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Why being part of NEN is a no brainer! - A personal view from Owen Napier, Education Specialist, BT

By working together, schools can make use of cloud-based services providing a full range software whilst driving down costs.

It’s nearly 20 years since the National Curriculum was introduced, establishing a consistent approach across all state schools, and yet many teachers and schools still resent the lack of control they have over their own working environment.

A similar, but hopefully more easily resolved, debate is now taking place over broadband providers in schools, and was the key topic at the recent National Education Network annual conference.

NEN is an association of Regional Broadband Consortia (RBCs) from across the UK that serves 90% of schools in the country.  Since being set up in the early 2000s, RBCs have tried to offer schools the cost benefits of aggregating demand for network connections, along with a quality guarantee and security wrap that isn’t easily available on the open market.

But the government’s broad strategy in Education is for increased autonomy for individual schools and there are signs that some will now break away from their RBC provider in search of a cheaper deal on the open market. This in turn weakens the value offered to the remaining clients of an RBC, (because central costs are spread across all schools and because there is an element of cross-subsidy to smooth the prices for the hardest-to-reach locations) until the business model unravels for all the schools in a region. So an individual school may gain a slight financial benefit but at the expense (literally) of the other schools in the area. This conference was therefore a crucial focal point for RBC managers looking to the future of their organisations.

Vanessa Pittard from the Department for Education suggested that while she was in favour of school autonomy in some areas, she supported the aggregation of demand in network services (a message that was warmly received on the conference floor; after all, staff in schools don’t go into teaching in order to become experts in procurement).

But the arguments go beyond just the cost of a broadband connection. By working together, schools can make use of cloud-based services which provide a full range of school productivity software and help schools to drive down costs by taking away the burden of technology maintenance. So schools are facing a simple multi-choice question: Would you prefer

a)     The time-consuming inconvenience of finding and then managing an alternative supplier for your broadband connection, or

b)     To take advantage of the latest technology AND have someone else take care of your broadband connection?

To many people, it’s a no-brainer.