How to successfully launch your Free School (Part II)

3 ways to use your precious capital smartly

This is the time in pre-opening when the EFA cheque book is out for IT which can be a hugely daunting task for the uninitiated. I’ve spoken extensively about the following topics and am surprised they’re still up for debate. This is only the case in Education (which is what we’re all trying to change!).

1. Use the Cloud

  • In 2012 several school IT companies told us that you couldn’t run a school in the Cloud. In 2016 they are more open to this kind of thinking. Realise that the resistance is based on their skills and sales targets, and not your needs (I began my IT career setting up servers for the world’s biggest server company, so if I can change my mind, so can they!)
  • You don’t need VPNs or other clunky layers to access the best of breed applications when you use proper SaaS services. If it sounds complicated it will be
  • Even device management can be Cloud based now so there should be no reason for a server in your school
  • Turn your server room into a music practice room for the benefit of all your students and the environment, and let someone else run your mini data centre for you!

2. Put staff efficiency and training first

  • Ask staff to train each other. A 4 hour training session on using interactive whiteboards isn’t fun for anyone; talking to your new colleagues about the cool things you’ve done with Google Classroom is more likely to drive innovation, collaboration, and productivity in your school. You could even ask one of your IT providers to let you use their space to do it, but facilitate rather than train before you move into your building. Do what startups do (you are one!) and bring decent, healthy snacks to the training room
  • Focus on supporting your staff on new things like processes for collaboration in the Cloud rather than what the C://Drive is or how to email attachments. Use good naming conventions from the beginning  

3. Obsess about integrations

Nicky Morgan warned against “constraining the power of data” in schools at BETT 2016; in the pre-opening phase you have the opportunity to plan against such constraints. Data is notoriously badly managed (either over-restricted or poorly shared) by education data companies, but you can avoid making decisions that lock you in early on to a particular path. Most importantly, you need ready access to your assessment data in a variety of formats to allow Ofsted, and likely a demanding school board, the chance to understand what great progress students are making in your school.

  • One way to deal with this is to make sure that you use systems that have open APIs and are easy to use for all staff, not just founding data junkies
  • It’s OK to use spreadsheets when you’re small, but make sure you have a good plan for scaling and migrating that historic data to open, secure systems as soon as possible once you’ve launched
  • Ask parents what they’re expecting to see – they’ve supported you this far and it’s fair to ask them what would make sense to them in understanding the story of their child’s life at school