Many schools have returned for the new school year and are facing the very real issue of how to cope with a loss of grant which either they had already spent or which had been earmarked for spending on ICT-related matters. The Harnessing Technology Grant was raided so that the Gove-rnment could spend all of it on their Free Schools and new Academies – £100m in total. So, how much of this money stolen from the ‘front line’ will be spent? Well, with only 14 ‘Free’ schools opening this term and no new academies until next year, each ‘Free’ school should be getting just over £7m. Not bad, eh?
Of course, that money won’t be coming back – that would be a public admission of complete failure. Clearly there was an expectation that teachers and head teachers would fall over themselves to shake free of the shackles of local authority control. Erm, actually, no. That’s because most schools recognise the value that local authorities bring in terms of aggregating demand and thus achieving economies of scale. Within a local authority, they don’t have to pay individually for services such as payroll, HR and legal: services which are quite expensive. Obviously there will be those who have their own agendas and see the opportunity to make a name for themselves, but, given the absence of any monetary incentive, most will be happy to stay in the fold.
And I suppose I am beginning to feel sorry for Mr Gove on some levels. He came in with ‘wonderful’ ideas based on flawed briefings and a lack of understanding of teaching and learning. He was also put in charge of a complex government department with no experience of running anything larger than his car, let alone a
brewery government department. I just hope that he has learnt enough to protect the education system from the greater excesses of the Treasury.
There was some positive news last week. In case you haven’t heard, there is now a Minister with responsibility for technology in schools – Lord Hill. He is, of course, actually an Under-Secretary of State which is almost the most junior policital level in government. His list of responsibilities on the DfE website doesn’t include technology in schools, but then it does appear that they’re making this up as they go along.
Above all of this, I have spent the last couple of months consulting with each local authority in the Consortium and have been struck yet again by the commitment and enthusiasm which still exists, despite all the bad news. And bad news is legion. Yesterday I met with my colleagues from around the country – in many local authorities, curriculum support teams are being told (with differing degrees of tact) that their jobs are under threat or definitely disappearing. We are seeing a cull of talented people from education – people who have a wealth of experience in supporting teachers in classrooms, people who are not bureaucrats. These are people who clearly help to identify and promote effective practice and raise standards – a supposed objective of Mr Gove. They are, I would say, a far more cost-effective way of achieving that objective: certainly more cost-effective than £7m per school…
I just hope that they are not lost to education for good.