The Government's ICT agency for education, Becta, will close in November 2010. Chief executive Stephen Crowne informed staff of the closure this morning (May 24). He told them it was no reflection on their efforts but was about numbers.
Professor Stephen Heppell, one of the architects of the Stevenson Report which ushered in the Labour Government's current investments in ICT for learning, responding to the news, said that now is the time to prove that "ICT empowers autonomous learners", and that means everyone. "We are where we are," he said. "No comments here will change the facts of these cuts, or the no doubt more cuts to follow."
"All the organisations targeted have wise and experienced folk in them – the hope surely is that their wisdoms will not be lost to the system, even though their organisations are.
"Meanwhile, we need to see the opportunity presented: we are in a world where, as I have often said before, instead of the old 20th century model of "building big things that did things for people" we now have a world of "helping people to help each other".
"We are lucky in ICT that we have, perhaps inevitably, so many wise and helpful bloggers and podders and tweeters that are already providing a mass of inspiration and effective practice for others – a bottom-up army of authentic practitioners. We've said all along that ICT empowers autonomous and collaborative learners. Now is the time to prove that these learners include ourselves too."
The closure of Becta, with the loss of 250 jobs, comes as no surprise following the Conservative leadership's public identification of Becta as a candidate for closure in 2009. Tory representatives were present at the BETT 2010 educational technology Show in January garnering feedback on what would be a good replacement for the organisation. The ConLibDem Coalition government is currently announcing more cuts (see below).
It is not yet known whether this could damage one of Becta's most high-profile projects, the Home Access scheme, an attempt to bridge the "dig.ital divide" by providing low-income families with laptops and internet access for learning. A joint statement from Becta chairman Graham Badman and Stephen Crowne (left) on the Becta website says: “Naturally we are very disappointed at the Government’s decision.
"Becta is a very effective organisation with an international reputation, delivering valuable services to schools, colleges and children. Our procurement arrangements save the schools and colleges many times more than Becta costs to run. Our Home Access programme will give laptops and broadband to over 200,000 of the poorest children.
“Our top priorities now are to make sure we have an orderly and fair process for staff, and that as far as possible schools, colleges and children continue to benefit from the savings and support that Becta has provided. We will be talking to Government Departments and our other stakeholders including the industry about this.”
Becta was created in 1998 from the remains of the then National Council for Educational Technology, following the ousting of its boss, Margaret Bell. It was headed by ex-primary headteacher Owen Lynch before career civil servant Stephen Crowne took over the reins in 2006.