

2) Outsourcers be dammed; BECTA begone

ICT outsourcing in schools got started only because LA's had a propensity to do 'deals' for the entire borough on behalf of all of the schools. As a result we had the VLE debacles where schools for example had happily got started with the Free, Open Source Moodle VLE only to find that they had to switch to the LA's Capita/Serco/RM negotiated package deal. Ditto with e-mail, ditto with ISP choice, filtering and so on.

Later LA's brokered fully outsourced ICT contracts which not only annoyed many schools as their good work and freedom was overturned at a stoke in return for new computers but actually increased their costs.

BECTA, Outsource service companies, hardware vendors, and LA's in effect colluded with each other to foist an outdated fully proprietary ICT model on schools.

Do I think that the newly free Academies will re-sign up to those contracts? ..Er no I don't.
More spare money, more freedom of action. Sorry Capita and Serco et al the cosy LA 'one stop shop' deals look to be over.

The result means more spare cash to buy stuff.

What shall we buy?

Brave New Worlds have one thing in common, they have lots of shiny stuff, and there is no reason to suppose that judging by the previously cash-rich Independent schools that the Academies will be any different.

They will buy: all weather pitches; build gyms; Internet Cafe drop in centres and of course the latest in technology. Yet another ICT spending spree is in the offing but who will benefit?

Shopping List

I think the schools will buy the following:

1) Fast broadband
2) Anything Apple (special educational deals on iPads)
3) Lots of Video Conferencing kit
4) Vocational ICT qualifications (Cisco, RedHat MSCE)

I think they will stop buying the following:

1) Outsourced services
2) Any un-sexy software* that they could get just as good for free
3) Interactive white-boards
4) GCSE and A2 ICT examinations (it's about £100 per pupil per exam)

Vendors get ready, see you at BETT 2011.

* E.g. MS office, MS SharePoint, Blackboard, EasyTeach need I go on?

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