Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published in July 2020 and has been revised to reflect industry updates.
The education system is built with the best interests of students in mind—this means budgets are configured around the curriculum and designed to inspire future opportunities for students upon graduation.
With the focus on students—as it should be—the administrative side of education is often overlooked as the yearly budget is established. However, administrators working behind the scenes know exactly how important the intricacies of communication are when piloting the budget process.
Day-to-day school operations such as a phone system are critical to keeping the schools and all administrative functions running smoothly. As with any organization, schools require reliable Internet and phone service, and video surveillance to facilitate communication with the outside world, parents and students, and within the school system itself. It’s a factor that’s pivotal to the success of schools and the educational system at large—it’s the same for expansive public school systems and private (also called “independent”) schools. This includes protection from on-campus intruders, and other potential safety concerns.
VoIP Phone Systems for Schools
Technology seems to progress at an ever-quickening pace. In the education system, these advancements are fundamental to learning. Outdated communication systems, in particular, are challenging for schools, as lagging tech actively hinders education.
VoIP phone systems are a crucial technology piece, which many schools choose over a standard landline system. With a significant increase in features and benefits over traditional phone systems, VoIP has become a necessity in schools, simultaneously fostering collaboration and providing budgetary relief benefitting other pivotal educational needs.
There are mainly two kinds of VoIP systems. The first is Hosted VoIP, also known as “hosted PBX,” which is a phone system provided and managed by a cloud provider/carrier. This variety eliminates the need for on-site servers, which in turn eliminates the need for hardware maintenance. This can help to free up a school’s existing on-site IT staff to focus more on tasks that are mission-critical to education. Still, some organizations choose the other VoIP type, which is on-site or “Premise-Based” PBX. This means servers are stored on-site at the respective businesses, schools or nonprofits. We like to say it is a “closet-based” phone system, because often that is where such a system is kept!
Premise-based offers the opportunity for more control over the physical equipment, but you tend to miss out on many of the features and benefits associated with a Hosted PBX VoIP system.
Additional features such as video surveillance offer added protection from outside intruders attempting to gain unauthorized access. This technology allows campus security staff to screen and limit access to those who might intend harm, theft, or damages within and around school buildings.
VoIP phone systems are a crucial piece of technology that many schools choose over a standard landline system.
VoIP Features For Schools
Though schools, like businesses, have staff members and a budget, they are quite different from corporate entities. As such, these educational institutions require a specific approach to a successful communication system—with pronounced needs for a variety of particular features.
Here are some of the most heralded VoIP features for schools.
When you’re charged with supervising and educating upwards of hundreds of young people in a school setting, the lines of communication had better be wide open. If phone systems go down, it removes the ability to make or receive calls to and from parents and public safety officials during an emergency.
Cloud-based VoIP reduces the risk of failing phone systems. As opposed to landlines, VoIP systems connect via the same network as your Internet connection—and when that network is linked through a fiber connection, outages become even less typical. What’s more, as VoIP is configured in software, with these systems updated on a regular basis—ensuring your system is operating at peak efficiency and guarding against stagnant technology slowing down your ability to communicate.
2. Smart Features
A VoIP system includes classic telephony features, but also newly minted tech that serves to elevate communications. And it’s all customizable. That’s truly the key to VoIP’s smart features—it can be curated and programmed to fit the exact needs of your particular school.
These potential smart features include, but are not limited to:
A More Advanced Intercom. A properly functioning intercom system lets schools share announcements and alert students and teachers about important information or hazardous situations. A VoIP system is more flexible, allowing both telephones and overhead speakers to simultaneously broadcast messages in different parts of buildings as needed. Newer systems also play the bell sounds indicating class starting and ending periods, and can even play music when classes are not in session. Unlike the old bulky and restrictive intercom systems, now faculty can make announcements from any telephone, or even from a cell phone app if needed. Schools often have loud speakers and horns in gymnasiums or outdoor play yards (playgrounds), all of which can be used by school staff from any device they choose.
Video Surveillance/Access Control. Whether you have one school building, or several campuses, keeping tabs on what’s going on in and around access points within facilities and grounds is paramount for student and teacher safety. Having video surveillance and access control technology lets public safety officers manage and control who is entering and leaving the building at all times. This is especially important for school settings, which often come in contact with sometimes hundreds of outside guests, visitors, and, of course, parents. Combining this with an access control system provides even higher protection keeping any persona non grata at bay. Clearance levels can be adjusted system-wide by visitor type, which is especially helpful for multi-location facilities.
Call Logging and Recording. It’s always a good idea to maintain a communication log in the event pertinent phone call information must be retrieved. In addition to reporting which calls happened—when legal to do so—calls can also be recorded, with these recordings stored locally or in the cloud. Recording archives can be retrieved from audio storage by authorized personnel given security privileges.
