Last Friday, when the government announced the creation of Free Schools, they also announced that some of the capital funding for them would come out of this year’s Harnessing Technology Grant for schools and local authorities. Cutting ICT grants to fund Free Schools led to a certain amount of commentary from the education ICT community, across Twitter and blogs etc, so I’m going to steer very clear of the emotional side of it, but try and provide a summary of what’s going on to help you to plan ahead if you are in a school, and thinking about your ICT budget.
Given that it was a manifesto commitment, it’s perhaps no surprise that the new government brought this initiative in so quickly. What was a surprise was that in order to pay for the capital costs of setting up Free Schools this year , they decided to dip into one of the few capital budgets that they could – the Harnessing Technology Grant . In total, they’ve shaved £50M from that grant, which is one quarter of the total amount available this year.
The Harnessing Technology Grant is a 3-year programme, running from 2008-2011 to provide £639M for schools and local authorities to fund some of the capital costs of specific parts of education ICT. This year the grant was £200M, and was allocated out via formula to local authorities . Each local authority was allowed to retain 25%, to fund central costs eg broadband provision, whilst 75% had to be devolved to schools.
The DCSF/DfE, through Becta, gave very specific guidance  on what the grant was for:
And they also spelled out what it couldn’t be used for:
The reality, in some schools, is that head teachers saw it as “the ICT money”, and used that (and only that) as their ICT budget.
Here’s some assumptions from me:
Before this news, when the grant was £200M, all local authorities will have told their schools how much grant they will get, and I’m sure that will have been factored into your schools budget at the full amount.
I think over the next few weeks, as the message gets out, you’ll probably be hearing from your local authority about their plans to ‘claw back’, or limit future payments, on the grant – and this will be somewhere between 25% and 33% of the year’s total.
There’s more on this issue on Merlin John Online, but in a nutshell, DfE say that the promise was to protect the revenue budgets (the stuff that pays salaries etc), but that no protection had been guaranteed for capital budgets 
Now you’ve got all the facts, what do you do about it? Well, rushing off and spending your budget as quickly as possible isn’t wise (see above!), but perhaps it might be a good time to remind your head teacher about the primary purpose of the Harnessing Technology Grant (for the areas outlined above) and to continue the conversation about the strategic value of ICT in the learning process – not just for the subjects where it is core - like ICT, business studies, media studies – but across the whole curriculum.
And it might also pay to have a scour of the Top ICT Money Saving Tips, to see if there’s anything there that could help you to save money – not just in your budget, but in other department’s budgets in the school.
Quickly find all the Money Saving Tips on this blog
A nice considered piece... perhaps some other considerations to sit alongside the assumptions here...?
1. Some LA's utilise some of the funding to offer their own ICT-related support services to support the capital spend - so we COULD see them cut those services disproportionately to reduce clawback from schools? (What Zenna Atkins, Chair of Ofsted, yesterday referred to as 'turkeys voting for Christmas'.... but which I believe an unfair view of LAs).
2. A significant chunk (more than 75%?) of the spend is typically allocated to schools immediately after April for expenditure on major infrastructure projects. These often occur during the summer break so clawing back at this stage may well be unrealistic as contractual commitments will already be in place? So a level playing field evenly distibuted 25% across all schools may well not be possible?
Some LEAs use part of the HT fund to fund ongoing service provision, as Tony said. I know of one at least that uses the majority of the fund for this purpose, passing on very little to schools.
I really worry that this will mean that some schools are going to be forced to pay more for centralised (and in some cases unsuitable and unsatisfactory) services from their LEA because this fund has been cut.
It might also catch out those LEAs that are breaching the HTF rules in this way.