It is too late to save Becta now that the new Conservative-Liberal coalition has signed the warrant. But what can and should be rescued and how can the core essentials be carried on? Devolution of decision making down to individual and institutional levels must not mean the loss of collective knowledge and understanding of what works in ICT for further education and skills.
We are in the middle of a revolution in how knowledge is created, transmitted and organised that is of similar significance to that which followed the invention of printing.
This fact is not changed by the closure of Becta. But the removal of a “big beast” in this domain changes how technology in learning in English state schools and FE colleges is researched, mediated, led, promoted, and supported. The closure will not be reversed, and rather than get caught up in a debate about its rationale or wisdom, practitioners, researchers and policy makers with an interest in technology in learning should address the practicalities and identify who should carry forward the successful pioneering work of Becta.
Without help, individual schools and colleges will not be well informed on things such as value for money when buying IT systems and services. How will they be supported if sound approaches for procurement systems are swept away with Becta? For services such as connectivity, hardware support and possibly software, even big schools and colleges are small from the point of view of their procurement of IT. Without aggregation, public money will be wasted.
Membership organisations such as the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) and Naace (the schools based ICT Association) that are rooted in the community of front-line service providers, should take a bigger role in dissemination, professional development, and information sharing, as should informal networks, for example of users of different software platforms (the Moodle user community springs to mind here).
The Becta knowledge base and some of the tools and review frameworks that it has developed should be sustained rather than being left to rot. Its research and benchmarking activities need to be continued – probably back inside a government department – so that government, citizens, and learning providers have data about what is happening on the ground.
As much as possible should be done on a cross-sectoral, UK-wide, public-private basis, rather than in silos, partly because the learners are moving between schools, colleges, training providers and universities, even if the teachers and trainers tend to stay put, and also because the underlying principles of good practice in the use of ICT in learning are pretty universal.
Though ALT is completely different in scope and scale to Becta, we are each part of a community of organisations and individuals that is concerned with ensuring that technology is used to benefit learning. In contrast to Becta, ALT is funded overwhelmingly by our members and by our activities; and we are small, and controlled by an elected board of trustees, rather than being a big arm of Government.
The two key Government departments that were funding Becta – Education, and Business, Innovation and Skills – need now to involve the community, including membership organisations such as ALT and Naace. We are ready to play our part.
Seb Schmoller is chief executive of the Association for Learning Technology, which seeks to bring together all those with an interest in the use of learning technology