Avoiding the pitfalls of tablet leasing and procurement

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With many schools moving to one-to-one handheld devices, new leasing and finance schemes are emerging. Valerie Thompson outlines some of the risks – and lists the questions you must ask before signing up.

 

Schools everywhere will remember the leasing scandal exposed by the BBC’s Panorama last year, which reported how some schools had signed deals that left them paying as much as 10 times the value of leased equipment such as computers.

Today, more and more schools are keen to enjoy the benefits of every pupil having their own computer device to use in the classroom. No need to keep running the ICT suites, paper consumption plummets, pupils enjoy the introduction of technology into their learning, and teachers welcome the educational and motivational benefits of personal devices. 

So what’s the problem? In a word, money. With capital budgets severely cut, some schools are looking to parents to contribute towards the cost of the devices and new approaches are emerging. One of three is usually taken.

Gift Aid-compliant schemes

Under this arrangement, parents are invited to make voluntary donations and every pupil can take part, even if their parents do not contribute. The advantages are:

  • The technology can be used by the teachers with full confidence that every pupil has the access they need, with the correct software and school safety controls.

  • Every pupil in the class has the same device so everyone can access the same digital resources.

  • A potential 25 per cent additional contribution from taxpaying parents through Gift Aid. 

The disadvantage is that schools have to fund those pupils whose parents do not contribute, and parents can decide not to contribute at any point, leaving the school to cover the cost of the lease.

Bring your own device (BYOD).

This approach may appear to be the best solution with minimum involvement from the school and no risk involved. The advantages are:

  • Pupils can use devices they are familiar with.

  • The school does not have to fund student devices.

  • It can work well with older children (eg 6th-formers) who are most likely to have their own device.

The disadvantages however are equally important to consider:

  • If everyone has a different device then teachers may find it hard to deploy the educational software and apps they would like to use as part of the lesson.

  • Students from low-income families may lack the funds to buy a device to bring in to school, and families with several children may not be able to provide one computer for each of their children.

  • A BYOD scheme may end up with the lowest common denominator driving the use of technology in teaching and learning – probably what a mobile phone is capable of doing.

  • Internet safety strategies are harder to implement when the devices are personally owned by the students.

Parents payment scheme

Under this arrangement the parents are required to sign up to a programme and as a result their children will be given a computer. In some cases the parent is actually buying the computer and in other cases they are effectively sub-leasing it so they may not end up owning it at the end of the programme. The advantage is that all the financial risk is passed to the parents. 

The disadvantages are:

  • Many children will miss out, as their parents will not or cannot pay.

  • There is a risk that if the parents find themselves unable to continue paying then their children may find their computer is recovered by the leasing company.

The implications

This is all fairly new to many schools, and while charities like the e-Learning Foundation have been providing advice and support on Gift Aid-compliant schemes for 12 years, a new generation of commercial offerings have recently become available.

Some of these promise a “risk-free” and “fully inclusive” approach. However schools are strongly advised to read the small print before signing such an agreement. A few questions may avoid you becoming an overnight celebrity on the next Panorama!

  • Does the scheme support the ethos of the school and the educational objectives of deploying technology. If every pupil needs their own device, then is an approach that relies on parents to sign a contract the right one to take?

  • If the scheme is “fully inclusive”, how exactly can pupils benefit if their parents do not sign up and agree to pay?

  • What happens when a parent cannot make the payments? Does the child have to return their computer? How far will the debt collection process go?

  • Check out the “risk free” bit. Under what circumstances does the insurance pay out in the event a parent stops paying? (It is really important you read the small print – insurance companies report low levels of claims under Gap Insurance, could it be because it is actually too hard to meet the terms and conditions?)

  • Do parents have to pass a credit check? 

  • Can you pay your lease payments quarterly in arrears (to allow time to collect parents’ donations)? If not, then check the financial credit status of your supplier, because they may be running their business with your money!

The educational benefits of a well-planned integration of digital learning resources into the classroom can be significant – pupils benefit, teachers can find their job more rewarding, and parents can have better insight into what their children are doing at school.

So do not be put off moving to a one-to-one device programme – just make sure you know what you are signing up to, and if it looks too good to be true, it probably is!

  • Valerie Thompson is chief executive of the e-Learning Foundation.

Further information
The e-Learning Foundation is a national education charity with the aim that every child should have access to learning technology for when and where they want to learn. Visit www.e-learningfoundation.com and www.mindthegap.org.uk


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