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The politics of paying for IT in education

Bill Champness, Managing Director at Hardware Associates, looks at the issues

Posted by Hannah Oakman | November 01, 2016 | People

Barely a week seems to go by without a news story about how education budgets are being slashed, and the knock on effect that has on schools, staff, and of course, students. 

According to The National Association of Head Teachers: Cuts to schools’ funding have not been this severe since the 1970s. School budgets are being pushed to breaking point.”

On average, students taking their GCSEs in 2015 had £57,000 spent on them between Reception and Year 11. However, The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has forecast current school spending per pupil across England is expected to fall by at least 7% in real terms between 2015–16 and 2019–20. 

Not just that, but it seems the amount spent per student is subject to vast differences - of pupils taking their GCSEs in 2013, 10% had less than £49,000 spent on them and 10% had more than £67,000.

Despite these pressures, schools are still preparing our young people for future lives and careers. It’s no longer enough to simply be able to create a word document or spreadsheet. In an increasingly interconnected and tech dependent world, schools are now being expected to prepare students for the world of work – often for jobs that haven’t even been created yet. Computer coding is already part of the curriculum, and it’s only a matter of time before we start to see the likes of virtual reality and 3D printing in classrooms.

In some schools, in order to meet the growing desire to provide students with tech-enriched learning at the same time as keeping costs down, parents are now being asked to pay for equipment such as iPads 

Of course, allowing students to experience using these things leads to a deeper learning experience – not just learning about new ideas and concepts but maybe even leading to new ones. Which, on a grand scale, isn’t just good for the individual, but also for employers when it comes to finding skilled workers, not to mention a country’s economic future, even the World’s ability to tackle challenges in an innovative manner. 

In 2015 annual global spending on educational technology in schools was been valued at £17.5bn (Gartner). In the UK, the spending on technology in schools was £900m. According to British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA), schools had £619m in budgets for ICT, with £95m spent on software and digital content (2015) and the UK has among the highest levels of computer per pupil (1.4 pupils per computer). 

However, as with so many things – it’s never quite enough. Technology is changing all the time, the expectation for interconnected, personalised learning, supported by technology continues to grow, and yet – as mentioned earlier – real term spending per student does not. 

So who is going to foot the bill?

In some schools, in order to meet the growing desire to provide students with tech-enriched learning at the same time as keeping costs down, parents are now being asked to pay for equipment such as iPads.

It is not always necessary to buy new. In fact, it is rarely necessary. Refurbished IT equipment, including Apple, is often available at a fraction of the cost – and in excellent condition

Of course, given the budgetary pressures schools are facing it is no wonder that they are unable to provide this technology for every student. However, is simply transferring the cost to the family (many of whom are also under increasing financial pressures) any better? In one such school, parents who do not qualify for a discount are asked to pay £785 in 36 monthly installments for a fully insured 64GB iPad Air 2. Not exactly small change for anyone – and that doesn’t even take into account having more than one child. 

Of course, some families will qualify for discounts, but with that comes the age old stigma of whose parent can afford to pay, and whose can’t. Not a position anyone wants to see his or her child in. 

However, there is another option when it comes to keeping costs down, and avoiding putting that pressure on families. It is not always necessary to buy new. In fact, it is rarely necessary. Refurbished IT equipment, including Apple, is often available at a fraction of the cost – and in excellent condition.

Many fear that buying ‘second hand’ works out as a false economy – preferring to buy a new machine straight off the shelf. However, the cost reduction of buying a refurbished machine can be so significant that it is often possible to buy higher-grade equipment – larger memory or processing speed, along with enhanced warranties, and still pay less than buying new. For example, a fully insured 64GB iPad Air 2, the same one that would set a parent back £785 in the earlier example, could cost just £399 for a refurbished model. Multiply by that by a class of 30, or even a whole year group (or school!) and you start to get any idea of the cost savings that can be made. 

As with any significant purchase, it’s important to do your research. Not only into what you need in terms of capabilities, but also into where to make a sound purchase that will go the distance. Make sure any supplier (for new or refurbished equipment) listens to your requirements and goes the extra mile to meet those (rather than trying to offload excess stock or their top sellers!) and – most importantly – offers a robust warranty on all machines. 

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