Who Will Fill the Gap Left by Becta?

Lawrence Williams Posted by Lawrence Williams on September 7, 2010

Online teaching and learning communities of practice come in many different shapes and sizes.  In this blog, I will be looking at three different working models through the eyes of many of my own colleagues, and through those of other professionals, and asking what will be happening in the near future.  The three on-line community models briefly discussed here are Becta, MirandaNet, and Naace:  Becta is/was government funded, MirandaNet is funded by industry links of various kinds, and Naace is funded both by industry and by membership subscriptions.

The reason for our current interest in these models is, of course, because the government has recently decided to discontinue the funding of Becta, to the dismay of professional educators across the globe.  Professor Niki Davis, Christchurch, New Zealand, commented, “I can tell you that the shock of losing Becta is being felt worldwide – the UK is risking its reputation as a leader in 21st century education”.  And an Information and Communications (ICT) consultant from Outstream, Allison Allen, summed up the position of many other international consultants when she said, “I have found many visionaries in the organisation. The negative impact on ‘UK plc’ is not to be underestimated”.

Becta’s areas of particular success, according to a recent online survey, have been these:

  • Strategic advice for schools on the real costs of implementing digital technologies
  • Funding for research projects, especially for small and innovative projects initiated from the grassroots of the profession
  • Support for new models of informal professional development
  • Retention of key programmes like Self-review and Home Access
  • Continued availability of the online resources and research publications
  • Support for international events (Example: I was sent, on Becta’s behalf, to the Presidential Conference in Paris to represent “Best ICT practice in the UK”, a week-long event which was an international showcase for the creative use of ICT)
  • Effective procurement

Graham Badman, Chairman and Stephen Crowne, Chief Executive of Becta commented, “Naturally we are very disappointed at the Government’s decision. Becta is a very effective organisation with an international reputation, delivering valuable services to schools, colleges and children. 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.”

The question then is: who will fill the gap left by Becta?

Naace is the ‘professional association for those concerned with advancing education through the appropriate use of information and communications technology (ICT)’.  Like MirandaNet, it also has industry, rather than government sponsorship, and has been a powerful voice in the service of both teachers and pupils.  But Naace, too, is affected by the demise of Becta, which was responsible for the accreditation of the ICT Mark, so highly valued by schools.  Naace will, of course, continue to survive and prosper.  But how will its role develop?

Professor Marilyn Leask, the new Dean of Education at Bedford University suggests, however, “Perhaps it is time to have an independent professional body setting standards of pedagogy and curriculum, since decision-making on ideological grounds is sending us in circles”.

Tom Rank (NATE) offers an important solution to the absence of Becta, based on the new forms of informal ICT CPD that MirandaNet has been pioneering. “As with so many of the initiatives in education over the last dozen years, the implementation of an international Learning Platform is a potential catalyst for teachers to discuss the fundamentals of education with all partners, to challenge themselves, and to develop and spread expertise”. And Albin Wallace, United Church Schools Trust / United Learning Trust, extends this argument by suggesting that communities of practice such as MirandaNet and Naace are well placed to take this whole debate forward.

So, Becta, which helped to place the UK ahead of the world in the creative use of ICT tools for teaching and learning,  is about to go.  Naace and MirandaNet will be much needed in order to fill the gap left by the demise of this highly talented group of visionaries.  An International Learning Platform is one possibility.  The further development of communities of practice like Naace and MirandaNet is another.   But, are there other solutions?

What do you think?


12 Responses to “Who Will Fill the Gap Left by Becta?”

  1. Roger Neilson says:

    There is a tension developing between the ability of individuals to cohere and not cohere at will in the social networks to debate, discuss, develop ideas – this anarchic context enables great thinking but seldom is it captured and never really is it developed into mainstream. People now have a ‘voice’ as never before but there is no structure to it. Or such structure is very difficult to achieve.
    There is the ability of organisations to lead, organise, propogate, but they tend to need bureauracy and rules and finance and therefore self interest and survival.
    Its an interesting ecosystem we live in now.

  2. Lawrence Williams Lawrence Williams says:

    Roger is right about the innately moribund nature of nearly all large organisations, which have obvious responsibilities to their various funders. This is why I think MirandaNet is in a uniquely fortunate position here, being run entirely by practising teachers from all walks of life – from infant-class teachers to “weighty” university professors, with hospital schools and librarians, secondary schools and FE colleges in between. It’s a good starting baseline.

    This is why my next working project will be in helping MirandaNet to develop the new kind of on-line CPD system like the international learning platform mentioned by Tom Rank. This would not, of course, be the independent professional model envisaged by Professor Leask.

  3. Alex Jones says:

    Communities of practice rarely establish authorative voices within them. Becta was able to provide this. Partly because they were driving government policy and partly because they undertook high quality research and aggregated the best insights globally on both technology and educational practice with it. No successor organisation can replicate the former characteristic unless bound into ongoing national policy. The latter can be reproduced but it’s hard to see how a professional association like Naace that necessarily generates a wealth of sometimes conflicting views could do so.

  4. davenycity says:

    great blog thank you

  5. Robin Ball says:

    Who will fill the gap left by Becta? Probably no one as it’s highly unlikely that any one organisation will emerge with the capacity, capability, commitment or national remit to provide a universal centralised source for advice, guidance, research and analysis independent of external commercial influence.

    Over the past 2 to 3 years the remit for Becta was intentionally migrated from the previous Harnessing Technology strategy of ‘access to technology’ to a more productive and constructive learning and teaching focussed ‘effective use of technology’ agenda. This move was validated by a recent OECD/CERI PISA report in late 2009 which suggested that with access to technology becoming almost ubiquitous a new second form of digital divide had been identified: the one existing between those who have the right competences and skills to benefit from computer use, and those who have not.

