Kevin Robinson, Services Consultant at RM Education, examines some of the most potentially catastrophic situations schools could face, and presents practical solutions for minimising these risks
1. Your current technology is going out of date and you can’t afford new devices
Technology is moving at a pace many schools struggle to keep up with, and this trend is at odds with the fact that historically, schools have become used to investing huge, one-off, lump sums into hardware because that’s what they’ve always done.
But there’s a constant risk of this technology going out of date – so leasing your school’s devices, instead of constantly buying and upgrading them, presents a clear solution for mitigating that risk.
There’s often a fear of leasing equipment because of the notion of spending money without actually owning anything; but in technological terms, the only thing you ever own is the technology of today.
As well as alleviating budgetary pressures and safeguarding against changing technologies, a leasing model means devices can be used at home by pupils – enabling them to continue learning outside the classroom.
2. You have an IT problem you can’t solve – and it brings learning to a halt
When you think about the whole ICT estate, there are so many pressure points on your Network Manager and IT support staff. If they’re ill, absent or on annual leave and something goes wrong, it can create a log jam that could lose hours of teaching and admin time.
While some schools might think it’s more cost effective to run all their IT systems ‘in-house’, there are substantial risks in doing this because schools are limited to one person or one skillset, and may have to then bring in outside expertise at an additional cost.
Outsourcing IT support gives schools access to a deep pool of expertise and allows them to transfer the risk of day-to-day mishaps and any other risks associated with IT to the service provider, as well as providing cover for sickness and holidays.
3. You open an email that turns out to be malware, and lose critical school data
If someone in your school opened an attachment that turned out to be ransomware or malware – and you don’t have your data backed up – your critical school information could be at risk.
The prevalence of malware (malicious software) and ransomware (which encrypts your network and charges you thousands in a ransom to decrypt it) is a growing cause for concern, and it’s more of a case of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ your school is targeted.
You’re only as good as your network or disaster recovery plan; and in an age where data is so critical, schools must ensure they’re armed against these kind of attacks and that their back-up systems are as robust as possible.
Ultimately, a good governance policy should be the starting point, outlining clear protocols for what all staff should do if they receive an email from an unrecognised sender, or an odd attachment from someone they know whose account may have been compromised.
4. Your pupils are accessing inappropriate or extremist material in school
The internet has undoubtedly brought a myriad of benefits to learning, but as the breadth of content available to pupils increases every day, so do concerns over online safety and the risk of pupils accessing inappropriate content.
The key to managing risks associated with online safety is to empower pupils to understand those risks for themselves – from stranger danger to cyber-bullying to sexting – and be able to pro-actively reduce them.
But that can’t be done without a strong, clear and up-to-date e-safety policy that identifies every potential risk and outlines protocols for managing them. However, no policies can prevent a pupil searching for inappropriate content, so integrating filtering and monitoring tools into your school’s network is fundamental to mitigating these risks.
5. You’re not sure where all your school’s data is stored
New General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) will come into force in May 2018 to replace previous Data Protection laws, and they’ll set significantly higher standards for the way that all organisations – including schools – manage and store their data.
This is another area where using cloud-based systems can support schools in the transparency and security of their systems. If your critical data is stored in the cloud, your team can use tools like Google Drives, which removes the need for memory sticks and it has the added benefit of increasing collaboration and sharing.
For schools who work with multiple IT support partners, it’s also advisable to carry out careful checks and due diligence on their supplier’s data systems to make sure they are completely reliable and in line with GDPR standards too.
6. Someone cracks your passwords and accesses confidential information
It is estimated that around 60 per cent of schools have passwords that can be cracked in less than a minute. This tends to happen when staff rely on the same passwords for years because they’re easy to remember – but they could be putting your systems at risk.
With forthcoming changes in data protection law, it’s going to become essential for schools to be able to lock down confidential data – but this risk can be mitigated if schools adopt and enforce effective password policies. The industry standard is that passwords must be at least eight letters long and contain one uppercase letter and one digit.
A school’s Management Information System (MIS) holds critical data that schools can’t run without, but hosting it in the cloud ensures your data can be locked down and stored safely – and you can access it using a single sign on for multiple sites, removing the need to remember lots of different passwords.
7. You’re losing money by paying for technology you don’t use – or need
Investing in new technology can be a risk if it’s not properly planned and implemented. If you don’t have the in-school knowledge to fully leverage the benefits of the technology you’re bringing in, or a clear plan of how it’ll support teaching and learning, it’s likely your shiny new hardware will end up in a store cupboard.
This risk seems relatively obvious, but it’s a surprisingly common one. From software to interactive whiteboards to gleaming new iPads, we’ve seen thousands of pounds worth of technology effectively go down the drain, because of a lack of pedagogy, leadership, ICT expertise or foresight.
My advice to schools would be that if you think you’ve already made all the cost savings you can – think again. A full audit of your IT systems and software will help you determine how you can be more efficient, and reveal what you need, and what’s potentially draining your resources.
8. Your broadband capacity can’t cope with the demand
As schools explore new ways to improve their technology provision, make cost savings, increase collaboration and facilitate anytime-anywhere learning, having the right infrastructure in place to support these things is essential.
We know that moving to the cloud brings tremendous benefits to schools, but as more elements are stored in a cloud environment, schools need a broadband provision that can cope. Do they have a line with enough capacity for all their users to log on at the same time? Do they have a back-up line if the first line goes down?
There’s no point having a cloud-based learning environment if your systems can’t handle it because if the internet’s not available, then teaching and learning stops. So if schools can get their infrastructure right today, they’ll reap the benefits for years to come.
RM Education help teachers to teach and learners to learn, by developing engaging, inspiring solutions for the effective use of technology in education. For over 40 years, they have created innovative and award-winning products, solutions and services – all carefully designed or selected to meet the specific needs of UK education.
From flexible ICT support, teaching and learning apps and essential infrastructure hardware; to the UK’s most popular network and progressive cloud-based school MIS, RM Education is a trusted advisor and valued ICT partner to thousands of schools in the UK.
Kevin Robinson’s Bio
Kevin Robinson supports schools on filling in gaps in their ICT provision. His specialisms include IT managed and outsourced services, data cabling, security and network optimisation, software development and document management.
For more information and advice, visit www.rm.com