I don’t want to start on too gloomy a note but, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS)1 , school spending per pupil is likely to fall by around 8% in real terms over the next five years or so. It will be the first time that school spending has fallen since the mid-1990s. Eliminating unnecessary costs should always be kept in mind but, given the IFS prediction, it’s an opportune moment to consider how spending could be reduced.
The big ticket item, of course, is staffing. That’s a difficult and contentious area for saving, for a whole host of reasons. A less controversial area, and possibly one where you can start to make immediate savings, is in your IT spend. This is likely to be significant, incurring both capital and revenue costs for infrastructure, equipment, software and maintenance.
Let’s take that question of capital costs. Typically, schools and academies provide services to students and staff via hardware-based server systems. Adding, upgrading or replacing servers often requires considerable capital expenditure. By moving to Cloud-based systems, academies can shift that burden to free or low-cost software, and much more friendly revenue models. Added to that, there are sizable savings to be made in electricity costs. It might even be possible to free up the server room as an extra teaching and learning space!
This move to the Cloud is one that’s driven by commercial vendors themselves. Recently, Microsoft and the DfE announced a new ‘Education Cloud Transition Agreement’ to extend the current Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that gives schools and academies substantial discounts on Microsoft licences. Microsoft say this will enable its “UK education customers to transition to the cloud and take advantage of Microsoft free Online Services e.g. Office 365 Education.” There’s a bit of a stick behind this carrot as the current Volume Licensing discounts for existing customers expire after July 20182 . In other words, if you’re a Microsoft customer, move to Office 365 soon or be prepared to pay more.
Pleasingly, this is one of the rare occasions where saving money can also bring benefits; cloud-based systems enable students and staff to access learning materials, documents and means of communication on a wide range of devices – no longer tied to specific devices on internal networks.
Google for Education or Office 365 both provide free suites of tools that, regardless of the device being used, enables all users to get the same experience. Students and staff can work on documents both individually and collaboratively as everything is easily accessible, regardless of the location or device they are using. Using cloud-based services in this way can help to improve the speed and ease of access to materials in the classroom, extend learning beyond the classroom, improve student-engagement, and even support new models of pedagogy - such as ‘flipped learning’.
Furthermore, moving to the cloud frees up budget to buy more low-cost mobile devices such as Chromebooks or to develop Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) schemes.
So, from a gloomy start, have we found a pleasing symmetry of reduced costs and improved learning and teaching tools? Possibly. But not without a clear ICT vision and strategy. Your Strategic ICT Plan will provide a clear route to achieving your vision; for example in planning not only for the removal of server technology but also associated costs such as technical support. This latter aspect of ICT spend can be considerable. RM Education’s 2015 research3 suggested that an ‘average’ school, with 693 pupils on roll, spends at least £93,555 per annum on ICT support – that’s £135 per student! Because cloud-based solutions have no local servers to support and repair – there’s an opportunity to save ongoing costs here too.
These opportunities to reduce costs extend beyond the single academy. There are potential benefits from the economies of scale that an academy chain can bring, for example in sharing ICT support across the Trust, volume purchasing and negotiating preferred ICT agreements. RM Education is the preferred ICT provider to The Academies Enterprise Trust (AET). For the past few years, RM has worked closely with the Trust to move some its academies to server-less and cloud-based solutions. The expectation is that, over five years, the Trust will save £900,077 in costs as well as a staggering £7,701,044 in additional benefit savings4.