How to prepare for integrating a new school into your Multi-Academy Trust

When adding a new school to a Multi-Academy Trust, it’s often challenging to change their tools and processes to match those of the rest of the trust.

Users have an emotional investment in the tools they were using. Schools have invested time in configuring their filters and safeguarding systems, and there can often be a large financial penalty for moving current contracts. These kinds of movements are relatively rare outside of education – it’s not often companies merge, but new academies can be introduced multiple times a year for bigger MATs. It’s not a trend that looks to slow down completely either: it’s not uncommon for schools to transition from one trust to another. 

Given that this is a hard enough process already, it’s sensible to see how your filtering and safeguarding partners will stand up to the job. 

Training

The human element in switching systems can be one of the most difficult to get right. Local IT power users may be ingrained in their use of different pieces of software, and in Safeguarding, a change can be seen as a big problem. 

The best way to alleviate this pain of integration is to train the new users in your preferred systems. IT users will feel much happier when they are experts in the new system and can answer their users’ questions with confidence. Those responsible for safeguarding are always more comfortable when they know everything in their old process maps neatly to the new world, and nothing is lost. Rightly, their concerns are over missing a key issue for a young person in their care.

Ensure your provider can offer training – either on-site or remotely, and is willing to reengage when you add a new site. 

 

AreaWho to informWhat to coverWho should cover it
FilteringIT teamNew user interface, reporting and application of policiesVendor, local or remote
FilteringSafeguarding teamWhat can be reported on, what’s being blocked or allowed by the new filter systemLocal IT team
FilteringAll staffAdvance warning of changesEmail update or similar
MonitoringSafeguarding teamNew UI, Alerting procedureVendor, remote or local
MonitoringIT teamHow to installVendor documentation
MonitoringAll staffWhat’s being monitored, and whyEmail update or similar
Record keepingSafeguarding teamNew UI, process flowVendor, local or remote
Record keepingAll staffHow to report a concernTraining delivered by local Safeguarding team
Configuration management

Many systems work well when used with one organisation, yet poorly across multiple sites with different organisational structures. Its important to be easily able to bring in your new school with minimal changes to their configuration.

Firstly, a configuration system which allows for ordered policies will provide the capability to “layer” trust policy on top of that of the new school, producing a superset of both. This caters for that transitional period where a new school needs to be immediately up to your standards but may need some intermediate gradual change management. 

Secondly, the configuration should be manageable centrally where possible. A “master” configuration allows those trust wide policies to be pushed straight out to all filter units – or, in the case of a central deployment applied to all tenants. This saves time and ensures consistency. 

Finally, look for a vendor willing to help with translating configurations. If your new school has a niche system or something uncommon in education, it may be more challenging to export their filter rules and merge them with the trusts. 

Contracts and costs

New sites are often under contract for filtering and safeguarding products. Many of these contracts are 3 or 5 years in length. Of course, you would rather have a single vendor across the trust for ease of support and operation. This is frequently one of the biggest pain points when bringing on a new school – as budget may not be available for changing all these systems. How can your vendor selection help here? 

Ask upfront about scaling the licence. Some vendors will treat each School as a new sale, and not provide the discount appropriate to the scale of the trust. Ask your vendors – in writing – to ensure they’ll give you an option to extend your agreement to cover this situation.

It’s possible your existing vendor will help you financially if there’s an onerous contract with the incumbent. This is unusual, but it’s worth asking. Education focussed vendors who are used to dealing with MATs are more likely to be able to help out in these kind of situations. 

If you’re planning to bring on extra sites – but the plans are still in early stages, or dates aren’t finalised, it’s sensible to work with your vendor upfront. Share as much as is feasible in your situation and you will usually find there’s flexibility. 

Network and connectivity

Bringing a new site on board always means adding another internet connection. We don’t always get lucky and find the new academy is on the same ISP as the rest of the trust. Even then there can be migration difficulties. But what can your choice of filter vendor do to influence these challenges? 

Firstly, a vendor which is tied to their own connectivity might find it difficult to quickly deliver filtering to your new site. It’s understandable that there are advantages to having ISP and filtering with the same people, but most of these advantages can be achieved by choosing a vendor and ISP or service partner who work together. This will allow the partner to disaggregate filtering and connectivity, giving you more flexibility in how you roll out to the new site. 

Secondly, if your filtering and safeguarding vendor can offer tactical solutions such as an IPSec VPN, this might bridge the gap between waiting until the end of the term to align the new site with your MPLS network, or paying handsomely to do it now.

Finally, if your filtering, safeguarding and record keeping products are all capable of cloud deployment, it should be much easier to work around any temporary issues with your network. 

Use this checklist to see how well prepared you are for the inevitable new site.

ItemSolution in Place?
Training availability
Pricing scalability for existing suite
Contract buy out strategy available?
Configuration management plan
Plan to support sites not on MPLS or our WAN
Monitoring

If you have a question or would like to learn more about how Smoothwall can take the challenge away from your integration, please get in touch. We’d be delighted to help.

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