Primary Technology Ltd

VoIP in Education

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is a technology in which voice calls, as well as video and data, are transmitted over the internet, instead of legacy PSTN or ISDN lines.  With educational demands expanding and budgets contracting, VoIP is quickly gaining traction among schools at all levels.

Historically phone systems have always been viewed as a separate entity, quite often alienated from the overall ICT Infrastructure. Our belief is that schools and MATs should be looking at the bigger picture and including this in their ICT budgets.

So why is VoIP rising in popularity? There are multiple reasons as to why so many schools are switching to VoIP, to help get a better understanding we’ve listed some key benefits:

Having a system that is easy to adopt and deploy, is cost-effective and scalable, it’s easy to see why VoIP is in demand. To discuss how easily VoIP can be implemented in your school, while delivering the savings you need to meet today’s tight budgets, please get in touch.

In a previous post we listed a number of reasons why there has been an increase of interest in server-less cloud technology. Operating a server-less environment isn’t a one size fits all solution but does offer many benefits, some of which we’ve listed below:

Heightened Security
Cloud servers have the best reputation for being highly secure and with your data no longer being on site, questions are often raised around security. The most reliable cloud providers encrypt your data in transit and while ‘at rest’ on the cloud servers, you’re even given the option to control your own encryption keys and set rules for who can access your data in case you’re concerned the provider may be snooping around your data. You can also ensure that it’s compliant with any of the current UK legislations.

Reduced Overheads
Investing in hardware, software and the maintenance adds up over time. Cloud computing costs do vary, but typically you only pay for the service you use and the storage you need. Operating and accessing services from the cloud also uses less electricity, as the hardware is utilised much better than in-house servers, equalling more efficient power use and lower overheads.

Resource Sharing
Operating server-less means staff are able to make use of the shared resources from any location and on any device. Lesson plans, important documents and images can be accessed from almost any device. Google (Cloud),  Microsoft (Azure) and Amazon (AWS) all offer reliable cloud based services as well as many smaller providers.

Is it really server-less?
Even if you migrate most of your files, data and services to the cloud, you will still need some form of server on-site to ensure your wireless network, internet connectivity and printers still function.  The cost of servers on-site will be reduced, but until you remove your internet service, for example using a 4G (or in the future, 5G) and printers, you will still be reliant on some form of server.

The term going server-less has been floating around for many years and isn’t as much of a new phenomenon as you may think. Cloud technology involves using a network of remote servers to host, manage and process data rather than a local server (so, not completely server-less).

So why the sudden increase in schools wanting to know more about going server-less?

One main reason is that cloud technology is becoming increasingly cheaper, easier to use and the companies that offer this technology now offer more services than ever before. Another reason is that the benefits of these platforms are becoming widely recognised by businesses.

In a whitepaper released by Cisco, the tech giant boldly predicts that by 2019, 86% of an organisations workload will be operated from the cloud. This is slowly catching on with schools too, as they’re increasingly being encouraged to move over to this platform with the DfE providing policy guidelines for schools looking to make this transition.

Read our blog about what’s on offer when you go server-less to find out more.

Inclusion and accessibility are right up on the agenda here at Primary Technology and today we have been able to tick a really big box by including Speech to Text support on Pads in PrimaryPad. Real time collaboration without a keyboard in this world with a penetration of mobile and tablet factor devices is a really nice feature and we’re really proud of our contributions to Etherpad Lite which have made this possible.

At current Speech to Text is only available in Google Chrome however over the next few months we expect to see other browsers adopting this fantastic input method! Enjoy!

Try it for yourself on a Pad at PrimaryPad <– make sure to use Google Chrome

We’re currently experiencing an issue with PrimaryPaint. If you click the paintbrush from a PrimaryPad you may have a problem. If you do find you have this problem please visit PrimaryPaint – create a paint wall then copy the URL to your pad and ask your pupils to click that.

We will get the issue resolved as soon as possible. Thanks for understanding 🙂

Roughly a year ago a former employee resigned from Primary Technology without giving any notice. The next day, two schools confirmed that they would no longer be requiring our services, and had changed to a new provider. It became evident in the hand-over process that our former employee was now working for the new provider at the same two schools.

The employee had decided that he could not work his 30 day notice period and also would not communicate with us. In response, Primary Technology sent the employee a letter reminding him of his contractual obligations and asked him to re-consider opening communications with us.

The employee sadly did not re-consider and instead, one month later, initiated employment tribunal proceedings on the grounds of constructive dismisal. At this point he became the “Ex employee”.

Given that we had been accused of constructive dismisal, we decided to seek legal council. I don’t want to go into too much detail about how we used legal council and the approaches used, but it was safe to say that in my opinion the whole case was not handled very professionally. For example, the Ex Employee’s solicitor neglected to mention that the Ex Employee had actually stopped using their services some time before the tribunal hearing, despite the solicitor being duty bound to do so.

