To ask the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families what recent representations he has received from (a) schools and (b) representative groups in Gloucestershire on the effects of internet charges on schools in that area; what plans he has for the future funding of the Harnessing Technology Grant; and if he will make a statement.
The Secretary of State has received a representation from the head teacher at St. Thomas More Catholic primary school in Cheltenham and others in connection with broadband internet costs and the Harnessing Technology Grant. Inquiries have also been made by schools and other representative groups to Becta, the Government's educational technology agency which covers these areas.
Becta have replied to correspondents on these issues, on behalf of my Department, both in Gloucestershire and in relation to other counties affected by high internet charges. We sympathise with this situation, particularly with small schools that have faced increased costs. The Harnessing Technology Grant is a capital grant and can therefore only be used for capital expenditure. Broadband connectivity costs are a revenue cost, therefore the Harnessing Technology Grant cannot be used for this purpose. This has always been the case since the Harnessing Technology Grant was introduced and no changes to rules around the capital of the grant have been made. Unfortunately it is not possible to reclassify this capital funding as revenue, as some schools have requested. Broadband costs should be taken from the revenue funding that is provided for ICT in schools, but we do appreciate that there can be pressures on these budgets.
Becta continues to offer advice to all local authorities in the regions on these issues, and have specifically said that their regional delivery team colleague would be happy to meet representatives of schools in Gloucestershire, together with local authority officers to explore ways of addressing the issues.
The Harnessing Technology Grant itself is based on a funding formula which includes a built-in sparsity element, which helps schools in rural areas in acquiring technology, but as described above this is a capital grant and should not be used for revenue costs. £603 million has been made available through the Harnessing Technology Grant in each of the three years of the current spending review period. £201 million will be available in the 2010-11 financial year. Provision after that will be subject to the usual discussion around the next comprehensive spending review period.