MORE than £3 million has been splashed out on iPads for pupils at the Capital’s schools – sparking criticism that education budgets are being misspent amid austerity cuts.
The total investment of just over £3.4m is equivalent to the annual salaries of around 155 probationer teachers – at a time when pupil-staff ratios across Edinburgh have soared to eight-year highs.
Education leaders said the scheme had helped them embed information and communications technology (ICT) into everyday learning.
But union bosses yesterday attacked the outlay and said it was evidence of a lack of “balance” in education spending.
Seamus Searson, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, said: “[The technology] might sound good to parents and I don’t want to underplay it but that £3.4m has to come from somewhere in the budget.
“And I think that if teacher numbers are going down then that’s not the best way to be spending that resource.
“The balance cannot be right at the moment – not when schools are facing tremendous cuts. The most important resource in any school is the teachers.”
The criticism came after Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, questioned whether investing millions in computers and tablet devices could be “justified at a time of austerity”.
And he said the money would be better spent on “recruiting and training great teachers”.
Some Edinburgh campuses – including Castlebrae and Drummond community high schools – have provided iPads to every pupil year group while others have yet to introduce them.
But amid reports of tablets being lost and stolen, opposition leaders have called for a probe into whether the project is value for money.
And senior conservative figures also questioned “ongoing costs” as the iPads age and have to be replaced.
Councillor Jason Rust, Conservative education spokesman, said: “This is a substantial spend on iPads. In addition to each iPad there is the cost of the iPad cases, insurance and warranty packages, iTune vouchers and lightning to VGA adaptors, which all adds up.
“Given recent revelations that some iPads have never even reached pupils, we do need a serious look at this.”
Councillor Rob Aldridge, of the city’s education, children and families committee, added: “The most important thing in every classroom is the quality of the teaching, and that the pupil-teacher ratio remains as low as possible.
“It’s important that schools are ahead of the game and are teaching in ways which will ensure the best for pupils – this has to be monitored very carefully.”
City chiefs said the iPad investment put digital technology “at the heart of learning”.
Councillor Paul Godzik, education leader, said: “Head teachers have made the decisions where to spend the school’s money because they recognise how ICT is transforming pupils’ learning.
“It’s such a powerful tool that using mobile devices allows teachers to provide a more relevant, stimulating and personalised educational experience and gives our young people the ICT skills required for learning, life and work.”