Our experience in the education sector gives us some real insights into the key issues affecting IT departments in schools. It’s a challenging environment as on one hand there is a drive to equip schools with technology that will give students the best chance of meeting Government standards in maths, science and literacy; whereas on the other, schools have to manage tightening budgets and criticism that IT does not improve performance and results*.
Key challenges of integrating ICT into education
As Head of Education Services at Cloud Business I share your pain! Talking to Heads of IT and Network Managers at schools on a daily basis I know that forgotten logins and updating software are the least of your concerns.
Are any of these challenges familiar…?
Many schools are faced with legacy issues as old PCs, laptops and servers are no longer fit for purpose. The problem is knowing where to invest IT budgets to get the best ROI, and having realistic expectations about the longevity of your school’s IT infrastructure. This is an education process in itself, as often members of the school Board do not appreciate that IT infrastructure is an on-going investment, here lies the reason for your legacy issues… Getting a high level of IT investment is the first hurdle; the next is keeping that investment current through replenishment.
Many schools are looking at alternatives to making large investments in IT infrastructure. For example, leasing IT equipment with a five-year replacement cycle and / or moving infrastructure into the cloud. Our experience with schools like Little Heath in Berkshire, whose ICT infrastructure is fully virtualised, is that there are clear savings to be made by reducing the total cost of ownership of IT estate, and moving to a more flexible and scalable virtual solution. This removes the problem, and cost, of running and updating platforms out of the school’s ICT estate.
Mindset challenge: For some School Boards the concept of reducing the school’s ICT estate and having monthly service fees for a virtual solution instead, is a hard to grasp. Network managers need to be able to demonstrate that the total cost of ownership of purchasing, running and maintaining IT infrastructure can be far higher than utilising virtualisation. If your school is looking to partner with an IT service provider, they will be able to provide you with this evidence.
Broadband connectivity continues to be a major challenge for schools, even after incentives such as the Harnessing Technology Grants that was available a decade ago. The difference between connectivity experienced in the home environment compared to school can be marked, with students and staff finding that poor performance prevents them from using technology effectively. We hear of teachers aborting attempts to get online during lessons and students making slow progress when using the school’s WiFi. Furthermore poor bandwidth also impacts on school admin systems such as payment and catering systems.
The problem is that many schools have insufficient bandwidth that causes overloading issues and WiFi blackspots. Many schools would benefit from new access points, continuous monitoring of the network and failover services to maintain connectivity at all times, ensuring that demand from end users is managed and bandwidth is controlled.
While an ICT technician could not be expected to do this, as well as managing all the other demands on their time; this is a key area that could be outsourced to a managed service provider and have a real impact on teaching and user experience within the school.
CPD and training
A report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)* published in 2015 suggests that investing heavily in school computers and technology does not improve performance and results. Controversial stuff. However, in defense of ICT suites around the country one of key problems for schools looking to accelerate learning with technology is training.
Or the lack of.
In a British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) 2011 report, 54% of secondary and 45% of primary schools thought that more than half of their teachers still needed training to use digital content; while 71% of primary and 68% of secondary schools thought more than half their staff needed training in learning platforms.
Training costs money, but it’s essential if the investment in technology is to deliver the results desired. While those teachers who deliver Computing Science in schools naturally require regular CPD, in an arena that is constantly evolving all staff need training to enable them to get the most out of technology.
Another important issue for schools is that of safeguarding students whilst also allowing them access to the Internet, email accounts and other digital networks. At Little Heath School, Cloud Business closely monitor network access as part of our network management service. A diligent and robust approach to security is required and also includes monitoring of Bring-Your-Own-Devices (BYOD). Many schools benefit from students using their own smartphones or tablets, rather than the school’s own equipment, and these need to become part of e-safety policies.
Schools may have robust e-safety strategies in place but should be aware of this rapidly changing landscape. Students are often the first to access to new digital technology and platforms before the school is even aware of them, and so safeguarding requires a very proactive approach.
If you school are looking to partner with an IT managed service provider – safeguarding and security should be high on the agenda.
How to address these ICT challenges
There are no easy answers when the solutions generally require funding, but there may be better ways to manage your IT budget and deliver value for your school, students and staff.
- Virtualisation can be a very cost effective solution reducing the cost of ownership of desktop infrastructure, applications and servers, and removing the problem of legacy IT;
- Leasing computers also offers many benefits, again removing the issue of outdated hardware;
- Sharing technical support among a group of schools. We’re increasingly seeing schools with good IT provision supporting feeder schools and other partnership schools in this way;
- Managed service desk is a good solution for those schools who do not have on-site IT support all the time, ensuring that IT issues are addressed quickly without disrupting teaching. It can also help free up IT departments’ time allowing those key members of staff to focus on more productive areas of their role;
- Training is essential if you are to get value from your IT assets. If you can save money, and time, by using some of the solutions above you could focus more on training and supporting teachers in the classroom.
To talk about how Cloud Business can help your school implement, run and maintain IT in a cost effective, flexible and responsive way, please get in touch.