We arrived early and fully prepared for our tribunal case. Our legal team and senior managers were eager to hear the truth, myself especially because I was the main target of the accusations.

10AM came and went. At 10.30, we went into the chamber but our opposite hadn’t turned up; neither had his legal representation (we had the delay because the tribunal secretary had spent 30 minutes calling all the contact details available for the Ex Employee and his solicitor).

The case was dismissed with no orders for costs meaning Primary Technology were considerably out of pocket due to legal fees and time wasted. Unfortunately the truth was never investigated

So here it is, evidence that we went through the process only to be dissapointed that we didn’t have our long-awaited day in the tribunal courts.

We believe in transparency as default in Primary Technology and public records often aid us in fulfilling this so with that in mind here is a copy of the public documents that was published from the tribunal.


One of the biggest single I.T. purchases a school will make is the replacement of its servers. With typical costs of £2000 – £2500 per server, possibly with installation and migration costs on top of that, it’s no wonder that support providers, keen to ensure their customers are making the best use of their budget are questioning whether schools need the traditional two server approach.

Why do we have two servers?

The traditional setup within primary schools has been two physically disjoint networks, one for curriculum users (teaching staff and pupils), and one for the administrative staff. This provided two sets of ring-fenced resources, both servers acting as file and print servers for their users, with the admin server also hosting the SQL databases for MIS systems. The security of these databases was often cited as a reason for keeping the two networks disjoint. However, using robust security practices will be just as effective at protecting sensitive data, and much less restrictive to users authorised to use that data.

What’s changing?

The changes in the way technology is utilized mean that there is more and more cross-over between traditional admin and curriculum use.
Members of the senior leadership team, who have traditionally needed to connect to the admin network, may be teaching and also need access to the curriculum server resources; this would require logging on to a different computer, one connected to the curriculum network, with a different user name and password.
Teaching staff might wish to have access to the MIS systems on the admin server, whether this is for something simple like desktop registering, or more advanced, such as pupil progress recording.

So how is it changing?

The first step in closer integration is the physical joining of the two networks, to allow data to pass between them. This allows for the crossover of data between the systems, but doesn’t allow for some of the greater benefits that can be achieved through the joining of both servers into a single domain. With all machines at a site belonging to a single domain for the whole school, it doesn’t matter whether a user is a curriculum or an admin user, they can log on to any client machine, with a single set of user credentials, and have access to their data, whether it is stored on the curriculum server, the admin server or both. There is also potentially simplified access to shared resources such as printers, as well as greater flexibility in the event of a particular printer failure.

So can we just have one server?

The answer to this question is simple enough, yes, yes you can. With the relative power and storage capacity of computers increasing all the time, many schools who are keen to make budgetary savings see moving their current curriculum and admin servers on to a single machine to be an excellent way to cut costs. Essentially all you are really adding to your MIS server loading is the file and print server role for the curriculum users, and a little overhead for handling things like user authentication. Given that your new server will have a more powerful processor, more memory and probably a better disk subsystem, all that you need to do is add sufficient storage capacity for the curriculum users and you can happily run your school on a single server.

Should I have just one server?

In many ways this is a trickier question. The single server approach, whilst seeming attractive, does remove some of the potential resiliency you could achieve through retaining a two server architecture. In theory it would be possible to make the servers fully redundant with data being mirrored across both servers. Then in the event of one failing, a few minor configuration changes would allow the school to continue on virtually unaffected in the event of server failure, something which would be impossible in the single server school, (or even the traditional style two server school).

It is unlikely that the complexity of such a high degree of resiliency is necessary (or even desirable) in a primary school environment. However having a second server to help maintain the core server functions such as active directory, DNS, DHCP etc., would allow many I.T. functions to continue unaffected within the school whilst a failed server was replaced. This is something well worth considering in the current environment where the internet can provide access to teaching resources and applications in the event that local server based applications are unavailable.

Weighing it up. . .

Single server offers potential savings on hardware costs, and systems management overheads, only having to administer a single server. Its potential weakness is that the server becomes a single point of failure for the whole school, rather than just the curriculum users or admin the staff. However so long as the school have reliable backups, both of it data and active directory, a recovery shouldn’t take more than 48 hours (assuming access to replacement hardware).

Twin server systems have the advantage of maintaining the active directory in the event of a server failure. This will allow users to log on, and with a little forethought in implementation allow access to the internet, shared printers and whatever user data is available on the remaining server whilst awaiting the install and configuration of the replacement server.

Article by Steve Dulson, schools network engineer at Primary Technology

Personalised learning needs a smooth transition between various service providers who are
offering learning content and activities. With continual password prompts being a barrier to this
style of learning, and putting off many schools. Single Sign On (SSO) should be one of the
underlying technologies that removes this barrier, yet it is failing to live up to its promise and the
hard work that many people have put into it. This endangers the whole thrust of personalisation
mediated by technology.

