A school’s communication system is vital: the communication lines must be open between parents and the school, not to mention partners and colleagues from other organisations.
Upgrading your phone system is no small task, therefore, and it’s important to get it right. You want to minimise disruption while ensuring you get a new phone system that supports everyone who needs to use it: teachers, parents, office staff and external colleagues or contacts. The good news is that in most cases you can upgrade to a system that improves workflow, saves people time and also saves costs.
VoIP phone systems for Schools
All new telephone systems are now VoIP, which stands for Voice over Internet Protocol. VoIP uses digital technology to route phone calls using an internet connection, rather than using the Public Switched Telephone Network (also called PSTN: fixed copper wires, managed by telephone exchanges).
Some schools have already switched, but many (along with a lot of GP practices) are still using the older analogue phone systems. As we’ve known for some time, the PSTN will be switched off at the end of 2025 and most schools are either looking at moving to VoIP or have already done so. In the business world, VoIP is already the standard technology for phone systems.
Managing the implementation of a new telephone system is a big project, so to help we’ve used our expertise to put together a list of things schools will need to consider when upgrading their telephone systems.
When choosing a VoIP phone system, it’s worth looking at the call features and functionality. Choosing a system with a good call recording facility, for example, can support your safeguarding and anti-bullying measures.
Where two (or more) members of staff may be getting calls about the same situation, a good call recording function will allow you to securely and confidentially store all conversations and messages. This allows you to keep the whole situation in view, even when different staff members are involved. For confidentiality, you can set appropriate permissions so that only the relevant leadership team members can access the recordings.
If you have problems with an aging phone system going down, parents (and others) can’t call in to the school and staff can’t call out from within. Not only is this frustrating, it can make life especially difficult for your SENCO team as they work on safeguarding. A properly implemented, up to date VoIP system will be more reliable (providing your school’s internet connection is active) and a good provider will support you with emergency and disaster recovery planning.
#2 Absence Management
Your telephone system, alongside email, is a key part of your absence management protocol. You need a reliable voice message system for parents and carers to report absences. VoIP allows you to easily set up Auto Attendants to direct absence messages to the right office or even to store all absence voice messages in a separate inbox, allowing staff to review them more easily, so they can quickly identify unauthorised absences each day.
Properly implemented call recording and secure storage will also allow authorised staff to track patterns of repeated absences more quickly and easily.
#3 Save Costs
For a start, if you’re switching away from an old analogue system, VoIP calls placed over the internet are cheaper than traditional phone calls so this should immediately reduce your monthly telephone charges.
Flexibility in VoIP systems can also save you money. They’re digital rather than physical, meaning new phone lines can be added easily and cheaply. You can add new telephone lines when you need them, rather than trying to anticipate demand, and therefore only pay for what you need.
One final point on costs: In our experience, schools and organisations often end up with two or three different providers just to ensure one telephone system is fit for purpose. (Or sometimes, unfortunately, barely fit for purpose.)
When we design and install new VoIP telephone systems for our clients, we make sure everything you need is included in the package, so there’s only one bill to pay.
#4 Reliability of your phone system
With old analogue systems we get reports that even when the phone line is operational, the voicemail system can stop working intermittently. As an intermittent and unpredictable problem, this can be extremely disruptive.
With VoIP, your telephone system can be hosted remotely in the cloud instead of being dependent on cables and exchange equipment on your premises. Therefore, as long as you have an active internet connection, you’ll be able to make calls, record voice messages and have all the other features of your system work exactly as they should do.
#5 Automate sending calls to the right person
We’ve already mentioned Auto Attendant functionality in the last section and, when implemented well, it can save a lot of time and boost productivity. For example, you could have separate mailboxes for:
- SENCO communications
- general queries
- … any other mailbox that makes sense for your school
The system will then direct calls to the right office or department, ensuring they can pick up only the messages they really need to hear. There are also options to direct calls to different places at different times or on different days, for example during the school holidays versus during term time.
#6 Handsets and making calls from other devices
Speaking of having everything you need, what about telephone handsets? And how else do you want your staff to access the phone system?
The beauty of VoIP is that you can place and take work calls on a traditional telephone, a PC or even a personal mobile phone with the system app installed. Most schools will want:
- a small number of higher-end handset for offices that include the more sophisticated functionality
- a larger number of simpler (and cheaper) handsets for classrooms, probably one per classroom
- every staff PC and laptop to have VoIP software installed, so staff can make calls from these if needed
- teachers to install the VoIP app on their personal mobiles, so they’re never in the situation of calling parents using a personal mobile phone number
- a couple of wifi phones for the caretaker and facilities staff, these are great for staff who are always on the move and can have a better range than walkie-talkies
#7 Broadband and Wifi
Because VoIP relies on the internet, any school implementing a new VoIP system will need to ensure they have sufficient bandwidth and good connectivity across the whole site. This may involve checking or upgrading your broadband provision and ensuring your wifi network is fit for purpose.
At ITS, we can take care of your broadband and wifi with some cost-effective options that give you exactly what you need for optimal performance of your VoIP phone system, tailored to the number of your incoming and outgoing calls.
#8 Emergency protocol and disaster recovery
While we hope it will never be implemented, every school must have a lockdown process. It’s vitally important that your phone system is integrated with your lockdown protocol. Older systems to raise the alarm for staff and pupils usually rely on sirens and loudspeakers. Firstly these may not reach all areas of the premises, especially more remote outside areas, and secondly they don’t allow two way communication.
A VoIP phone system, on the other hand, can send alerts directly to staff mobile phones, to the wifi phones, to all PCs and all telephone handsets throughout the building, plus any other speakers installed as part of the system.
It will also be resilient to other emergencies like fire and flood damage: as long as there’s an internet connection, the phone systems should continue to work. At ITS, our experts can work with you on your disaster recovery planning so you know how to keep communications open in an emergency situation.
#9 Training and support for staff
This part is often forgotten or put off until the end of a project, however, making sure your staff are confident using the new system is essential to its success. Your teachers, office workers, business manager, caretakers and SENCO staff are all busy and they need the new telephone system to make life easier, not add to their stresses.
At ITS we can help you choose telephone handsets and software that will make it as easy as possible to move to a new system. We can also support you with the roll-out to staff and training, ensuring you have a realistic plan in place, rather than an afterthought.
Always choose equipment that’s as intuitive to use as possible, making the functions you use the most the easiest to find on the handset or the screen. You’ll also want software and apps that are designed for the best possible user-experience.
Better systems, happier staff, higher productivity
We understand how to design and install telephone systems that:
- really work with and support your school’s processes and protocols
- consolidate and reduce your costs where possible
- have a smooth implementation with expert support from start to finish.
Contact ITS to discuss your options for the best VoIP phone system for your school.