Disparities in school budgets are liable to entrench existing technology inequalities unless the government intervenes, according to Crofton School operations director Jonathan Hickey.
His comments come after a report from the Education Policy Institute reveals that the number of local authority schools in deficit has trebled from 8.1% in 2014 to 30.3% in 2018. There are, however, schools which have a surplus of budget, with 34.1% of secondary schools having a budget described as “excessive” by the Department for Education.
The autonomy afforded to schools in England in their use of budgets and ICT strategies can be problematic if staff are not confident in making procurement and process analysis decisions, Hickey said.
He told Education Technology: “You could go to two schools that are within a two-mile radius of each other, and because the headteacher has a slightly different way of doing things, you’ve got this huge diversity of approach.”
Technology holds the key to school marketing and improvement in teaching and learning, but uneven budgets mean that not all schools can benefit, he added, suggesting that properly implemented edtech could help save money in the long term. Schools which could not afford the initial outlay for the technology could be left behind.
“You do see benefits in tech in saving money for schools,” he said. “An interesting example is one-to-one systems, where parents pay for the technology that children use in schools.”
What we need to do is redress the social disparity highlighted within the report with technology.
– Jonathan Hickey, Crofton School
This also risks deeper social inequality, however, as not all parents can afford to invest in these schemes.
“We then have an issue of whether this affects the quality of a child’s education,” he said.
A fund supplied from government to allow schools that are in deficit to upgrade their technology to an agreed level could allow for longer term benefit, he suggested.
“If government implemented this properly, it would allow schools to make savings in the future, whether they are hard costs or soft costs,” Hickey said.
The issue of student subscription numbers also contributes to the financial health of a school, Hickey said. “In ‘bad’ schools, pupil numbers drop, income drops, teachers are removed, and the school becomes smaller and smaller until it becomes economically unviable,” he added. However, successful schools continue to thrive as they do well. This thriving is often due to good facilities, he argued, which also attract high-quality teachers.
“What we need to do is redress the social disparity highlighted within the report with technology,” said Hickey, because the ‘Hollywood’ effect of technology will attract both students and teachers.
The full report on school revenue balances in England is available at epi.org.uk.
Jonathan Hickey is speaking at The Education Show on January 25, at the Excel in London.