Schools have both a want and a need to try to personalise students’ online learning. Since 2006
the majority of schools, districts and local authorities have tried to accomplish this by accessing
web based learning resources using a Single Sign On system called Shibboleth to avoid
remembering and having to enter multiple passwords on multiple web applications. At
Government level this system is called “Federated Access Management (FAM)” but as the scope of
my report covers a specific mechanism I will not be using this term. This system isn’t achieving its
goals, in this report I will try to explain why and how we can go about making Single Sign On a
more natural experience for schools. If I was reading this report I would have given up before now,
thinking “Meh, its someone else’s problem” but really it isn’t. I hope you can take some time to
read on and to find out how we can all work together to solve the problem.

Download the report: PDF, Microsoft Word, Open Document.

See previous revisions of the report: http://john.primarypad.com/ep/pad/view/single-sign-on-writeup/latest

This is a guest post by David Mitchell.

So, if you’re reading this, the chances are you are a blogger, if you’re not a blogger, your class might be bloggers and if your class are not blogging, the very fact you are here reading this suggests that you probably should be.

I started blogging with my class less than two years ago. In that time, blogging has transformed my teaching, my attitude and my learning too. Blogging has become a very powerful tool in my teacher’s toolbox. Through hard work and some good luck, I have managed to develop a large audience for my pupils to showcase their talents to. Through the use of Twitter, I have tweeted links each day – sometimes as many as 20 per day out to the world. If people don’t like what I am tweeting about it’s simple, they can ‘unfollow’ me. Believe me, many have – and told me too!

During my time researching blogging, supporting other blogging teachers an just observing new blogs, one thing has become very clear. Building an audience takes time. It took me about 2 months to get regular stream of visitors to my first class blog: (www.y62010.heathfieldcps.net) back in December 2009. I have seen so many teacher start blogging with their class and either because they lost interest or their pupils lost interest the once exciting new platform that promised so much – delivered very little!

Here’s where a little idea I had could help you out…

Imagine 4 schools or classes of similar aged pupils from different parts of the world. All sharing one common objective – to publish their learning to a global audience. Instead of waiting 2-3 months to get your audience, why not use the community around you to support you in these first months. This is where QuadBlogging comes in. It’s free, takes 1 minute to sign up to and promises to deliver a truly global audience of like minded people to your class blog.

Here’s how it works:

Here’s what Miss B’s Class think about QuadBlogging and the impact it has had on the children:

QuadBlogging has been going from strength to strength. The September to December cycle has have over 500 classes from 18 countries. We’re talking somewhere in the region of 15,000 – 20,000 pupils from around the world. Sign up allows you to specify where you’d like some of your Quaddies to be from as a result, allowing you to fit QuadBlogging into your curriculum. The next round of QuadBlogging sees registration open right now. The cycle will run from January 2012 – April 2012:

Sign up here: www.QuadBlogging.net

Here’s what some teachers already QuadBlogging have to say about it:

“Hightlights of Quadblogging? All of it! The children in my class are absolutely absorbed and loving our purposeful learning journey around the world. Each day brings something new to our classroom. You can’t “plan” that!
We are Skyping to meet our Australian buddies today.
Thank you for introducing Quadblogging to us!”

“Quadblogging offers so many fantastic opportunities to connect with others all over the world! My students are 5-6 year olds and they are learning so much from our quaddies. There is great excitement and engagement in the classroom everyday as we explore the different blogs and ask questions and write comments to our new friends. Our blog says it all –http://prepblackburnsouth.blogspot.com/
What an amazing initiative – linking students and teachers from all over the world. Thank you!”

“WOW! Quadblogging has been awesome – an intentional response to our writing which is fantastic for the children to read. It’s authentic feedback from other students and we can’t put a price on that! The class have absolutely hung on every word written by their buddies and have avidly searched through each other blog for interesting ideas to compare and contrast to their own. We have truly gone global through this and their sense of their place in the world has really become a reality. Quadblogging rocks!”

Registration is free and easy, the impact could be huge and powerful!

www.quadblogging.net

David Mitchell
aka @DeputyMitchell
Founder of QuadBlogging

On the 1st of November we implemented a number of upgrades to the Bradford Schools Remote Access system.

What has changed?

1. Remote Access is now smoother and faster. We are using new technology to ensure a smoother user experience.
2. A new Desktop client means that you can access your schools Remote Access from your desktop or start menu without having to go through the web browser.
3. Increased security means that you can be confident that only your staff are accessing your schools systems.

What if I have a problem with the new system?

Please get in touch and we will resolve it ASAP

Find out more about Bradford Schools Remote Access

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