Since BETT 2010 Microsoft has been advising schools on ICT savings. Ray Fleming explains why
So the budget cuts have arrived – and it appears that, for the moment, the biggest cuts are in schools’ capital budgets. First we saw the Harnessing Technology Grant cut by £50 million, then the BSF programme was cancelled, and on the same day another £50m was cut from the Harnessing Technology Grant – the only dedicated ICT grant for schools.
There have been various doom-laden forecasts of the impact of these cuts, but although the government has cut the specific ring-fenced ICT spend by 50 per cent, schools have always decided how much of their own budgets they too will invest in ICT to support teaching and learning. Last year, the Harnessing Technology Grant accounted for around one quarter of all schools ICT spending – so the overwhelming majority of investment came from each school’s individual budget decisions, taken after they’d decided on the relative priority of investing in ICT compared to other resources, and their staffing budgets.
Of course things are not good. It’s going to be tougher to justify investment in ICT – especially after so many years of plenty. And ICT leaders in schools around the country are going to need to hone their skills to justify the investments they are bidding for.
For the past six months I’ve been involved in working with a group of schools to look at how ICT can help save them money – either saving in the existing ICT budget, or in other areas of the school budget. For example, given the rapid growth in educational ICT of the last decade, ICT has contributed to the rise in electricity bills for schools. Now is a good time to see how you can help cut those down.
There are areas where ICT can help you make simple and effective cost savings in your school budget. From the work so far, it’s clear that you could make a big difference in a secondary school by saving up to a staggering £350,000 over three years, ensuring that learning in schools is not jeopardised.
Three strategies mean that savings can be delivered in your ICT budget, and can be made in your school’s electricity bill, phone bill, heating and communication methods – all budget areas which can be reduced by prioritising some simple steps.
The summary below outlines various cost-cutting methods, with the three-year savings figures based on a typical secondary school with 1,000 pupils, 400 computers and a dozen network servers.
Upgrade and Virtualise
By upgrading your computers to use a newer operating system, such as Windows 7 on your PCs, it can enable you to utilise the power saving features more effectively - especially when you have periods of low or non-activity. And virtualising your servers should be an immediate priority, as the potential savings in power usage run into tens of thousands of pounds a year. Wootton Basset School, West Hatch School, Neville Lovett School and Lodge Park Technology College are all saving a minimum of £10,000 a year through virtualisation – and they all have case studies to show how they did it.
As Stephen Peverett, at Lodge Park Technology College put it, "I used to work on a four-year lifecycle for servers alone. With 20 servers, we were replacing six servers a year at approximately £2,000 per server. If I can reduce those 20 servers with six machines running virtual servers I’m cutting my costs by more than half." Of course, the ICT infrastructure is still needed. At West Hatch High School, Alan Richards said: "The governors had enough foresight to see that unless you put in the infrastructure, you can’t reap all the benefits of advanced technology."
You should also ensure you’re buying new software in the most cost effective way, by using the right licensing scheme. There are many different schemes, and the worst thing you can do is walk into your nearest software shop and buy the first package on the shelf. Take the time to find out which software and licence is right for you, it could mean the difference of hundreds of pounds.
Potential saving: Secondary £83,000
Switch to laptops or low energy PCs
A power supply for a laptop is typically rated at 50-70 watts, which is significantly lower than a typical desktop PC. As an alternative, a number of manufacturers have introduced lower-power desktop computers, which can save more than £100 in running costs.
Potential saving: Secondary £15,000
By a combination of communications servers, and applications such as Office Live Meeting, there are a number of schools who’ve discovered that they can save money, as well as add new facilities in schools. These applications can give you internet phone calls inside and outside the school, conference calling systems, secure internal instant messenger and remote desktop sharing. They can also offer you the ability to deliver training or lesson materials over the web, through any software, to groups in any location with an internet connection.
Potential saving: secondary £30,000
With the latest software you can improve secure remote access to your network from outside of the school. It has become increasingly common for secondary schools to require secure access to the school network for staff working from home or out at external meetings. In fact Becta’s advice for schools, Keeping Data Secure, Safe and Legal, stipulates that staff should not have copies of sensitive pupil data on their own laptops even when off-site, but always connect securely to the school network to get access.
Potential saving: secondary £15,000
Do you need to buy so many computers?
The government has been promoting the idea that every pupil should have their own computer, and according to recent Becta research, more than 95 per cent of pupils already have access to a home computer. At university, more than 95 per cent of students now arrive on campus with a laptop, and most universities provide some form of network connectivity for them, to allow their own laptops to support their learning. It has meant that universities need to buy fewer computers for everyday tasks. Although some schools have already taken this step, for the majority of schools, I think this is something to think about as a medium term strategy to reduce the ongoing capital costs and replacement cycle.
Potential saving: secondary £60,000
Dramatically reduce printing costs
With new software, and with a school learning platform, staff and students can post work on to a shared site without printing each piece out. But the provision of the technology hasn’t yet been matched by a change in people’s behaviours – many secondary schools report that they are still using between one and two million sheets of paper a year in their printers and photocopies. Projected savings from more effective use of a Learning Gateway, by reducing reprographics costs for learning, as well as more effective online communications for meetings and management are around £25,000 a year – and more if every department adopts a new working style. You can also dispense with the cost of running printers for every classroom in every department, by making it easier to have work copied in the reprographics department, which reduces your printing costs by more than 80 per cent.
Potential saving: secondary £100,000
Stop buying software
With a subscription to the Microsoft Developer Network Academic Alliance (the schools version is called High School AA) you can use a range of software for teaching and learning purposes in IT, design, art, maths and science, without having to buy the licences individually. The software includes Expression Studio 2 (including Expression Web, Web, Blend, Media and Design) and Visual Studio Professional - and you can provide it to your students for their homework assignments through the DreamSpark programme.
Potential saving: secondary £1,000
Did you know that instead of running your own email servers, or paying somebody to run an email service for you, you could simply just switch to a free cloud-based service? The DCSF used this example in last year’s discussion guide on school efficiency savings – with the London Grid for Learning (LGfL) estimated to save up to £11m a year by switching to Microsoft’s Live@edu system. (Hampshire has also just opted for this scheme.)
Potential saving: secondary £30,000
And finally, you may be surprised to learn that upgrading to newer versions of Windows 7, to take advantage of the power management features, doesn’t mean that you have to discard older computers in your school. Last summer many of the schools upgrading discovered that it still coped on the older hardware, allowing you to sweep up lots of older equipment and get it all on to the same version of Windows – something that’s a big time-saving win for a network manager, as well as potentially saving you significant chunks of your electricity bill.
Potential saving: secondary £10,000
All of the above tips are just that – tips. When it comes to saving money across your various departments, it pays to evaluate where spending in one area of your budget can save another area. Most secondary schools spend more on energy than on ICT, and more on reprographics and printing than on ICT. The opportunities are there to save money using ICT.
It does require a good, hard look at those areas swallowing large sums of budget and those areas where an investment now can eventually save you money. But with the government forcing many purse strings to tighten, these tips are essential to the long-term goals of schools to continue offering the best learning environment for their students. UK businesses have had to streamline their companies in recent years and the education sector is no different. With significant savings on your running costs without harming learning and innovation, there are big benefits in the long term.
Ray Fleming is education marketing manager with Microsoft UK