ICT in UK schools is unsupportable

A study published today concludes that ICT systems supplied to schools are so complex that they are uneconomic for suppliers to support. Unable to pay commercial rates for support, most schools waste over half their ICT budgets on staff salaries. The answer, according to the report, is for schools to adopt thin-client systems that are largely maintenance-free.

Steven Lucey, a director at Becta, has admitted that Becta's ICT model for schools is unsustainable. Yet DfES advice and Becta's procurement frameworks continue to promote high maintenance, fat-client solutions that damage the environment.

The author of the study Dr. John Spencer said: “Becta-approved ICT suppliers are selling equipment that they can't afford to support. It's like buying a car and then having to employ your own full-time mechanic to keep it on the road.

“The government is pouring millions into school's ICT resources but most of the money goes on funding the staff needed to keep the systems going.

“Most ICT staff time is spent on mundane tasks like rebooting PCs or running anti-virus software. Open Source thin-client networks don't get Windows viruses and can be managed by one person from the server room.”

The report is available now from the Sirius website.

The UK is spending over half a billion pounds on ICT in schools. The DfES figures indicate that £500 million year is being spent directly1 and our figures show £100 million is spent indirectly on electricity2. In addition, projected figures based on government targets for computer and interactive white-board provision will see these figures more then double in the next few years.

Our report was prompted when BECTA (the DfES's ICT quango) made the very serious statement in May 2006 that the level of funding in schools was unsustainable5. We carried out an analysis of ICT expenditure for a typical secondary school and calculated the break down as follows4:

Support: 65%

Electricity: 15%

Software and Licences: 10%

Hardware: 10% (5 year renewal cycle)

These figures were surprising in that the level of support looks disproportionately high and the ratio of provision (hardware and software) to overheads (support and electricity) is very low at 1:4. In other words, for every new computer purchased at £300, £1200 would be added to the total cost.

We concluded from our analysis of the breakdown of costs that the way that ICT has been allowed to develop in our schools has resulted in over-complex systems being supplied which when scaled up generate unsustainable levels of support burden.

In addition, it became apparent that vendors can no longer support these systems profitably at the rates schools are able to pay. In effect vendors' profits are being underwritten by the taxpayer because they have adopted an inappropriate technical model for ICT promoted by DfES and BECTA.

The report below shows how schools differ from a standard business model and provide a set of unique challenges which need to


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