Why the DfE Technical Standards are so important.

Published by Matt Setchell on

I appreciate that DfE Technical Standards have been around for a while now, but in the last few months a few more have been added, and I wanted to do a little post on why I think they are very important, and mark an important step in technology in schools.

Since the Government axed BECTA a few years ago now, there has been very little in the way of guidance for schools on how to handle the fast paced changes in edtech. Not just in terms of what to buy and how, but any kind of guidance in how to stay safe, and importantly how to plan for the future when buying, so tech lasts and money is spent wisely.

This lack of independent guidance for education has caused many of the issues schools now face, equipment that needs replacing sooner, a workforce who has lost faith in technology after plenty of false starts and short lived systems that have never really worked, or when staff have invested their time – have since died with all their work on them

Since Covid, we are only just getting to the point where some schools are understanding how vital their IT is, what an impact it can make and they are then learning the importance of having the proper infrastructure to provide that service they now depend on.

Even those schools who have known the importance haven’t had an independent baseline to give them a clear understanding of where they are at.

These are not easy tasks – the tech powering our schools is advanced stuff. Providing a working platform for thousands of users, and now with MATs across multiple sites and multiple devices is something you only do at the largest of businesses. So expecting a headteacher or SBM etc to know about whether WiFi 6 is worth it, or if they have CAT 6a, or various other key bits of information that even a small primary head would need to know to make an informed decision is asking a lot.

And with the seismic changes schools are embracing with cloud, that advice and expertise is more important then ever.

An example would be around Broadband connectivity. At a recent Edugeek event, the CEO of Schools Broadband was outlining the changes in schools connectivity options. The changes that have happened in terms of speed and bandwidth in the last 4 years are nothing compared to the changes in the next 4 years – but schools are signing 3 & 5 year deals for their broadband. The standards help ensure that at the end of that period, schools will not be years behind.

The standards help MSPs because we can justify recommendations. Before, schools had to trust and take our word for it. Now, we can provide those standards and justify.

Before the standards, others could come along and challenge a viewpoint easily, and create doubt – because in IT there are so many different ways to do the same thing. Each with its own set of plus and minus points – now, as long as the works meet the standards, schools can be confident that they are making the right choice.

And what is clear, is that the standards have been written and agreed by those in the industry. Including those on the ground in schools directly, or at MSP level or suppliers of products who have agreed.

Of course they are not perfect. Things are missing, they don’t always take into account the variances between a huge secondary and a 1 form primary. There are standards still to be written as well.

But they are a huge step forward, and it was interesting to speak to Tom Newton at Smoothwall at a recent Edugeek event where he spoke about the Cyber Security and filtering and monitoring standards – stating whilst they are not perfect, that they are by far the best in the world, which I hadn’t even considered – that at least we have some!

I think it’s important as well that we continue to see them evolving, to ensure schools can take advantage of the huge advances we are seeing. It’s also important that they are device and platform agnostic.

Finally, I’m glad they are standards and not rules. That ability to understand context for our schools is something that shouldn’t be taken away from those on the ground.

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