Many schools and sixth-form colleges have benefited from using council-backed internet and web filtering services, even telephone systems, in the past, but are finding that some of these services are being withdrawn.
This leaves schools in unfamiliar territory as they have been used to relying on the council for these services and have not really had to think about them. While they may have moaned about them at times, they have not had to find a supplier, work out the services they need, gets quotes, place orders, etc.
This leaves schools entering the commercial marketplace with plenty of businesses all too pleased to sell them their services, but how do they make the right choice?
Schools need a supplier that understands schools
That may seem obvious, but one of the benefits of using county council-backed services was that they were used to dealing with school needs. Schools are not like normal businesses. They are virtually closed for 13 weeks of the year and their clients are children!
The unique nature of schools is especially relevant when it comes to internet connectivity and web filtering.
Schools need a reliable connectivity solution that can withstand the 8.45am to 3.15pm pressure of multiple devices trying to access web or cloud-based services all at once. While the number of devices has risen in schools, often the bandwidth does not match the requirement, resulting in slow speeds and a frustrating service. Outside of school hours and during the holidays, their internet use drops dramatically.
There are connectivity solutions that allow schools to increase their bandwidth in term time and pare it back in the holidays to save money. Schools can make use of an uncontended connection that is fit for purpose and will support the internet needs of both pupils and staff.
While county council-backed services provided a solution that was suitable for schools, it was often not flexible enough. Schools need to adhere to strict rules regarding web access, known as the Prevent Duty Guidance, to protect their pupils from accessing inappropriate content. However, these rules sometimes stopped them from a viewing content that could have been useful, e.g. an art class looking at Italian nude statutes from the Renaissance era. Previously, schools would have had to raise a ticket to get the filter lifted and this could have taken days or weeks to action.
Fortunately, there are new school web filtering solutions available from the commercial marketplace which protect pupils and staff from inappropriate content but are also flexible enough to allow them to view content on a ‘who, what, when and where’ basis. Different rules can be applied for administration and teaching staff, different year groups, different areas of the building, etc.
We have supplied many such solutions to secondary and primary schools. You can read more about them in our case studies on Ansford Academy and Montpelier Primary School.
Schools have also used county council-backed services for telephony, data backup and cyber security too.
Some councils used to provide schools with shared Centrex-based telephony services. A cloud-hosted telephone system is a ready replacement for these. Federated or MAT member schools can share the same system to enjoy cost savings, simple call transfers, centralised management and disaster recovery options, similar to the solution we deployed to the Academy of Character and Excellence. Single site schools can also use this type of telephone system to benefit from a managed service or alternatively an on-premise solution. Find out more in our case study on St Andrew’s C of E Aided Primary.
Data backup and cyber security
The rise of ransomware has seen schools targeted with hackers preventing access to important files, such as GCSE and A-level coursework. If all files are backed up then ransomware will not be a threat as IT managers can simply retrieve them from a secondary or cloud location.
Ideally, they would put measures in place to prevent ransomware hackers infiltrating the school network in the first place. Schools need cyber security just like any other organisation or business.
What’s the next step?
If your county council is withdrawing any of the services above, then you will need to face the commercial marketplace. If you need our advice, please do not hesitate to contact me.