IT provision in primary school is notoriously difficult to get right.
Most primaries can’t afford in-house professional network expertise, so how do you negotiate the shark-infested waters of IT services? Before spending a penny, define your needs in the following areas:
The most important thing is to write your own strategic IT vision before speaking to any external suppliers. It doesn’t need to detail the technical how and where – it should just present a general vision of what you want e-learning and IT to look like in your school over the next five or so years. If in doubt, look to what the business world is doing and assume that education will generally follow about three to five years behind.
Find out what hardware your potential suppliers will recommend for you. Remember that most businesses are moving to cloud storage, resulting in less need for costly on-site data storage. Tech moves quickly, so don’t commit to anything for more than two to three years.
Be very clear about the need for absolute security in terms of data protection and safeguarding. Any content filtering needs to be secure, flexible and context-driven – an off-the-shelf solution won’t be enough.
Check your liability for breaches, and familiarise yourself with the new general data protection regulation – the ICO has a useful guide.
You’re unlikely to be anyone’s biggest customer, so find out what happens to you if the supplier gets a better contract or if they go bust. Don’t rely on a single point of contact who knows your school really well – what happens if they leave? Beware also of any ‘brand-specific’ contracts.
Ensure the supplier understands and can demonstrate the need to match your devices to your infrastructure. There’s no point in buying 30 iPads if your WiFi and broadband can’t cope with the extra traffic.
When things go wrong, how quickly can they get to you? Check the service-level agreement for response times and penalties, and don’t be sold any products reliant on highly specialist support. Always go for off-the-shelf, big brand solutions that can be supported by any IT provider; avoid situations where you’ll be reliant on just one provider.
Ask a friendly expert to look over any proposals before you sign up – maybe a governor or parent who works in the industry. Google for online forums and user groups relating to the products you’re considering.
Alternatively, you could do worse than talk to your local secondary about their ability to support you. They’ll probably already be doing all the things you want to on a bigger scale, and could well be the most cost-effective and supportive option you’ll find.