The following article was written for and appears in the Spring 2016 issue of ‘The Bursar’s Review’, the termly magazine sent to members of the Independent Schools’ Bursars Association.
Many independent senior schools are spending between £700k and £1m on ICT every year. In times when fee affordability is pricing-out the professions, that’s an awful lot of money. With additional pension and NI contributions to find, a premium to pay for some subject teachers, building programmes to fund or a deficit to address, most senior schools can think of something more pressing to do with a £250k saving.
The good news is there are now ways to save money on your ICT spend and improve ICT’s impact on teaching and learning.
There are completely understandable reasons for this higher than necessary spend on ICT.
Firstly, it’s hard for independent school Bursars to benchmark what’s a ‘normal’ level of ICT spend for a school of their size and type, to achieve a ‘good’ ICT service.
Secondly, unplanned ICT cost-creep tends to happen in response to senior common room complaints over helpdesk response times, or frustrations at not being able to use product x or y that enthusiastic teachers may have discovered.
Lastly, some in-house technical folk are adept at bamboozling their Bursar with tech-talk pitches for ‘essential’, expensive and technically interesting ICT solutions, even though better and cheaper options are often available.
However, the best external education technology partners can help you concentrate on the end-result; focus on helping you develop a clear vision for what you want from your school ICT, starting from the types of learning you’d like to encourage in your students. Their ICT and Skills audits can give you a dose of reality on where you and your teachers are starting from, and then help you put together a plan to achieve your vision at the lowest cost.
Three substantial changes
There are many ways to reduce your ICT spend, but here are three that can save you the most:
1. Partial outsourcing
Traditional man-for-man outsourcing of your school’s ICT staff doesn’t save you money, or produce a better outcome for students or teaching staff.
Instead, an education technology partner offering best-practice outsourcing will now provide a flexible blend of your own local ICT support staff, experts on call, specialists who visit as needed and online assistance. That means overnight proactive checks that diagnose and fix issues before they arise, experts who can take-over control of teachers’ computers to fix issues immediately, an efficient help desk run for your school, prioritised task-lists for on-site staff for those issues that can’t be remedied remotely, and a wide range of specialists who visit for proactive work and projects as needed. The service as a whole would be overseen by someone who can bridge the divide between technology and curriculum, who keeps your school strategy at heart and who offers valuable, impartial advice.
In brass-tacks, senior schools running an ICT support team of seven and spending over £300k fully loaded salary costs can see that reduce to two on-site folk supported by a flexible managed service, and make a saving of over £150k each year.
2. Move to the cloud
Faster internet connectivity and a long-term approach to winning students’ hearts and minds from Google and Microsoft mean there are now realisable and significant cost savings available for independent schools from embracing cloud technologies.
Most of the storage you’ll ever need for student work is now available for free, saving you a small fortune in local SANs, support contracts and electricity.
Microsoft Office 365 and Google docs provide you cloud email, office and productivity tools, saving schools money on local licencing and storage but also giving you collaborative tools to help streamline your school admin.
Access-control systems aside, most of your school’s servers can now be migrated to run in the cloud and can be run on a pay-as-you-go basis, again saving money but also improving availability.
Finally, there’s an exciting world of cloud learning resources that’s now available - from Google Classroom collaboration tools to RM Book ebooks - there’s free or inexpensive web-delivered software for the classroom and for homework that can help teachers improve classroom collaboration and nurture independent learning. These will run on nearly any device, opening up BYOD possibilities. Not only do those cost less that running locally installed software, they can help improve teaching and students’ learning experience.
Once you’re through the initial transition, moving to the cloud should save you of the order of £100k per year in your ICT costs.
3. Harness students’ own technology
A typical independent school student already walks into school with a very capable ICT device in their pocket that hasn’t cost the school a penny. And it’s not just their smartphone, from year three onwards they’ll likely also have their own tablet computer they would enthusiastically bring to school if they knew they could use it in lessons. Once you’ve moved your learning resources to the cloud, the traditional headache of supporting multiple device platforms is much more straightforward as they’ll run in any modern browser.
One-to-one (1:1) schemes where a school chooses a single device per pupil, such as an iPad Air, and then asks parents to pay the few pounds a term to fund it, are popular alternatives to full bring-your-own-device (BYOD) at the Prep stage.
Regardless of whether you go for a 1:1 approach or a full BYOD scheme, it’s important to make sure you take sensible precautions to keep students safe. That starts with setting students clear expectations via your school’s policies and providing adequate online safety training for your teachers – becoming an EPCIT accredited school can help – but technology can also help. Although you can’t filter students’ 3G and 4G data access, you can use the incentive of your school’s free (and filtered) WIFI to exert more control that you’d think during school hours. Best practice mobile device management software can can now prevent use of the camera and limit which apps can be used during timetabled lesson times. User-level-filtering can even vary which sites are blocked by a student’s timetable, for example being less restrictive during a PHSE lessons, and evenings for boarders, as you see appropriate.
Proactive monitoring of activity within the school network and the school’s cloud learning spaces can monitor for risk cues on a wide variety of issues (attempted grooming or radicalisation, bullying, self-harm, suicide risk, etc). The best services do this in a range of languages and provide ex-police officers and ex-child protection officers to review those potential issues ahead of alerting a school’s safeguarding officer and the Head so you’re not bombarded with time-wasting false-positives and can instead focus on the few serious issues that need action.
Even after investing in better MDM, filtering and monitoring solutions, many schools can save over £100k a year by no longer needing to refresh student computers and devices.
Pick a partner you believe you can trust
The key to getting best value from your ICT spend is to choose an education technology partner that you feel you can trust and who genuinely can offer you impartial advice based on what’s best for your school rather than what’s going to generate them the biggest quick buck or referral kick-back. I’d suggest you look for scale and, as ever, a proven track record with references.
Get help via ISBA
For more help and guidance, attend the “Achieving the right balance – in-house & outsourced services” breakout at the ISBA ICT Conference in London on Wednesday the 9 March 2016, where a school Bursar and RM Education will be there to help.