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Strategy & Big Picture

Avoiding the points of pain when moving to a schoolwide teaching app

We look at the points of pain for school IT teams and how new generation teacher workspace apps are solving them.

A man sits in front of his laptop with his head in his hands as people around him push a mobile phone, iPads and paperwork towards him.
Catherine Jessey

Catherine Jessey

Catherine is a Science Teacher, Apple Distinguished Educator, and Sparkjar Teacher Champion.

Digital platforms are full of potential when it comes to enhancing teaching and learning provision in schools. As they become the norm, there’s a shift from teachers making choices for their individual classrooms to leadership teams taking whole-school decisions on which platform will be used by all. This inevitably involves IT Support teams, which may not have had much to do with teacher-administered classroom software previously but who may be asked to assume responsibility as all teachers align to the same platform. This article flags up the top five ‘headaches’ to look out for (and avoid!), whether you’re assessing a new platform, evaluating an existing solution or are happy with your current setup, to ensure you get the best software experience available.

1. MIS Synchronisation

Seriously… if you’re not already using one, look at the next generation of school-based teaching platforms. They have huge benefits in terms of implementation, management, support, security and reporting; they’re definitely the direction of travel. These systems synchronise with your MIS to create user accounts automatically, with minimal input required to keep your staff and learner accounts up to date with new students, class or timetable changes. This reduces admin for your teaching staff and limits the potential for unauthorised users to gain access to digital classes. Ideally, the platform you work with will also allow you to administer parental access and make ad hoc changes as needed, without needing to hack your MIS to make them work.

Look for:

  1. A named synchronisation partner, such as Wonde
  2. An admin portal specifically designed to support school Data Managers and IT Support staff


2. Responsive support

As the main point of contact in school when things go wrong, you’ve probably experienced the stress and panic that tech failures can cause amongst staff and students. When this is caused by an issue outside of your control you need to know you can rely on the support services of the platform you’re using, and that they’re going to respond and solve the problem quickly.

Look for:

  1. UK-based support services or dedicated support services available during UK working hours


3. Data security & safeguarding

Given that the data contained within any learning platform is highly sensitive, it’s an important part of the school's GDPR responsibility to ensure there's clarity on exactly where information such as names and user photographs might end up being processed as part of the provider fulfilling their service, as well as where in the world that data is stored. The fewer third-party integrations and more localised the storage, the more secure your school data will be.  

Look for:

  1. Servers located in the UK/EU
  2. Minimal 3rd party involvement 

During the first phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, there were widespread reports of unwanted ‘guests’ popping up in video calls and chats on digital platforms. Having a system that’s accessed only by users listed in your MIS is the first step towards preventing this kind of breach but it’s also worth checking that it’s not possible for users to be added ad hoc outside of your control as a system administrator. Any system that allows student users the opportunity to create unsupervised chat threads, start or end class video calls and, conversely, which allows staff to remove data without leaving an auditable trail is open to potential safeguarding concerns. 

Look for:

  1. Class and individual-level controls for managing access to messaging features
  2. Systems that limit features for students to prevent unsupervised activity
  3. Systems that make admin and teacher controls simple and straightforward to find and use


4. Data rollover

Teachers and students often have files and data they wish to continue to access from one academic year to the next. Ideally, your teaching and learning platform will preserve this content so that submitted work can be viewed and files reused, whilst limiting chat or messaging features so that these are read-only, to prevent confusion between old and new classes. You also want to ensure it’s not possible for a staff member or student to continue to have access to the school system after leaving and, conversely, that students don’t lose access to their work in a class for a teacher who has left the school.

Look for:

  1. Automated archiving of data without loss of access for existing users
  2. Easy navigation between previous years’ classes, with clear labelling to distinguish between academic years
  3. Data security preventing access for ex-staff and off-rolled students.


5. Speed & convenience

If you’re already using one-to-one devices in school, it’s likely you previously upgraded your WiFi infrastructure to support the associated increase in connectivity demands. However, there may still be places within or outside the school buildings that receive a weaker signal and so create an issue for those using the learning platform if it freezes or ceases to work correctly when offline or with low signal. There are platforms available that continue to work offline and that are configured to reduce the necessity for the dreaded loading spinner, allowing users fast, consistent access to resources and less unproductive, wasted time.

Look for:

  1. Offline access
  2. Systems specifically developed to allow fast file sharing with minimal network impact


Sparkjar - the new generation teaching platform for one-to-one device schools

Sparkjar is the leading new generation teaching platform used by technology-forward, one-to-one device schools. It's faster, more powerful, and easier to set up and use than any other teacher app, making it the choice for school IT teams, teachers and school leaders. Ask for a demonstration. 

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