At the end of 2009, I worked with a group of schools, and with Gerald Haigh (an ex-head teacher and educational writer) to create the Money Saving ICT Tips, which was used for a presentation at the BETT 2010 show, and also for a series of later case studies looking at the numbers in more detail. The original idea was to identify ways in which ICT leaders in schools could save money, in both their own budget, and in other budgets around the school. The total saving possible for a secondary school was over £300,000 in 3 years – more than an average school’s three-year ICT budget.

During this year, we’ve continued this work, with a number of new case studies providing a lot more detail on schools’ approaches to projects like power saving and server virtualisation. Recently, Gerald has been out to visit some schools who’ve followed up on some of the ideas. Here’s what he found at Bristnall Hall Technology College:


imageBack in January, I contributed to Ray’s discussion of cost saving ideas. One of the schools I referred to was Bristnall Hall Technology College in Sandwell, where ICT and network manager Phillip Wakeman was working to encourage and develop the use of SharePoint for publishing and sharing documents. So as the 2010 Summer Term ended, and as Sandwell’s not far from me I took a trip over to Bristnall Hall to see how Phillip was getting on.

What I found was a knowledgeable network manager who’s still very focussed on cost saving.

“In fact,” he says. “It’s one of our constant preoccupations.”

Both cash and time are in short supply at Bristnall Hall. The four-person IT support department I visited in January is now down to three because one who left hasn’t been replaced. The annual budget’s been reduced too, with further cuts to come. And just to add insult to injury, says Phillip, Bristnall Hall is one of the Sandwell schools that’s missed out on a planned BSF rebuild. As a consequence,

With very little capital and little in the way of budget we’ll have to compete with schools on each side of us that have had new buildings.

The first priority after my initial visit had been to develop the school’s SharePoint learning platform, and Phillip tells me that during the Summer term the school’s made huge progress with it. Where there were documents and folders stored in various places on the school network, they are now properly available on the Learning Platform. They’re easily available to share, or to project in class, without printing, and accessible as appropriate to teachers and students from anywhere in school and from home, and to parents.

The use of SharePoint has grown sevenfold since Easter,” says Phillip. “We’re already seeing the effects on printing, and that should really take off in the Autumn.

Philip has also made the move – seen in so many of our cost-saving case studies – to virtualised servers. He’s looked at virtualisation in the past, but the availability of the free download version of Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 has made it possible to go ahead, and where he had 20 physical servers he now has 2, with all the well-documented cost benefits to come from reductions in both energy use and hardware replacement.

Phillip’s very aware of the hidden costs of wasted time, especially since his team’s been reduced, so he’s interested in any software that will make his job easier. He points to Office Communications Server, for example, as a tool for cutting down on the simple business of walking around the school to find people.

If it only saves ten minutes at a time, that soon adds up.

Phillip made a strong case to me – and no, he needed no prompting – for sticking to Microsoft products. It’s a policy, he says, that saves valuable time.

We don’t have to train staff. They come in and find that we’re using packages that are familiar to them.

So, although the staff member he’s lost was responsible for developing SharePoint, the nature of the software means that everyone’s coped.

I suppose it’s because SharePoint is easy to use. Once you’ve shown someone what to do they don’t forget it. We do a few training sessions, and then we can point people to the ones who can help them.

There’s the students to consider too. Wherever they go in the future will need to have used business standard products

Of course there’s always the cost of licensing, but this, too, is an area where Phillip’s been able to find the most efficient answer for the school.

In April 2010 we went to the Schools Agreement. It costs us £21,816 a year for 600 desktop machines, about 10 different servers and includes 1,100 Schools Agreement Student Option licences (which gives every student their own copy of Office for home use too). When I told the bursar, it sounded like a lot, but I pointed out that if we’d wanted to buy licenses outright I would have been asking for £100,000, and probably the same again in less than four years time.

The reason for the projected request for more money is that no school that wants to provide its students with the latest ICT experience can really leave its software alone for five years. Schools agreement recognises this through built-in software assurance that provides for upgrades as and when they arrive.

Phillip Wakeman purchased his School Agreement licences from Insight UK, a Microsoft Gold Partner and Education Large Account Reseller. Insight's Marketing Director, Paul Bolt, explains, 

We understood that Phillip was looking for cost savings on licences. We began by producing a 'cost comparison', which revealed that a schools agreement over a period of five years would cost two thirds of what they would have to pay to buy the licences outright.  We were able to achieve this cost saving, whilst still reaching Phillip's requirements in terms of the software upgrades which were required.

Do the maths, and it’s clear that’s a potential saving of at least £30,000 over five years – although Phillip acknowledges that having laid out £100,000 for licences, he simply wouldn’t have had the money to spend on all the upgrades. Schools Agreement has transformed that picture:

Up to this Summer we had Office 2003 in school, where students and staff were using 2007 at home. Now, we’ll be able to upgrade everything.

So, still to come this Autumn, is a roll-out of Windows 7, and the introduction of Office 2010, and SharePoint 2010, as well as number of other upgrades.

According to Insight, some schools are still reluctant to sign up for an annual commitment, but, a spokeperson there says:

The figures are quite compelling, and where schools are in competition for students they need to show that their ICT is as up to date as possible


It’s all going to add much needed support to a school which is focussed on success (last year it was named the most improved school in Sandwell) and which is tackling the after-effects of BSF cancellation.

Phillip’s very clear about how ICT contributes to the school in terms of interactive lessons, support for SEN students and much more.

The way to convince any doubters would be to invite them in to see what we do, and then show them what happens if we switch everything off. Everything that happens here is IT driven. There’s nothing we’re not involved in.