The majority of people who are pleased at the closure of Becta are most likely so because they disagreed in some way or another with their leanings on various issues, for example their take on open source software in schools. These people can safely be ignored, along with those who decry “waste of taxpayer’s money!” when really they mean “it doesn’t benefit me, so I reserve the right to think it’s a waste of money”.
That said, Becta is really no different from any other government quango in the sense that you can argue for and against with the following argument:
- centralised decision-making can bring efficiencies, savings, continuity to the education system vs. centralised efficiencies prohibit independent thought, local buying, and prevent the school from making its own decisions about systems.
I fall into the latter camp: as an independent, self-employed provider of IT services to schools I believe that schools are simply better-off governed on their own.
Yes, there’s a dearth of IT management talent in schools, and I’m already hearing people saying that many local authorities and schools simply don’t have the know-how to hire talent, manage their procurement, advise senior management on strategy, and otherwise fill that vacuum.
But I am making one prediction: we are soon to realise that there was only ever one reason for this dearth of IT talent in schools in the past: Becta itself.
When you centralise, you may be benefiting those schools who already lack this talent – especially those schools in special measures, under-performing schools, and smaller schools – but you are closing another door: the door that allows local business to get involved. The door that allows schools to make mistakes, learn from them, decide to hire better IT talent, and develop their own corporate character in the long term. And you are closing a door that prevents the individual interests of a top-end school to flourish, form partnerships with local business, or share best practice themselves rather than send their staff on a course. As for the middle- and lower-end schools, centralisation can stifle growth by prohibiting the more modest developments they may need at the time.
Most critically, however, centralisation of this kind has an adverse effect on school’s desire to hire in-house talent.
And when schools don’t have good in-house IT talent, they don’t get good grades in ICT subjects. They may get big money for the use of ICT as a ‘facility’ but they don’t get known as a technologically advanced school.
The one thing I won’t be glad to see the back of is this pervasive view that dealing with local businesses can be a bit dodgy.
Quangos: like them or not, I believe they prohibit independent thought.
Disclaimer: the writer of this blog is not a Tory!