• Guest Blog: Neil Watkins: Successes and Challenges of 2016

    479 345 Jack Wynn

    Amidst the turmoil of 2016, there have been several big moves and considerations for schools this year, including transitioning to the cloud, cracking down on internet security and safeguarding, and investing in the right IT resources; all of which will help schools enhance students’ learning opportunities. Here, Neil Watkins, managing director of Department for Education (DfE) compliant IT procurement framework, Think IT, looks at the biggest IT successes and concerns in 2016 for schools.

    Education technology has advanced and multiplied over the years, despite budgets tightening and schools becoming more selective when it comes to purchasing decisions. Noticeably in the last year, rather than buying tech for the sake of it, schools are now focusing on investing in technology that is going to have a positive effect on teaching and learning.

    With 2017 on the horizon, let’s take a look back at what has been added or ticked off the to-do list for schools this year…

    Procurement skills

    One common theme in the press this year has been schools using funds ‘inappropriately’. Because of the freedoms offered to schools it is important that they follow the rules, but many are unaware of the legalities and the requirement to follow EU procurement law.

    When it comes to selecting resources, the majority of schools don’t have the capacity or the skills to create a detailed specification, go out to tender, evaluate lengthy technical proposals, interview suppliers and then negotiate the best deals.

    However, unbeknown to many, all of these concerns can be relieved through EU Procurement Frameworks. The Department for Education (DfE) guidelines heavily promote the use of frameworks to save time, and ensure value for money.

    There are various procurement framework providers, so schools need to choose carefully. Opting for a framework provider which has an in-depth level of education experience and supplies the highest calibre in terms of product, service, cost, suitability and customer care can mean the difference between success and failure.

    Cloud computing

    We’ve seen a rise in cloud computing this year, and with the DfE’s most recent supporting guidance and Microsoft’s licensing changes, now more than ever is the time for schools to consider transitioning to the cloud if they haven’t already.

    It might not be priority number one, but if it’s pushed to the wayside for another few years, schools may run the risk of being left behind and having to spending more on migration costs, and who knows what the size of their IT budget will be by then?

    The benefits of cloud computing speak for themselves: a more efficient performance, easier access to data, greater security, and a reduction of implementation and ongoing maintenance costs. And with the right suppliers, transitioning to the cloud can be done with no disruption to teaching and learning.

    Working in collaboration with numerous schools and colleges, I have witnessed first-hand the impact that moving to the cloud has had on teaching and learning – allowing for anytime, anywhere, any-device access to school networks and making processes a lot more efficient. If cloud computing hasn’t been a consideration this year, then schools should push it to the top of the list for 2017.

    Cyber security

    Another major consideration this year has been cyber security. After it was rumoured that a secondary school fell victim to a phishing email and had £1 million removed from its bank account, having the right protection, processes and policies couldn’t be more crucial. As phishing and malware become more and more sophisticated, schools need to be fully equipped and trained to identify and minimise the risks of potential threats.

    Whether it’s professional hackers after a significant sum of money, or students trying to hack into the systems for exam results or malicious damage, schools need to be savvy. Introducing strict password policies, trialling ‘penetration testing’ by external companies, and training both staff and students are all important ways to ensure data remains encrypted and secure.

    The need for robust cyber security will continue to grow over the coming months and years, and schools shouldn’t fall into false pretence that it won’t happen to them. It happened to lots of schools in 2016, it could happen to you in 2017.

    Undoubtedly schools will continue to be faced with a number of important and often conflicting considerations and challenges, but with the right understanding, resources and advice, schools can be prepared and well equipped for the New Year and beyond.


    Jack Wynn

    All stories by: Jack Wynn

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