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IT Support for Schools: All you need to know to find the right provider

If you were to look through a window into the modern UK classroom in any of our schools or academies, you’d notice that one electronic device per student, such as a laptop or tablet, is fast becoming the norm.

This goes without mentioning the wide range of advances that other technology has bought into schools over the last few decades. From Smartboards to online intranet systems, connectivity has become key to the learning process, present and future.

But where did it all start? The first public school computer used in the USA in 1981, was an IBM 5150. Although there were many computer devices before this, the price of units made them impractical for school use – if you could even fit one in the classroom! That said, one computer per school was considered a luxury in the 1980s.

To make sure you don’t end up with outdated equipment for your school’s Managed IT Systems, any busy School Business Manager should consider the key points and decision-making process in this guide.

What does School IT Support Services cover?

There are a range of individual IT services for schools and colleges that can be tailored to meet your school’s additional needs around security, reliability and cost-effective equipment & software. Factors like the size of your school, specific student needs, amount of teaching staff and your number of site locations all have an impact on the Managed IT services your provider should be recommending.

An effective Managed IT strategy always starts with a detailed IT Audit of your existing infrastructure, software and wider setup. However, here are some of the key elements you need to think about when planning your school’s IT.

IT Hardware for Schools

It would be quite a struggle to find a UK school without some sort of computer suite for student use. In fact, it’s much more likely that computer suites are constantly expanding. It’s also important to remember the general wear and tear that can happen to your IT equipment, like laptops or tablets, when used by busy and active students!

As part of your strategy, your IT service provider can help you procure equipment in the most cost-effective way by utilising their relationships with IT partners.

Mobile Device Management

In addition to IT hardware, a Mobile Device Management (MDM) system is a particularly useful tool for education providers. Using MDM, your IT company can remotely control your school’s devices, such as Chromebooks, tablets and mobile phones. From here, they can directly manage elements like what applications are installed and restrict what can be done on the device – with web filtering to block content like social media or gaming from students.

School IT Software Licenses

Your new and existing hardware doesn’t really assist the teaching and learning process without the right software. For even small schools, when you add up the number of licences needed, this can become a significant ongoing cost considering student and staff numbers.

Your school ICT provider can help you manage these costs through their partner relationships with software companies (Curveball Solutions is a Microsoft Silver Partner). We are also experts in Google Workspace for schools and colleges, which has become an increasingly popular platform for both email accounts and cloud storage. Not only is it packed with useful features such as Classroom, Docs and Chat – and it’s provided free to educational institutions in most cases.

Importantly your ICT provider can also streamline your software usage, for example making sure you’re not paying for email software if it’s included in your accounting platform.

This can include simple, business-focused IT software like Office 365 licenses and cloud storage, through to school-focused services like access control and online learning.

Managed Remote IT Support

Just like your devices sometimes cause problems, the same can also be said about your software when it’s being used daily as part of your busy school business processes. That’s why an effective IT strategy should also be built around your ongoing support requirements.

There are two main ways your IT support company can provide this:

Onsite ICT Support – This is useful for installing equipment or undertaking major system changes. However, in an IT emergency such as a software crash,  every minute counts so waiting for an IT Support Engineer to get to arrive onsite can feel like a lifetime!

Remote ICT Support – This is where your IT specialist takes over your server, specific system, or device remotely and instantly via the internet. A specialist can quickly identify and resolve software-related problems through this approach, getting you back up and running quickly. This can also include ransomware detection within our remote support agent tool – an increasing concern for public sector organisations of all sizes.

Your IT provider should offer both types of support options based on the nature of your requirements. From our experience, remote IT Support is usually the preference for school business managers, due to the speed of problem resolution.

Secure Data Backup & Disaster Recovery

It is of course, essential to properly secure sensitive student information stored on school IT systems.  If this data was breached or compromised it could cause legal implications and damage to the school’s reputation. To protect confidential data it’s recommended that schools ensure their data is both stored securely and retrievable in case of data loss.

There are a range of storage options which can be encrypted and your IT company should work closely with you to recommend the best option.

Similarly, your Managed IT strategy should include a Disaster Recovery Plan to establish what to do if data is accidentally lost. There are many ways this can happen, such as a flood, power surge or ransomware attack.

In March 2021 specific guidance for school IT Security was provided by the Department for Education (DfE) and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC). They collaborated to put together their guide in the wake of a significant number of ransomware cyber attacks that targeted schools directly and intentionally. Advice for schools includes installing and enabling adaptive antivirus software and ensuring that effective data backup is available.

Cloud-Based Telephony for Schools

Your phone system may not always be considered as an IT company’s service. However, one of the benefits of working with a Managed Service Provider (MSP) is that they can provide relevant services based on their client needs, expertise and business partnerships. Major changes are on the horizon with the ISDN switch-off planned for 2025 that will impact how phone lines function. If your school hasn’t already switched to a cloud-based telecoms system, this will need to be resolved very soon!

Internet & WiFi

A strong and reliable internet connection is the backbone of all of your school’s business processes, in an increasingly digital world. As more students study from internet-connected electronic devices, your internet & WiFi connection must be able to serve many users, accessing information simultaneously.

There are several ways your IT provider can help with the right connectivity for your school, from traditional connections though to 5G internet hubs that can even be used by students at home.

Fully Managed Print Services

Whether it’s letter printing for parent communications or learning resources needed for the classroom, printing costs can be a huge demand on your school’s annual budget and spending. By utilising Managed Print Services, your provider can help control these costs, allowing you to allocate spending to other school resources. A multifunctional device allows you to print, scan and photocopy from one device in your school office.

When working with your IT company to cover your printing as a managed service, they should take a 360-degree approach to include wider elements like document scanning, cloud document storage and your associated printing software.

How do I choose the right School IT Support Company?

Choosing the best company to provide your school’s IT Support services can be broken down into two top-level options. You can opt to go with a school-specific IT provider or alternatively choose a company that works with a wider range of businesses. There are pro’s and con’s to both options.

School-specific IT companies may know the industry well, however, for many school trusts/groups or education providers with several locations there can also be benefits in using a company that serves business clients too. This is because there can be value in the wider knowledge and experience gained as well as the commercial advantages available from partner providers.

It’s important to be treated as a priority with either option though, so we’d recommend working with an IT company that is the right fit for your school.

Free IT Audit for Schools

There’s a real difference in the IT needs of a rural primary school, compared to a group of secondary schools or education trust. However, the first step for both and everyone in between is a detailed IT Audit to assess your current situation. A full audit allows you to understand your school’s current strengths, risk areas and the best approach to address any concerns or issues this raises.

All good IT support companies operating in the education sector will be completely transparent with their approach and the associated management fees. It’s always a good idea to compare a few companies too, as this allows you to get a good idea of which approach is best for you and your wider school team. We can help your school identify any issues in your IT network with a free IT Audit. Curveball Solutions support schools across the North West & UK.

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