With around 4 in 10 parents being asked to contribute to school funds in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, any investment in IT and communications may seem a pipedream but often long-awaited and beneficial technological upgrades can be made on a cost-neutral basis.
We regularly speak to schools and understand budgets that are tight. Despite an extra £1.3 billion of funding promised by the Government in July, this essentially represented a freeze in funding as rising costs negated its value.
It should not come as a surprise then that a survey, undertaken by the Parent Teacher Association UK, revealed that a third of parents had regularly contributed to school funds in the last year.
Acting head of PTA UK Michelle Doyle Wildman said: "Parents are reporting they are contributing more to provide the essentials which many expect to be provided by the state.”
While schools are forbidden from charging for education or materials provided during school hours, they were within their rights to ask parents to make voluntary contributions, especially towards the cost of extra-curricular activities and school trips, and to give their time freely to help on these too.
As a parent of two school age children, I know I have contributed hundreds of pounds over the years, not to mention providing time as a school governor and offering public relations support for free.
With my other hat on, as a professional who works in the telecoms and connectivity industry, I am frustrated that many schools will be in fear of investing in new IT and communications tools because they are worried about the cost.
This means some schools are hanging onto telephone systems, for instance, that were installed in the 1990s and are putting their main channel of communication with parents at serious risk. Most systems deployed in this decade and, indeed, the one after will no longer be supported by the manufacturer, so it is unlikely they could be fixed in the event of a fault.
Aside from this risk, they are also missing out on improved functionality that would make their lives so much easier. Just consider how far televisions or mobile devices have come in the last 20 years.
In terms of costs, we help schools invest in new technology by offering operating lease options or solutions that are paid for on a per user subscription basis, so there is no need for frankly unaffordable capital outlay. Often, these monthly costs are in line with the telecoms bills they are already paying, therefore coming in on a cost-neutral basis.
We know budgets are tight without considering the results of surveys like the one mentioned above, but we would urge schools to let a company like swcomms see what is possible on their current budget instead of just assuming the situation is hopeless. Clearly, we cannot help fill the so-called “funding black hole” but we can help you achieve more with what you have.