In this article we cover some of the most common challenges we come across when talking to schools and academies about ICT.
When we ask schools about their ICT strategy for the next three years, there is frequently a shuffling of feet and a break in eye contact, as this is one of the jobs that hasn’t been prioritised. Unfortunately, without a strategy, schools can find they are prone to making reactive procurement decisions, either buying when they have spare budget left over at the end of the year, or when something goes wrong.
Streamlining Your ICT Budget
In the current economic climate, lots of schools are feeling the squeeze on their budgets. Many will have looked at making operational efficiencies, and with an average fixed spend in schools of around 80% of budget, the spotlight may fall on technology next. ICT is often seen as an expensive luxury, but there's no getting away from it; every school needs strong technology to function.
Three key questions for school leaders, finance managers and bursars need to ask are:
- How do I reduce my ICT and support costs?
- How do I get the most out of the investments we've already made?
- What do I really need to spend money on and what's just "nice to have"?
Teachers' Technical Skills
There are three ‘tech types’ using technology in schools that you may recognise:
- ‘Digital natives’ (generally younger staff who have grown up with the internet, and tend to innovate with technology teaching and learning intuitively)
- ‘Technical competents’ (staff who can use technology, but don't necessarily innovate, collaborate or use available features to improve teaching and learning)
- ‘Technical reluctants’ (there are those out there who don't want to, can't or won't use technology).
The challenges for senior leaders are:
- How do we provide fast, affordable, reliable and up-to-date infrastructure to enable the innovators to innovate?
- How do we get people to collaborate and share good practice?
- How do we provide the right support and training to help reluctant users to improve?
Who Should Be in Charge of ICT Procurement?
Many schools and colleges delegate the responsibility of ICT procurement to their finance or business managers, or in a number of cases, to teachers who just happen to show an aptitude or interest in IT. In my experience, some schools struggle to find the experience required to get the best out of the ICT procurement opportunity due to its complexity. For example, schools coming out of a BSF ICT managed service contract need to be planning for their needs two years to 18 months before the contract ends, which we don’t often see happening. A great many schools don’t know what to ask for, because they don’t know what’s new and available, and as a result may end up specifying the same or a very similar service and miss a great opportunity to save money and improve ICT for everyone.
An Outcomes-focused Approach to Investment
A good starting point for procurement is setting up a visioning session for your senior leadership team to look at the outcomes you want for pupils, staff, parents and governors. If you start from this outcomes perspective you are more likely to make the right technological choices. For example, if literacy in year seven is the biggest issue for your school, then buying those 50 iPads might not be the right decision. You might be better off buying new content or applications that the children can access at home and involves parents in their children’s reading.
Being clear on the outcomes and how your strategy will achieve those outcomes, will inevitably lead to better financial and ICT decisions.
Staying Up to Date With ICT Requirements
We would argue that you can’t. The term ICT now covers a vast subject area. Yes, there are thousands of excellent network managers and IT technicians in our schools, but they can’t possibly be experts in all of the areas of technology required to run an enterprise on the scale of a school.
As a school, no matter how good your technical staff, you are likely to need outside expertise to help you to stay ahead of the pupils, never mind rapidly changing technology.
Ok, So What Can We Do About All This?
One Education’s ICT Service has worked with schools dealing with these issues and helping to deliver outcomes for many years. As a complete education services provider rather than just an ICT supplier, we have a greater understanding of how schools can approach getting the best out of their investment in ICT, and how to make difference for the staff and students who use it.