Before I begin I ought to say: yes, I know that schools don't have much money, and that many leaders or heads of Computing have no budget to speak of. But it wasn't always that way and it won't always be that way in the future. Besides, some readers of this website do have money to spend and make decisions about.
If it's within your gift, I would say there are two things you should do with your budget. They are devolve it, at least partially, and set some aside for projects, in what I call an innovation fund.
It may be that you will have to do this virtually. In other words, you say to your team (if you have one, or to yourself if you don't),
"I'm going to allocate X amount or percentage of this year's money to be spent on ..."
The important thing here is that you don't devolve just the budget, but the decision-making too. If all you're doing is allowing someone to place orders for stuff you have already decided to buy, what's the point? You delegate expertise, and responsibility, not merely tasks.
By way of an example, in one of my roles I delegated the spending on software to the people in my team who were ICT advisors. They were the ones in and out of schools every day, so they had a much better idea of what was needed than I did. The only caveats were that they check with me before going ahead and ordering anything just to make sure that (a) we didn't already have it and (b) the technicians could assure us that it would be compatible with the schools' existing systems and software.
Setting up an innovation fund
I've already written about this in N Is For … New Technology: 5 Reasons You Should Buy It, so I won't repeat all of that here. The key things about an innovation fund are that you set aside a sum of money with which you try things out, and that (crucially) there is no blame attached to what turn out to be poor decisions.
Back in the early days of laptops that could be transformed into tablets, we bought one from an innovation fund I'd set up. This device cost around £1000, and the idea was that we'd try it out and, if it passed muster, recommend it to schools. We did not handle it roughly at all, but within a couple of months the screen had almost detached itself from the keyboard because of the constant turning it round.
From a purely functional point of view, it was a waste of money. However, by trialling the product over an extended period (as opposed to having a loan of one for a week or two), we were able to advise schools not to buy one. Thus, we probably saved many more thousands than we'd spent.
In a school setting, as opposed to the local authority one I've just recounted, you might purchase a laptop or some other device, or set of devices, or one of each of several devices, try them out, and then be in a much better position to advise colleagues or the senior leadership team on which device to adopt en masse.
If you have a team of four people, and you buy five different devices (one each, obviously), then by definition some of that expenditure will turn out to have been 'wasted' from an accounting point of view. But in reality, being in the position of being able to say:
"Device A will be useful for staff and most pupils; device B will be useful for very young children; don't touch device E under any circumstances."
is very valuable indeed.
To make an innovation fund work, you need some way of addressing the following questions, and documenting the answers:
- How might this contribute to our aims/strategy? I'm not suggestion embarking on a three month feasibility study -- agility is important too! -- but there should be a prompt to make people (including yourself) think about this.
- What are the success criteria? Or, more simply put: how will we know whether or not it has worked in terms of what we're trying to achieve?
- Why did it work or not work? What lessons can we learn?