Educating East Sussex
Kris Scruby, ICT Schools Services Manager at East Sussex County Council, on the impact of the cloud, analytics, social media, BYOD, the potential benefits of PSN and the move to remote management
The annual show 'BETT', held at the Excel centre last week, aims to showcase the best in education technology. We caught up with one of this year's finalists: Kris Scruby from East Sussex County Council's schools ICT service, which supports just over 200 academies and schools.
Scruby is keen to express his gratitude to the BETT awards, saying that they are thrilled to be nominated this year- becoming finalists for the second time.
However, he adds that technology events can be 'a challenge' for the unaware or misinformed. Scruby explains, "It's very powerful and important for schools to have impartial advice from a not-for-profit support service like ourselves to help them develop their ICT vision and provide them with the confidence that they are making the right procurement decisions for their school.
"There's nothing wrong with wanting to adopt bleeding edge technologies, but schools should be informed of any infrastructure requirements required to support them. It's always the schools' choice and we don't direct them, but we will guide them with procurement to help them understand those technologies and what would work to achieve their vision within their schools."
Modernising IT management
The service has been on something of a journey itself, Scruby explains. In 2010 it was faced with the challenge of moving away from "quite a traditional service model for supporting schools in the UK which is telephone support and fixed visits which were timetabled. So a school would buy a time. It could be half a day a fortnight or half a day a week, whatever they could afford really."
After a consultation with the schools, which clearly found that "they just wanted stuff to be fixed, they didn't want to have to wait for it", the service started exploring how to modernise while keeping costs down.
Scruby explains that one option was to get the schools to support themselves more, for example by assigning a specific member of staff to deal with ICT issues, while the other option was to work out how the service could provide more support to all the schools, all of the time.
The support team decided to place remote support at the heart of their service, using device management cloud software provided by CentraStage.
However, Scruby says, "It's not just about remote support, which is a huge thing for schools, but the services you can provide in addition. It's at its most powerful when it's across all devices because that gives us full visibility across the entire estate.
"When schools subscribe we can't manage those schools in the traditional sense, with one domain and one network. What CentraStage provides is a bridge into that network without having to take control of that domain. The platform gives us full information around assets and all of this is reportable and schools love it. We often sit on the board of governors and provide reports on demand that list all the devices in the school, their serial number, and so on. We can use that information and analyse it before we present it to the school, which can help give them ideas about where they want to invest next.
Before implementing the device management software, Scruby says the service "used to be able to fix 15% of incidents remotely. When we moved to the new solution it jumped to 60%. That's a massive saving. We haven't reduced our staff. We are visiting schools for less time but more often, if we can't do it remotely. We try it remotely first, unless it's something they want dealt with face to face.
"Schools see technicians for less time but more regularly and often. We're managed to invest the savings into more development, consulting, training teachers to make better use of their tools rather than just fire fighting."
However, Scruby says, "We didn't take anything anyway. Personalised visits remain and just because things can be done remotely doesn't mean they always have to be. Some people need hand holding and training."
Scruby says that currently, "75% of the primary schools and 60% of all schools that we provide services to take our fully managed premier service offering, compared to about 50% previously. So that has increased greatly. We've seen successes in academies and secondary schools, and that is quite interesting because predominantly secondary schools deploy their own teams."
He adds, "The service has been able to prove itself at a secondary level as being more cost-effective than a school doing everything themselves."
Clouds and consultations
In the meantime, the service has been 'really ramping up' cloud adoption among the schools it supports. He says schools can "migrate to Office 365, which is a sensible choice because for education in the UK it's free, though consultation, training and so on requires resource."
"However we have committed to that, so for schools who want to move from a basic webmail system, we're migrating them to their own 365 platform. It gives every user and pupil their own storage space and bridges the gap between school and home. It's been really successful. Schools in East Sussex are now mostly using cloud back-up."
Increasingly, Scruby explains, "some of the curriculum services and software that used to be CD-ROM based are moving to digital subscription or cloud services. Purple Mash is a very popular offering, and Education City. Pupils are given log on and they can integrate resources into their 365 platforms and personalised learning spaces."
