There has been mixed reaction in the UK to the announcement that Becta (British Educational Communications and Technology Agency) is to be
closed down by November as part of the new Government’s public spending cuts. There has been speculation about this for weeks, ever since Becta was singled out as one of the many quangos that could be closed by the Conversatives to save money. Becta was set up in 1998 to promote the effective use of ICT in education. While its brief was supporting the implementation of ICT across the UK, Becta’s influence has been much wider, as many people looked on in envy at the level of investment that was made in ICT in education by the Labour government. During its 12 year history, Becta grew to an organisation of 240 people with an annual budget of £65 million.
Becta did not buy computers and software for schools, but instead drew up framework agreements that bound local authorities to particular vendors and packages. Schools are expected to get more control over their technology purchases. The big question is: does this signal a general move away from the high level of focus and investment in ICT in schools?
An interesting comment came from the British publishers association on the Becta closure: “many schools are thought to be approaching e-maturity now, so perhaps a specialist agency has served its purpose. IT is a means to an end, not an end in itself. As publishers, we would rather the funds were in the schools and available to invest in high-quality, value-added content to the benefit of the classroom experience.” Becta had been extending the education reach outside of the classroom by steadily developing the concept of ‘Next Generation Learning’ – web based education services accessed by all learners whether in schools or outside in the community and homes.
Obviously, our Becta is the NCTE. While it hasn’t grown to the huge dimensions of Becta (and has remained under resourced and under the radar for years), the UK decision is bound to raise questions about the NCTE’s future.