Taking to the cloud

Paul Begbie, South Lee School’s director of studies, offers advice for driving technology innovation in an independent school

In February 2015, South Lee School, Bury St Edmunds decided it was time to assess its current ICT infrastructure, to ensure it was keeping up with developments in the sector. We invited an external company to complete an IT audit. 

Why did we upgrade our IT?

We had maintained our investment in ICT suites over the years to enable our pupils to learn the ICT curriculum effectively. We had also installed interactive whiteboards in all of the teaching areas for a livelier and more engaging environment. However, we’d reached a stage whereby some of the existing ICT was unfit for purpose; we had a mix of operating systems on teaching PCs which were often far too slow. So, we were wasting valuable teaching time, and not capitalising on the benefits that the latest educational software could offer. 

One of our main aims was to streamline communication across the school and with parents, so we needed the IT provision to assist this. We also needed software to help carry out the analysis of individual and group academic performance. But most of all, our IT infrastructure didn’t allow us to use devices such as tablets in the classroom. These factors led to our decision to overhaul our current structure and revolutionise our technology.

Who did we call on for help?

As an independent school, we need to be seen to be leading in educational provision so it was a real wake-up call. We spoke to a few different companies for advice, but I wasn’t satisfied with what I was hearing. We then attended an IT event, simply to get some inspiration, and we met representatives from an education technology framework called Think IT. With the help of the framework, we’re implementing a cloud-based IT infrastructure.

Virtual desktops mean that we’ll no longer have the headache of upgrading all our PCs when software versions change or we buy new devices, as everything is managed in the cloud. We will also benefit from the advanced security that server sites managed by companies like Microsoft offer. We have a range of software systems, including e-safety, safeguarding, pupil tracking and a virtual learning environment all running in the cloud and available to staff anywhere, any time and on any device. As we continue with our implementation, parents and pupils will also have access to systems relevant to them. In the next phase, we’ll be introducing mobile devices into the classrooms for pupils, as our network is now fast and resilient enough for this. 

I’m convinced that our upgraded IT infrastructure will help increase our appeal among prospective pupils and their parents by showing that the school is keeping pace with IT developments; helping with pupils’ academic engagement and improvement; encouraging pupils’ development as IT collaborators and by personalising learning. 

What advice would I give to other schools?

Crucial to any change like this is the support of colleagues and governors, and we’re lucky to have had both. For any other independent schools considering upgrading their IT, my advice would be to think about it now; don’t put it off any longer as it can be timely. We’ve been extremely lucky that we’ve received specialist help, meaning a four month project has been condensed into just six weeks; without this level of support it can take much longer. Remember, every school wishes to implement changes over summer, so the earlier you book the resources and equipment, the better. I’d also suggest speaking to other schools to get new ideas and share experiences.

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www.southlee.co.uk

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