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Report reveals patchy ICT provision in schools

Most schools have made their own decisions on tech spending

The standard of technology provision in schools varies widely, despite spending of £487m on ICT equipment and services last year, according to the findings of independent review commissioned by the education secretary Michael Gove.

Sebastian James, group operations director at Dixons Retail, was commissioned to lead the review in July 2010. His report says the majority of schools have made their own decisions on capital investment in ICT, and this has limited the ability to achieve value for money or provide a consistent quality of ICT for learners and staff.

"Many schools have not progressed beyond an ad hoc approach to funding and sustaining their ICT," says the document, titled "Review of Education Capital, April 2011" (105-page PDF/1 MB).

In its examination of the former Building Schools for the Future programme, the review team found that the lifecycle for ICT was dramatically different to that of buildings' infrastructure. As a result, even recent buildings require substantial work to accommodate new ICT.

The report says a better approach would be to provide only a "suitable fixed infrastructure" to provide flexibility for future developments. It also recommends a separation of decisions about ICT from those about buildings.

Splitting funding between schools and local authorities can also lead to neglect when combined with a lack of information and accountability, according to the findings.

One example is when schools sometimes choose not to spend money on maintaining buildings in favour of investing in ICT.

The report also says the education department needs to ensure a "clear menu" of core and additional regional broadband services for schools, so that schools select and pay only for the services they need. It calls for a strategy to get best value from existing public sector broadband networks, which would include establishing a minimum bandwidth standard of 10Mbps for primary schools and 100Mbps for secondary schools.

On procurement, the education department should set up a central framework for schools management information systems and the existing ICT services framework, or similar approaches, should be used for all large-scale ICT purchasing, the report says.

It also says that a web-based price-comparison catalogue should be developed to help schools to get the best price for equipment.

In a letter to Gove, James writes: "I believe that there are some very significant opportunities to increase the amount of schools regeneration that we can undertake for any given sum of money."

He adds, however, that: "Putting my recommendations into practice will be a major challenge. I know that I am asking for a significant change in culture and practice."

The education secretary said he would respond to the review shortly. "The system we inherited had profound problems. We must have a system for school building which is much simpler, less bureaucratic, and which targets priority projects," said Gove.

This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.

Guardian Government Computing is a business division of Guardian Professional, and covers the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. For updates on public sector IT, join the Government Computing Network here.

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