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

Late last year, I was chatting with a group of senior leaders in schools about the amount of paper that is used in a typical school (it had been partially prompted by me, when I realised that I almost never print anything at work any more, and our new smart-card driven, location free printing actually deters me from printing!). But in schools it’s a different thing altogether – astonishing amounts of paper are gobbled up and spat out from lasers, inkjets, photocopiers and all kinds of reprographics machines. And also gobbled up are tens of thousands of pounds of school budget. And although it’s not always the ICT budget (although I bet you get hit for toner & ink), there’s a huge saving to be made from reducing the volume of printing, and ensuring that volume copying is done in reprographics, and not on your classroom printer.

Some back-of-an-envelope calculations seemed to agree that it’s likely that a large-ish secondary school is going to print over a million copies of paper a year. And it was Mike Herrity, of Twynham School, actually went to the trouble of finding out what his school used. And his astonishing finding was:

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Of course, it didn’t involve fag-packets, instead it was a quick check to see how much paper was delivered to the school in a typical year (Go on, down to the office with a packet of chocolate digestives, and I bet you come back with the answer after looking up the ESPO invoices). If the answer you get is about 1,000 sheets per pupil per year, then you’re not unusual. And other schools have backed up the number too – with typically between 1 and 1.2 millions sheets of paper per secondary school. Depending on which side of the Atlantic you prefer, that’s either 1 Nelson’s Column of paper, or 3 Statues of Liberty

But why should it still be so huge, when we’ve got all of the ICT around, and I’m sure you’ll remember the great “Paperless Office” promise of the 90’s? At this point, I’m going to let Gerald Haigh, one of our writers, take over, as he’s been looking at the use of SharePoint (on which most schools’ learning platforms are based) to help:

Is the “paperless school” a half-imagined myth, the Bigfoot of ICT? Surely it didn’t ought to be. If there’s ready access (at appropriate levels) to the school’s SharePoint-based learning platform, for students, staff, governors, parents and other stakeholders, such as the local authority, then it’s possible to glimpse the possibility of doing without a great deal of paper. Lots of commercial organizations have managed it after all.

The potential rewards are considerable, and they aren’t always dependent on going paperless. For example, at Bristnall Hall Technology College in Sandwell, it costs nearly eight times as much to have a worksheet printed in the classroom on a laser printer as it does in the reprographics department. (0.8p as opposed to 6.0p) But because the cheap option means paying a personal visit to the repro department, teachers habitually go the expensive route. SharePoint removes the need to make the trip, replacing with an online ordering system. And lots of printing shouldn’t have to be done at all, says Phillip Wakeman, the school's ICT and network manager – agendas and background papers for meetings only need to exist on SharePoint for example. And perhaps more importantly:

Students doing ICT coursework habitually print off the whole lot – and it could be 200 pages for each student – a few times each year. With 200 students in each year group, the amount of printing is enormous.”

What he is hoping for now is that this work will be posted on SharePoint to be developed there, commented on by teachers and revised, and not printed out until the end of the process. Projected savings from use of SharePoint for this, and for meetings, minutes and so on are £25,000 - more if every department adopts best practice. Last year, says Philip, the school overspent its budget by £27,000. On the strength of the current £40,000 budget for printing and reprographics it should be relatively easy to eliminate that. Phillip’s working closely for consultation and advice with Microsoft Gold Partner Network Si who are active in delivering SharePoint solutions to education and business

Another cost-saver, of course, is to use parent access to SharePoint as a way of cutting down on paper reports and newsletters. Mike Herrity, at Twynham School, is looking closely at this.

We’re moving towards having all parents on the Gateway and we’re going to start asking if they will take electronic copies instead of paper. Over three years we’re going to move parents of 1,100 students to the Gateway.That’s going to be huge saving. We’ve also cut the budget of departments for photocopying”.

Mike reckons that ultimately the school will save £50,000 to £70,000 a year on its total copying costs.

However, Mike goes on to point out that some departments are so certain of the importance of their paper handouts that they continue to use them, if necessary by eating into other parts of their departmental budget.

And that, of course, is an indication of how old habits die hard, and can slow down some of the gains that are to be had from a learning platform. Several staff interviewed for this study spoke of the difficulty of weaning colleagues away from what Alan Richards, of West Hatch School in Essex, calls “Knee-Jerk Photocopying.”

Alan used the phrase in describing how, in a previous school, photocopying was brought under control by the introduction of a system which allocated and measured the use of the copying machines around the school.

They were all connected up, everyone had swipe cards and an allowance of pages. Reports went to heads of department telling them which staff had printed what, and tabulating all the costs.”

The result of this measure, which was intended to control expenditure, actually saw photocopier use – and costs – increase.

It was because it was such a simple system to use, and worked all the time. A teacher in a classroom would be showing something good to the students and would just print off thirty copies for everybody.”

The point of the story, says Alan,

���…is that it’s not so much the technology that counts as changing the culture. The teacher should be saying, ‘I’ll put this on the learning gateway, and you can go there and get it’.”

The point of Gerald’s story is that whilst it’s likely that the technology is in place, there are habits which need to be changed. Once you’ve reached 1:1 computing, and every staff member and student is walking around with their own laptop, will it change? Probably not. In fact, if Alan’s example is anything to go by, it may get worse. So there’s no better time than now to tackle it.

If the savings possible are between £20,000 and £70,000 a year, then that’s enough for 1, 2 or 3 NQTs. Or it’s the argument you need to get the senior leadership team support for some of the changes you can enable through effective ICT use in your school.