BECTA’s closing sends ripples throughout ed tech

“What happens to the existing technology and the knowledge that has been gained as part of these and other big IT projects?” asked Sarah Burnett, business intelligence analyst at the Ovum Group. “It is a given that the sector has to save money, but the current plans, if rushed through, could lead to good assets and skills being shed only to have to be redeveloped or regained later.”

While there are a number of other government bodies that offer procurement expertise, including the Office of Government Commerce and other regional organizations, “it’s not clear which will take on BECTA’s ongoing contracts and programs,” Burnett said. “There is a wealth of knowledge and technical know-how that the body has gained over a number of years and that must not go to waste.”

Chris Keates, general secretary of the teaching union NASUWT, said in an interview with The Guardian that “scrapping BECTA represents a false economy marked by an overriding principle of political ideology,” rather than a genuine attempt to receive value for money.

“Schools often go for the most expensive systems, and they can fall prey to the slick salesmanship the big companies can afford,” Keates told the newspaper. “They often get stuck with systems that are not fit for purpose, [are] difficult to integrate with other systems, and [are] … expensive to maintain.”

Not everyone agrees. One local school leader posted the following on a U.K. learning technology web site:

“Formed at a time when eMails were considered cutting-edge, BECTA was charged with taking the pain out of ICT in schools—good in theory, but in practice contracts between large software providers and [local education agencies] meant that schools had been under pressure to purchase over-priced, often badly designed systems. … With the freedom from LEAs and BECTA, schools can now choose smarter, user-friendly software from start-up educational software companies, which has already shown to save huge amounts—not just in terms of paying less, but in precious time savings.”

As BECTA prepares to close down, it’s unclear what will happen to its current projects—or how U.K. schools will proceed with their ICT initiatives from here.

“There will be an orderly wind-down of BECTA over the rest of this government year. We anticipate completing all work planned for them and remain committed to CFF despite BECTA’s closing,” said an RM spokesman in an interview with eSchool News.

“There are still too few suppliers who have chosen to embrace CFF, and we will continue to influence the market to embrace this notion of sharing, collaboration, and encouraging true interactive use of devices such as whiteboards and slates. CFF will survive BECTA, as—like many of the organization’s initiatives—it represents a real K-12 requirement, and one that will only increase with further adoption of interactive technologies and use of learning platforms.”

According to reports, BECTA’s Home Access plan hasn’t yet been shut down. The U.K.’s Department of Education said the plan will continue, but not for much longer. The hotline number is still taking applications and will continue to do so; however, additional applications for free laptops will only be accepted until the set amount of allocated funding dries up, which is expected to happen sometime this summer.

A government spending review set to take place this fall will determine the program’s future and whether it is deemed successful enough to continue.

In the United States, education technology leaders agreed the loss of BECTA would be felt by U.S. schools as well.

“BECTA has consistently done some of the most important global research on ICT in education,” said Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking, a nonprofit organization that has frequently worked with BECTA. ”Not having them will be a loss to everyone wanting to know about best practices around technology in education.”

But ed-tech experts were divided over how BECTA’s closing might affect ICT investment in the U.K. or other nations.

Krueger said he doesn’t think the move should be interpreted as a sign that the new British government doesn’t value ICT in education.

“The jury is still out on that question,” he said. “Closing of BECTA is specifically a budget-cutting strategy, which the Conservative Party ran on a platform to end ‘quango’ government agencies.”

He also said that while schools in the U.K. might suffer, he’s not convinced it will necessarily discourage other countries from investing in education technology.

“For over 15 years, the U.K. has been a leader in investing in ICT in education. Clearly this is a bump in the road for them, but I think we have to see if it really is a retrenchment of strategy or simply a political decision about one specific agency,” he said.

Don Knezek, CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education, holds a different view.

Meris Stansbury

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