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Jessica Figueras, Chief Analyst at Kable

To BYOD or not to BYOD...

Jessica Figueras, Chief Analyst at Kable, poses the question about own devices in schools and colleges

Posted by Hannah Oakman | June 18, 2016 | Technology

When Kable last surveyed school IT decision-makers, including headteachers and ICT coordinators, 85% told us that refreshing the school’s device estate was a top-three priority, with 39% saying it was the school’s number one priority. A further 11% said it was a priority that year, just not top-three.

Enabling pupil-owned devices (bring your own device or BYOD) was a top-three priority for 36% of people, but only 7% said it was their first priority. While only 34% of schools looking to refresh their PCs in the next year said they would consider reducing their estate and switching to more use of pupil-owned devices, even when we looked at responses only from those who also said enabling pupil-owned devices was a top-three ICT priority overall, 40% said they would be unlikely/very unlikely to reduce their PC estate.

Clearly, many implementations of BYOD in schools are not a replacement for school-owned devices but supplementary. 87% of our respondents said tablets would increase as a proportion of their device estate, and Kable research has shown tablets and laptops to be a bright spot in an otherwise declining market. Spend on these devices grew by 1% last year even while the overall schools’ hardware market declined by 2%.

Both Apple and Google have radically improved their device rollout programmes, making it quicker and easier for schools to deploy tablets. IT managed services contracts can also be a suitable vehicle for gaining support with deployment and management; the long-term trend is for more schools to purchase hardware as part of IT managed services contracts rather than directly, as increasing numbers move from local authorities’ bulk-buying agreements to become part of multi-academy trusts. 

It’s important not to overlook the individual school’s educational philosophy in assessing attitudes towards devices.

Teachers of pupils from year 6 upwards face constant battles to manage distraction from pupils’ mobile phones, and nearly all schools now have policies requiring phones to be out of sight and silent

The notion that BYOD has a positive role to play in teaching and learning is not universally accepted by the educational community; research evidence on effectiveness is mixed (indeed there is some evidence suggesting negative effects, particularly on pupil distraction). Teachers of pupils from year 6 upwards face constant battles to manage distraction from pupils’ mobile phones, and nearly all schools now have policies requiring phones to be out of sight and silent. In this context, it’s not surprising that school leaders may lack enthusiasm for device usage in the classroom.

But there are an increasing number of schools with technology-positive leaders who actively encourage teaching staff to develop effective ways to use them in the classroom, and solutions for overcoming the negatives.

Such schools are most likely to have an official specialism in technology or STEM, and often a sponsor (in the case of academies or free schools) providing capital funding and expertise to develop an enhanced level of IT capability. This would allow them to put in place the network infrastructure needed to support widespread device use in the classroom, and to develop additional specialist facilities such as multimedia ‘immersion rooms’.

There are an increasing number of schools with technology-positive leaders who actively encourage teaching staff to develop effective ways to use them in the classroom, and solutions for overcoming the negatives

Thomas Telford School in Shropshire, founded as a City Technology College in 1991, is a high-profile example – in fact it has developed a significant extra funding stream from selling its technology expertise and resources to other schools.

Revenue-funded pricing models are growing in popularity due to sharp reductions in schools’ capital budgets in recent years, as the legacy Building Schools for the Future programme has ended and the financial benefits of academy conversion have reduced.

The general funding picture is tough; schools face rising National Insurance and pension contributions, as well as the withdrawal of some support services previously provided by local authorities.

Changes in the Department of Education’s national funding formula over the next two years aim to even out historical disparities between schools, and whilst this will leave some schools better off, others (most notably in inner London boroughs) are facing cuts and redundancies. In this environment, schools facing the loss of teaching staff will not prioritise new spending on devices; but those receiving additional funding may look to experiment with new technology for the first time.

Despite this gloomy picture, schools do not generally see BYOD as a money-saving alternative as it is widely understood to increase the need for extra spend on network infrastructure and new management technology, particularly access management, web filtering, device management and end-user security.

Nevertheless, recent vendor-sponsored research suggested that the adoption of BYOD in UK schools has been rising quickly and is now approaching nearly a third of all secondary schools.

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