Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Data management

Data tunnell

Having the latest hardware and software is an asset, until it is time to do the annual audit. Nigel Pressnell explains how The Arnewood School found a way to avoid information overload and manage its ICT assets more efficiently.

Our ICT technician was not looking his best. Knee-deep in paperwork, three weeks after beginning his auditing marathon from one side of the school to the other, he still hadn't finished. We were all agreed - there must be a better way of doing this.

Arnewood is a mixed comprehensive with more than 1,200 students. We are proud of our status as a second phase designated technology college and place huge importance on ICT use. The school has invested heavily in equipment and infrastructure, with some 300 PCs, six dedicated ICT rooms and widespread WiFi access.

Under the school's 'Laptop for Learning' scheme, all 120 members of staff and some 200 students have their own laptops. By 2012, every student will have a laptop. Part of the school's ICT strategy is to rotate equipment. We tend to buy at the budget end of the market and use equipment heavily with a view to replacing it after three or four years of intensive use.

The downside to being so well-equipped has been extremely time-consuming audits. For the annual audit, we needed to know exactly what equipment we had and, just as importantly, where it all was located.

Laptops, cameras and wireless devices were regularly moved from classroom to classroom or taken off site by teachers or students working from home.

The dreaded audit

Preparing the audit was, to put it mildly, nobody's favourite task. As well as the technician's weeks spent logging all ICT hardware and software, other staff would be tasked with logging the non-ICT equipment - everything from kettles to power drills.

We gave all equipment a security tag and staff would have to physically find each item and log the information.

Another headache was ensuring that all software was fully compliant with licensing laws. The school runs more than 80 licensed software titles, many of which need renewing at different times.

We are legally obliged to keep track of this information to avoid falling foul of licensing laws, which could be very costly and even result in a criminal record for the personnel responsible.

We needed to record the following information: device type (eg desktop PC, laptop PC), date of purchase, serial number, operating system (eg Microsoft Windows XP) and software packages (eg Microsoft Office XP) - that's a lot of information to record.

We used to record all of this in log books, but even with the best of intentions, it was very difficult to keep everything up to date.

It became clear that, in order to avoid staff wasting hours on time-consuming administration and to ensure proper planning, we needed to find a better way of managing our assets.

Disaster recovery

Effective asset management is also a vital part of disaster recovery planning. We were well aware of the statistics - more than 1,300 schools in England and Wales suffer fires every year. About £80m worth of damage is caused by school fires every year, according to the Arson Prevention Bureau.

Logging important data in paper log books would be useless in the event of a fire. We had heard horror stories of schools losing thousands of pounds' worth of equipment and then being unable to claim on the insurance because they couldn't present evidence of the purchases.

We decided that it was essential that any asset management solution we chose was hosted off site, so that whatever happened, records of our precious equipment were safe.

The most tangible benefit of the asset management software for school management is that it offers the ability to strategically plan ICT development in a coherent and timely manner, guiding school leaders towards sensible purchasing decisions.

Storing all the information in one database makes it easy to see what hardware and software is well catered for and what is lacking. We can use this information to make carefully considered decisions on what equipment we need to invest in for the future.

We researched all the options and in the end chose a software package from IT Vision, which sits on a school's existing ICT infrastructure and automatically scans each PC every 24 hours, collecting all hardware and software assets into one central source. The software enables us to see exactly what ICT equipment we have, log any changes that take place and generally keep track of everything.

Auditing is a far easier process - the ICT technician and staff no longer need to walk around classrooms, scribbling down information because it's all stored online.

Monitoring student activity

Having a system that automatically tracks all PCs also benefits behaviour management and helps to keep students on task. The ICT technicians are aware whenever any new software is loaded onto a school PC or laptop.

Occasionally, students try to install something non-educational - games for example. We are aware when this is happening and a quiet word ensures that the computers are used only for schoolwork.

Asset management software also guards against pupils installing potentially disruptive hacking tools or software that enable them to bypass the schools filtering systems and access inappropriate material. We were amazed at the level of technical knowledge some students have.

Many are simply being curious and like to try things out on the computer, but it's important we are alerted to any misbehaviour, not only because it could result in students accessing obscene or dangerous material but also because it could jeopardise the security of the school ICT system.

We have been fortunate in recent years because the resources have been available to create top-class ICT facilities at Arnewood. It's essential to make best use of these resources. But the key benefit of online asset management is that it takes the burden of auditing away from staff and allows them to do what they do best - teach.

Nigel Pressnell is deputy head at The Arnewood School, an 11-18 technology college in Hampshire with about 1,200 students on roll.

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