Merlin John recently posted on a confusion about how schools should spend their Harnessing Technology funding, claiming that confusion has reduced schools purchasing. The post goes on to discuss the difference between capital and revenue items.
School funding for ICT can be confusing, especially since changes that split school funding into devolved formula capital and school development grant (revenue). Previously the minimum ICT funding was roughly ring-fenced through Standards Fund Grant 31a. The split of ICT funding between capital and revenue doesn't make much sense when considering the move to annual software licenses, leasing and managed services (revenue) which factor in life-cycle management. Many small devices are now so 'low cost' that most accountants outside fo education would consider them revenue items! A school might choose to buy perpetual licenses to microsoft software (capital), or pay for annual subscription licenses (revenue). It could buy computers and hardware, or lease / rent them on a revenue lease.
Increasingly, content bought on CD is now moving to online subscriptions, email systems are becoming subscription services etc. This shift to revenue based subscription services is a good move, but capital grants become more problematic within this paradigm. In the old days of course. the money was ring-fenced for ICT and there was less of an issue, and there is no doubt that there is now a greater degree of flexibility in school funding.
Is it a problem? My feeling is that schools are probably less phased about this technical point than Merlin's post describes, as schools flexibly interpret at a local level. Kent retained the funding in order to provide a free entitlement of broadband for all schools and a portal with email (Kent Learning Zone), so the problem doesn't arise. Schools elsewhere should understand that the harnessing technology funding is meant to cover local network and infrastructure improvements to support the new breed of web based personalised services, not fund those services.
What is an issue is what do you buy if your school is about to be rebuilt and have all of its ICT replaced (e.g. BSF, Academies etc.)? Do you improve your buildings, buy new servers, upgrade switches, add cabling, install wireless? The answer is probably no. This can lead to a surplus balance of capital funds, and more pressure on revenue funds to buy annual subscription services that will boost school results now. Is this not more likely to be distorting the market and raising the issue of how to spend your capital?
The issue that is being discussed locally is the ending of e-learning credits (eLC's), and my guess is that this is a real issue for BESA. As I recall, this initiative was put in place when the BBC announced its development of a national digital curriculum resource and the industry complained. The millions set aside for educational software through eLC's was seen as a compensation package. When the same industry killed BBC JAM through its continuing complaint of unfair competition and invoking the public value test, it was no surprise when eLC's went as well. In short the educational software industry shot itself in the foot in killing BBC JAM. eLC funding was not well used, with many CD's sitting in cupboards untouched or if installed, rarely used.