Experts demand ‘national strategy’ for tech procurement as school spending drops

Tech experts want a “proper national strategy” to help schools buy the right IT equipment, as research shows a drop in schools’ spending on technology for the first time in a decade.

Speaking at a Westminster Education Forum this morning, a number of specialists, including an academic and the top boss at the British Educational Suppliers Association, warned many schools are “confused” by the range of software, equipment and providers on offer, and are unable to make good procurement decisions.

Dr Sarah Younie, the professor of education innovation at De Montfort University, said local authorities used to negotiate with “EdTech” suppliers, but this task is now often left to individual schools since the onset of academies.

For quite a while, education technology bucked the trend. But in the past two years, we’ve gone into negative figures for the first time

As a result, EdTech companies now have 2,000 points of entry to the market, a tenfold increase on eight years ago, when the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA) and local authorities dealt with procurement.

BECTA was a public body which promoted IT in education and was funded by the Department for Education, before it was abolished in the 2010 post-election spending review.

Schools now lack knowledge about which technologies are the best, according to Younie. Alongside the constant financial pressure, she said that an unclear market means the country is “at risk of a major failure to spend sufficiently on EdTech in schools”.

A survey of 1,000 schools by the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) showed less money has been spent on technology over the past two years, the first time there has been a drop since 2010.

Caroline Wright, the director general of BESA, told delegates that primary schools reported a five-per-cent drop in spending last year, and a four-per-cent drop this year.

Meanwhile, secondary schools reported a seven-per-cent drop overall last year, and a six-per-cent drop in spend on education technology this year.

“For quite a while, education technology bucked the trend,” she told Schools Week. “But in the past two years, we’ve gone into negative figures for the first time.”

Schools may also be spending inefficiently by using several services with similar functions, said Naimish Gohil, the CEO and founder of Show My Homework, an app for homework management in schools.

The demise of a “central procurement system” through local authorities has caused he called a “spaghetti bolognese” effect, in which schools have multiple apps or networks all doing similar things.

“Schools are ending up with five or six technologies all having the same effect,” he said.

New start-ups can get seed funding quite easily, meaning that if, say, a school wishes to use a maths-learning app, they have 20,000 to choose from.

“We really need to give schools a lot more schools about who to choose,” he added. “They’re confused.”

Senior leaders, teachers and network and IT managers all needed to talk to each other to make sure they didn’t duplicate each others’ decisions and choose the best technology at a good price, he continued.

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