Making the most of telecommunications in the education sector

By: Simon BlackwellCMO at TelcoSwitch

The modern classroom is more dynamic than ever, with the influx of new technologies in recent years having led many schools, colleges and other educational institutions to reinvent their learning environments to meet the needs of the learner. modern digital.

The Department of Education defines EdTech (educational technology) as any technology that can be used to “support teaching and the effective day-to-day management of educational institutions”. This includes “hardware, such as tablets and laptops”, but also “digital resources, software and services”.

Since the pandemic, EdTech has gone from a common benefit to an absolute necessity for educational institutions across the country and continues to be the case even with schools now at full attendance.

Communication is key

The pandemic has not only changed the way we live, but also the way we communicate. After an almost overnight shift to home-based learning in March 2020, communications technologies enabled teachers to deliver lessons virtually. Using digital platforms, they prepared lesson plans, conducted assessments and communicated with parents to ensure disruption remained minimal. And although a period of time has now passed since the return to in-person learning, we continue to see significant growth in demand for platforms that support more equitable parent-teacher communication and better internal communication within educational institutions – especially in multi-academies. Trusted environments where staff work and share resources across multiple sites. In fact, recent data from the DfE tells us that 75% of teachers have seen their ability to work across multiple sites improve with the implementation of suitable EdTech solutions.

But despite the fact that most schools have implemented solutions for remote work or teaching, we still see a lack of overall integration with communications. For example, a school might use Microsoft Teams to make video calls for SLT or Governor’s meetings, or for parents’ nights or pastoral care, but many still use a separate phone system for their front desk switchboard. This is particularly important given that BT will switch off its public switched telephone network (PSTN) in 2025, moving from traditional telephone lines to faster and clearer Internet Protocol (IP) technologies. This has played a big role in increasing the demand for cloud-based phone systems nationwide, and although this change is well known in the private sector, we still come across a large number of schools that do not unfamiliar with the PSTN-off switch, what it means to them and what they should do. 2025 may still seem like a long way off, but waiting is not prudent.

What should you do?

There are simple but important steps you can take now to understand what you have in place today and ensure your school or college is ready for an all-IP future. First, talk to your telephony or ICT provider and find out what kind of phone system you have (specifically, is it an IP phone system). If the answer is “no”, you want to request the expiration date of your phone system contract. This is important because we’ve seen many cases where a provider will simply automatically renew the school phone contract when it expires, and it might not benefit you in terms of functionality, long-term support, and cost. . And that last point is key, because what many schools don’t realize is that they can often save money by switching to an IP-based phone system, in addition to all the functionality and resilience.

There are many excellent ICT helpdesks across the UK acting as dedicated outsourced IT providers for schools, and these services are essential as they enable teachers and their speech therapists to continue the important work of education. But many UK education establishments lack the necessary support, and the evidence is compelling, with around 22% of schools not having a clear IT strategy in place. It is concerning that such a high proportion of schools are using outdated, unreliable and often expensive solutions, and do not have the support needed to make a change that will be much more useful to them.

Building a bright future for EdTech

Despite the pervasive financial challenges in serviced schools and the significant minority who need better strategic ICT support, we are optimistic about the opportunities that exist for schools to harness technology to better support teachers, students and parents. And in terms of telecommunications, there are a plethora of options for IP-based phone systems, allowing schools to find something that suits their needs, both in terms of features and cost. The key is not to get entangled in existing, outdated solutions that don’t meet the needs of post-pandemic education and inflate costs in a time when budgets continue to be constrained.