Part six of the series of Top 10 ICT Money Saving Tips for schools, based on my BETT 2010 presentation.

Okay, the first five tips have concentrated on the idea of you making a ‘switch’ in the way that you do things.

  • Tip 1, on virtualisation, is saving Wootton Bassett School over £80,000 over three years
  • Tip 2, on desktop power management, could save a typical secondary school about £30,000 over three years
  • Tip 3, on low energy PCs, could save a further £15,000 over three years, as old computers are replaced
  • Tip 4, on switching the way you communicate, is saving Wootton Bassett School £160-£180 per day, per supply teacher
  • Tip 5, on changing remote access systems, will save Dean Close School £15,000-£25,000 on software

imageAnd we’ve so far only covered one of my three strategies – Switch – and hopefully we’ll find some more savings in the Stop strategy.

Tip 6 – Stop buying every laptop in your school

Although some schools have already taken this step, for the majority of schools, I think this is something to think about for a medium term strategy. The basic principle of this cost saving idea is to think about how you can take advantage of the fact that most of your pupils already have a device – home computer, laptop, mobile phone – and that they are constantly getting more powerful. And we are just about to enter a new stage of this growth, as the government continues to promote the idea that having a computer is pre-requisite for learning.

Jim Knight, in September 2008, as Schools Minister said:

Having a computer with internet access should be seen as equally essential as having a school bag, uniform or pen and paper….It is unacceptable that the digital divide is growing with 35% of families having no access to the internet and around a million children having no computer at home.

At university, over 95% of students now arrive on campus with a laptop, and the majority of universities now provide some form of network connectivity for them, to allow students to use their own laptops to support their learning. It has meant that universities need to buy less computers for every day tasks, and instead they can focus on specific needs for computers – eg in design or programming courses and in resource centres. Would that same model also work in schools in the future?

What are the potential savings?

According to recent BESA research, primary schools spend 41% of their ICT budget on desktops and laptops and secondary schools spend 48%. That’s a potential saving of over £6,000 a year for an average primary school, and £37,000 a year for an average secondary school. In total, that’s over £300M a year for all schools. Whilst it’s not likely that you can save the whole £300M, it is conceivable that half that amount could be saved by switching to allowing students to use their own laptops in school, making a potential annual saving of around £20,000 in a secondary school.

The Home Access Programme

On the 11th January, Gordon Brown announced the full roll-out of the Home Access Programme, with the words

We want every family to become a broadband family, and we want every home linked to a school.

The BBC ran the story as “Poorer pupils to be given free laptops”, and that’s a pretty clear explanation of the scheme – 270,000 families in England, with children between 7-14 can get a free computer with a broadband connection, if they qualify for Free School Meals. The reason for this targeted group is that the DCSF research shows that almost every other student has already got a home computer.

If for some reason you’ve not heard about this scheme, you can find out more on the Home Access website. And if you’ve not already notified your parents about the scheme, then you should as soon as possible, as there are less grants than people who qualify. All the details of how parents apply is on the website, but in a nutshell you should encourage all of your parents who qualify for FSM with a child in years 3-9 to call 0333 200 1004 and apply for the grant. If they qualify they get a grant card, which they can go and redeem in specific shops, like Comet, for their choice of certified computer.
You won’t be surprised to learn that the most common question my friends in the village ask is “What’s the catch?” – and there isn’t one. It’s a free computer, and a free one-year Internet connection. The computer belongs to the family for life – if they want to continue the Internet connection at the end of the year, they can if you want to, or switch/stop.

Which means that pretty soon, you can make the assumption that every child in your school has a computer and Internet at home. And if you encourage the choice of laptops over desktops, does that mean that in a few years time, you could reduce the numbers of computers you have to buy out of your school budget, and instead allow students to bring in their own and use them on your network?

What are the implications?

Of course, there are quite a few implications for making a change like this. For example, ensuring your network and data is still safe and secure. And that students have the right software on their laptops. However, as you plan your strategy for the future, it is possible to make changes that allow students to connect their own laptops.

  • Network security: Now that many schools have Learning Platforms that students can connect to when they are out of school, is there a way to allow that within school in the same way? And what extra protection can you add to your network to make sure that you aren’t compromising your security (eg ensuring that all laptops connected to your network have up-to-date virus protection and the latest operating system updates)
  • Software: Is there a standard set of software that you need your students to have, and are there cost effective ways for you to buy on their behalf? Is there advice you can offer students about the choices they make?
  • Unsuitable activities: What are the kinds of things you need to ensure that students don’t do with their laptops – in school, and at home – and are there safeguards you can introduce to help parents and add further protection in school?

Obviously this cost-saving idea isn’t for everybody, and many schools won’t have the necessary technical capabilities, or student profile to be able to make this switch. But I think it is something that should feature in your questions about your school’s ICT strategy for the future. Although there’s a cost and time implication for doing this, there’s a significant saving possible which more than offsets it.

Want more information on how universities are doing this, from a technical point of view? There’s a case study on La Trobe University’s use of Network Access Protection, which includes a video overview too. There’s also a recording of a technical(!) webcast where the Microsoft team talked about how they manage this kind of system within Microsoft