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Tight budgets in education are a well-trodden path. Unfortunately, though, it appears that things are about to get even tighter.

EdTech funding is an immense challenge for all involved; how to slice a diminishing cake so that not only everyone gets their fair share but also so that everyone gets some of their favourite bit.

Special educational needs and disabilities, school management, teaching, IT, estates: all of these want their cherry on top.

In all of these areas and many more, technology helps, but it is also inescapably costly. These costs mean that technology spending can sometimes be nudged into the “important but not urgent” pile.

Yet there are significant, often hidden, costs to standing still with technology that should be considered before any spending decisions are made.

I’d suggest there are four distinct categories that these costs fall into, and schools and trusts should be thinking about all these when they are planning budgets.

How investing in edtech brings value to schools...

1. Time costs

Paying our staff is by far the largest slice of our education budgets, and, put simply, ageing technology takes longer to use, manage and maintain than new technology. And because staffing costs are an existing line of the balance sheet, this additional time is unaccounted for by schools.

For example, the cost of having an IT technician on-site to update firmware versus the efficiency of over-the-air updates managed from trust HQ.

Or the inflated costs of an IT-managed service provider who charges for a two-hour visit every other Thursday afternoon to do the same. These extra costs are borne through use of ageing technology.

Then it’s teacher and, ultimately, pupil time - the cost of lost teaching time when we ship everyone off to the ICT suite versus using our new laptops in class.

When we close the curtains and switch the lights off because the classroom projector lamp is on the blink, it’s a 90-second exercise by the time we’ve captured everyone’s attention again. Five times a week, over 40 weeks, across 24,000 schools: that’s a lot of salary and a lot of teaching time. Around 1 million classroom minutes a day, in fact.

2. Opportunity costs

Not moving forward with our technology means that we’re missing out on the opportunities that new technology brings.

For example, we miss the opportunity to save time and reduce workload, such as through live, formative assessment tools. We miss the accessibility tools to boost inclusion, such as Microsoft Immersive Reader.

We miss the tools to support adaptive learning and pupils with SEND, such as recording and sharing videos for evidence of understanding (which avoids skewing results by forcing students to write it down).

Equity in teaching - whereby pupils are supported differently according to their need - is less onerous and more effective with the right technology supported by the right training. And is more likely to lead to better educational outcomes for all.

3. Operating costs

Sparked by the astonishing rise in energy costs, there’s a fresh interest in the aggregated running costs of technology and a realisation that old equipment is often energy-inefficient.

For example, the energy consumption of an ICT suite, which many would regard as an outdated concept, is vastly higher than for a trolley of pupil devices with a single plug to charge them.

The energy costs of legacy classroom projectors versus new interactive touchscreens tells us that a trust of 200 classrooms can reduce its energy bill by around £12,000 a year - while avoiding unbudgeted lamp changes, lost teaching time, extra maintenance time and a mish-mash of warranties.

Automated switching off of PCs and other technology also reduces costs. As can moving away from a school server into the cloud, as running costs for data storage are taken off-site and reduced in vast, global data storage servers.

Exploring and quantifying this is central to the agendas of two chief financial officers at trusts I’ve spoken with in recent weeks. This is good news - a thorough understanding of where a school is now with costs is essential before decisions are made.

4. Sustainability

The use of technology with better energy efficiency and a range of energy-saving features, such as presence-awareness, means that, as an education sector, we’re being less carbon-intensive - moving us closer to being net zero and helping schools’ carbon reduction plans.

We’re also using far less paper. Endless, time-consuming, photocopied class work and homework - which costs money to create, takes longer to prepare, longer to mark and is more difficult to archive and share -- can be reduced in many areas of the curriculum.

And new technology is often manufactured with sustainability in mind. As well as energy consumption, there’s a trend towards items being repairable and upgradable, often within a school, which is a great exercise for pupils.

At end of life, this newer technology is easier to recycle and repurpose. And extended warranties of up to seven years, whereas three was standard some years ago, means that longevity, rather than built-in obsolescence, is the new normal.

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Of course, technology is not a panacea. There will always be a balance between costs, savings and benefits. But decision-making in these areas needs to be driven by data. By a long-term view that recognises that standing still could actually cost you more over time - both financially and educationally.

So next time you get a quote for new technology, don’t view the figure at the bottom in isolation. Do the maths.

Whether you do so on a calculator, a spreadsheet or with a good old-fashioned pen and paper, is entirely up to you.


Date: 7th February 2023

Written by Ed Fairfield

Commercial Director, Elementary Technology
Vice Chair of Naace – the EdTech Association - a charity supporting schools on effective use of technology

Email: e.fairfield@elementaryuk.com

Twitter: @mreddtech

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