Investment to support the individual needs of your school

After a prolonged period of change throughout the education sector and more freedom for schools not to follow a set mould, differences between schools have become more enhanced today. The variety of educational institutions found in the UK now, with three different kinds of academies, four major types of maintained schools, as well as independent and grammar schools, means there is even more distinct variations in approaches to teaching and learning, ethos and goals.

Yet, further to this, there is also the impact of other demographic factors such as geographical location, social impact and the size of the school itself. A small primary with 15 pupils in northern Scotland will clearly vary hugely from an inner city mixed comprehensive with 1,500 hundred students, not just in comparative terms on paper, but in the daily approach to school life and the issues faced.

The important realisation therefore, is to be aware that while the ‘big issues’ will vary, so will your needs in terms of the services, systems and resources often relied upon to support school and student development and progress.

Currently, many education providers will offer generic products; resources for specific year groups, systems for primary vs. secondary schools, or computer software that supports special education groups or curriculum areas.

However, it is important to consider to what extent these can actually be tailored or moulded to best support your teaching, learning or administration needs as an individual school, rather than as a sub-set or lumped group?

What should schools consider?
With their newly found freedom, we are increasingly seeing schools start to adopt cost saving procurement practices where the return on investment (ROI) and value for money is crucial.

School suppliers and providers are starting to recognise this, with the most significant change seen in the provision of cloud computing services – the idea of being able to scale up school IT as needed, is one that is becoming increasingly popular over single package solutions.

The scalability, flexibility and agility of software and systems to meet the needs of the individual school and grow with them is something for schools to look out for and can help add considerable value to your investment. For instance, the importance of parental engagement and effective communication is only continuing to strengthen.

Many schools therefore will be exploring how to maximise this and could look to electronic communication systems.

This is where you need to consider your options. Some might provide a text only system for example, which wouldn’t enable you to send a school newsletter home, so it drastically limits the format and type of communication.

On top of this, schools might want to be able to tailor how a system works for them to perhaps help plan parents’ evenings, or organise parent permission for school trips, only to find there are limitations on how the service can work for you, or that these are not optional extras. By recognising that your needs might vary and change over time, it is important to look for a provider which in this scenario, can enable you to do these things and more, with the flexibility to be tailored to best suit and support your future school requirements or wishes.

Tips for schools
When making any purchase, for schools it is important to consider how to maximise your return on investment. Here are some simple tips to help you assess whether their investment will be the perfect match for you:

1. Work backwards to understand and assess your needs
A good idea when starting to think about your investments is to start with the outcomes and work backwards. Think about what you want to achieve – is it a higher exam pass rate? Improved outcomes through increased parental communication? Reduced workload for administration staff? Once you have these in mind, think carefully about what steps will need to be taken to make these happen, and what you will need to achieve this. Our physical environments, preferred methodology and school vision all go towards creating differentiated learning environments. In my experience, people rarely consider the impact of all these things and how they can affect even the smallest of purchases.

2. Look ahead to estimate what you might want or need moving forward
Consider the well-known phrase, ‘It pays to plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.’ Wise words and ones we should take on board if we are to be successful. A common practice is to be so easily caught up in the here and now of what issue we might be facing and how we can quickly resolve it, that we fail to consider what else might arise further down the line, and if the investment we have made can support that. Does your investment consider how quickly technology changes? If it can be scaled up to cope with increased class sizes? Perhaps consider what other schools are doing, and explore best practice examples that you could implement as well. Noting how future school plans might have an impact can be useful for checking with a supplier that their system or product can easily adapt and shift to support any changes.  

3. Consider the total cost of ownership
We’ve all done it in life – been taken aback by an initial price of something without considering the wider picture of the impact it can make across a number of factors and areas. Considering the total cost of ownership (TCO) can help you make a more informed purchasing decision; rather than just looking at the purchase price, TCO looks at the complete cost including the initial purchase price, performance, fit for purpose, warranty/service and support, maintenance, and expected life of the product. Also consider the impact on the end audience – will it meet the needs of students for successful learning, or for home solutions, is it easy to use for parents? Considering these aspects might demonstrate for instance that it could significantly save on administration costs, or perhaps the costs of paper, ink and postage for communication. For instance, sending a two page colour newsletter to 250 parents, ten times a year could cost a school more than £1000 alone, without factoring in any other letters or flyers that would need to be sent home.

It might also be worth considering whether there is the option to streamline the number of providers you are working with; if one provider can do the job of three or smaller technological solutions, this can ease administration and help TCO. Just be sure that they can grow with you if this is in your plans.  

4. Explore the success rate of companies
While not all schools are the same, the experiences of other schools can be a good indicator. Make good use of case studies in magazines such as this, testimonials or social media to explore what others have to say of their experiences, how the product, has supported their unique circumstances, and what this might mean for your school.  

5. Training and support

Finally, when it comes to any investment, it can only truly best support your school, staff and students when it is used properly. Training and support is key in understanding the product and that the school knows how to fulfil its potential. By understanding the basics of how something works or operates, this allows us to open our minds to new uses or innovative applications which can in turn help us create and align new school goals moving forward.

By carefully considering the status of your school as an individual and the implications of this for your requirements and goals, this can help inform purchasing decisions to find flexible and tailored resources that can truly support your school as it progresses on its development journey.