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Last Updated: Sunday, 30 April 2006, 23:19 GMT 00:19 UK
Ageing PCs 'problem' for schools
By Gary Eason
Education editor, BBC News website

ICT room
Schools are making better use of computers for learning, Becta says
Schools and colleges have a growing problem with renewing their computer equipment, a report says.

The government computer agency for education systems, Becta, says the number of computers has increased.

But many are getting old, they are not being renewed fast enough, and about half of schools do not even have a replacement policy.

The growing number of further education students means computer provision in colleges actually got worse last year.

The Becta annual review, to be published next week, says there has been "notable accelerated progress" in the way schools are using computers in teaching and learning.

"It is now becoming the norm, for example, that teachers prepare lessons using online resources."

The ratio of pupils to computers has continued to fall, so that in 2005 there was one computer for every 6.1 primary school pupils on average and one for every 3.7 secondary school pupils.

Bandwidth questions

More schools have interactive whiteboards, often linked to the internet.

But there are downsides to all of this.

Many schools are unclear how best to use their increased internet bandwidth.

Teachers' satisfaction with the "fitness for purpose" of desktop computers has fallen slightly.

"Schools' computer stocks have increased over time, producing a management issue of purchase, disposal and re-use of resources," Becta says.

"Computers over three years old contribute significantly to the overall ratios of machines to pupils."

'Management issue'

More than a third of primary schools and two-thirds of secondary schools had spare workstations to replace stolen or broken ones.

"However, 56% of primary and 44% of secondary schools did not have a policy in place for replacement of workstations in the school.

"Of those who did have a policy, 32% of primary and 44% of secondary intended to replace up to 25% of their computer stock within the next five years.

"It appears highly unlikely that all stock will be replaced before it exceeds the commonly accepted target three-year life span."

Further education

As in schools, the computer to pupils ratio improved in sixth form colleges, but in general further education colleges it got worse.

"Demand for internet access continued to outpace college capability in around one third of colleges," the report says.

"Unfortunately this represents a growing trend."

Not only were colleges struggling because they had more students, but learners' expectations had also risen.

Yet colleges were "much less likely" than the year before to be replacing computers on a three-year cycle - and of those that were, about half were still using older Pentium I and II machines.


Becta says there is "growing evidence" of "a positive, if small" impact on attainment.

Likewise there are signs linking the use of the technology in lessons to improved standards, but this is "not unambiguous".

It says it is clear that technology has the potential to improve the efficiency of management and administration.

But this potential is not being realised - in many schools there is still no connection between the teaching and administrative computer systems.

And there are growing "digital divides". One involves those young people who have computers at home and those who do not.

The other is between increasingly tech-savvy youngsters, and their perceptions of their teachers' competence and confidence.

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