This guidance will help school leaders become more informed about IT and Digital, in order to better embed them into wider school development planning.

It contains information to support school leaders to plan and manage their IT network for immediate, ongoing and future success.

For further support and help on how to best implement this guidance, please contact your local authority/Education Technology Support Partner.

Schools, in conjunction with their local education authority, to work with their Education Technology Support Partner to ensure IT and digital are core parts of their strategic planning

Technology is now an essential part of the way we live.  With teaching and learning embracing more and more digital tools and services, it is increasingly important that schools become adept in how they embrace IT and digital in the school environment.

Working closely with your Education Technology Support Partner will enable you to maximise the investment you make in your digital environment. This ensures you plan, manage and maintain your network infrastructure effectively to support the delivery of teaching and learning – for both current and future requirements, and how IT and digital can support wider curriculum plans.

The school IT network must be planned to make sure it meets your needs and covers the whole school. The planning process should lead to:

  • An understanding of where you are now digitally and any issues affecting current activity
  • An understanding of where you want to get to and what the next steps might be
  • Identification of educational and curriculum requirements for IT and digital
  • How your Education Technology Support Partner can help you achieve your wider curriculum aims
  • A flexible network which is able to evolve and adapt to future requirements
  • Understanding staff and learner capability and capacity to engage with digital resources
  • Specific requirements pertaining to your circumstances.

It is of course recognised that all schools are at different stages in their development of IT and digital. Therefore, the planning process will need to consider and cater for a school’s circumstances and will require different levels of support and investment.

Your Education Technology Support Partner should advise you on how they can support your strategic planning requirements. To aid your planning, some activities you could consider include:

  • How your school IT network is constructed and how it performs to help you get what you want and need - now and in the future. Ideally, networks should be planned from the outset and designed in a manner which supports efficient movement of data both around the school IT network, and to and from the internet
  • Ensuring that your network organisation or topology is organised to meet your current needs; can be expanded when needed and that issues which arise in one area of the network do not impact on other areas e.g. having your network designed through a star arrangement
  • How data flows around your network. Your school IT network should be organised so that there are no more than two links (from the device to the switch to the router and then out to the internet) to make this as efficient as possible. This reduces unnecessary links and can make your network more resilient, with fewer points of failure
  • Ensuring best practice is being followed. You should not design a network to link switches together in a so called 'daisy chain' (i.e. connected in series). More often than not, this will mean any issues anywhere on the school IT network can cause the whole network to crash as the weakest link will break the chain
  • The capacity of the current school IT network infrastructure to support your wider curriculum ambitions. Your Education Technology Support Partner should monitor the school IT network to ensure it is capable of supporting the flow of data around your network and out to the Internet. They should also provide you with information related to the age and risk (e.g. still in support) of your equipment, and advice on areas of investment (including replacing equipment) where necessary.

School leaders should be able to show how they will use and manage digital technologies to meet the requirements of their school and learners. They should also be confident they are complying with their statutory obligations (cyber security, safeguarding, and data management). This is especially important in view of the Digital Competence Framework and a more digitally focused curriculum. You should be reviewing progress made with your Education Technology Support Partner on a regular basis (at least annually, but ideally quarterly) to maintain focus and support continuous improvement.

Please see Education Digital Standards for more information.

When purchasing new hardware or software schools, in conjunction with their local education authority, should consider the impact on their school IT network, the total cost of ownership and procurement routes

It can feel frustrating having to wait when you purchase new items. However, it is essential that you consult with your Education Technology Support Partner so that you are confident in getting kit that is fit for use in an educational setting.

Making the same purchase from local or online retailers may be quicker, but often they will not have the educational support wrapper offered by your Education Technology Support Partner.

The educational support wrapper includes things like:

  • Ensuring compatibility with the school IT network and existing kit
  • That equipment and devices are of a build quality to support the constant use by predominately young learners who may not exercise due care and attention
  • Support services offered by your Education Technology Support Partner
  • Maintenance – this can also include replacement devices
  • Extended warranties
  • Appropriate, and often cheaper, software licensing.

Please be advised that your Education Technology Support Partner may not support equipment which is purchased outside specified procurement routes, or which has not been checked for compatibility (network set up, security and fit for use in an educational setting) with them in advance of purchase.

When making purchase decisions, and comparing options, schools must consider the whole lifecycle of the purchase - the total cost of ownership. This includes:

  • Upfront purchase costs
  • Annual licence and support costs
  • Impact on existing school licencing agreements
  • Any additional costs (such as consumables and related peripherals) which may need to be factored in e.g. charging facilities
  • Any additional costs associated with the wider school IT network - such as new access points, additional cabling or switches that may be needed
  • Opportunities for discounted upgrades/refresh of equipment.

