A wide range of systems are used by schools to provide ICT facilities. This feature describes the benefits from a group of schools with a combined student population of almost 5000 adopting a single system.
The Aspirations Academies Trust (AAT) in the UK currently comprises of three Academy Districts: Banbury,West London and South Coast. They cater for both mixed primary and secondary pupils.
Not long after the Trust was established, its chief executive, Steve Kenning, noticed that when ICT issues arose in one of the academies, it wasn’t long before the same issues appeared in another, and so on. He realised that if the Trust could implement one ICT and organisation management system across all the academies, not only would it reduce the number of IT issues arising on a monthly basis, but it would also improve internal administrative efficiencies, provide a simplified and streamlined approach to ICT and save staff significant amounts of time. Here he shares his experience and advice with other councils.
For a school to become an Aspirations Academy, it must meet several key requirements set out by the AAT. All Aspirations Academies are expected to be successful in helping pupils to achieve their full potential, so they must, for example, promote high quality teaching and learning. In a digital age where technology plays a vital role in all aspects of life, and children are increasingly becoming technology savvy, connected individuals, we realised that we needed to demonstrate our commitment to using technology in a way that not only improved the school’s overall effectiveness and efficiency, but also improved our pupils’ learning experience.
In order for our students to reap all the benefits of ICT, a clear direction and enthusiasm for ICT needs to be established.
The AAT states that all teachers in Aspiration Academies must work towards being ‘outstanding practitioners’; it is our view that part of this requires them to become fully engaged and tolerant of new, up-to-date IT systems when needed. Supporting teachers in meeting this objective was essential for us, therefore anything we could do to improve our internal efficiencies and IT engagement was seen as beneficial.
Each of the schools within the Academy Districts had its own dedicated ICT manager, who had implemented their own preferred ICT and management systems. However, in most cases these had been in place for a long time and therefore were no longer as up-to-date or efficient as they should be. We were essentially dealing with a mixture of systems, protocols and procedures from the schools that, when looked at collectively, weren’t very effective. ICT requires specialist involvement; we’ve tried in the past to do it all ourselves, but it just hasn’t worked. We knew this would become an even bigger problem if we didn’t address it and establish one cohesive system or one cohesive IT team as it were.
Schools are increasingly looking to outsourced managed ICT services to provide this sense of cohesion; Aspiration Academies are no different. Introducing managed ICT services means that schools have access to a wealth of on-hand ICT experts and specialists and in some cases, onsite ICT technicians.
We were actively looking for a solution to meet our needs, when I heard about Dataspire through a Principals Forum I regularly take part in. We had looked at three or four companies prior, but most of them were very complex in what they were offering, to the point where we didn’t really know what we would be getting. Dataspire spoke a more simplistic language; we understood what they were talking about from the off. Most importantly however, they clearly explained that they could do what we needed them to.
We appointed the company as ICT partner to the Trust in November 2012 and immediately got to work rebuilding the ICT infrastructures at the Rivers, Banbury, Dashwood Banbury, Harriers and Jewell Academies. They fully manage all the schools’ day-to-day IT requirements, and even have technicians based in each of the schools.
A streamlined solution Key aspects of education that are expected in
an AAT Academy, include:
· A relevant, engaging and applied curriculum
· Assessment and target setting – each student needs to be tested regularly in order to develop an individual education plan of challenge and support for each child
· High quality teaching and learning – all teachers are expected to work towards being outstanding practitioners
· High standards, high expectations, high aspirations – appearance, behaviour and attitudes are expected to be high quality in an Aspirations Academy
· Achievement – all Aspirations Academies are expected to work towards high levels of achievement and to go beyond expectations
· Aspirations culture – the three Guiding Principles (Purpose, Active Engagement, Self-Worth) and eight Conditions (Belonging, Heroes, Sense of Accomplishment, Fun & Excitement, Curiosity & Creativity, Spirit of Adventure, Leadership & Responsibility, and Confidence to Take Action) need to be alive in the culture
Benefits across the Trust
Across all the schools, principal and teachers alike have been suitably impressed with the managed ICT services. Having asked the principal of each school what they find most beneficial, unanimously ‘Citrix Thin Client’ is mentioned. Being able to have 24/7 home access is great not only for staff, but for students too as they are able to submit projects and homework online.
From a staff point of view, I think Fiona Hammans, the Executive Principal for Banbury District, summed it up perfectly when she described the main benefit as being ‘network stability and coherency across all the schools’; coherency is key for any school, and even more so when you are dealing with a collective. Being able to tap into the wealth of IT knowledge or seek advice whenever we want too is definitely a bonus.
Dataspire are currently working with the Trust to devise solutions for sharing good practice between the Academies.
Each Aspirations Academy is encouraged to develop its own level of educational expertise and unique culture so that it cultivates a learning environment in which all students are inspired to achieve their very best – personally, socially and academically. By working with a managed ICT services provider, I feel we are meeting this objective by providing them with an effective ICT experience.
Steve Kenning is chief executive of Apirations Academies Trust.