How technology can support a growing Multi-Academy Trust
Steve Smith, Director of Learning at Capita Managed IT Solutions explores how technology can help Multi-Academy Trusts manage their growth.
Each time an academy group brings a new school into the fold, a series of key decisions are made about which direction the school’s teaching and learning, leadership and staff development should take.
But the question of integrating the new school’s IT systems is often left until last.
This can present a Multi-Academy Trust with the challenge of joining up technology which is not easily compatible with that of the other schools in the group. It’s a problem that can multiply when large numbers of schools join a trust, each of which runs on different technology platforms.
Juggling different systems
For rapidly growing trusts, managing schools with disparate systems can be an uphill struggle. Without core compatibility, upgrading the new school’s broadband provision to bring it in line with the rest of the trust can be an issue, and unless this is addressed quickly it can impact on students, teachers and admin staff in the school.
After all, nobody wants the wireless to go down when they are downloading learning materials in the classroom, or collaborating with another school on Skype.
In a large Multi-Academy Trust, there may be 15 to 20 schools, each with different switches, wireless solutions and display technologies. This mismatch of IT can make it very difficult for staff and pupils from different schools to work together.
And for the trust, dealing with separate maintenance contracts, handling configuration and sourcing consumables can take up valuable time and resources, cancelling out any savings made from lower cost equipment.
Autonomy for schools
However, not all trusts, or the schools within them, will want to standardise all their technology, and many trusts prefer their schools to retain an element of autonomy in choosing the IT that they use.
Some trusts bring together schools of different types, specialisms and strengths and in these cases, it would not be practical to expect everyone to use exactly the same equipment in exactly the same way.
One school may be working effectively with laptops in every classroom, while another might have decided that tablet devices and mobile working are the way forward.
Sharing best practice
On the other hand, it is worth remembering that for schools which become part of a Multi-Academy Trust, one of the key benefits is to be able to exchange ideas and learn from the other schools in the group. This can extend to technology too.
If a school in the trust has been successfully using an online learning tool to help children develop their literacy, there may be good reason to suggest that other schools in the trust could gain from using the same technology for their pupils.
Similarly, a Multi-Academy Trust might decide to use different schools to carry out pilot studies of new IT, to see how effective it is before embedding it through the trust. This can be a positive way for trusts to experiment with emerging technology and bring innovative resources into their schools.
Whether a trust chooses to adopt complete autonomy or standardisation or something in between, they all have one thing in common. They need a reliable technology environment for their schools to deliver creative digital teaching and learning.
A good starting point for any trust is to focus on the back-end infrastructure – all the technology which can enhance a school’s IT performance, but which is invisible to the end user. It also means that the staff and pupils do not need to learn new skills to use it, because all this technology is working away behind the scenes, keeping the classroom IT running smoothly.
When the back-end works well, the user experience for teachers and pupils improves too, making them more likely to embrace any further changes to technology or software that a trust may wish to make.
Having a technology solution that is reliable and secure means that teachers across the trust will feel less resistant to the idea of trying out new technology in their teaching. Teachers can feel confident that they will be able to access a resource online, or get the class working together on a project without the risk of poor connectivity or incompatible software interrupting the lesson.
With the infrastructure in place, schools are freed up to get more creative in the classroom, and try out some of the many exciting new approaches such as flipped learning, educational apps and collaborative working.