    Becta was on the cusp of becoming a highly effective agent for pedagogic change through its evidence-based adoption models; supporting video, audio and written case studies; 21st Century teacher materials; digital literacies resources; primary and secondary entitlements; exemplifications etc. etc.. With its latest release of materials being universally welcomed by local authorities and senior leaders alike as being, ‘at last, just what we’ve been waiting for’ it will be a hard act to follow.

    Becta’s strategy was to ensure that young people would be provided with an educational experience that was not only engaging and relevant but prepared them to be successful in the work place, enabling them to reach their full potential and become valuable, constructive members of 21st century society. The key loss with Becta, therefore, is likely to be a stasis in this forward momentum. With central government opting for a ‘laissez faire’ approach there will be a significant loss of strategic direction. With other organisations jostling to claim their place as credible successors there is a danger that the collective eye will be taken off the national ball.

    But is Becta’s demise a good or a bad thing? Well, it depends on which side of the fence you sit. If you are one of the schools that the current government feels is best placed to make the decisions required to ensure effective use of technology to support learning, teaching and management and has the capacity, capability and will to make it happen then it’s a good thing. If, however, you are one of the 67% of schools who have yet to get to grips with technology then you may find being cut adrift one freedom of choice too many!

  6. Lawrence Williams Lawrence Williams says:

    Let’s play Devil’s Advocate here:

    I was very surprised to learn, through my own on-line community discussions, that many teachers who responded to the demise of Becta felt that this was actually not much of a loss. I quoted only those (the majority) who expressed support. Robin Ball has suggested why – many schools simply no longer have a need for hand-holding. Certainly, many have incredibly forward-looking and creative curriculum ideas. My granddaughters have just started at their local primary school, and it is full of progressive uses of ICT to support learning. Whose figure is the 67% “failure” rate?

    My own view of Becta, one of admiration, and respect, was not the only response to its demise.

    “Close it and save the money.”…….

  7. Robin Ball says:

    In reply to Lawrence, the figure of 67% comes from the 2009 Harnessing Technology Schools omnibus survey (published 2010) which was also reinforced by the recent Besa LP survey. The big point here is that it is not a ‘failure rate’, as Lawrence suggested, but an indication that technology to support learning and teaching has not yet been sufficiently well-embedded to realise the impact that its effective use can deliver. Becta takes a more conservative view than the figures suggest and cites only a quarter of schools as being ‘mature’ in their use of technology and I guess the number of ICT Mark accreditations does reflect this position. To paraphrase Stephen Crowne (Becta CEO) at the recent Intellect Conference, ‘ICT in schools has moved from marginal to mainstream but only 1/4 are ICT mature, the rest need support.’.

    The point is that while a reasonable number of schools are making excellent progress they would probably be doing so whether Becta had existed or not. There will always be those dynamic, imaginative leaders prepared to embrace new ideas, push boundaries and take risks. The concern though is for those remaining schools that have yet to make an impression and were dependent on Becta or other sources for their strategic support. Some of those schools are just starting out, some have started and faltered, some are progressing but not as quickly as they would like, some have progressed as far as they can go, and some have yet to get properly started. But with support from local authorities already under severe pressure and with the CSR just round the corner the outlook for these schools in receiving or having access to effective advice and guidance is looking less certain.

    What is clear is that there is now a vacuum that needs to be filled which takes us full circle to the original question, ‘Who will fill the gap left by Becta?’. Perhaps we should rephrase the question to, ‘Who can fill the gap left by Becta?’.

  8. Respiratory Therapist says:

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  9. Richard Haysom says:

    The Loss of BECTA was a quick reaction to trying to balance the books. Often the people who will not miss BECTA are those who, for various reasons, do not persue the challenges brought by ICT – particulary in the Primary Sector. We in Devon, because of the the shortages of county funding found the advice and support given to us from BECTA a great back up to our 2 hard pressed ICT advisors. We would not have gained the ICT Mark without the guidance and help BECTA gave. We would not have been able to focus on very important topics like e-Safety had we not had their support.
    Who is going to fill BECTA’s role? It is so difficult to replace such a balanced and supportive team, now all the experience and networking is scattered. We really need these type of organisations, to guide and enrich our pupils and teachers paths into schools fit for the 21st Century. I fear the gap will not be filled!

  10. John Hobson says:

    I can’t think of anything more irrelevant to the future of education than an international learning platform. As Universities now realise that they need too explore the concept of personal learning environments (of which learning platforms form but a small part) what any successor to BECTA should do is concentrate on how to adapt learning to the most seismic changes to education since mass printing. We are in the era of collaboration and social networking: how do we adapt these changes to everyday learning?

  11. Lawrence Williams Lawrence Williams says:

    It’s simple!

    We do this by sharing best practice through professional organisations and international bodies. The “era of collaboration and social networking” is in no way incompatible with an international learning platform “for teachers to discuss the fundamentals of education with all partners, to challenge themselves, and to develop and spread expertise”, as Tom Rank put it, above.

    It’s all down to the creativity of the individual teacher. And this involves seeing and adapting the ideas of others across the globe.

    The most widely creative use of ICT I ever saw was in a primary school in Prague, where the whole curriculum revolved around Art, in different ways. And we had gone there to advise THEM on creativity in using ICT…….

    It was a humbling (and inspirational) experience.

  12. Angeld says:

    Very Interesting Blog! Thank You For This!

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