One of the most rewarding aspects of working in ICT is solving problems. It’s something that often gets taken for granted in working life, but for us, it’s at the heart of what we do: scrutinising an organisation’s challenges and needs, developing a plan of action, then reconfiguring existing or setting up new technology to help our client solve their problem and make progress on their plans.
It’s an approach that is especially fulfilling in the education sector. We’ve worked with schools for more than three decades now, having helped almost 600 of them to set up remote teaching platforms during the pandemic.
Consequently, we’ve seen first-hand how improving infrastructure, connectivity and systems – while often a behind-the-scenes part of ICT – can have a major impact on the frontline. For example, better security can protect students from online abuse; improved systems integration can save school management time and money; and some services can even reduce the administrative burden on teachers, helping them get on with the day job.
One other way we find supporting the education sector to be particularly rewarding is due to the very nature of education: it’s about constantly learning and growing – and in a way, the ever-changing world of ICT has that same culture. It’s understandable, then, that we find our school clients have a genuine appetite for innovation. This is a sector that, in our experience, rejects the idea of “we’ve always done it this way” – and often, schools’ tight budgets foster the most creative of approaches.
We’re thinking about this right now because we usually join school ICT professionals at the annual Bett UK show around this time of year. But, following its postponement to March, due to Covid, we thought it worth sharing some of the news, views and resources we’ve seen over the past year that may be of interest to you as a school ICT professional – or even someone who is looking to get more from your school ICT.
One caveat: we’ve always found Bett to be an eye-opening and uplifting event – and an excellent opportunity to learn and network – so we realise there’s no substitute for discussing the below topics in person. But we hope there’s some food for thought for you below and hope, too, to see you at Bett in March.
Cyber security and protecting young people
The pandemic has seen a rise in cyber attacks targeting the education sector, likely due to the vulnerabilities resulting from the profound changes made to school networks. As such, we have found it has been a talking point with our school clients – and may be high on your ICT agenda, too. Here’s some sources that can help:
- The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) should be the first port of call for official guidance on cyber security issues. If you’ve not already, sign up for its weekly threat reports – and do bookmark the news section, which we’ve filtered here to ‘public sector’ news only.
- Here’s our own blog on cyber security in schools – it covers the latest NCSC research, as well as questions to consider whether you work in ICT or other departments.
- We are a member partner of the Internet Watch Foundation, which works to protects young people from online sexual abuse. The charity’s ‘Pixels From a Crime Scene’ podcast series is especially useful for schools – you can listen while working and, as an ICT professional, it can help you raise awareness about this important topic with colleagues who don’t work in ICT.
- On the subject of safeguarding and online safety, the London Grid for Learning (LGfL), has an excellent selection of guides and resources. LGfL is a charitable trust that works closely with schools round the clock, so its advice is very much based in the real world.
Wider impact of the pandemic
Understandably, the focus during the pandemic was to keep teachers teaching and students learning. But a few secondary topics emerged that we believe are important:
- It wasn’t just students affected by lack of hardware or inadequate internet connectivity – teachers were, too. We found this Education Technology article useful for exploring this much-overlooked topic, offering some pointers on how to address this challenge in the long term.
- As mentioned above, we helped almost 600 schools set up remote teaching platforms during the pandemic – and our feeling now, given the investment involved, is many schools want to continue making the most of these tools even with students back in classrooms. However, schools found these platforms did not easily synchronise with management information systems (MIS), meaning accounts were being manually created and updated. Our response was to develop an in-house tool, Nimbus Sync, to automate the account creation and management process, saving administrative teams time and money. You can find out more about it here.
- While getting through the immense challenges of lockdowns was the priority, many schools did not want to put their pre-existing ICT plans entirely on the backburner. Consequently, in this blog we offered some pointers on ICT improvement where schools can get a lot of ‘bang for their buck’ – including through smarter networks, ICT governance and digital learning. Some of these pointers are expanded below.
ICT beyond the pandemic
It’s an understatement to say Covid-19 has shaken up education ICT – so we know many schools are now asking where they go next. Now that pre-pandemic routines are returning to some degree, it might be time to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Here are some areas to consider:
- Now that remote teaching platforms have become an everyday part of school life, many education professionals are fine-tuning these platforms and how they use them. In this webinar recording with a primary school headteacher, we answer questions from teaching professionals looking to make these platforms work for them beyond the pandemic.
- In 2025, BT will switch off more than 16 million copper phone lines and move to internet-based telephony. In this webinar recording, we explore what that means for schools – and how schools can prepare.
- Voice-over internet telephony (VoIP) is a cost-effective way to modernise phone systems, bringing with it richer features. But many of the guides about these systems are aimed at private businesses, not schools. Our blog on VoIP for schools fills this gap and is written for both ICT and non-ICT professionals.
- Here’s something more substantial for those looking to build on the changes bought about by the pandemic and develop more flexible, resilient and secure school ICT – our ‘Learning Unleashed’ ebook. This was written based on working with schools through the crisis, simplifying a bewildering range of questions and options to key focus areas.
- If you work at a multi-academy trust (MAT), you’ll have particular ICT needs, such as bringing together lots of different legacy systems. Having worked with such organisations, we decided this topic needed special attention, so we produced this ebook just for MATs.
Not all ICT topics sit with the ICT team – and it’s not always about devices on desks. So we looked at some other areas that regularly crop up in conversation with our education clients:
- Finance systems are often the linchpin of school administration, impacting everything from processing school payments to the management of essential supplies. Many schools are realising legacy finance systems are holding them back but are unsure how to address this issue. Our blog on this subject looks to help.
- Management information systems (MIS) are another crucial tool in school administration, tracking everything from student performance to school timetables. And as with finance systems, schools are finding older systems aren’t compatible with the age of the internet. Our webinar recording with former headteacher Tim Ward about Arbor’s cloud-based MIS proved to be a popular and eye-opening session on this subject.
- Many schools upgraded their display technology while students were learning from home, or on holiday, finding smart boards to be a valuable way to enrich lessons and engage students. This blog explains more about this technology, and how it can help life in the classroom.
A final word
We hope you’ve found the information in this blog useful – and if you have any questions, do give us a call on 0333 4002490 or email email@example.com.
We’d also like to thank you for the extraordinary work of the past two years. Whether you’re working in your school’s ICT team, a business manager or teaching students, you’ve helped our children continue their learning – so we hope a few pointers here can help you in your work.