IT support for schools has come a long way since my day! jokes iTek Computer Solutions MD Ben Mitchinson, “Back then it was overhead projectors using acetate sheets and bulky TVs that weighed a tonne being wheeled-in to the classroom so that we could watch some science programme on the VHS video player.”
Skip forward nearly three decades and the modern classroom has embraced technology, and what may have seemed advanced just a few years ago is now commonplace for even the youngest pupils.
Castle Park School in Kendal is no different and, since 2016, iTek have been working closely with the school to ensure their IT is up to speed with everything required from the demands of the current – and future – curriculum.
“Academia isn’t a customer group we had specifically thought about working with; but when we were invited by Castle Park School to come and discuss their IT requirements we were surprised by the scope.”
Although the first, Castle Park were quickly followed by St Thomas’ and Vicarage Park schools in Kendal commissioning iTek’s computer and IT services.
“Everyone knows how much schools are under financial pressure and constrained by pretty tight budgets, so it didn’t come as a great surprise that we inherited some pretty poor and seriously outdated IT equipment: old and obsolete PCs and laptops, many running the wrong or outdated versions of software. The school Wi-Fi was barely fit for purpose and the server was in urgent need of upgrading along with the necessity of improved firewalls and security implementing.”
“Modern teaching relies so heavily on tech, whether that is iPads for the children or interactive ‘smartboards’, or just being able to have a quick and robust broadband connection to allow teaching assets to be downloaded or video to be streamed. We knew there was quite a project ahead of us.”
During the November of 2016, iTek worked closely with the school to compile a proposal of what was needed to bring their entire IT up to mark.
“Like many schools across the country, being ‘tech savvy’ isn’t something which is highest on the agenda. A lot of this can come down to budget constraints and the teaching staff having to make do with old equipment – if something is just about working, then they just get on with what they have and make the best of it.”
Replacement of the main school server with enhanced and robust security was a priority – get this solid foundation into place and the rest can be built around it. The solution is one which has logical, file structure and secure access so everyone, including the children, can access the appropriate areas when they need to.
“Even though the cloud-based server contains private and confidential information, and is accessed by multiple teachers, support staff and children every school day, the spec and configuration are absolutely water-tight; you’d be surprised at how many large businesses don’t have a network as resilient and robust as we put into schools.”
With virtually all of the old hardware so out-dated, little could be upgraded or made good; some units were re-furbished and re-purposed with new software and hard-drives added, whereas the majority consigned to being recycled.
Over 20 new laptops were required for children to use in the ICT classes, with similar numbers of iPads which are used more widely through the curriculum.
Each of the teachers also needed a new laptop, allowing them to work remotely in the evenings and weekends for marking and lesson planning.
This in itself posed a challenge: when could the entire ‘fleet’ of teacher and admin laptops be replaced when they were pretty much in constant use?
The Christmas break at the end of 2016 was seen as the best opportunity. This was planned in close consultation with the school to minimise the impact on the teaching staff. It also meant everyone was working on new equipment right from the start of the New Year so no-one was left lagging behind.
“The decision to migrate everyone in one go was quite a brave step but it meant it would be quicker to implement and everyone would have the new kit at the same time. As it turned out, Christmas was the ideal time!”
The new equipment all had to be commissioned – including new software installation, setting up user accounts, remote access to the server, adding onto the new ‘mesh’ Wi-Fi and testing – ready for the staff returning. Once it was in their hands, the next step was user training and end-user acceptance.
“The school had made a significant investment in their IT and it’s quite right to make sure everyone knew how to get the best from their new equipment and they were aware of what they can now do, such as remotely logging-in from home to access the main school server for lesson planning and resources.”
Rather than another task for the staff, the thorough user training and acceptance testing helped empower the staff and how they work.
“The training has proved to be as much of a game changer as the equipment and the install; creating ways of working with the staff that they can all ‘buy in to’ so that everyone is working to best practice, not having to look for work-arounds and therefore keeping their work relatively straightforward and the system robust.”
The school also now benefits from a new ‘mesh’ Wi-Fi installed by iTek. Covering the two school buildings and outdoor play areas, the network operates much like a relay race, passing the signal between location units across the site to ensure high quality, high speed broadband throughout the site no matter what is requested from it.
“Previously this may have meant either an additional phone line being utilised or rather patchy ‘boosting’ system, but the mesh approach is delivering impressive results right across the school grounds.”
iTek also introduced an enterprise solution for the Wi-Fi, allowing schedules to be set when it is on and off, meaning children can’t sit at the school gates and access it out of school hours.
“We are now responsible for all of the IT maintenance at Castle Park School, including support for equipment that may not have been supplied by us; our job is to ensure that everything works as it should, without question.” concludes Ben.
“The school also appreciate that the vast majority of our support is remote, so there’s no need for the guys to come onto site to undertake maintenance, therefore no unnecessary disruptions to the school day.”
To find out more about Castle Park School, please visit: castleparkschool.org.uk