Bringing School Home during lockdown

Children are finally back at school but during the five months of lockdown, home schooling became the norm.

PC Edutech was acquired by Holker IT in July 2020. Here, Technical Manager James Went explains how we helped clients provide remote teaching and tells us which of the new practices he thinks will remain.

James Went, Technical Manager

DURING LOCKDOWN, HOW DID WE HELP OUR CLIENTS COPE WITH THE SWITCH TO MASS HOME SCHOOLING?

This was mainly a case of getting people to use Office 365 Services, like MS Teams and Sharepoint. We worked with each school to set up remote access via the teachers’ devices using, for example, a secure VPN or Remote App. The schools also have some third-party tools, that we sometimes help with.

WHAT PRACTICES WILL STILL REMAIN, WHEN THE SCHOOLS GET BACK TO NORMAL?

The Remote App and the VPN will stay in place, as some teachers work from home anyway for class plans etc. The use of MS Teams and video apps will reduce, but there is more potential now for revision, homework and communication between the student and the teacher, as they now have the technology to use remote working to their advantage.

PLEASE COULD YOU OUTLINE THE PROBLEMS FACED AS LOCKDOWN HIT?

A lot of the schools didn’t have a remote access functionality, because schools are on a tight budget, and prior to lockdown this wasn’t a priority. But, overnight, it suddenly became a massive priority!

Our field engineers had to go out to almost all the schools and set up the remote working environment. Sometimes we could work with the existing equipment in place and there wasn’t much to change, other clients needed an upgrade. All of it was bespoke work, recommended by our field engineers.

SYSTEMS AND TECH USED

We used secure VPN set ups in all cases with remote app desktop services. Security was built into all this by design, especially the Remote App, as it requires MFA to work.

WAS THIS A SUCCESS?

All clients were able to get what they needed, and it worked well, so it was a success I’d say.

HOW DID OUR STAFF SURVIVE THE LOCKDOWN?

Before the country was locked down, we went down to a skeleton staff in the office, and the helpdesk had calls diverted through to their mobiles. We also started using MS Teams heavily between ourselves, which was a big change. The field engineers stopped going into schools, so this disrupted our way of working slightly, but due to the massive influx of calls we could use the field engineers as part of the helpdesk, and this really helped to get all the schools up and running quickly, so the business continued.

Once all the initial tickets were dealt with, the field engineers where then deployed into a more engineering maintenance role, sticking to their scheduled ‘visits’ which ended up being all done via Teams or remotely.

In essence, we kept ‘business as usual’ throughout the lockdown, just like Holker did, and didn’t leave any of our clients ‘un-serviced’.

NOW HOLKER HAS ACQUIRED PC EDUTECH, WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF THIS?

Holker has a better Cloud environment to serve our clients. A lot of our clients are used to ‘On Premise’ solutions, but they are moving slowly towards Cloud Services and Apps, and of course the future will see more of this. By teaming up with Holker, and using Holker Cloud instead of third parties, we can now be very much in control and manage this environment ourselves.

The expertise at Holker is better than ours, so this allows us to advise our clients of better solutions and different ways of working.

The account management for our clients is sometimes quite demanding, due to the relationship they have and interaction with IT. Having a better structure in terms of a single point of contact should make for a better service, and this will really be beneficial for our clients.

WHAT BENEFITS ARE PC EDUTECH BRINGING TO HOLKER?

The Management Information Systems (MIS) that the Schools and Educational facilities use are specialised for that sector, and the expertise and support via PC EduTech’s engineers adds an extra string to Holker’s bow.

An MIS is essentially, a people database and to comply with the DfE regulations, educational facilities HAVE to have one of these systems in place to report their various statistics etc.

There are a few MIS packages that clients use in the UK for this purpose, Integris and Abour are the ones that we use, but SIMS is the leader in the market. The problem is they are not innovative, they are not embracing the latest technologies, and because they are the largest, they are very expensive. This means most primary schools and low-funded schools cannot afford it.

There are not many IT companies I know that give all that Holker can give when it comes to specialist knowledge of MIS for Education packages, technical support and the full wrap-around of services, expertise and advice that Holker have from years of experience.  I think for Education, our services are unique now, and it gives our customers exactly what they need in terms of IT.

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