Video Conferencing/Distance Learning. For public school districts with multiple schools, or larger independent schools with multiple buildings, secure video conferencing is crucial for the educational institution to stay on message. Perfect for presentations and meetings requiring multiple viewpoints, video conferencing brings administrators together to collaborate right from their desks. Along with the typical sick days or snow days, modern times dictate that schools must provide teachers with resources to conduct hybrid education. Some systems include this feature free, eliminating the need for third-party video conferencing subscriptions, which are often a per-teacher cost!
Better Call Routing. Schools have multiple departments—all with unique purposes, but all working to serve the needs of students and parents. Part of the efficiency equation at schools is ensuring incoming calls go to the right place. VoIP eases this process with features such as a staff directory and departmental menus, with pre-recorded menus of options directing incoming callers. Call routing can also provide school hours, weather updates, and more.
Virtually Infinite Call Capacity. On-premise phone systems have one particularly difficult limitation for schools. No matter how advanced and modern the systems are, they have a certain number of simultaneous incoming and outgoing lines for phone calls. These lines can be expensive, and for budgetary reasons, schools limit how many they use. In an emergency situation, extreme weather or any other unusual case, parents might be calling en-masse to hear an updated message for instructions about picking up their children (or whether school is closed for the day). A classic problem for these systems is parents getting busy signals for lack of lines. Cloud-based VoIP can eliminate this problem because there is a virtually limitless number of lines in a typical hosted-VoIP carrier system.
Enhanced 911 Calling (E911). Speaking of student safety and security (not to mention that of school staff), one newer safety feature that only a select few systems have is the ability to closely monitor and track 911 calls dialed by school personnel. Now it is possible for key administrators and public safety personnel to be immediately group-texted when 911 is dialed, indicating who called and where. These managers can text each other during the event to discuss what is happening. In a crisis situation, this allows everyone involved to be up-to-date and act quickly to keep students and faculty safe.
One of the factors that makes VoIP so useful is its sheer flexibility. Services can be changed at any time, with extensions and phone numbers added or removed at a moment’s notice. This is the advantage of the “plug-and-play” nature of VoIP—you can upgrade, downgrade or swap out phones as needed. And the installation process is as easy as plugging in a telephone, so managing these tasks doesn’t require any extra manpower.
Flexibility also counts in emergency situations. If your institution were to lose Internet connectivity, hosted VoIP systems can be pre-programmed to forward all calls to mobile devices or an alternate site. This ensures calls will continue to be answered, no matter what.
If a specific circumstance requires your staff to work from home, hosted VoIP is ready! Some better systems allow extension-to-extension (or outside) calling from a desktop computer or a smart-phone app!
This might be counterintuitive, but VoIP phone systems are typically less expensive than traditional phone systems. Yes, the technology is more advanced, but having a cloud-based PBX system saves potentially tens of thousands of dollars in initial cost of equipment and long-term maintenance. Our studies have consistently shown that a hosted system is typically HALF the cost of an on-premise (closet-based) phone system! (There is no box-in-the-closet to buy.)
Meanwhile, the scalability of VoIP means you only pay for what you need. Traditional “Digital” or IP-based (in-house) phone systems require customers to purchase functionality with expensive blocks of hardware or licenses, often in larger capacities than they really need. Hosted VoIP means sharing the cloud capacity of a carrier only as needed.
And even better: Every feature is included in one competitive price for every user. This is based on an all-inclusive package—we’ll never pigeonhole you into paying extra for features, which should already be included! Check out more details in our pricing and competitive analysis.
As for the physical connections, VoIP saves money on installation services because it's connected through your already existing Internet. If there’s a computer with an Internet connection, there’s a potential new phone location. Or maybe you don’t even want to buy a desk phone; just use your desktop/laptop computer or smartphone as your extension!
Schools operating with “old” technology are at an immediate disadvantage. A VoIP system conveys the image of an institution that is on the cutting edge of modern communications, which strengthens the perception of your school as a professional organization.
A professional appearance—and the technology to back it up—can help bolster enrollment, setting up your school for success now and into the future.
CCi Voice Suggests Sangoma Switchvox For Schools
Schools require affordable, easy-to-use VoIP systems to meet educational needs. Switchvox Unified Communications, a VoIP phone system, is an efficient replacement for an older phone system and includes benefits such as mobile applications, dedicated conference rooms, and other services integral to a functioning school.
Switchvox for schools offers myriad benefits, including:
Safety. Switchvox broadcasts emergency alerts through paging systems. These are communicated through displays on desktop phones, directly to the phones of parents or any students’ emergency contact numbers.
Affordability. There are low upfront costs associated with Switchvox, with an “All Features Included” pricing model that packages all of the most crucial features into a school budget-friendly bundle.
Ease. Education takes a lot of time and energy from teachers and other school professionals. Switchvox includes an intuitive web-based interface, along with user-friendly handsets and mobile applications.