Consideration of purchases now goes beyond the traditional IT devices such as laptops, desktops or tablets. For example, smart screens, digital displays, online weather stations and other Internet of Things devices may all make use of your school IT Network. Your Education Technology Support Partner can ensure these devices will be able to connect to the network before you purchase them.

An understanding and awareness of the cost implications will help schools ensure that both capital and revenue budgets are planned accurately, year on year and maintain support for all aspects of the school IT network and related equipment. Technology is now an essential part of the way we live, and your school IT network should be considered in the same way as your other utilities, such as gas and water.  You should therefore anticipate the ongoing budget needs of IT – as you would with gas and water – and expect costs to be ongoing and to increase with new requirements.

Making IT investments through a local authority procurement route, or through approved educational procurement frameworks, ensures that you get the best value for money possible. It also means that you are compliant with wider procurement regulations and the Education Digital Standards themselves. Furthermore, it also ensures the devices and resources being procured are suitable for use in an educational setting, and have appropriate licences and warranties in place for use in schools.

In addition, aggregated purchasing by local authorities on behalf of schools can offer significant cost savings, and can also include enhanced support from the software provider.  These benefits have already been felt through the development of the all Wales ICT catalogue.

The Connectivity (Broadband) Standards; Routers and Switches Standards; Cabling Standards; Wireless Networking Standards; Device Management Standards  and Telephony and VoIP Standards  give further details of review cycles for the components for your data network.

The Data Network Cabinet Standards covers the requirements for data network cabinets to securely host your networking equipment.

School IT networks to be appropriately managed and monitored to ensure they are performing efficiently

Ensuring you have appropriate arrangements in place to manage and monitor your school IT network is an essential part of teaching and learning. This is usually devolved to a nominated Education Technology Support Partner, such as your local authority.

An effective working relationship with your Education Technology Support Partner is governed through having a service level agreement (SLA) in place and it is key that:

  • You understand what is provided as part of the SLA
  • You understand your school responsibilities under the SLA
  • You and your staff understand how to engage with your Education Technology Support Partner and report issues
  • You have processes in place to monitor the performance of your Education Technology Support Partner.

Monitoring of the school IT network will ensure that any issues identified can be addressed quickly and efficiently, with minimal impact on teaching and learning. Network infrastructure monitoring can include the following:

  • Network bandwidth utilisation – i.e. how the school IT network is performing and if you have any bottlenecks. This can be broken down by user type, application, time of day, etc. to provide insight into where, and how, the network is being used
  • Router, switch and server performance – understanding where equipment is performing near capacity, and help manage if suspicious devices connect to the school IT network
  • Age of equipment – help understand if issues or risks exist, and if there are possible limitations with your school IT network
  • Software/Application monitoring – to understand how bandwidth is being consumed and help inform possible improvements.

Schools should ensure they are comfortable with the level of monitoring, and the reports and advice they receive, from their Education Technology Support Partner as part of their account management meetings.

With adequate monitoring in place, your Education Technology Support Partner should be able to provide you with information relating to the performance and potential improvement of the school IT network including:

  • Understanding where current issues may exist, or where they have arisen
  • Providing you with a list of assets which will need to be replaced or upgraded
  • Understanding the performance of the school IT network and its ability to meet future demands.

Understanding the performance of the school IT network and its ability to meet future demands is essential to inform wider school development planning – for example, a school’s desire to increase the number of mobile devices will be impeded if the school IT network is already running at capacity.

Feedback and advice should be received regularly through account management meetings and fed into ongoing strategic planning and budget considerations as outlined in this guidance.

Your Education Technology Support Partner can look to provide you with potential network reporting information, such as dashboards or flight decks, to give you an indication of how your network is currently performing, whether any issues exist and how your daily usage is affecting it.

Please see Connectivity (Broadband) Standards for more information on the management of your infrastructure.

Please see Routers and Switches Standards; Wireless Networking Standards; and Device Management Standards for further information on the different components of your overall School IT Network.

Schools, in conjunction with their local education authority, to work with their Education Technology Support Partner to understand the role they can play in improving network efficiency.

The efficiency of your network can be affected by a variety of factors, from how it is designed through to how it is being used throughout the school. Maximising the efficiency of your school network will improve the experience of digital for teachers and learners during school hours.

As outlined in Monitoring Performance, your service level agreement should cover the school’s roles and responsibilities in ensuring that the school IT network runs as efficiently as possible. You should work with your Education Technology Support Partner to make sure that necessary background tasks are being completed out of hours and therefore not competing with teaching and learning time.

