The changing face of ICT needs in secondary schools

In an education landscape becoming ever more digitally supported, achieving maximum value from ICT – and your school’s ICT spend – remains a key priority for ICT leaders.

Chris Burgess, senior product manager at RM Education, shares findings from some recent research that reveals the changing face of ICT in secondary schools – findings which can easily be applied in the independent school sector to optimise ICT

Research conducted by RM Education into the external ICT support marketplace, which surveyed ICT leaders at over 300 maintained secondary schools across the UK, revealed some interesting insights into the way schools are managing their IT support services now and how they plan to in the future.

ICT teams; size matters

The research concluded that, while average network team sizes currently comprise of around four or five internal network staff, there’s an increasing expectation amongst ICT leaders that – due to continued budgetary pressures – network team sizes will fall over the next two years. The only exception to this trend is in schools that already have significant external support with their ICT provision, where it’s expected that, in some instances, network team sizes may actually increase.

However, less than a fifth of those surveyed reported using a fully managed service, and over two-thirds of schools said they prefer a modular approach where they can select specific support options that best suit the unique needs of their school, its pedagogy and its chosen technologies.

The right tech; making life easier

“The prevalence of cloud technologies is making lives much easier for network teams; they no longer need to manage kit, install updates or, in most cases, fix servers – as this can all be done much more cost-effectively through cloud technologies,” Chris Burgess, senior product manager at RM Education, explains.

He continues, “This has impacted on the amount of network staff required in a typical secondary school so, it’s unsurprising that most schools are expecting their network teams to shrink over the next few years. This trend is also being driven by BYOD implementation becoming increasingly widespread, coupled with things like enhanced system software deployments and data management implications, such as GDPR requirements.

“However, while a smaller network team size can help alleviate some of these budgetary pressures, it can also decrease the capacity and knowledge held within an onsite team to deal with the volume and range of support queries they receive each day.”

Chris suggests that an external support service can fill this deficit and help schools to achieve their ICT needs by bringing in the knowledge and experience of a wide pool of external specialists, enabling existing network teams of any size to access support and freeing them up to focus on supporting teaching staff with classroom technologies.

Smart operations; reducing workload

“Network managers are rightly starting to look at ways to reduce their workload and free up more of their time so that they can reinvest those resources into making the most of technology in the school and staying on top of technology trends,” Chris says.

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“This is an area which does need much greater focus, so while budgetary pressures are the main driver to an ICT support service, freeing up much-needed time to help develop teachers’ skills and give them more confidence with technology in the classroom is also becoming a priority.”

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As this research has indicated, schools are increasingly seeking modular support, and their ICT leaders are, therefore, focussing on exploring flexible and scalable solutions that will best compliment their existing – albeit shrinking – network teams.

Opening doors; identifying your options

So, what are the options for schools taking this approach? The first is an escalation support model where schools can select specific support or functions; this approach can be particularly beneficial where a network team is small and there is a clear gap in the technical knowledge required to perform a specific task, such as migration from Microsoft to Google.

If an additional level of support is required, schools can then explore pro-active remote services which are focussed on freeing-up network teams by performing automated or standardised tasks such as system updates and security checks; tasks which are necessary, but often overlooked when network teams are busy firefighting more pressing issues.

Building on the pro-active service model, schools could also explore remote network management services, which can help them to stabilise their costs, widen their internal knowledge bank and, crucially, to transfer the risks associated with of day-to-day mishaps to the service provider.

Whole school benefits; maximising your ICT provision

The survey also asked ICT leaders what elements of ICT support were most beneficial to their school; the majority of respondents reported that the provision of unlimited usage, multiple platform coverage and expert technical knowledge were key.

Respondents also indicated that their school is most likely to use native tools from Microsoft and Google for identity and access management, while a significant proportion of respondents named RM Education as providing the highest levels of expertise in the provision of support.

Summarising the evidence

“By conducting this latest research, we wanted to explore the current landscape of school IT and the issues that were most important to ICT leaders. The results tell us that in-depth technological expertise is a critical driver in selecting a support contract, while budgetary pressures continue to drive ICT leaders to explore options that could offer them much greater security and value for money,” Chris says.

“Conversely, we understand that schools are reluctant to be tied into a contract that isn’t specifically tailored to their needs. Therefore, we anticipate that modular support models which are flexible and scalable will begin to take on much more prevalence over the next 12 to 24 months.”

Technology in schools will continue to grow business managers, IT managers and network managers must ensure that they are managing the right technology in the right way.