In today’s rapidly evolving technological landscape, integrating IT into education has become essential for schools to provide a modern and effective learning environment. To ensure a successful implementation of IT, schools need to develop a comprehensive strategy that encompasses various aspects such as cloud services, hardware platform evaluation, cybersecurity, data protection, networking, and compliance with the Department for Education’s digital and technology standards.
This article presents a number of considerations that will help the development of an IT Strategy in a school or Multi Academy Trust.
An IT Strategy can not be written in the IT Office by the IT Team without engagement. It can, but it is unlikely to have the buy in from the whole school. To write a successful strategy, it is key to work with stakeholders across the school to understand how they use IT, the issues they have, what works well for them and how they would like to see the IT Service develop in the future. Afterall, IT in schools exists to support teaching and learning in the classroom, so start with the classroom at the forefront.
Networking and Compliance with Standards
Familiarize yourself with the DfE’s Digital and Technology Standards, ensuring that the school’s IT infrastructure aligns with these guidelines. Stay updated on the latest compliance requirements and adapt the infrastructure accordingly.
Reviewing the Existing Hardware Platform
Having a solid foundation and regularly reviewing and updating the school’s hardware platform is crucial to ensure optimal performance of IT services, particularly when utilising cloud services.
Consider the following steps in the review process:
- Hardware Inventory: Maintain a comprehensive inventory of existing hardware, including computers, servers, network devices, and peripherals. Identify outdated or underperforming equipment that may hinder productivity and educational outcomes, supported by a refresh plan.
- Performance Evaluation: Assess the performance and capabilities of the hardware components, identifying any bottlenecks or areas for improvement. Consider factors such as internet bandwidth, LAN bottlenecks, processing power and storage.
- Upgrade Planning: Develop a strategic plan for upgrading or replacing outdated hardware, taking into account the budget and the school’s IT requirements. Prioritise investments in devices that align with the school’s educational goals and can support the latest software and applications.
Consider your roadmap to Cloud Services
Implementing cloud services in a school environment offers numerous benefits, including scalability, accessibility, collaboration, and cost efficiency. To develop a successful roadmap for cloud services adoption, schools should consider the following steps:
- Needs Assessment: Begin by identifying the specific requirements and objectives for utilising cloud services in the school’s IT infrastructure. Determine the areas where cloud services can enhance teaching, learning, administrative processes, and communication.
- Management: Consider how cloud platforms will be managed by your team, the school or external providers. It’s clear that key services such as Microsoft 365 will be managed by the IT Team, but it’s common for curriculum tools to be managed by Teaching staff. Consideration is needed about the level of management that is needed for Teaching Staff should be undertaking on these platforms and whether it is appropriate that non-IT Staff are responsible for user management, backup, data protection and security on them and the technologies involved to achieve this.
- Data Migration: Develop a plan to migrate existing data and applications to the cloud while ensuring minimal disruption to the educational process. Prioritise data security, backup, and ensure data integrity during the migration process.
- Staff Training: Provide comprehensive training to teachers and staff on using cloud services effectively to enhance teaching and learning experiences. Offer professional development opportunities to help educators leverage cloud-based tools for collaboration, assessment, and content creation.
Cybersecurity and Data Protection
Protecting sensitive information and ensuring a secure IT environment is paramount for all schools. The following measures need to be considered to enhance cybersecurity and data protection:
- Risk Assessment: Conduct a comprehensive risk assessment to identify potential vulnerabilities and threats within the school’s IT infrastructure. Engage with external providers, such as Virtue Technologies, to evaluate existing security measures and identify areas for improvement.
- Firewall and Filtering: Implement robust firewall and content filtering solutions to restrict access to malicious websites and protect against cyber threats. Ensure the filtering solutions comply with educational policies and provide appropriate access levels for different user groups.
- Security Awareness Training: Educate students, teachers, and staff about best practices for cybersecurity, including password hygiene, email phishing awareness, and safe internet browsing. Conduct regular training sessions and workshops to ensure a culture of cybersecurity awareness and responsibility.
- Have a reliable backup solution: The standard all schools should be aiming for is the 3-2-1 backup solutions, where there are 3 copies of important data, on 2 different devices with 1 off site. It is also recommended the one of these backups should be air-gapped from the network and offline when not in use. Oh, and don’t forget that just because you have moved to the cloud it is backed up. One common misconception is that platforms such as Microsoft 365 store backups of your data. They do not. Whilst many cloud platforms have excellent controls around data, such as multilevel result bins, retention policies and storing multiple versions of files, they are not backed up. So consider a solution to create a backup of your cloud data that includes both your major cloud platforms, such as Microsoft 365, as well as your curriculum based cloud app data in faculty specific tools.
Developing a robust IT infrastructure in schools is vital for providing students with a conducive learning environment and preparing them for the digital world. By creating a comprehensive strategy that includes the roadmap to cloud services, hardware platform evaluation, cybersecurity measures, data protection, and compliance with the DfE’s Digital and Technology Standards, schools can unlock the full potential of technology for education. Embracing these strategies will help schools stay current, enhance teaching and learning experiences, and foster a safe and secure digital environment for all stakeholders.