Hardware costs can be an enormous burden for schools, particularly smaller ones. At a time of significant financial pressures, a single server can consume a significant proportion of a school’s budget. As a governor for a small school, this was recently brought into sharp focus for me when an ageing server suddenly failed, necessitating an urgent replacement.
How, then, can schools reduce the cost of essential hardware replacements, while also avoiding disruptions to critical staff and pupil services?
First and foremost, your technology strategy shouldn’t be device-led, but based on educational needs. The latest shiny devices can be very seductive, but it’s essential that their impact is fully considered well in advance of any purchase.
Besides, there’s much to be said for using yesterday’s technology – though key to that is whether older devices are able to meet your particular needs. Undertake a thorough audit of what technology is currently being used for learning at your school, how it’s being used and the impact it’s having. You’ll likely find this to be an extremely useful and eye-opening exercise – not just in terms of your procurement decisions, but also for informing your training needs.
It’s further vital to know and understand how your future needs are likely to change. Any hardware purchase should always involve careful consideration of its intended purpose versus a clearly set out impact evaluation. That way, you can gauge what equipment will be central to your continuity of service.
Having audited your present technology use, you’ll be better placed to judge what further ICT purchases might be required if you’re to deliver on your aims. Taking time to understand your most frequently used software – and what direction its future development might take – will further help you decide what equipment to keep, what to upgrade, what to replace and what to jettison.
A second strand to consider is the expected lifespan of the hardware you have at the moment, and what replacing it is likely cost. When rolling out replacement or upgraded hardware, it’s essential that the items in question aren’t bought piecemeal, but in volumes that will ensure your identified needs can be properly met.
The actual costs of the hardware in question can be significantly reduced in several ways:
- Factoring in the longer-term cost savings of newer hardware in areas such as energy consumption and running costs, which can be quickly realised within the first year of use.
- Taking account of how new technology may negate some existing processes, such as managing communications with parents, enabling them to instead be carried out via inexpensive mobile apps – in this case, resulting in prompter parental bookings and online payments.
- Repurposing existing hardware. If you have a clear understanding of what your school genuinely requires, you’ll find that being able to use a limited amount of software effectively is far better than having a wider choice of options, but limited knowledge and understanding of how to actually deploy them.
- Cloud services may be advisable for schools wanting to reduce the amount of hardware they need on-site. Another cost-effective strategy you might be able to adopt is server virtualisation.
Colin Green is director of education at New Era Education and a former primary headteacher.