Brilliant Learning Empowering Professionals ICT

Michael Hallick: Finding Value

Objective analysis of school finances is more important now than it has ever been. The post-pandemic, high level of financial volatility has seen a marked growth in school costs – reducing the purchasing power of school budgets, stretching resources and stifling long-term fiscal planning. In spite of competing factors, including rising energy costs and food inflation, schools that adopt a smart, holistic approach can still realise cost-saving opportunities to help alleviate budgetary constraints.

The Value of Collaboration

When Pearson’s School Report asked school leaders what they expected to be the top three challenges for their school to manage over the next year to 18 months, budget pressures came top of the list. I can understand why! A combination of high inflation and demographic changes that have seen numbers of pupils in primary schools across London, and even the country, decline, creating a scenario where income is flat or falling (if your school is lucky enough, rising slightly) but definitely not keeping up with inflationary cost pressures.

The hard reality is school leaders are having to do more with less. We hear you; we understand you, and we want to be at the heart of helping you through this challenging period. We are passionate about supporting schools in a collaborative manner, valuing our partnership as we work to deliver on our mutual ambitions for all our children.

We want to add value to your quality of education while considering your budgets through tailored services that meet your needs. Our Financial advisory service is the best prepared and most sophisticated that I have ever seen it. Our SBM academy is thriving and developing the next generation of SBMs for our schools. The trainees are adding more and more value every day. Financial Advisors and the wrap around tools and support that comes with the service, will work with you side by side to meet the demands of the coming year. Supporting our schools to maximise their budgets, so that crucial staffing and support services are still affordable. 

Smart Money, Smart Working.

We hope our latest report provides you with practical ideas that you can implement to realise the best future for your school, teachers, pupils, and the communities that you serve. 

Michael Hallick
Assistant Director – Business and Resources
Children’s Services

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Daren Marsh: The simple guide to ICT Networks

You’ve sat in meetings with IT staff and they started talking and immediately you think that they must be speaking another language – switches connected to which device?… router to connect you to the cloud?… you look up…  You are not alone, this is a common problem among most normal people that don’t spend hours of their lives tapping away at a keyboard, climbing under desks and up ladders pulling cables out of cabinets for a living..  

So what does your ICT network look like – what components make up a schools network? In basic terms a network is two or more computers that are connected by a cable or wireless connection which enables the exchange of information or data.

If you connected all the computers in your office together with networking cables and spent a little time tweaking the settings in the computer’s operating system (OS) software i.e. Windows 10, you could easily create a working network. 

A slightly cleaner solution, looking from the outside that is, would be to create a wireless network without any cables.  With a wireless network you connect all of the computers together using wireless network adapters that communicate via radio signals.  Nowadays, all laptops (and select desktops) have built-in wireless network adapters.  If you find that your laptops / desktops do not have wireless network adapters as standard you can purchase wireless dongles that you plug into a USB port on your computer (usually found on the side or back of the device).

Listed below are a number of key terms that might help you to understand how your school network is constructed and what each component actually does:

  • LGfL Router: connects your computers to the Internet
  • LGfL firewall: allows you to manage the flow of data in and out of the schools network
  • Network Switch / Hub: allows you to connect computers together with cables
  • Network cabling: provides network connectivity for classrooms, offices and other areas in the school by running cables from network switches around school site to network sockets that you plug your computers / devices into.
  • Wireless access point: allows computers and other devices on your network to connect to each other without using cables

The image below shows a simple representation of a typical ICT network that is similar to the type of setup you will find in your schools. There are client computers connected to the switch / hub using cables that then connect back to the servers and other devices such as shared printers / copiers. You can also see that connected into the switch is a wireless access point (WAP) which provides wireless access to various clients including computers, iPads and other devices such as Chromebooks. There is a shared printer connected to the switch and because all the devices are connected to the network all wired and wireless clients can use the network printer.

And lastly, you can see that the switch also connects to the firewall and the router connecting the entire network to the internet via the internet service provider (ISP) – in this case the LGfL

A Simple network!

