Shortly, the updated Microsoft eBook on cost saving will be released in which Gerald Haigh, independent writer to Microsoft, has contributed to. As part of the content creation, Gerald spoke to Mike Herrity, Assistant Head at Twynham School in Dorset on the familiar theme of cost saving through paper saving and how technology, school culture and leadership have to work together in order to make it work. MikeHerrity

Just as no problem ever really has only one cause, so is there is never just one solution. And in our business that means although technology will help you through many difficulties, you can’t just buy it, fire it up, let it loose and then go and have a cup of tea. I was reminded of that by talking to Mike Herrity, about paper saving.

I spoke to Mike as part of my work on our forthcoming updated Microsoft ebook on cost saving, a preoccupation of our education and marketing teams for a long time. But before immersing myself in new material, I looked some of the examples we’ve used before and so hence my conversation with Mike.

Originally, over a year ago, we reported Mike’s astonishment at the realisation that in mid-2010 Twynham was using over a million sheets of paper a year. Since then, Mike has revisited that figure and finds that at that point, the true figure was more like 2.2 million sheets of A4 per year (1.4million photocopies and 800,000 computer printer copies). At the conservative estimate of 1.5p printing cost per copy this adds up to over £33,000. (Try the exercise in your own school. The invoices for paper will be on record, and you know the per-copy costs of your various devices. You may be very surprised.)

Since then, Mike and his colleagues have made huge dents into these figures. Photocopying is down from 1.4million sheets to 950,000, printing from 800,000 to 630,000.

How’s it been done?

Technology’s been essential. For example what Mike calls, ‘Going electronic with parents’, which simply means that all communication with parents such as reports, grades letters about teams and trips, being available only on Twynham’s SharePoint 2010 based online Gateway. Parents can opt out and request paper copies, but of 1600 families, only 47 are currently taking this option. The Twynham Gateway, in fact has a key role in the whole life of the school, enabling staff, students, parents to collaborate and communicate, along the way reducing the amount of paper required for coursework, resources, meetings and reports. And printing within the school, when it has to be done, is controlled and done at minimum cost with state-of-the art multi-function devices - printer/scanner/copiers - which not only ask the user to confirm whether the print job is really necessary, but also record levels of individual use.

All that, though, is only part of the story. Anyone with any knowledge of schools knows that simply providing collaborative online tools, and efficient printers, will not of itself convince staff, students and parents to use them. The people involved or significant majority have to undergo something of a culture change, and that calls for co-ordinated administration, management and, above all, leadership, displaying a judicious balance between coercion, persuasion and subterfuge, applied consistently over time.

So, to source the equipment, find the resources, do the best installation and maintenance deals, decide on the delegation and structure of printing costs, run any necessary training for those who haven’t routinely been using the collaborative software, are all functions of good management and administration.

But to build a culture where the school community will welcome the arrangement, sign up to the vision it represents, and willingly accept that individuals may be held to account for their decisions is where administration and management, then becomes true leadership. You know what can happen without that leadership where, for example, a technology-based major change is introduced to an unprepared school community. The reaction is seen in terms of grumbling in the staffroom, back row muttering at staff meetings, reluctance to attend training sessions, feet dragging, and occasional unpleasant confrontation. Maybe there’ll always be a bit of that. After all  a big staffroom is home to a rich mix of independent personalities. But at Twynham, Mike and the team have worked hard to take everyone along.

“You head off the grumbling when you have IT and a leadership team who really understand and sit down and understand the challenges.”

Quite crucially, the Twynham team have been able to demonstrate that technological innovation can make life easier for everybody, not at some theoretical future point, but right now. That includes parents. Mike describes asking a boy to empty his bag and finding seven paper communications that should have gone to his parents. So there’s one very familiar source of home-school irritation and misunderstanding almost completely eliminated at Twynham, given the nearly total sign up of parents to the SharePoint Gateway. And for the staff, it’s been a matter of cutting print bills in such a way that staff see a corresponding positive impact on their workload.

“You know the systems team here have never had so much praise as when rolling out our new photocopiers. It’s about simplicity and continuity and the ability to send something straight from a laptop and print to any source in the school. It’s complete integration with the Microsoft IT network. When I explained one of the features of the system to a member of staff, he said I’d saved him twenty minutes of his day, every day.”

What we have here is the old principle, often declared, often ignored, that tells you, no, technology will not solve your problems, but used properly it will help you solve them for yourselves.