The business development team at swcomms is in constant contact with schools and, indeed, we remained in contact throughout lockdown. At first, this was to see if schools needed technology that would help them roll out online teaching and learning or to ensure they remained accessible despite most staff working from home.
With the initial lockdown period over and schools now fully open, management have rightly been concentrating their efforts on providing a safe environment for students to return to. They have been busy ordering plastic divides for desks, hand sanitiser units, different coloured lanyards to identify year groups, etc. As a result, IT and communications needs have been thrust down the agenda whereas September used to be a key time for investigating these.
Our conversations have revealed that post-October half-term or even January 2021 are the new favoured times for considering projects like these when management have a little more headspace.
Some schools though have had to jump on these projects already as part of their COVID-19 precautionary preparations. Here are a few scenarios our team has encountered.
We want to use a different method of delivering remote teaching and staff collaboration
All schools found a way to deliver teaching and learning during lockdown, but some do not want to continue to use those methods if a second lockdown occurs or they need to educate a quarantined year group. Some schools are looking for more effective ways of communicating with their students and each other that will be suitable in the long-term.
We are failing to make use of technology we already have access to
In line with the above challenge, some schools did not use the technology freely available to them in an effort to quickly start delivering teaching and learning to students. A good example of this is the number of schools using Zoom or other video apps when they already had Microsoft Teams available to them. Teams offers video conferencing for up to 300 people so it could have been used, along with messaging and screen-sharing, without incurring the cost of a video meeting service. Schools get free Microsoft Teams licences for staff and students, which can be upgraded to include the Phone System app to offer effective remote working options.
We need a larger phone system
With schools bubbling year groups, there has been an appetite for a phone extension per group. Schools are trying to contain these groups into singular buildings or areas of the school and want a quick way of contacting staff in these bubbles.
We need an effective absence line
The autumn term is the worst for students suffering from colds and other commonplace illnesses, many of which come with a high temperature or cough. This means large numbers of students and teachers are reporting they are sick, or self-isolating, as they wait for results of coronavirus tests. Without an absence line, school receptionists will be overloaded and parents will be unable to get through.
We need flexibility to divert calls and change welcome messages
Older phone systems will not have the flexibility to accommodate home working. At the very least, a school should be able to divert calls to a mobile number in the event it has to close. Other direct dial-in (DDI) numbers could also be diverted to staff working from home, e.g. the bursar, business manager or administration. Meanwhile, they also need to be able to quickly change their recorded welcome message to inform parents of important news, such as year group isolations. These messages should serve to cut down the number of calls receptionists need to take.
We need improved onsite Wi-Fi
The main Wi-Fi issues we have seen schools struggle with have been capacity and coverage. Schools are using more devices than ever to log onto online resources or to stay in contact with their students. For instance, a site-wide live video assembly will falter if a wireless network cannot support extra devices. In addition, schools may have positioned their wireless access points in classrooms and staff rooms before, but they may need them in extra areas now to accommodate alternative classroom areas, such as gyms or even outdoor spaces.
Our internet connectivity is struggling
This has become an issue with schools needing extra bandwidth to support live video learning. This will become more of a problem when schools deliver live video lessons to students who must self-isolate at home. A lack of bandwidth may also be the bottle neck when access the internet via Wi-Fi.
Our web filtering does not reach into students’ homes
When students use devices on the school network they are protected by the school’s web filtering to shield them from inappropriate and unsafe content. When at home, this is generally not possible. However, there are products available that can protect students when they use devices at home.
These are numerous challenges for schools to contend with while also trying to keep students safe from COVID-19 and maintaining teaching standards. We appreciate why schools want to put some projects on hold as they try to wrestle back a sense of normality or see what budget they have available next year. Meanwhile, we will continue to keep abreast of the issues facing schools so we remain ready to help when required. If you would like to know more about any of the above now we are available to take your enquiry if the isn’t right for you we will be here when it is.