Schools in a 'panic' as Rotherham Council pulls tech support

IT firms are stepping in after Rotherham Council announced it was pulling the plug on tech support for schools, leaving some in a “panic.”

Saturday, 7th December 2019, 8:00 am
Updated Monday, 9th December 2019, 12:47 pm

Studysafe and others are hosting an Edtech Showcase to help headteachers and business managers find replacement services including broadband, email systems, finance software and on-site support.

The authority is ending its Schools Connect service in March because of falling numbers, expected to hit 54 next year, down from 109 last year.

Council chiefs say it is not because of poor service but due to being undercut by commercial companies and academy trusts providing their own ICT services.

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Ed Hardie, technical director at Studysafe

In a letter to headteachers, Susan Gray, the authority’s digital services manager, said: ‘The area that takes the most time and planning is the migration of email accounts to a new provider. We cannot stress enough how important it is to give sufficient time to this work.”

Ed Hardie, technical director at Studysafe, which filters unsuitable web content for primary schools, said some schools were panicking.

“Services are due to end March, which leaves schools with little time to evaluate, deploy and retrain on alternatives, and as such we've encountered a number of schools who are in a bit of a panic.

“We've pulled together a number of contacts, and we're putting on an event at Rockingham PDC on Friday 13th of December aimed at showcasing the alternatives available. We've got talks from some big national businesses, and whilst it's obviously a chance for us to sell our own services, it's also a great opportunity for school leaders to evaluate their options, and network with others in a similar position.”

Studysafe MD Chris Foulstone

Luke Sayers, assistant director for customer information and digital services at Rotherham Council, said: “The sharp decline in schools taking up Schools Connect means it is no longer financially viable as a trading service and to continue would place a financial burden on taxpayers, significantly increase the costs to schools, or mean that other services would have to be cut to make up the shortfall. As a result, it is our intention that the service will end on 31 March 2020.

“We have written to schools to inform them of our intention and to allow them sufficient time to find alternative arrangements. We will also be providing a full list of services, alternatives and actions required to ensure a smooth handover to new providers by 31st March 2020.

“Schools will also have the option of continuing to receive internet and content filtering services from the council.”

Internet in primary schools is a Goldilocks problem. Too little filtering and pupils might see things they shouldn’t. Too much and teachers can’t access anything useful.

But setting and fixing filters is a job for technicians who might only visit once a fortnight. Studysafe aims to hand control to teachers and is designed to be used without a manual.

Tech director Ed Hardie said: “Overblocking is as bad as underblocking. Studysafe gives power back to the teachers and gives them more time to teach.”

Under the bonnet, the cloud-based product logs every site and every search, which adds up to 10 million items an hour at peak times, according to project manager Richard Groves.

Studysafe is in use in more than 80 schools and the firm wants to roll it out nationally.