From next year the education budget will be scaled back by 25% over four years. While the government has pledged its commitment to protecting front-line services, few are under any illusions that schools will be expected to play their part. For the foreseeable future, ‘more’ is increasingly likely to be expected ‘for less’. According to Becta, only one in five schools makes efficient use of its technology. Microsoft, Apple and Open Source Schools concur that in most schools there is considerable scope for improvement. Here are 10 ideas worth exploring, and some estimates of the potential savings.

1. Turn off your email servers
The development of cloud-based shared service solutions mean that there is now a viable alternative to running your own email exchange servers. Basic services, like the Google Apps Education Edition or Microsoft’s [email protected], are free. Both provide fully secure, school-branded virtual space for email, document sharing and storage.

When you make the switch, you can even retain your existing school-specific email address. A striking example of what can be achieved is provided by London Grid for Learning, which estimates that across London schools have saved approximately £11m since transferring to Microsoft’s service last year. Hampshire County Council has just decided to follow suit.

2. Get the right software licence
While it may seem like a statement of the obvious to say that you should not be buying software ‘off the shelf’, it’s surprising how widespread this practice still is. What you need is software that is licensed for use by educational institutions, which of course most high street retailers can’t or won’t supply.

There are essentially two types of licence. Perpetual licences are those that you buy once and use forever. In respect of Microsoft products, the Select Licence offers the best value for secondary schools because it is designed for customers running upwards of 250 PCs. However, like all perpetual licences, the Select Licence does not include upgrades; the software will date after three or four years and then you will face a spike in your IT spending. Subscription-based licences, on the other hand, have the advantage that they include upgrades and therefore allow you to spread the cost evenly from year to year.

Microsoft’s subscription-based service, which is called either a School Agreement or an SESP Agreement, offers schools a much better deal than any perpetual licence because you subscribe for the software you actually need to run on the specific number of computers that you have in your school.

Schools may benefit further by activating a free subscription to the Microsoft Developer Network Academic Alliance (MSDNAA), which allows schools to use a range of software for teaching and learning purposes without having to buy the licences individually. Expression Studio 2 (including Expression Web, Web, Blend, Media and Design) and Visual Studio Professional are both included. Pupils can also use the software at home on homework assignments.

Among other suppliers, Adobe has recently released a subscription-based service too. Its new Term Site License (TSL) offers a less expensive alternative to the ‘cumulative’ or ‘transactional’ licences, and also includes free upgrades.

3. Reduce your photocopying/printing
The average secondary school prints a staggering 1-1.2 million sheets of paper a year, so it’s likely that a huge saving may be made by reducing the volume of printing and ensuring that extensive copying is done in reprographics, rather than on classroom printers. Teachers use classroom printers to avoid wasting time in the reprographics queue, but are often unaware that that their laser printers may be up to six times more expensive to operate. Implement an online ordering system and you can make their classroom printers redundant.

If you make more efficient use of your learning platform and extend access beyond the school gates, to governors, parents and the local authority, for example, you can go a long way to reducing paper, ink and power consumption.

Mike Herrity, at Twynham School, reckons that implementation of these and other paper efficiencies will ultimately save his school £50,000 to £70,000 a year. Microsoft’s more conservative estimate, for the average secondary school, is £33,000.

4. Switch on power management
Both Mac OS X and MS Windows operating systems offer different levels of in-built power-saving settings. These are technically named hard-disk, display and system sleeps. Your IT manager should be conducting regular system checks to ensure that your system preferences are set to optimise energy saving and that these settings have not been disrupted by the way the network has been configured, by applications designed to override sleep mode, or by unnecessary external USB devices, for example.

If you upgrade to the latest operating systems you will be able to take advantage of enhanced power-saving features. Upgrading typically saves between £23 and £46 per computer per year.

5. Pull out your old computers
Windows 7 has been designed to run on much older PCs than its predecessors managed. This means that you won’t always have to buy new when you need to add PCs to your network. Although the official minimum specification for Windows 7 has been set at a 1 GHz processor, 1 GB of RAM and (at least) 16 GB of hard disk, industry blogs have reported success with equipment as old as the Pentium 2 266MHz processor, with only 128MB of RAM! These developments, of course, offer the happy prospect of being able to run every computer off the same version of Windows, to considerable gain in terms of the management time you will save.

6. Switch to remote access
Microsoft’s latest operating platform (Windows 7) also makes setting up remote access much more straightforward. Up until recently, remote access to networks has been via Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), which has meant installing both special hardware on the network and special software on any computer used for remote access. Although some VPNs, like the open-source version ‘Moodle’, make use of free software packages, others rely on Citrix or other commercial solutions to manage information and access. If this is the case at your school, note that Windows 7 now incorporates a feature called DirectAccess, which enables users to create secure and seamless connections without the need for reliance on other software.

Nyall Monkton, IT Manager at Dean Close School, Cheltenham, expects to save £15,000-£25,000 a year by simplifying their, particularly complicated, current system. Microsoft’s own, more conservative, forecast is set at £5,000 per year.

