Recession hurting organisations as well as schools, as policy failures bite
'Austerity' is already hitting school budgets, but it’s also playing havoc with organisations that support schools.
Naace, the UK professional membership organisation for those involved with learning and technology, is in the throes of a financial crisis. It's undertaking urgent measures to cut costs and transform itself online using its own volunteers (rather than full-time officers) and the digital technologies it helps schools with. The ICT crunch is here.
Office closure and redundancies
In a message that went out to members last week Naace acting chair Dr Carol Porter told them, “As you may be aware, the 2014 National Curriculum Computing Programme of Study, the abolition of the ICT GCSE and the financial support by central government of organisations other than Naace have all conspired to place us in a very difficult position.
"Your board of management has spent a considerable number of long hours trying to finding a viable way forward for the organisation. However, it has become financially essential not only to close our office in Nottingham, but also to make the staff there redundant. I am sure you will wish to join me in thanking them for their unwavering support of all Naace members and activities over the years, and to wish them well for the future.”
The first sign of the crunch came in February when Naace cancelled its national conference due to lack of take-up. But the roots to the haemorrhaging of funding it has been suffering go way back to the axing of national government ICT agency Becta by the Coalition Government ten years ago and the shunning of the wider ICT education community by government.
Naace was originally set up by and for the local government technology advisers that were crucial in supporting government policies and projects to introduce ICT into schools. The close relationship was built on mutual desire for change and recognition of expertise. Education ministers would visit Naace conferences. Not any longer.
As local authorities have cut their advisory teams the nature of Naace has changed as consultants, commercial suppliers and educators joined. Now with some 2,000 members, the organisation has become far more focused on schools, where the changes are still needed, and been far more active in welcoming teachers.
While the implications from this crisis for schools are serious, it is hoped that this is by no means the end of the road for Naace. Dr Porter’s message to members continued: “We still have a network of highly experienced, qualified and passionate regional delivery partners able to offer Naace professional development events. We still have a network of ICT Mark and 3rd Millennium Learning Assessors, Naace is, after all, its members, their efforts, commitment and community.
Challenges compounded by lack of Government leadership
“We still have a website through which members are able to download a comprehensive series of eguides to many aspects of the computing curriculum, the use of edtech across the curriculum, and management of IT within institutions. We are still working in collaboration with partners on a number of European projects. We still have a key school improvement tool in the Self-review Framework (SRF).”
The challenges for Naace have been compounded by the lack of national Government leadership for learning with technology. Despite the fanfare for a national digital strategy, the Government still does not have one for education.
Add to that the dumping of ICT examinations to force students into Computing Science GCSE and A-level, very much a minority option with a shortage of qualified teachers, and you get a sense of the problems created by former education secretary Michael Gove MP and schools minister Nick Gibb MP. The ‘outsourcing’ of this broad curriculum area to the British Computer Society (supported by the Royal Academy of Engineering), with their narrow computer science focus, was accompanied by the payment of millions of pounds.
While the recognition for computer science has been generally welcomed, the outcome has been restricted qualifications options for students. The implications for schools are serious. ICT to support schools administration and learning was a high national priority until the emergence of the Coalition Government. Now the gap between schools doing well with ICT, and those losing interest appears to have grown. And as it grows a lot of the important investments and work in embedding technology for learning in schools is being devalued and undermined.
Children's entitlement is 'paid lip service'
Naace chief executive Mark Chambers said this week that he is working closely with members and sponsors to plan the restructure and ensure the continuation of services. As he points out, the problem goes a lot further than Naace: "As a member first and an employee second my passion has been for the mission of Naace that the appropriate use of educational technology is an entitlement for learners. Increasingly we see this entitlement paid lip service with headline grabbing outliers used to tell us that all is OK when the reality is that youngsters in broad swathes of our schools are experiencing a superficial application of what should be an empowering and transforming learning experience driven by edtech.
"The courageous voice of Naace is needed now more than ever it has been in the last 30-plus years; the AGM scheduled for April 27 is a key moment and opportunity for members to get involved with restructuring, repurposing and invigorating Naace, and the current election inviting members to stand for the Naace board is a challenge to us all to put something back into the system that represents us."
The news of Naace’s problems has reverberated across the UK’s ICT community. Lord Jim Knight, the former Labour schools minister generally regarded as the last politician in that role with wide understanding of learning with technology, said: “It is certainly bad news at a time when we need more collective expertise around technology enhanced learning. However, given the ongoing pressures on budgets, it is clear that a new business model is needed. That will need the best of Naace coupled with imaginative new ways of working.
'The biggest challenge Naace has ever faced'
Former Naace chair Drew Buddie commented: “This is the biggest challenge Naace has ever faced and I am confident that the membership can come together for a solution. Our crusade has been to support teachers and schools to use technology for learning — now we need to exploit that technology creatively ourselves to transform Naace into a truly digital, dynamic and cost-effective organisation.
“No organisation is better placed or has more to offer by way of support to teachers of computing. I believe now, more than ever, there is a need for an organisation like ours to help teachers cope with the massive changes happening in Computing: such as new GCSE specifications, more stringent NEA adminstration regulations from exam boards, the loss of examinable ICT and the increasing use of digital devices in the classroom.
“This is why I believe there is still a role for Naace in the UK education landscape, but perhaps now as a volunteer-led collaboratiove community of subject experts. I would like to pay particular tribute to the Naace staff who have been adversely affected by the circumstances we now find ourselves in. And also to my fellow directors — especially acting chair Dr Carol Porter — for the way they have dealt with the complex nature of the situation. This has been nothing short of inspirational.”
'Who will provide independent advice apart from Naace?'
In a marketplace that depends on school customers, where suppliers last year reckoned most firms' revenues were down 20 per cent, and visitors to the recent Education Show and BETT Academies Summit reported sparse attendance, times are getting tough. And politics and policy are not holding out much hope. Naace's drive to innovate its way through the crisis looks like the best bet as it doesn't look like going away any time soon.
There is no question that the expertise and support provided by Naace is still very much needed by schools. Consultant and Naace member Bob Harrison commented: "It’s sad to see an organisation originally formed from local authority advisers which tried really hard to adapt and evolve to a changing ICT policy and technological landscape encounter such difficulties. However, schools continue to need independent advice and support about the potential of technology to enhance learning — who will provide that apart from Naace?"
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