A survey conducted in December 2011 across over 100 ICT decision-makers in the UK primary and secondary education sectors, including academies, has shown a frustration within the UK education sector where ICT budgets are being dramatically reduced, despite ICT access being widely recognised as fundamental to pupils’ ability to learn.

Over 80% of respondents anticipate an ICT budget decrease in the next financial year, a third of whom expect to lose more than a third of their budget, and 70% of respondents expect the cuts to have a negative impact on their pupils’ ability to learn.

With such a reliance on ICT within UK education – 81% of respondents believing that the quality of the learning environment is actively improved if pupils are provided with dedicated access to a laptop/ PC at school – the imminent budget cuts are all the more galling for pupils’ ongoing ability to learn as effectively and rapidly as possible.

While it is widely accepted that modern and comprehensive ICT facilities are essential for the best learning, a key challenge for Head Teachers and Financial Directors across the UK education sector will be to find new opportunities for flexible financing in light of 2012’s budget cuts.”

The findings highlight that the main challenges to delivering technology in schools or colleges in 2012 will be in upgrading existing hardware. As a result, 45% of respondents will prioritise spending on desktops to accommodate their budget reduction.

This investment is intended to improve the current pupil-to-device ratio in UK schools and academies. 91% of respondents are unable to provide dedicated access to a laptop/ PC for all of their pupils and in more than half (54%) of those surveyed, fewer than a quarter of pupils had access at all.

Schools and colleges have to manage a large reduction in their capital budgets and as a result the deployment of new classroom equipment has virtually ceased, leaving the vast majority of schools frustrated. Head Teachers, Business Managers and Bursars are understandably cautious; this is the first full financial year under the new regime and no organisation can afford to make any investment mistakes.

However, despite a greater variety of financing options being needed in order to help schools invest in ICT, over a quarter of respondents (26%) have never considered using alternative finance packages in order to facilitate ICT spending and as many as 13% are entirely unaware of their existence.

No school wants to see its investment reduced or endure a decline in teaching standards as a result of poor ICT equipment and infrastructure. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. The IT industry therefore needs to be innovative and more forthcoming in explaining the range of financing options that will support the very diverse needs of the UK’s education system, moving towards offering services than simply selling hardware.