In this article we identify common IT infrastructure problems faced by public and independent schools and offer a single, long-term solution for fixing all of them.
Technology continues to create new learning and teaching opportunities for today’s schools, but the rapid rate at which it advances can make it difficult for many education establishments to keep up.
From familiar challenges like budget restrictions to more complex issues around integration and policies, a number of common IT infrastructure problems are faced by both public and independent schools across the UK.
Common IT infrastructure problems
1. Integrating IT with teaching
In a recent interview with LAN3, Bedales School’s Head of ICT, Reece Percival, revealed that integrating IT into day-to-day learning and teaching was his biggest challenge.
“Because of the nature of the school, during term time, teaching and learning is the focus, with teachers and students incredibly busy during this time. Getting close to the customer in such a busy environment is the main challenge I have.”
Other schools are no doubt familiar with this struggle, with possible reasons for inadequate integration including insufficient devices for the number of pupils, budget restrictions limiting schools’ technology buy-in, and outdated networks deterring teaching staff from properly engaging with them.
“Teachers didn't like using it,” continues Percival, “it wasn't particularly customer friendly and generally the IT team were spending a lot of their time fixing things rather than enhancing IT around the school."
2. Poor, faulty, or out-of-date equipment
According to last year’s State of Networking in Education survey, poor quality, faulty or out-of-date IT equipment is one the main reasons for teachers not utilising technology in schools.
Damaged or outdated equipment detracts from the usability of devices, the accessibility of the network, and engagement from both pupils and teachers. The net result is a weak infrastructure that frustrates staff and negatively impacts students’ abilities to learn using technology.
3. Zero network redundancy
Networks that experience frequent outages for whatever reason should be supported by network redundancy, ensuring network availability in case of a device or path failure. Schools with outdated networks or poorly designed infrastructure and no network redundancy in place risk disrupting the availability of their entire network.
A universal solution for all of these issues: network upgrade
Often, these challenges lead to IT teams finding themselves under pressure to fix network outages and repair hardware on a case-by-case basis.
By concentrating instead on addressing the wider issue of network performance, it is possible to enhance IT systems throughout the school and protect precious budget for more exciting and tangible investments like devices, interactive whiteboards, and more.
A robust, reliable network makes challenges around integration a thing of the past, enabling pupils and teachers to use the network alongside their busy school lives. Staff can depend on it for teaching resources, connected learning, and better engagement with their pupils.
A state-of-the-art network emphasises resilience over redundancy. And because the IT team is spending less time administrating the network, it can focus on enhancing IT systems throughout the school.
Bedales School upgrades its network, transforms its ICT capabilities [case study]
Founded in 1893 as an alternative to the authoritarian Victorian independent schools of the time, Bedales School offers its pupils a unique, hands-on learning experience that lends itself excellently to the opportunities afforded by modern education technology. Unfortunately, its IT infrastructure didn’t reflect this.
Having identified where its infrastructure was inadequate using the State of Networking in Education 2017 survey, Bedales understood the steps they needed to take to turn this around. A network upgrade transformed its ICT capabilities through the provision of a robust, resilient network that facilitates teaching and learning across the school.
Find out exactly what the network upgrade involved and how it benefited Bedales School.
How effective is your network?
If you recognise these challenges from your own school, then a Network Health Check should be your first priority when considering ICT infrastructure components you shouldn’t be without in 2018.
A Network Health Check is designed to test and verify the critical components of the education network for reliability, performance, and any obvious security issues.
The Network Health Check can be modified for bespoke troubleshooting activity, but will commonly involve:
✓ Review the Network Topology
✓ Review VLAN Implementation
✓ Review of Software Versions
✓ Review Network Access Security
✓ Record Link Utilisation on Critical/Backbone Links
✓ Identify any Errors seen on Critical/Backbone Links
✓ Record Levels of Broadcast Traffic – VLAN Configuration
✓ Record Levels of Multicast Traffic
✓ Record Routing protocols utilised and Stability
✓ Analysis of the Overall Network Health Status
An experienced engineer will perform the Network Health Check, which will analyse and report on all performance bottlenecks and potential reliability issues, and provide analysis and documented feedback on recommended improvements deemed as 'Mandatory', 'Highly Desirable', or 'Desirable'.
Have your say
Our commitment to understanding the unique challenges faced in education has led us to produce an annual research report, the 'State of IT in Education'. Surveying a cross section of the UK education market, our aim is to better understand emerging themes and trends, and the challenges senior IT professionals face in this sector. This includes the inevitable squeeze on budgets, how well IT is integrated into classroom learning, and progress towards compliance with the Prevent strategy.
The survey collects responses from top educational providers across the UK, resulting in a full report.
Take 10 minutes to contribute your opinion to the report, scheduled for release in early 2018, and gain insights into the challenges faced by education organisations throughout the UK, as reported by the organisations themselves.
Use these insights to inform key IT decisions for 2018, improving the state of IT for your education organisation and the pupils it benefits.