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Hardware Issues

Establishing procedures for using ICT resources
Becta suggests that school development plans should address how the school will:
"maintain and develop the infrastructure of hardware and connectivity in a way that is sustainable without distracting teachers from their teaching
."

This recommendation was tested in many schools by teachers undertaking the NOF ICT training who often found that rooms set up to teach ICT can sometimes be poor places in which to teach a subject. Often lessons were hindered by procedures that sometimes seemed odd to subject teachers expecting a high degree of user-friendliness. The time taken for start-up procedures, not being able to do things that seemed obvious, disabled CDROM drives or floppy disc drives, are common examples. Security and reliability are good reasons to develop procedures, but if the technology is then shunned by teachers, then this might not be a good indicator of a sound investment.

Becta advises that ICT procedures should be based on key principles:
"It is important to ensure that confidential information on pupils and staff cannot be accessed by unauthorised users and that software licences are managed by appropriate network management procedures. Precautions must be taken against infection from viruses and unsuitable material, depending on the context and age of the user."

Carrying Out an Audit
An audit of ICT resources will form the first step in formulating an ICT development plan and will form the basis for day-to-day management of ICT. An equipment audit will highlight what ICT hardware the school has, where they are located, its specification, age and condition.
A judgement about its expected lifetime before being decommissioned should also be made.
For electronic resources it is useful to record the type of resource (stand alone etc.) the copyright conditions, the levels of hardware needed to support its use and any technical support requirements for its use.

While this can be done very efficiently on a database or spreadsheet, it can also be very useful to produce a simple school plan with the main items of hardware and electronic resources shown graphically. This can prove useful when we need to think strategically about the location of future resources. With this information to hand ICT resources will be able to be deployed more efficiently, its use can be planned for, and consideration made of a replacement plan so that all hardware does not become obsolete simultaneously.

A complete hardware audit will need to cover: -
Computers
Peripherals such as printers, scanners, CD ROM Drive, Digital Cameras
Network Infrastructure such as servers, hubs, routers or modems
Access devices such as Concept keyboards, joysticks and roller balls
Robots such as floor turtles
Control equipment

A complete electronic resources audit will need to cover all resources on: -
Individual computers
Servers
CD ROMs or DVDs
Subscription services

Formulating a Replacement Plan
An audit will provide an age profile for the range of ICT equipment in the school. A replacement plan for the school's hardware can be devised from this age profile. This process is best accomplished using a spreadsheet. An example is provided at the bottom of this page.
Two values are needed to convert this information into a replacement plan, the life expectancy of the equipment and the replacement cost. The maximum estimate of life expectancy of computer equipment should be five years. New purchases will have to be added to maintain projections year on year. Using this information, decisions can be made regarding the procurement and redeployment of ICT equipment in line with the school's development plan.

Replacement computers inevitably come with increasing multi-media capability. This usually gives rise to the redeployment of older equipment where it can still provide a valid use elsewhere in the school. Often at this point the oldest machines can be retired.
Schools are sometimes offered computers through refurbishment schemes, or when local companies replace their equipment. This can be beneficial but, too often, the specification is too low for the type of uses that schools make of ICT. NAACE has produced guidance on purchasing refurbished computers.

An ICT enhancement Plan
Developing a new area of teaching and learning with ICT will require an enhancement plan, which needs to be over and above the school's replacement plan. In this way one can plan to fill in any gaps or enhance provision to support the curriculum, in line with the school development plan.
When the replacement plan and enhancement plan are brought together one will have the overall ICT purchasing requirements for the school.

When drawing up a budget to support ICT plans we should aim to draw up the total cost of ownership of ICT. In doing this the following costs should also be considered.
electronic teaching resources
installation and set-up
on-line costs (both connection and services)
maintenance
upgrading of hardware and software
technical support
training

Procurement of ICT resources
Purchasing of new hardware and resources will require a procurement plan. Depending on the overall costs envisaged and the financial regulations in place, this may involve a tendering process. It is always advisable before confirming a plan to seek guidance from the school's source of financial advice.


Managed ICT services
It is not uncommon in the commercial world to treat ICT as a service and outsource all issues connected with it. With this usually go all the hassles usually associated with managing ICT. This approach has been slow to develop in schools for reasons that are complex, but still surprising as there seem to be few good reasons for a school to own computers. It could be much better to at least to lease the systems and have them replaced every few years. A managed service could provide and maintain up-to-date ICT resources allowing schools to concentrate on developing their use.

The main obstacle to moving to a leasing approach to all ICT resources and services would appear to be a belief that managed services are over-expensive. A sensible component of a self-review for ICT would be to put this to the test by working out the cost/benefit ratio for current arrangements for ICT and comparing it to the cost, and what could be achieved, through a managed service.

A key indicator for judging the quality of strategic leadership for ICT in schools is whether investments in ICT are improving standards and the quality of learning across subjects.
A Becta survey found the use of ICT in subjects (and any impact it might have on standards) to be variable. It reports that :

The degree to which ICT is embedded in subjects varies greatly, sometimes within a school.
In some subjects ICT is used more frequently and in greater depth than in other subjects. The extent of ICT use in the curriculum appears to be dependent on the
individual teacher. Pupils can have very different experiences across different schools and subjects.
ICT use is detrimentally affected by lack of sustainability of funding for equipment. The available technology changes so rapidly that it is difficult to keep up to date and purchase new reliable hardware and software.
Sustainable funding for technical support and ongoing staff training is crucial for long-term positive impact. - Impact2

Decisions about hardware, its procurement and its management might, sensibly be driven by the big question. "Will this make a difference to standards in ICT or in other subjects?"
It is quite easy for a school to not quite make sufficient investment in ICT to make this difference. The questions that need to be asked are:

"What investment do we need to make to achieve our vision for ICT?"
"What is the best way of investing it?"
"How do we know we are getting the best from our investments in ICT?"

 
 

Useful Links

 
 

Building the grid - advice on infrastructure, including firewalls, caching etc. (Becta)
The Independent ICT Procurement Advisory Service (IPAS)
Impact2 - the impact of ICT on attainment (Becta)

 
 

Downloadable files  
  Total cost of ownership - PowerPoint presentation (Medway LEA)
Calculating replacement costs - Spreadsheet (Medway LEA)
Refurbished PCs for schools (NAACE)