Some areas you could consider include:

  • Ensuring devices are left switched on periodically to receive operating system, security updates and patches out of hours. Your Education Technology Support Partner can aid you to arrange updates to take place out of school hours, but you will need to ensure devices are left switched on in order for this process to happen. Furthermore, infrequently used devices should also be switched on periodically to ensure they also receive the necessary updates. This avoids them requiring countless updates before you can use them.
  • Log all IT and network issues in a timely manner to enable your Education Technology Support Partner to respond efficiently, and resolve issues effectively (either remotely or onsite).
  • Engineers will schedule their time at your school based on the calls and issues you have logged. Therefore, if you do not report all the IT issues you encounter, the engineer may not have carried out necessary preparatory work to help resolve the issue before they come to your school. Furthermore, the engineer will schedule visits to schools based on their estimation of the time it takes to resolve the issues that were logged. This means they may not be able to deal with unexpected issues on the day.
  • Taking digital and technology requirements into account when timetabling lessons to reduce the load on your school IT network wherever possible. For example, structuring Online Personalised Assessments so they do not clash with ‘digital heavy’ teaching and learning being conducted elsewhere across the school.
  • Education Technology Support Partner interface agreements - where there are multiple support partners providing IT/electrical support, there needs to be collaboration between the various partners to prevent any adverse impact on the wider school IT network infrastructure.

Schools, in conjunction with their local education authority, to have clear data management and network security measures in place.

You are responsible for the safeguarding of your learners and for related cyber security measures being in place for your school. This includes protecting the data of learners from external threats, and ensuring that your school IT network is protected from accidental or malicious attack.

Working with your Education Technology Support Partner, you should ensure that data management processes and network security measures in your school feed into this wider responsibility. Your Education Technology Support Partner should be able to provide you with assurances that they have robust measures in place to cover this, including but not limited to:

  • Appropriate policies for safeguarding and cyber security – understanding which policies are included as part of support agreements. For further information, please refer to the online safety materials in Hwb
  • Filtering – this needs to be sophisticated enough to meet your needs and requirements as a school and flexible enough to respond to incidents or changes in overall safeguarding policy
  • Firewall provision – this should protect your school IT network from unauthorised access but not unduly restrict the activity of your users
  • Backup processes – understanding what the backup processes are, where backup data should be held and ensuring that the policies and processes to manage data recovery are in place
  • Anti-malware measures – to prevent, detect and remove malicious software whether this is introduced from within the school IT network or from outside
  • Network monitoring – to track activity taking place across your school IT network, including any suspected malicious activity or activity which may raise a safeguarding concern (e.g. self-harm or cyber bullying).

You should also consider the security of your communications and ensure that sensitive data is encrypted.

This protects the personal data of your school community and mitigates the risks from cyber threats to online safety and your network security. It ensures that you are compliant with the relevant legislation requirements, and clearly identifies the service you can expect from your Education Technology Support Partner.

Please see Connectivity (Broadband) Standards for the services provided by the PSBA.

Schools, in conjunction with their local education authority, to consider the compatibility, security and licencing implications before downloading or purchasing software.

Some software may be unsuitable for use by schools and its appropriateness should be considered prior to installation and use by making sure it is compatible with your school IT network; age appropriate; professionally installed and licenced correctly including provision for use in a multi-user environment with appropriate maintenance and support. You should seek the advice of your Education Technology Support Partner before making software purchases.

Areas to consider include:

  • Avoid purchasing software that you cannot use effectively, by ensuring you have hardware that is compatible to run it
  • Local installs and installations that are not completed by your Education Technology Support Partner run the risk of software not being installed correctly, leading to frustrations for users e.g. loss of data and slow performance of the software on the network
  • You or your Education Technology Support Partner should ensure a schedule is in place to manage security patches and updates effectively
  • All software installed on school IT networks should be procured correctly; be a genuine copy of the software; appropriately licenced to meet the school’s needs and be suitable for deployment across a network environment
  • Installation and management of software should be according to the instructions of the supplier. You should make a note of support options and renewal dates; together with any additions or deletions made
  • Ensuring that software is age appropriate and that any necessary plugins and extensions are included in the installation
  • Succession planning for software that is reaching the end of its support lifecycle – this will ensure your software remains in support and therefore has all the necessary security patches and upgrades applied. Please see Device Management Standards for further details on operating system upgrades
  • Location of software – consider the best place to host software or services. Unmaintained servers that are hosted on-premises (on the school IT network) and reachable from the Internet leave your systems vulnerable to viruses or hacking attempts. You should discuss any plans to retain local servers, or run public-facing websites or services, with your Education Technology Support Partner so that you are fully aware of the implications and obligations to secure these systems. It is essential that any local servers are regularly updated with software patches, and have regular security scans to make certain that these systems (and any data held upon them) remain secure and have not been compromised.

These help to ensure the software can run as effectively as possible and also mitigates against any risk to the wider network e.g. software not performing properly or inappropriate software which may pose a cyber-security threat.