This year’s British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) report predicts that both primary and secondary school budgets will fall from 2009 to 2010, with further reductions likely in 2011 as public sector cuts kick in after the next election.
While schools still want to invest in IT, supplemented by training in using new technology such as voting systems and interactive whiteboard (IWB) solutions, an overall budget squeeze means non-staff resources are more likely to get the chop.
Overall, school budgets for IT spend UK-wide are expected to shrink by £9.8m next year.
Ray Barker, director of BESA, said teachers are the most important resource for schools, so any cuts are likely to focus on resources such as IT. While opportunities for the channel still exist, even in the maturing IWB market, VARs must get smarter as schools up the ante in a search for better-value deals.
“There are other issues that mean less money in the system. In primary schools, particularly, there are fewer children, so there is less money going in,” Barker said.
“And they are very reluctant to get rid of teachers, so it may be the resources budget that gets squeezed rather than staffing.”
Budgets going south
Seven hundred and seventy primary school and 572 secondary school IT co-ordinators and heads of IT were polled for the study in June 2009. Primary IT budgets are estimated to fall by 2.2 per cent in 2009/10, and secondary budgets one per cent.
The figures exclude spend on curriculum software and digital content.
Typical primary and secondary school IT budgets in 2011 are expected to come in at around £13,380, down 4.4 per cent, and £62,970, down 2.7 per cent, respectively. Schools’ total budget for IT in 2010/11 is estimated at around £556m, excluding curriculum software and digital content.
BESA has recorded increases in IT budgets each year since 2001, but now th ere is a “natural reduction”. Some VARs might have to treat the education vertical as less of a cash cow, with schools under pressure.
“That [government] money is there until 2011; they are not going to take that away from them,” said Barker. “But they no longer have the ring-fencing for IT funding. They all were told they had to go out and buy IWBs, laptops and broadband, but now they make their own decisions.”
Schools are already adopting practices once associated mainly with the private sector, such as banding together to negotiate deals, and even going to the high street for the best prices. VARs should take note.
“Schools have become more savvy,” he said. “But there are still opportunities. Training is a huge issue as IT has got more sophisticated.”
The report revealed a 10 per cent drop in teacher confidence and competence using IT in the curriculum from 2007 in primary schools, and an eight per cent reduction in secondary schools.
Just 59 per cent of primary teachers are receiving IT training in 2009, down from 67 per cent in 2008. Fifty-five per cent of secondary teachers in 2009 are receiving training, down from 72 per cent in 2007.
VARs that can bundle training for a competitive price especially if teachers do not have to lose classroom time to learn may do best.
According to a June report by the Audit Commission, schools, although sitting on a pot of around £2bn, could save £400m a year if they bought equipment and services “more sensibly”.
Michael O’Higgins, commission chair, said devolved school budgets were a good move but would remain under scrutiny.
“Accountability for spending in schools has been weak possibly because, in the last 10 years, the focus has been on results. Ofsted plans to give a higher priority to value for money,” he said.
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