7. Allow students to use their own laptops
Recent British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) research revealed that secondary schools spend 48% per of their ICT budget on new computers. What if schools were to follow the example of British universities and encourage students to use their own laptops? Schools don’t need to be funding all the computers used on their premises. There are, of course, network security, software compatibility and ‘appropriate use’ issues to consider, but providing the planning is thorough, it can be done.

8. Switch to lower energy devices
It is worth considering the potential for savings through buying energy efficient computers when you do actually have to replace your hardware. There are essentially two ways in which better informed purchasing can help schools reduce their electricity usage.

First, you can buy laptops instead of desktop PCs. It is often overlooked that the power supply of a laptop, at 50-70 watts, is much lower than that of a desktop.

Second, consider making the switch to low power computers. Currently, RM’s ‘ecoquiet’ range leads the way, consuming, unbelievably, less energy than a traditional light bulb. But PARS Technology have an alternative ‘PC’ called the I-Cute 270Q – a compact device that attaches to the back of your flat-screen monitor and does away with the need for the unit under the desk. Amazingly, with 1GB of RAM and a 160GB hard disk, it still only uses 18 watts of power. Asus’ portable Eee PC and spin-offs Eee Top and Eee Box, designed specifically to suit educational users, are also popular.

9. Switch to virtual servers
If you are still worrying over the best location of your server room and how to ensure adequate ventilation, then you need to be thinking about virtualisation. Rapid ICT expansion and inadequate long-term planning has led to ‘server sprawl’ in many schools, with support contracts attached to anything up to 12 or even 15 units. Now that physical server units may be ‘split’ to host more than one independent operating system, you can greatly reduce the number of servers you have in operation.

The additional ‘virtual’ servers created by this process, operating now off a single physical server unit, perform all the functions previously allocated to separate server machines.

By choosing not to replace servers, terminating associated support contracts, and through electricity savings, Wootton Basset School estimates that it has saved £53,000 over three years. West Hatch School, Neville Lovett School and Lodge Park Technology College are all saving between £10,000 and £15,000 a year.

10. Change the way you communicate
This is probably among the most ambitious items on the list because, like encouraging students to use their own laptops, it requires a significant cultural shift. If schools are to take full advantage of new communications packages involving integrating instant messaging, remote desktop sharing, internet phone calling, conference calling and video-conferencing, considerable reserves of patience on the part of ICT managers will be required too.

Some schools have grasped the pedagogical potential already and used these technologies to partner on projects with other schools. Others have used video-conferencing to make more efficient use of teaching staff and cover staff absence. Internal communications may be made more efficient too, for example by enabling consultations to move seamlessly from email, to instant messaging, to video conferencing, including others in the decision-making process without having to call a succession of meetings to address the issues.

The net result
An indication of how much a typical secondary school might be able to save by implementing these changes is given in the table above. The figures have been calculated by Ray Fleming of Microsoft and are based on live projects in a number of different schools.

Potential efficiency savings over three years
1. Turn off your email servers  £30,000
2. Get the right software licence  £14,800
3. Reduce your photocopying/printing  £100,000
4. Switch on power management  £30,000
5. Pull out your old computers  £10,000
6. Switch to remote access  £15,000
7. Allow students to use their own laptops  £60,000
8. Switch to lower energy devices  £15,000
9. Switch to virtual servers  £53,000
10. Change the way you communicate  £30,000
Total  £357,800

* Estimates have been based on an average secondary school population of 1,000 pupils using 400 computers and 13 servers
* Efficiency measuers are ranked in order of the effort and investment required for them to be implemented, with the most straightforward and achievable initiative appearing first on the list.

Making a start

A number of useful tools, developed by Becta over the past couple of years, are available online to help get you started on your cost-saving projects. A useful first step is to make use of Becta’s Self-review framework. This questionnaire will help you to evaluate all aspects of your ICT provision, rating the overall efficiency and effectiveness of present procurement systems from ‘impulsive, unplanned and reactive’ (worst-case), through various shades of ‘could do better’, benchmarked against the ideal of ‘systematic’ and ‘sustainable’ whole-school planning.uring their stint at the coalface, Becta also developed a useful Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) calculator and an investment planning tool to help schools identify hidden costs more accurately and relate them to usage and performance. You can still download this tool from the Becta site. For further information, including case studies of schools that have successfully implemented these measures, visit Microsoft’s blog.

Finally, as you get underway, consider ways in which students may participate in and learn from the process. Many of the initiatives mentioned in this article depend on the kind of cultural changes which can only be brought about by concerted efforts to educate and raise awareness. Are there ways to frame the changes your audit requires that serve school-wide educational goals?

This year’s national eWell-Being Awards featured a prize for sustainable use of ICT in schools for the first time. The winners were the Djanogly City Academy Nottingham, Nottingham Blue Coat and Technology College, and Fernwood School, for their joint student Energy Reduction Project, which suggested innovative solutions for halving the schools’ energy consumption. Why not consider entering your project next year?

James Croft is an education journalist, communications consultant, publisher and PR professional