The impact of technology investment in most organisations can be measured by changes in outputs and/or revenue. But for schools, the impact of an increase in technology spending is much harder to measure. Companies can more readily justify their expenditure by pointing to tangible outcomes, whereas schools struggle to make a clear connection between an increase in access to IT and improved learning outcomes for pupils, or improved resilience against failures and more effective teaching.
One day you click on a folder and a message appears on your screen, telling you that access has been denied to your files until you pay a certain sum of money for a key to unlock them. You try another folder, but the message reappears. After several attempts on different folders, a colleague appears and says she is getting the same message. Together, you call IT Support. To your horror, you are told they have the same problem. They inform you that the school has been hit by ‘ransomware’. Nobody in the school is now able to access their files until (a) the hackers are paid, or (b) the school’s data can be wiped and fully restored.
It is hard to envisage a future in which children do not have a device with them to support their learning. Tablets are now a common sight in schools and with the rise of wearable technology in other aspects of life, it surely can’t be long before we have a viable, hands-free solution that can be carried and accessed easily at all times. But, regardless of form or function, the perennial question remains:
9ine is engaged by schools for any number of reasons, but for the most part it’s because something has gone wrong. By the time we come in, there is normally a particular issue or system that has been singled out as the culprit to be tackled. This could be ageing hardware, poor infrastructure or user devices that are just not up to the job. While these are the issues that people can see, we usually find them to be symptoms of a problem within the school’s own approach to IT provision - i.e their ‘IT operating model’.
School budgets are tight. Money is rightly prioritised towards staffing and the needs of teaching and learning, while more and more bursars and business managers try to extend the life of their ageing IT hardware. On the face of it, this is a sensible move, but in practice we regularly see the results of this strategy manifest themselves in IT failures and a rising tide of lesson disruption and frustrated staff and students. Having pushed resources into teaching and learning, the return is devalued by a loss of progress in the classroom.
Every school is aware it has blind spots. A high number of them usually sit within the reliability and compliance of the IT provision. Senior leaders know that they don’t have complete knowledge of the status of critical processes and systems, while also being aware that the true picture is often not the one they presented with. The spectre of the unknown haunts the back of their minds as they consider the horror of a gap in their safeguarding compliance, the complete loss of critical data or the shutdown of the school network.
It’s top of your list of nightmares: the IT fails and you lose all of your files, contacts and data. All student work is gone, nobody can log in to a computer, communication breaks down and the school grinds to a halt. Through the panic, you discover that the Disaster Recovery Plan was never finished and you're facing a long and painful rebuild to return systems to normal.
Schools are bigger than they look. Anybody who teaches or works at a school knows that it is a community, representing and working alongside a wide range of other groups and individuals located outside its four walls. Being at the heart of this community supports the school’s success, but also brings with it an enormous responsibility to lead, develop and improve the people, processes and systems that hold it together. To achieve this, schools need real people they can rely upon to provide timely, relevant guidance and sensible, practical support. These people need to be able to help answer questions for the school, such as:
- How do we successfully meet the needs of everyone?
- What does best practice look like?
- Are we complying with the regulations and expectations of external bodies?
- Are our people safe?
- How can we ensure we are communicating effectively with each other?
- Which systems will work best for our specific needs?
- How do we ensure our people are trained and keen to develop their practice?
- What is the best way for us to handle and utilise our data?
- What does a cost-effective investment model look like?
- Does it seem like there is more than one system that does the same thing at your school?
- Are you teaching lessons with PowerPoints from years ago, stored in ‘My Documents’ and/or on your trusty USB stick?
- Do your school’s shared drives contain years of stored documents, meaning you often have to scroll through what seems to be an endless stream of duplicate files?
- Do you spend hours organising files into folders, only to find yourself helpless when you forget your memory stick, or can’t access your laptop?
- Are your students emailing homework to you with odd filenames, expecting you to rename and store it somewhere?
Did you answer yes to any of these? If so, you and your school are likely to be carrying around too much baggage.
The EFA Financial Handbook has been updated and it’s a thrilling read! There are some interesting changes that MATs and Academies need to address. The foci of the changes are predominantly around risk management, audit and compliance. Specifically, this relates to auditing, risk management and oversight at each constituent Academy within a Trust. This isn’t just about financial controls, policies and processes, it’s more about the identification of areas of spend such as buildings, facilities management, ICT, as well as ensuring there are robust, measurable checks and balances that demonstrate compliance.