Since the pandemic struck and lockdowns took effect there has been considerable disruption across all sectors.  The pandemic has highlighted a technology divide that covers school use of IT, access to IT within school and personal technology accessible to both staff and pupils in their home environment.  

Teachers are best placed to educate in a classroom.  They are prepared through years of training followed by years of continued professional development and are surrounded by all the tools of their trade in a classroom environment.  The mass education system requires a teacher to deliver level appropriate learning to a class audience of up to 30 children.  Under normal circumstances within the classroom teachers are well equipped and trained to fulfil this task and deliver the assessments, levelling and progress checks as demanded by the education system.  But what happens when the norm is disrupted and education delivery, assessment and systems cannot be delivered via traditional methods surrounded and supported by the traditional tools available within a classroom? 

Considering the lack of provision on numerous fronts for transitioning the traditional teaching methods to quality online learning below are my observations on several key areas that have slowed progress. 

IT is not taught as a core subject in primary schools. 

Why is that important?  For one it means that within the primary school system unless there is a keen technologist on the senior leadership team then investment in IT is usually well below par.  Technology and the vision for its implementation needs to be driven to ensure parity with what is current and that what is implemented is adopted and effective.   

Teacher workloads being what they are and IT not being a core subject means that it is oft left underfunded for many years.  Net result is old computers, equipment that doesn’t really work which leads to frustration and lack of integration with core subject teaching.  Over the last 5 to 10 years working with schools I have on numerous occasions witnessed the removal of IT suites in primary schools to convert them into extra classrooms because the IT suite was getting limited use. 

Government funding streams to schools 

This is a topic of wider debate and could warrant a full debate in itself.  Key points on how funding is allocated to schools has seen schools in deprived areas being able to access large pots of funding to be able to provide extra resources to support pupils.  I have no disagreement with a level playing field model but when schools at a base level are not equally funded to begin with the additional funding streams creates a further divide.   

With budgets stretched just to provide core teaching and linked with IT not being a core subject it is little wonder that IT suites are being removed. 

Schools IT

In most instances schools are around 3 to 5 years behind industry. They are stuck with local data on in school servers are reliant on being present within the school to access these critical programs. 

The world of cloud computing and IT has superseded the need to be present in a physical place to access data.  Desktop computing can be delivered via Azure or Amazon WorkSpaces without the need for cumbersome VPNs and roaming profiles.  The technology implemented in most primary schools follows the traditional boilerplate install and has given no cognizance to resilience.   

Effectively the pandemic is no different than any other disaster and IT systems need to support the whole school community to deliver their service.  An easy assessment for your IT system is does it reliably provide; 

  • Confidentiality – Is your data secure and held within the rules set out by GDPR regulations 
  • Integrity – When you access your data is it up to date and can you rely on it?  If someone is editing in one location are you unaware of changes and are potentially going to make decisions on out of date information. 
  • Accessibility – Can you access your data on demand using a variety of devices wherever you are. 

Schools IT need to modernize and implement modern workflows for schools that support them to work remotely.  It could even be considered under the work life balance required by the modern workforce.  Currently very few school systems support this and require people to be present at the location where the data is held. 

What has caused the technology disparity? 

I have seen much written about pupils’ access to technology in deprived areas.  Over the last few weeks I have come to see this as taking a very traditional view of technology and the devices that can support online or remote learning. 

The first thing from reviewing numerous technology surveys sent to parents I am yet to find one that asks how many smart TVs are in a home.  Or how many consoles with web browsers.  These devices all have internet browsers and can access the web.  Delivering content via these devices is no different that adding it to your school website via the content management system.  If you cannot do this or have an outdated website get in touch!   

The government (fiasco) of handing out subpar laptops was too little too late.  But the shortage of devices held by individuals within a school leads me into my next concept to discuss. 

