Pathways Education – PAAC IT, a trusted partner

Pathways Education (previously MySide) was created in 2020 to support young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) who are at risk of NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training). The school’s mission is to help young people with SEN to find self-agency, increase their life chances and thrive, as individuals and within their communities. The school invited PAAC IT to provide IT support based on experience with Undershaw Education.

Ofsted rated Pathways ‘Good’ in all categories, as the school actively strives to expand the availability of high-quality provisions that cater to the needs of disengaged or missing young people with SEND from the educational system. Pathways strives to achieve this by taking the following actions:

  • reconnecting and building trust with young people,
  •  helping build young people’s confidence so they can successfully engage fully with education, with an Education Health Care Plan (EHCP) that is fit for purpose,
  • strengthening understanding of neurodiversity and standards of inclusive education across schools, and
  • driving social change to rebalance society for those with SEND.

The school is fully inclusive and aims to ensure that all students achieve their potential; personally, socially, emotionally, and academically in all areas of the curriculum.

Read on to discover why Emma Crabb, Business Manager at Pathways Education considers us to be a trusted partner.

The beautiful grounds of Pathways Education

PAAC IT Services

Pathways was a totally new school when we commenced in February 2020, that had just been provided with premises in the grounds of the beautiful Sundial estate but had no teachers and certainly no students.

Our initial brief was:

  • to get the IT up and running for a small startup school but with the ability to expand to additional sites,
  • a preference for cloud-based technology, and
  • to ensure the safety and protection of students and their data.

Online safety

We all understand that young people enjoy trying and exploring new ideas, especially those related to technology. The school aims to nurture and cultivate this interest in technology but requires a safe environment to do so. Therefore, ensuring the online safety of individuals at the school became one of the key concerns. Consequently, we took several measures to facilitate a safe environment, including

  • A Smoothwall appliance that acts as both an internet filter and firewall,
  • NetSupport DNA to monitor keystrokes against a blacklist of words, phrases and topics,
  • A segmented file structure with restricted access, and
  • Encrypted email to ensure the safety of confidential information in transit.

Of course, setting up the technology is only part of the answer. We ensured that staff were trained in how to use the tools and appropriate and timely reports were available.

Data Protection

Closely coupled with keeping people safe is protecting the data about people; their personal data. As a new school all policies and processes needed to be developed and implemented. S0, we worked with Pathways staff to develop an extensive suite of documentation required to comply with the Data Protection Act 2018 and the UK GDPR.

We identified all the various stakeholder groups (the categories of data subjects) involved at Pathways, the associated categories personal data, why the school needed the data (processing purpose), the legal basis for processing and for how long the data would be processed. This set of data gathering enabled us to develop the related documentation set including privacy statements, data protection policy and data retention policy. In addition, we developed policies and processes to cope with data subject access requests.

Once the paperwork was in place, we worked with the school to implement the processes and provide regular data protection training to staff.

To ensure the IT Systems and data were secure, we developed a set of IT Security policies that both PAAC IT (as the IT provider) and staff (as users) comply with. No matter how good security is, there is always the potential that something goes wrong, and se we also developed a data breach management process.

Data protection is an ongoing operation and needs to be treated as a part of “business as usual”. Accordingly, to prepare the way for new applications and technology we developed:

  • A Data Privacy Impact Assessment process and ,
  • A process to ensure all new applications are checked for their e-safety and data protection capabilities prior to confirming their selection.

A good example here was the introduction of virtual reality (VR) headsets that would provide students with a more immersive and engaging learning experience. The school was kindly donated a suite of VR headsets, which meant that the carefully designed procurement process was bypassed! It was discovered that in their “native” form the headsets provided unrestricted access to Facebook, a feature that was inconstant with online safety protocols. PAAC IT investigated, and implemented a management console that enable monitoring and management of the VR headsets and a set of approved applications. A great solution enabling students to explore virtual reality in a safe environment.

Managing Data

A school process a vast amount of data in its daily operation so it’s important that the file structures and access permissions are correctly set up to both enable ease of use and protect data from unauthorised access. As a new school, Pathways was in a great place to get this right, or almost right, from the start. We worked with staff to establish a data architecture for the school, working from the top down and thinking through who needed access to what information. We took into account that the school intended to open further sites and so data needed to be accessed from multiple locations. We chose to implement the solution with Microsoft’s SharePoint (for shared data) and OneDrive (for personal data).

The Technology

Although the preference was for an all cloud-based solution, we implemented a hybrid cloud / on-premises approach, primarily to meet the online safety requirements outlined above.
Access onsite is provided by a Wi-Fi network that provides differential access for members of the school versus contractors and visitors. Staff and students are equipped with Microsoft Surface Pros and Gos accordingly. Email, storage and collaboration are all provided by Microsoft’s education version of Office 365. And for cyber protection we run ESET security software and encryption on user devices with all data being continuously backed up to the cloud with software updates applied automatically.

To keep everything running smoothly we continuously monitor all devices with alerts raised automatically for any out of spec events. Our service desk team proactively responds to the automated events and supports queries raised by school staff. In addition, we provide a liaison point with providers of the other school systems to minimise finger pointing between vendors.

How Does PAAC IT make a difference

Emma Crabb, Business Manager at Pathways says “The services provided by PAAC have been very important whilst the school has been set up and as it continues to grow. The PAAC team is knowledgeable and skilled, and they deliver efficient solutions. The company offers a good range of services, catering to different technological needs across Pathways Education. The commitment to customer satisfaction is good and this generally helps ensure smooth operations and minimises any downtime or disruption to teaching and learning. PAAC has been a trusted partner to Pathways Education.”

What do you like best about what we do?

We asked Emma what she valued most from our services. Her response “We rely on prompt response and timely resolution, expertise, clear communication, reliable support, and a trusted partner to work with. The team at PAAC IT has consistently delivered”.

We understand trust is really important attribute for a business to build lasting partnerships. So we have written a post about why we see trust is important.


To learn more about how we can support your school, call us on 01428 770290 or book time with Richard for a no obligation discussion.