As a parent of two school-age children, I am fully aware of the financial challenges facing schools. Course subjects are being cut or being offered online, supply teachers are only being used sparingly even though staff numbers have reduced and headteachers are sending letters to parents urging them to think of the lack of education sector funding when voting in elections. Even the private sector is suffering.
So, how does a school juggle growing financial pressures with digital transformation requirements that will ensure education is relevant for the working world where technology is rife?
Some schools may delay investment in IT and communications projects, but there are some that simply cannot be ignored. I hope this blog will give IT and business managers an overview of what they ought to consider.
With coursework often being saved on school servers, along with students and staff details, it is important to consider how the school would cope if this data was lost or held to ransom. This was the topic of a recent blog by my colleague Jac Civill entitled: Schools need to back up their data to prepare for ransomware attacks. It discussed a case in Dorset where a school suffered a ransomware attack on files that included GCSE coursework highlighting that schools need to consider a cloud, on-premise or hybrid product to protect their data.
Web & content filtering
Historically often purchased as a part of an internet connectivity package from a council-backed service, more and more schools are now breaking away and using more flexible and intuitive solutions that can be set on a who what, where and why basis to allow for more effective teaching and learning. Modern filtering solutions provide up-to-date protection from unsuitable material on the internet, including radicalisation content, and an audit trail that proves a school is doing all it can to protect its students and staff.
You may still be using broadband services that promise all the speed you need but do not come with service level agreements to guarantee you a rapid fix in the event of a fault. Not only has the price of secure internet leased lines drastically come down, but some carriers also offer the option for you to scale down your bandwidth in the holidays so your school benefits from cost savings.
Local area network (LAN)
This is often the forgotten element of any IT project as a LAN can appear to work even if it is not performing at its best. A LAN is the backbone of any school’s IT infrastructure, made up of switches, routers, firewalls, etc. When this hardware starts to age (typically anything older than five years needs replacing), issues can occur.
Anything that has reached it’s ‘end of life’ stage will no longer be supported by the manufacturer, which means a fix cannot be guaranteed. Up-to-date security patches will no longer be applied which will leave a school vulnerable to cyber threats. Older switches may also throttle the throughput of the connectivity coming onto site as they may not be primed to cope with gigabit speeds. That means some schools will be working 10 times slower than they could.
Like a LAN, the performance of a wireless network will start to deteriorate as hardware gets older. If your Wi-Fi was installed more than 5 years ago it is unlikely to benefit from the advances made in Wi-Fi namely the ability to operate efficiently in areas of higher density and at speeds three times faster than its predecessors. Security updates and speeds will be compromised while modern Wi-Fi solutions can offer visibility of all devices using the network and force new users to identify themselves when they try to access it for the first time.
Again, an older system will not be supported at manufacturer level and is at risk of being unrepairable if it breaks. It will also be missing out on all the latest features that can help ease the workload of receptionists and ensure all staff, even the ones who move around the school site, remain contactable. Any schools still using a telephony system run on ISDN lines should be making plans, as these traditional lines will be obsolete by 2025 and schools will need to seek out a system that can be run on internet-based SIP services.
Furthermore, a single phone system can be used to replace multiple systems used by multiple schools to bring them under one umbrella solution to meet the needs of a federation or MAT.
What’s your plan?
The above may seem like a pipedream to IT and business managers who know they need to upgrade but have very little budget to achieve their goals. Not all IT projects require capital, however, as the above can be achieved within monthly payments as they are either subscription services or can be purchased on an operating lease.
With savings available from cheaper internet connectivity and voice services, there is usually some wiggle room to be found within an existing monthly IT and communications spend. If there is budget available, we can also use this to drive down monthly costs.
Lastly, we also use our data centre as the IT hub for schools that are working together so they can host their servers, telephone system and filtering solution in one central off-site location so they can share these resources…and the cost.
My colleagues at swcomms have worked with schools for 35 years and can consider their IT and communications needs from a truly holistic view, as we can provide so many of the elements they require. They aim to create partnerships with schools to help them tackle their challenges with us, as their go-to outsourcing expert, by their sides.
If you need any advice on the above, please do not hesitate to contact me, so I can put you in touch with one of our education team.