The government handout of laptops should have been aimed at teachers.  Unlike businesses, even though we are largely office based we are mobile having to attend meetings etc.  As a result, when the decree came to vacate the office we picked up laptops and left.  Working from anywhere with an internet connection is a doddle with most systems being cloud based.  We have adopted and adapted some practices for the better but in the main the transition was flawless.  What surprised me was the number of teachers who do not own or have access to their own computer or laptop.  They have tablets and smart phones, but these are really limited when it comes to producing online learning.  Most teachers I have spoken to rely on the PC connected to their classroom smart board.  So, when lockdowns struck the large desktop system sat in the corner became redundant.   

Whilst businesses quickly pivoted to online systems schools ended up delivering photocopied packs of worksheets to pupil’s homes.  From a business perspective it seems crazy to even consider that as a solution but the perfect storm of educators without equipment to produce online learning and a lack of technological awareness and skills with the pupils created the perfect storm around a clear and seamless transition to remote/blended learning. 

Government insistence on schools staying open has got to be partly driven by their observation that schools simply have not had the funds or provision over the last decade to move from traditional classroom teaching to online.  Underfunding, cuts to budgets, academization have all eroded away at the infrastructure of schools especially non-core, non-assessed elements and promoted a culture of repeating the same year after year to ensure consistent results.  The pandemic has put a halt to some of the assessment led decision making and forced an introspection into resilience planning.  The education establishments that adapt as part of this pandemic and implement modern IT infrastructures and workflows to support work life balance will reap great long term resilience benefits for the future. 

Implementing modern IT setups may sound expensive and daunting but it is less so that everything halting due to lack of access to systems. 

By moving to modern cloud solutions and work flows you can reduce large equipment and capital costs for servers and their maintenance and gain control over your own network and develop your own local and remote access strategies.  Lots of schools have already adopted Microsoft Office 365 or Google for Education.  These are great examples of cloud technology that have successfully permeated into school culture and have set the precedents for adoption of future cloud solutions.  With these solutions lots of schools are not benefiting from the wider toolsets available due to outdate IT providers locking the systems down to fit with their traditional access models.  You should be considering or using features like, OneDrive, SharePoint, One Note, Sway, Planner etc.   

Alongside the likes of Microsoft and Google lots of UK Schools are using systems like CPOMS which is an online cloud-based tool to log all your safeguarding incidents.  The rise of the school’s management information system battle has seen Capita SIMS lose real ground to cloud based competitors such as Arbor and ScholarPack. 

For your websites, online and blended learning we have developed tools directly within your school website to help you deliver and track your remote or blended delivery.  We have loads of schools utilising our parents evening platform built directly into your website.  This modernizes and makes more convenient the organization and face-to-face or remote delivery of a parent consultation.  We have Zoom directly integrated within the portal to facilitate parent consultations and allow online class events or simple catch ups to take place.   

In conclusion schools have pockets of modern technology but the infrastructure (within schools and remote working) needs to be properly funded and upgraded to allow it to be implemented properly ensuring consistent access on demand giving the school a fair return on investment.   

Our Recommendations 

Ensure all your staff have a (corporate) laptop with webcam, headphones and school licensed office products.  With a corporate laptop you can implement security templates that ensures the machine is used in line with your school policies.  With corporate machines you have the right to access and audit usage.  BYOD becomes more complex and problematic.   

Access your staff laptop needs.  These could range from cloud books to basic Dell through to high end image, audio/video editing stations that are shared as a resource.   

Develop an eLearning/blended learning strategy based on the technology staff have to produce resources when remote and the technology you have to deliver the resources and the technology pupils have to access it.  All our customers benefit from content and support from our team when it comes to deploying content.  As online providers we have numerous platforms available to help you get your learning online securely to your pupils. 

Implement a cloud shared teaching resource either in SharePoint or Google Drive 

Speak to your IT provider about why you need an onsite server.  Can it become part of a hybrid solution extending your active directory and logins into the cloud with Azure or Amazon? 

Look at modern workflows.  You need pupils completing work.  Consider technologies like Amazon WorkSpaces.  This will allow you to provide configured Windows desktops in the cloud that they can access with all the relevant software to do their work remotely. 

Lastly talk to us about getting your resources online and accessible we have a range of solutions from looking at simple document storage to using google stories to make learning flash cards. Integrate technology with your learning to help bridge that home school divide.