Below you will find a few useful terms that might help you to better understand what is being said the next time you have a conversation with one of the ICT Support team:

  • LAN: You will often find the network referred to as a LAN or local area networkIn the image above, the LAN consists of the router, firewall, switch / hub, servers, shared printer, all the client computers and iPads that are connected to the network by cable or wireless connection.
  • WAN:  Schools that have more than one site, but share the same network and resources connected via the LGfL routers and firewalls have a wide area network or WAN.
  • On the network:  The term simply means that all devices / desktops / laptops / iPads / Chromebooks / printers etc. are connected to the network.
  • Online / offline: Computers connected to the network and internet will be online, those devices that are not connected to the network are offline.  Computers / devices can be offline for several reasons such as a network cable has been disconnected or unplugged, the network connection may have been disabled, the device may be broken, the internet connection is not working – there are many reasons why this could happen.
  • Up / down: Computers / devices turned on and working properly are referred to as ‘up’; computers / devices turned off or broken are ‘down’.  ‘Powering down’ is a term sometimes used for turning a computer off and turning it back on sometimes referred to as ‘powering up’.
  • Local / remote: Hard drive / CD drive are referred to as ‘local’ as they are part of the computer; ‘remote’ would be related to another device on the network.
  • Internet:  Access to the largest interconnected computer network that spans the entire planet that anyone with an internet connection can access: World Wide Web – a huge collection of information, documents, resources, communication facilities all connected to each other.
  • Cloud: What is the cloud? Where is the cloud? These are all questions you’ve probably heard or even asked yourself.  The term “cloud computing” is everywhere.  In the simplest terms, cloud computing means storing and accessing data and programs over the internet instead of your computer’s hard drive or server and can be hardware and/or software services from a provider on the internet.

Hopefully, this simple guide provides some useful information to help you get a handle on some of the typical terms used by the ICT Support team as well as a basic understanding of how your network works.  It is important to have an excellent ICT Support team to manage, maintain and upgrade your ICT networks and keep them as secure as possible.  It is also important to ensure your school budgets for the ongoing technology developments that will future proof your school.  Schools should be budgeting to replace servers, PC’s, laptops and mobile devices at least every 5 years – which is a standard warranty and lifespan for these devices.  

Wandsworth ICT Support can provide your school with a full technical audit and health check to provide you with recommendations and support to manage your technology budget and to ensure you are clear on where you need to invest and when.

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Head to Head

If we have piqued your interest in Smart School Services, why not meet with our head team to see how we can work together. To arrange your Head to Head, or for any other enquiry, simply fill in the contact form and we’ll be in touch shortly.

Daren Marsh: Data Security threats to schools increase

This is the worrying message sent to schools in the past week from the Department for Education and the National Cyber Security Centre as reported in Schools Week – full article here

We have been very aware of the increased cyber threats and have worked very hard to ensure that school life is not disrupted by these criminal activities. So far our defences have been effective against a range of threats, particularly ransomware and (sorry have to be technical) Distributed Denial of Service attacks that the NCSC and DfE are warning against, but we will never rest easy or be complacent. In the past year, the increased number and range of devices that schools have access to has brought wonderful opportunities, but also leads to more potential avenues for hackers, malware and spyware to steal, corrupt or manipulate school data.

The Schools ICT Support team are very proactive against these threats and support the ‘defence in depth’ approach for schools that the NCSC recommend. The team protect school systems with multiple lines of defence, including firewalls, anti-virus and ransomware protection on workstations, servers and home use. In the background the team manage alerting and monitoring systems that raise alarms and drives early interventions. Recent additional layers of defence have included:

  • InterceptX that provides sophisticated protection for your data and ensures schools don’t suffer ransomware attacks and lockouts,
  • Meraki Mobile Device Management and Home Protect that provide improved security and safety for the range of devices that staff and pupils take home.
  • Mail Protect and Webscreen provide email and web filtering, that is managed and configured to keep staff and children safe online. 

Following the DfE alert sent to schools, governors may want to know more about how the school is protected and in recent school data protection meetings we have shared the document linked here School cyber security questions for governors – NCSC.GOV.UK which helps governors to discuss the issues and seek assurance on meeting their responsibilities.

If you would like to know more about our ICT Support and Data Protection services, please book a Head to Head meeting.

