Schools are entering the new academic year facing numerous challenges that in some ways rival even the Covid-19 pandemic. These include skyrocketing energy costs, which have left many schools desperately wondering how they can stay open, let alone balance the budget.
Prime minister Liz Truss gave schools some certainty this month with a six-month cap on energy prices. However, with energy bills expected to soar despite the price cap, coupled with its relatively short horizon, schools are now searching for ways to tighten their belts.
One highly effective way to do this is by reviewing and improving their technology use.
The first priority should be a thorough tech audit. In recent years many schools were forced to hastily adopt a range of software and devices in response to Covid-19 lockdowns, often without the chance to research whether these tools were the most effective solutions to meet their needs.
As a result, schools may now find themselves burdened with subscriptions to multiple edtech or software platforms and using excess devices.
A tech audit should detail your school’s assets and devices, current edtech and other software, and clarify the purpose they serve. It may turn out your schools’ needs have changed and some of these software subscriptions can be discontinued. If technology is not time- and cost-saving for staff, then it’s not doing its job. On the other hand, schools using multiple edtech platforms may find there is a single platform that offers multiple solutions to meet their needs and make the budget go further.
To reduce energy costs, some edtech solutions can also track and analyse the powered-on state of computers across the school. This provides accurate insight into energy consumption and pinpoints where energy wastage occurs – for example, when devices are left on standby outside school hours. Schools can then set a schedule that automatically powers off devices at the end of the day, to reduce energy use and costs.
Following the tech audit, schools can consult closely with staff to revise their digital strategy and ensure it is still fit for purpose, or develop one if needed. A clear digital strategy will ensure technology works for teachers, instead of creating extra work for them. It should include a clear and consistent vision of your school’s aims, identify short-term priorities for initial focus, and sustained CPD for staff.
When researching and comparing different edtech offerings, always ask suppliers for robust evidence to back up their marketing claims and consider whether their promised outcomes will be genuinely useful in your unique school environment. Independent edtech organisations, such as Education Alliance Finland and the EDUCATE programme from UCL Institute of Education, can aid your decision-making with an educator-focused evaluation of products.
The most important consultation takes place between educators. Some multi-academy trusts hold regular ‘tech clubs’ to share ideas and edtech solutions. Edu-Twitter also abounds with this type of discourse.
There are countless ways to connect with other educators, but be sure to get their first-hand experience of what works to save time and money in their school.
Once a school has trimmed and tailored its edtech and assets, the priority should be to train all teachers and students, and set out a clear plan for ongoing training. Ensuring staff are familiar with all the functions of your edtech and how to use it is essential to success. It will also improve efficiency and allow them to identify new ways to improve your school’s technology use and reduce costs.
The tech audit can also inform other cost-saving decisions by helping schools make the most of their existing tech assets. For schools with enough devices, buying digital textbooks could be significantly cheaper than hard copies. Given the cost of in-house printing, savings may also be found by giving students digital handouts instead of printed copies. Some edtech solutions can even aid this decision by monitoring printer usage.
There’s little doubt tough times are ahead. But until there is both clarity and tangible support from government, collaborating with other educators in our own schools and beyond still remains our greatest strength.