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Mythbuster: 7 misconceptions about digital education platforms
Wary of moving to a digital education platform? Put your mind at ease with this fact-checker on the common concerns we hear about moving to G Suite for Education and Office 365 Education.
- "Personal data won't be secure"
- "We won't be able to keep pupils safe"
- "These platforms take ages to set up"
- "We'll have to set up new email addresses"
- "Staff won't be able to get up to speed quickly enough"
- "These platforms won't be accessible for pupils with SEND"
- "We're already using apps and don't need these platforms"
As of 4 January 2021, all schools have closed to all pupils except children of critical workers and vulnerable children. You must provide remote education to all pupils learning at home.
The DfE now expects schools to use a digital education platform, like G Suite for Education or Office 365 Education, to deliver remote learning.
Stay up to date on the full list of expectations (pages 46 to 50 of Restricting attendance during the national lockdown: schools).
"Personal data won't be secure"
This isn't true. It's an understandable concern, but if your current IT network is secure, adding Google or Microsoft platforms on to it won't cause new issues.
- Comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and privacy and security requirements
- Operate their own secure servers and platforms to allow you to monitor and manage data security
- Have been audited by independent organisations to make sure they meet industry standards
However, you'll still need to have secure practices in place, such as:
- 2-factor authentication and secure passwords
- Not allowing personal data to be downloaded or stored on personal or public devices
- Checking that any third-party apps you want to use alongside the platforms are GDPR-compliant
Read more about how to consider the GDPR when putting in place arrangements for remote learning here.
"We won't be able to keep pupils safe"
If you make full use of the privacy and safeguarding settings available on both platforms, you'll be doing all you can to keep pupils safe. Continue to adopt sensible precautions for pupils learning remotely, like you would in school.
For example, you can:
- Prevent pupils from creating their own groups or video calls
- Prevent pupils from entering a video-call lesson without a teacher present
- Add at least 2 teachers to any groups (such as a Classroom in G Suite for Education, or a Team in Office 365 Education)
- Turn off certain features if you'd prefer pupils didn't have access (email, for example)
Make sure teachers know how to manage safeguarding themselves – such as:
- What to do if they feel there's a child protection issue
- How to store and share content safely and securely, and only within the school
- How to 'mute' children from commenting
- How to delete any inappropriate comments (but still be able to access or retrieve them if they need to)
See our model coronavirus addendum to your child protection policy for help with setting out your procedures and communicating them to staff.
Set 'house rules' to keep children safe if you're running lessons or social activities over video calls
You'll want to get parents involved too, so write up and share some simple rules for everyone – pupils, their families and staff – to follow.
Cover points like:
- Only use school usernames to log into the calls
- When pupils should mute microphones and have cameras turned off
- Wearing appropriate clothing
- What's happening in the background – e.g. not having other members of the household visible on the call if possible
"These platforms take ages to set up"
It really won't take too long if you can get someone to set aside the time.
Neither platform should take longer than 4 to 5 days to be fully functional and ready to use by all your teachers and pupils. Both Google and Microsoft told us this.
As an example, Microsoft has a 5-day guide to give you an idea of what the steps are after signing up. Elsewhere, Hanover Primary School told us that it got set up with Google Classroom in just a few days.
"We'll have to set up new email addresses"
You won't. Both platforms allow you to carry over and continue to use existing email addresses from a range of other providers.
The steps for importing emails are here:
Google recommends that you turn off Gmail if you're already comfortable with another email app or platform.
"Staff won't be able to get up to speed quickly enough"
It should only take 1 or 2 days (as part of the above set-up time) to get everyone familiar with the tools. The training can be self-led, so will be fine for staff who are working remotely.
Each platform has a range of tutorials that staff can work through as needed:
- Google (it told us it'll take a day to work through these – start with the 'first day' lessons)
"These platforms won't be accessible for pupils with SEND"
Electronic devices are more flexible and can make learning more accessible than a piece of paper, and they have a range of tools to help.
- Screen readers
- Keyboard shortcuts
- Voice typing
For more details, see guidance from:
- Google (accessibility features are built into the products)
- Microsoft (accessibility learning tools are already available in the Office 365 products, and Immersive Reader is a free tool you can use to provide accessibility features on other sites)
"We're already using apps and don't need these platforms"
These platforms do a lot more than apps alone. They also do it all in one place, meaning you, pupils and parents won't have to juggle different systems.
See the range of services here:
Take a look at our feature comparison to assess which of these 2 platforms best serves your needs.
Keen to continue using some of your current apps too?
This should be fine. Both Google and Microsoft have told us that a range of these apps can integrate with their platforms.
Take a look at the help centres of any apps you want to continue using and see what sort of integration they offer. For example, Seesaw and Google Classroom can work together, and the same goes for Flipgrid and Microsoft Teams.
This article is based on conversations with Google and Microsoft, and advice from James Penny and Rachel Dunne from Joskos Solutions which provides independent IT support for schools.
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