ransomware attack that affected 24 schools near Bristol, which required 1,000 devices to be rebuilt. Significant spikes in ransomware attacks in

FEATURE: SOFTWARE IN SCHOOLS OneDrive has been our best friend, with

August and September 2020 and February 2021 prompted The National Cyber Security Centre to update its alert information to IT professionals in schools. The attacks can render a school without access

to any of its IT resources and data. With the increased online learning, this now impacts not only the admin of the school, but also includes the teaching resources and student coursework. SIPS IT offers support for schools to identify any

vulnerabilities and to help them put in place working practices, systems and policies to mitigate as much as possible cyber threats. We have also introduced a full Admin & Curriculum back-up service to the cloud.

having access to a laptop is essential for this mode of learning. David Laws, former Liberal Democrats Schools Minister and Head of the Education Policy Institute, said: “there’s a risk we could wipe out the gains in closing that gap that we’ve made over the last 15 years.” In addition, there’s the negative impact on

pupils’ well-being and ability to socialise to take into consideration; while it suits some children’s method of study to be away from the classroom, for many it can simply exacerbate their feelings of being socially isolated.

Teachers It’s far too easy to assume that every teacher automatically embraced online learning when it was thrust upon them last Spring. Like parents and pupils, they had to fundamentally change their ways of working, and, like the rest of us, also juggle their work-life balance. It’s been an incredibly challenging time for

them; teaching in new ways they’d not been trained for, being constantly watched/assessed by the parents at home – and that’s before we even get into the stresses of software not performing properly, or the Wi-Fi dropping out, leaving 25+ children dangling at the end of a Zoom call. We’ve worked closely with our schools to offer

more cloud solutions for a smoother and less stressful experience for everyone concerned, and we’ve been able to remotely fix many problems by virtually jumping onto a teacher’s laptop and sorting the issue there and then. Another key pain point for schools and colleges

– and a lesson many need to learn – is around their data. With the acceleration in the use of virtual learning comes the increasing use of online documents – be that coursework, musical scores etc. With more cyber-attacks on systems and still

the doomsday scenario of a flood, fire or asbestos leak closing a school, it’s vital that headteachers have security and policies in place to protect their IT infrastructure and data. Looking more to cloud solutions to back-up data – or risk losing it overnight if it’s only held on site. In the case of a Leicester school destroyed in a

fire last summer, the cost of lost data ran into tens of thousands of pounds, while only this April, hackers made a “disruptive and distressing”

June 2021 35

Environment While there are challenges to virtual learning, one huge lesson we’ve learned from the pandemic is the environmental impact – from keeping cars off the roads by remote teaching, to the switch from paper to pictures, these changes to our way of working have had a huge effect on our carbon footprint. Having recently signed up to the WM Net Zero Business Pledge, it’s a key area we’re able to focus on to help the region become a net zero carbon economy by 2041.

Music One of the SIPS services most impacted by the pandemic has been Music & Arts; delivering music tuition presented its own challenges and risks, and the need for adaptation; close proximity is desirable, and wind instruments can create ‘aerosol’ emissions. Although the preference is for face-to-face lessons, virtual learning became the new normal, with software playing a key role to deliver it remotely. In addition, we have created a series of pre-

recorded videos and activities for pupils/classes, and our website has continued to be updated with virtual performances, video tutorials, weekly newsletters and music information. During the pandemic, our YouTube channel has had almost 6,000 views since the beginning of lockdown. As a music service, we’ve held regular Zoom

calls for our music centre ensembles from September 2020, when schools reopened but weren’t yet ready to welcome back peripatetic teachers.

Microsoft Forms a huge help when it comes to permission forms and the like – both for pupils and teachers, it’s removed the need to carry around reams of paperwork, or lose vital pieces of information stuffed into the pockets of instrument cases. We’ll never look back! Software and resources such as our online

music hub have also removed barriers such as peripatetic music teachers struggling to get onto a school’s Wi-Fi. When it comes to the delivery of lessons,

software and virtual learning have been a challenge, but not without lighter moments to make everyone smile. For the likes of our Deputy Music & Arts

Manager, Rob Hayward, it’s been a real learning curve but a great opportunity to adapt to new skills. For our ensembles, the use of breakout rooms

on Zoom has been fantastic, and every ensemble has access to its own private page on our hub, where they can find their specific backing tracks to practise alongside. After several weeks they’re then asked to make a recording using the backing track and upload it for Rob to then weave into the rest of the ensemble’s submissions – extracting the audio, adding reverb and autotune. It’s not always gone to plan for the students –

but we’ve had some great bloopers which have made the team laugh. Staff have often encouraged pupils to record

themselves to see progress, but now it’s a necessity, and pupils are having to be more self- sufficient – and the software is enabling that. Another fantastic innovation that’s been

precipitated by the pandemic is in terms of our music transition events for pupils moving from Year 6 to 7. We’ve previously tried hosting these in one

location, but numbers or scheduling has always been a problem – getting all the heads of music into one room is never easy. Now, by holding them online, we have over 85% signed up to attend. While there are dozens of positives and

pandemic lessons we’ve learned at SIPS over the last 12 months, perhaps the most important one is this; when it comes to IT, software and virtual learning, there will always be the need for the human, face to face element. However good our systems, there’s no (current) replacement for it… and long may that remain.

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