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Head to Head

If we have piqued your interest in Smart School Services, why not meet with our head team to see how we can work together. To arrange your Head to Head, or for any other enquiry, simply fill in the contact form and we’ll be in touch shortly.

Alex Purssey: shared insights on Remote Learning

Our Remote Learning Forums for teachers during lockdown have highlighted and shared ways our schools are building on their distance learning experiences to support, engage and develop exciting learning back in school. Representatives from over 40 of our schools came together online to discuss, collaborate and reveal their strategies and ideas on how to deliver, and then capture new skills and use them to enhance teaching and learning now we are all back face to face again. The following points are what our teachers have realised and learnt from their blended teaching and what their hopes for their future teaching will include.

Harness the technology and new skills and develop these in class

The intensive and innovative use of digital platforms has seen a huge upskilling of teachers’ IT expertise and dissolved the fear and lack of confidence in many. More teachers have discovered new, exciting ways of teaching and saving time using technology. Using polls, quizzes and video have engaged learners. There has to be a drive to maintain this momentum and build upon it, to really ensure technology is truly utilised in the classroom. One teacher commented “We have grown from being a digitally fearing staff to a digitally excited staff!”. With the Google platform being the most popular, many schools have taken up the Canopy Education Workspace skills tutorials for staff and students. We also offer a special discount for Wandsworth Schools.

Have a return to school plan and strategy

Having a clear and organised ‘back to class map’ was unanimously welcomed by our teachers. A huge discussion point was around the large influx of devices that would be returning to schools and how to be best prepared in utilising these to the benefit of students. There was much talk and vehement opposition around getting back into school and having devices being put away in cupboards! Our teachers were adamant that these new Chromebooks, Winbooks and tablets would be located appropriately close to classrooms, and that they would invest in suitable storage solutions and devise plans to incorporate the devices into all lessons. A number of schools had put forward plans of ensuring all Year 6’s would go 1:1 with devices now, to really surge forward with their new found technology confidence.

Make substantial improvements and dedicated time for Online Safety

There was a huge consensus around the need for embedded and updated online safety resources for schools with the new pressure and increased access to digital learning. Schools have shared their resources, policies and ideas in the City Learning Centre’s collaborative online drive, an area teachers are using to reveal and develop their bespoke ideas and findings. Resources include generic online safety videos for parents, staff and learners, all of which can be branded and used for your own school, in lessons, in your digital classrooms or on your website. The need for appropriate, up to date online safety materials and advice is ongoing and with the huge surge of use and learners being online more often, the need for expert guidance, good quality materials and training was flagged as an area to develop.

Making sure parents and the whole school community are part of the revolution

Learning during lockdown has seen new relationships with parents develop. Teachers have learned more about their students’ lives and learning at home and parents have experienced approaches to teaching and learning. This new rapport and understanding can be nurtured positively to enhance the wider school community. Some schools have harnessed stronger relationships with parents who have become more active in supporting the school, and some even offering time to assist mentoring or school clubs. It has also exposed the awful digital divide in school communities with previously proud and quiet families finally admitting the need for support. The City Learning Centre is working with schools to offer free essential digital skills classes to these families, to ensure true collaborative lifelong learning. Some of these classes will also see families gain a free Chromebook for their home to sustain the learning at home and help bridge the digital divide. Keeping up these new found relationships with parents and supporting them to support their children is seen as a real aim when getting back into the classroom

Continue to share, train and experiment

During lockdown there has been an outstanding camaraderie between schools, teachers and other networks. This sharing ethos and desire to work together was stated as being a positive in the unprecedented circumstances teachers found themselves in. The online learning forums, online training, availability of resources and enthusiasm to offer support and help has been extraordinary, as teachers have been on an incredibly steep learning curve. This solidarity and help-all attitude has been cited as a major factor in teachers’ constant desire to keep going amid increased workload and fears of burnout. Having a central hub and information point like the CLC has supported schools and maintained confidence levels in staff to ensure learners continued to get good quality teaching and schools shared good practice. 

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Head to Head

If we have piqued your interest in Smart School Services, why not meet with our head team to see how we can work together. To arrange your Head to Head, or for any other enquiry, simply fill in the contact form and we’ll be in touch shortly.