The easiest way to overspend on your ICT budget is to buy unnecessary solutions to problems you don’t have, so it pays to look at the big picture. Consider your strategic ICT plan and how it supports the priorities identified in your SDP; if you don’t have a strategic ICT plan yet, or you think it needs fine-tuning, start by asking yourself some of these questions:
What educational challenges do you have? The list could include items such as ensuring your teachers, learners and school’s reputation are safe online; building teacher confidence in new technologies; or empowering students to become more independent in their learning.
What do you want to deliver? This comes from your strategic plan and could include things like providing more dynamic media-rich lessons, or providing universal access to ICT. Also think about what you can deliver now; this helps you understand what you can achieve with your current ICT provision. List all the resources at your disposal and you’ll start to build a picture of where you are now.
Finally, what can you make better use of? Take your list of resources and identify any that are underutilised. Can you use these assets differently to help deliver solutions to your current challenges? Also take a look at the resources that you are currently keeping running, but don’t actually need (like an old server). Can you save time and money by using free online (cloud-based) services instead?
Learn from other schools
Before you embark on an exciting new ICT project, consider whether another school has already done something similar. Can you liaise with them and ask how it went? Benchmarking is a great – and free –way to see how your project might work; what were the lessons learnt by other schools? What worked? What didn’t and why? What would they change if they had the chance to start over? You can use other local and national schools to help guide your plans, but don’t be limited to your existing contacts; it’s worth exploring social media too. There are numerous LinkedIn groups on the topic of ICT strategy in schools and many experienced professionals to get in touch with on Twitter.
Use free online resources
Before you spend any of your precious budget on software, take a moment to look at the thousands of free web-hosted resources that are available. Use web-based Microsoft Office 365 or Google Apps for Education for free email, contacts, calendars, word-processing and spreadsheets; these tools help you and your students to create quality content. They also help to promote independent study, and your students are learning the standard tools needed for their future careers too.
With some basic internet searches you can also find a host of free guides, white papers and practical ideas like the ones around the new computing curriculum at http://www.rm.com/computing; it’s also worth making use of any free or low-cost applications that can help improve communication, productivity and collaboration in the classroom.
Try before you buy
A simple way to de-risk your purchases is to test their suitability for your school on a trial basis. A trial with some well-defined, SMART objectives, led by your school leadership team, will help you determine the key technologies to test, as well as the staff who should participate, the best fit with curriculum requirements and objectives, and finally the CPD/support requirements and timescales. At the end you can review the strengths and weaknesses of each solution, and consider how they support your strategic goals for sustainable development. If you decide to go ahead, you can then work out a timeline for investment decisions, considering any training requirements, affordability and value for money over time.
Making informed purchases
Having trialled a range of traditional and transformational technologies, you should now be in a strong position to purchase exactly the right ICT kit for your school. But there are still some minefields to navigate. For instance, do you update your infrastructure and upgrade your current devices?
If your infrastructure can support the traffic that your teachers and learners will generate with greater media-rich content in lessons, you could simply look to upgrade your existing devices by upgrading the hard drive to a solid state drive, adding more RAM or turning an old desktop into a thin-client device.
Updating your infrastructure and replacing your current devices is a like-for-like solution and would be the most traditional route; however, it delivers less transformation and innovation in the classroom and could have a higher price tag, despite being the most well-understood and safest of your options.
Introducing a mobile or BYOD (bring your own device) scheme, which enables your staff and students to bring in a device they own to connect to your schools infrastructure, will also help you to dramatically reduce the cost of overhauling your ICT provision; although you are likely to still need to purchase traditional ICT suites for specific tasks such as design.
You’ll need to invest in CPD to support a transformation of pedagogy, solutions to standardise access – regardless of device or platform – and look to migrate your software and storage to the cloud to make all your services accessible via a browser. Regardless of the path you choose, be sure to request exactly the same quotations from your shortlist of suppliers, asking finite questions, to allow you to make a direct comparison.
Making best use of your time
Does your School Business Manager spend a good proportion of his or her week managing the complex and time-consuming relationships with the 20 or more vendors with whom your school works? You may find that working with a strategic partner who can manage these relationships for you would be a better use of time for an already stretched SLT team. Effective ICT management isn’t just about getting the best prices for your purchases; it also includes utilising the skills of your ICT team to best effect. So if you want to expand your ICT horizons beyond the knowledge and experience in your school, then find a good partner who can do this with you and work with them to develop a great strategy and vision.
Getting the most from your resources
CPD is a vital part of any ICT strategy. You need to ensure that any devices, solutions or software you commit to will be used to their full extent in the classroom. Everyone should have the same expectations of what can be achieved with this technology.
Senior leaders need to steer the use of the new solutions so that it’s clear where they add value in your toolkit for inspiring and engaging with learners, whilst teachers must be confident in their use of the new solutions to deliver amazing lessons and provide learners with opportunities for independent study.
Technicians in your ICT support team need to be able to provide an additional level of troubleshooting for the solution, and be able to support teaching staff both technically and in its effective use in the classroom. Make sure you allocate time and budget to training your school team on any new technologies you implement; if you follow steps 1-6 and forget step 7 then you’ll end up with a host of shiny new devices that don’t deliver to their full potential, or worse still, sit unused in cupboard because no-one knows what to do with them.
About The Author
Paul Bruce, is services architect at leading software and services provider RM Education. As a strategic partner, RM Education has 40 years’ experience in delivering all these areas to a high standard, delivering complete ICT support for over 700 schools and acting as part of the ICT support picture for thousands more. For more information on developing an ICT strategy, visit http://www.rm.com/bestvalueICT