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In the first of a series of advice pieces for education IT decision makers, Steve Nelson, operations director, considers how the Government’s drive to propel schools towards academy status within a wider multi-academy trust (MAT) impacts on the adoption of network provision.

While the ultimate ambition for an MAT is to achieve a strong collaboration between all its schools and drive up standards by providing a consistent strategy and vision across a coherent group working together, the impact for IT networks cannot be overstated and throws-up challenges that must bear careful consideration.

These challenges require specific skills and expertise to resolve, and the starting point has to revolve around getting the basics right from which the final tech specification flows. For instance, how does a cohort of schools reduce several disparate finance and administrative departments down to a single department that everyone can use, and how do you identify which school is the best at what disciplines?

Similarly, how do you put the technology in place to meet these and other challenges, and whose platform do you choose – and why? How do you then migrate all the schools onto that common platform to support functions such as HR, finance, virtual learning, planning, management, and timetables among other systems?

Tough questions; but the key to success is to develop ‘one version of the truth’ built around some important fundamentals:

Any academy trust will have a single finance system with the data held in one place and not shared elsewhere.

Mobility is another consideration. Pupils need to be able to go into any of the MAT schools and log on using their mobile devices to access common platforms via homogeneous enterprise grade networks.

This underscores the importance of having access to competent engineering expertise that understands the issues and nuances. This expertise must ‘talk’ to schools in a common, purposeful and jargon-free language to deliver standardised and ubiquitous connectivity built on enterprise grade networks platforms.

Where such networks are deployed, the overall holistic improvement of educational provision must be carefully weighted. Centralisation is the key to more effective network management – it offers the platform for scaling-up technologies throughout buildings and campuses, delivering a host of cost-effective features to enable network requirements to be raised to unprecedented heights of innovation, effectiveness and user applications.

They also provide the basis for a more streamlined pricing model for these parlous times for education, providing trusts with superior transparency and budgetary control. It also goes a long way to eliminating the potential for expensive ‘surprises’ as networks expand to meet changing needs and the requirement for additional features.

It’s clearly evident that within our brave new world, no matter what the size and shape trusts are, there’s going to be a critical requirement for adopting new network technologies with more robust governance.