I’ve been thinking a lot about BECTA the last few weeks. This was an organisation set up in 1998 called the British Educational Technology agency. I did a lot of work with them over the years I was a schools adviser in e-learning. The last three months have shown us the amazing disparity in provision for children through the use of technology. In a statement made in May 2010, Becta’s chairman, Graham Badman said “Our procurement arrangements save the schools and colleges many times more than Becta costs to run. Our Home Access programme will give laptops and broadband to over 200,000 of the poorest children.” (Becta, the first quango to be cut, closes its doors.)
We are 10 years on from that statement being made and nothing ever replaced BECTA, with provision across the country being patchy at best. There have been calls for BECTA to be reinstated ever since it was scrapped (Ambition Institute, 2017, Tony Parkin). Indeed, the regular call for improved digital skills development across the educational sector would suggest that an overarching organisation, covering hardware, software, training and technical support would be very welcome. (We are facing a huge UK digital skills gap, 2018)
In the lockdown period, we have seen schools that have embraced the technology, allowing for synchronous sessions, creative approaches and full engagement with their pupils. At the other end of the scale has been an intermittent barrage of ‘worksheets’ with no real personal contact with the pupils – and sadly, the latter experience has been true for many pupils, from a variety of backgrounds. The reasons given for the lack of connection have been around a lack of software, lack of training and safeguarding issues. I do not know which of these is really true.
BECTA had its faults, as any organisation does. (Becta, does it deserve to die?) but I can’t help wondering whether, if we still had a BECTA-type organisation, we would have been much better prepared, both to deal with digital poverty amongst so many communities, but also to support the wellbeing of all our children through regular connection with their teachers and their peers. And, there is still the thorny issue of our young people not being prepared to enter the digital world that we live in.