The improved service also includes regular consultations and reviews with schools, according to Scruby. He says, "At least three times a year we have someone go and provide support, listen to how the school wants to deliver teaching and learning, and help. We can try and recommend tools that can enable their goals.
"There has been some fantastic feedback about the managed service but lots of the schools wanted to know how we can support them in raising pupil attainment and progress. We've been able to do that- we have introduced a tracking, analysis and reporting service and we can create reports which include Risk of Need Indicators [RONI], which is a big topic at the moment.
"The report and analysis service we provide highlights pupils at risk of becoming NEETs [a young person who is 'Not in Education, Employment, or Training']. That looks for certain identifiers in terms of assessment and then schools can focus more time on those pupils at risk and track how they are raising their attainment to improve their outcomes."
He adds, "I think if ICT can offer any value to schools it's from management information systems and analysis. That is the proof: to be able to track and clearly identify the raising of attainment through effective assessment. If you weren't able to identify that, you wouldn't be able to do anything about it."
Scruby says that the service has helped to set up "hundreds of iPads" over the last 18 months. However, he adds, "we're increasingly setting up Windows tablets- Dell or Surface tablets. I'm not saying iPads have disappeared but it's slowed down over the last six months in schools, possibly as they were one of the first tablets on the markets.
"Now schools are looking at Windows Tablets. They're adopting cloud and so on but some are not willing to give up just yet on their existing system- so you have a kind of hybrid system using cloud but that integrates with their current system. iPads are very much a personalised one to one device, whereas Windows tablets are more of a pooled resource that can be shared classroom to classroom. A lot of schools realise they are having to invest in their wireless infrastructure to accommodate that.
Scruby says that, despite some challenges around the Public Services Network (PSN), "some of our secondary schools are really getting into BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). Some of them have a BYOD policy so pupils can bring in their mobiles, tablets and laptops and access not the full network but the filtered internet connection throughout the whole school. The academy hasn't removed devices as a result but they've enabled it so that effectively pupils have a personalised internet connection throughout the entire day. Some of the big education IT speakers talk about this- obviously it needs to be managed- but we can use these devices to support children in their education.
"Good schools understand classroom management and that's a key part of the teaching profession. Pupils having their own devices leads to a different way of working. It changes the lesson to one of facilitating, rather than having one whiteboard, one piece of information being broadcast to everybody accessing their own information that they need at the time."
Scruby admits that "PSN is causing the whole of local government and public sector a bit of a headache. I think it's because the requirements aren't known by everybody and people are still learning what compliance is. As with everybody else, we're making sure that everything is compliant through PSN- in Sussex it's called the LINK.
"I'm part of that board, representing education. That's being looked at now, to ensure it's COCO [Code of Connection] compliant with some adjustments that have been made recently.
Scruby worries that some of the benefits of PSN are being masked by recent issues around compliance.
He says, "It is fantastic. The first thing worth noting is that it's making hundreds of thousands of pounds of savings every year. Whereas before everyone was independently paying for telecoms links, which cost a lot of money, having that aggregated across the whole of the public sector we're achieving a price level from our incumbent PSN supplier that is beating the market by a long shot.
"So there's the price. And then there's the collaboration opportunities. By connecting over PSN, we're working with our equivalents across the public sector more than ever before. So it's driven invisible below the line benefits- we're going to procure anti-virus software, why don't we do it jointly?
There are also benefits around the linking of sites, Scruby says, "as people are looking to work more flexibly, sites are being consolidated, head teachers and school management teams may work across more than one school- it's becoming more common now -what the LINK offers is instant connectivity across those sites. We've had 99% of our schools move onto PSN and we will tailor that to be whatever the school wants."
Looking to the year ahead, Scruby predicts that "sharing via PSN will become more prominent. The next step is we're about to start offering voice over IP- cloud rather than locally hosted- telephony. We're seeing some really attractive pricing which will give schools further savings on those services.
"The roadmap is to look at things like data centres and what other elements we could share across the public sector. We've got great relationships with people like Kent, Surrey and Brighton & Hove, so we can then link the PSNs together. The sharing opportunities are almost endless."