27 May 2010 | Steve Still
Plans to axe education IT buying organisation Becta have been labelled a false economy that could leave schools out of pocket and the poorest children without computer access.
The British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) provides advice and resources for teachers and parents and enables schools and colleges to purchase computer technology at low cost. But this week chancellor George Osborne unveiled plans to shut it as part of the coalition government’s cost-saving measures.
The Department for Education told SM that some of Becta’s responsibilities such as procurement and negotiating with suppliers will be brought back into the department.
A statement on the Becta website from chairman Graham Badman and chief executive Stephen Crowne said the move was short-sighted. “Our procurement arrangements save the schools and colleges many times more than Becta costs to run. Our Home Access programme will give laptops and broadband to over 200,000 of the poorest children.”
The UK’s largest teaching union said Becta provides important resources to parents and teachers, along with computer access for hundreds of the country’s underprivileged children.
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said: “The NUT is disappointed the coalition government intends to close Becta as a cost-saving measure.
“Becta has provided invaluable support, advice and guidance to schools on the effective and efficient use of ICT to enhance the teaching and learning experience.”
Professor David Cohen, from the Department of Computer Science at Royal Holloway, University of London, organises outreach work in secondary and primary schools.
He said: “It is sad the poorest children could no longer have access to home computing which will inevitably have an impact on their learning and interest in IT.
“It is essential that schools keep up-to-date with technology, which is a major expenditure, so losing central bargaining doesn’t seem to be cost-effective.”
A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “Becta has had an important role in supporting schools’ use of ICT, but schools are best placed to make decisions about the resources they need.”
The coalition government has identified more than £300 million in savings from the education of four- to 19-year-olds, £80 million of which is expected to come from quangos including £10 million from the closure of Becta.