Our experience working with schools
At T2K, we have many years of experience setting up VoIP services for all kinds of schools, academies and colleges, and we’ve seen first-hand the difference that VoIP can make. This guide will explain why so many educational settings are switching to VoIP phone systems. We’ll showcase the features of VoIP which — in our experience — work best for schools and give you pointers on how to pick the best VoIP setup for your school.
Why UK schools are switching to VoIP phone systems
Nowadays, VoIP lines offer higher quality audio, at better prices, and with more features, than a traditional phone line. We speak to hundreds of UK schools weekly, and we typically hear three main reasons for switching to VoIP phones.
Firstly, traditional phone systems will stop working soon (see BT’s digital upgrade plans: ISDN switch-off in 2025). VoIP will quickly become the only type of phone service available to schools, so it pays to get ahead of this change as soon as possible.
We also see increased pressure on school budgets. By switching to VoIP, many schools have found that they can deliver a richer telephony system to staff and stakeholders more straightforwardly and at a much lower cost.
Safeguarding and security are essential in a school environment, but so is the ability to communicate quickly and get callers through to the correct department. What’s more, VoIP fits perfectly with how a school phone system needs to work. Even small schools handle hundreds of calls a day.
7 features of VoIP that work well for schools
VoIP is especially useful in an educational setting. Here are the main reasons why it’s such a good fit for schools:
1: Phone lines don’t get clogged up
Thanks to SIP trunk technology, VoIP can handle incredibly high call volumes. School switchboards tend to be busiest first thing in the morning (when parents call to report sickness or absence), but call volumes can also spike in the run-up to school concerts and parent-teacher evenings.
With VoIP, your phone system can handle as many concurrent calls as you need.
2: Auto-attendants: virtual switchboards that save you time
An auto-attendants works like a virtual receptionist for your school. Using an auto-attendant, you can invite callers to “Press 1 for reception”, “Press 2 to report sickness or absence”, “Press 3 to book tickets to the school play”, and so on. Callers effectively route their own calls to the correct department without human intervention, saving your school administrators a lot of time.
3: VoIP calling is safer for students and teachers
School VoIP phone systems can offer higher degrees of privacy and accountability, thanks to calling masking and call recording technology.
Call masking keeps personal mobile numbers private. If a teacher needs to call a student’s parents on a school trip, they can use their VoIP app to make the call. The caller ID shows the call coming from the school, and the teacher doesn’t have to reveal their personal mobile number. The same goes for students: pupils can conduct telephone surveys for class projects using your school’s phone number.
Call recording allows your school to record phone calls for future reference. You could, for instance, set up an anonymous safeguarding hotline that automatically sends transcripts of every call to the board of trustees, or you could set up an allergy number to report student allergies to your catering department in a safe and controlled manner. Call recording can improve safeguarding, but it can also help clear up misunderstandings with parents: you have a log of every conversation to refer back to.
4: COVID-ready: Switch to remote learning in minutes
With VoIP, you can make or take calls on any internet-connected device. If your school is forced to close at short notice, teachers can still lead classes, tutorials and parent meetings from home. VoIP also makes it easy for staff members who spend a lot of time roaming the halls: PE teachers, catering managers, and school heads can take calls from anywhere in the school.
5: Advanced voicemail settings for busy teachers
VoIP voicemail settings are ideal for teachers with complex class schedules. With a VoIP account, each staff member can set their phone to go straight to voicemail, divert to a colleague or ring out. Calls received during teaching periods, school holidays, and INSET days can be set to go directly to voicemail ahead of time. With voicemail to email, essential messages never get missed or forgotten.
You can also schedule call routing. If a teacher is unavailable at a particular time of day, but they don’t want a caller to go straight to voicemail, they can set their phone so that calls get redirected to a colleague.
6: Internal communications tools for team chats and meetings
Most school VoIP systems have built-in tools to let staff talk to one another. This is especially helpful if your school operates from multiple campuses or if you belong to a multi-academy trust.
You can use internal instant messaging to chat informally with colleagues, set up a conference call and invite people to join you or just make internal calls free of charge.
7: Easy-to-send announcements and emergency broadcasts
Sometimes, management needs to send a message to parents, staff and teachers as quickly as possible. VoIP’s emergency broadcast tools let you get the word out to parents and staff members in seconds. If there is a school emergency (bad weather, COVID restrictions etc.), you can use VoIP to call everyone on your list and play a recorded message. VoIP systems can even call every single handset in every single classroom at the same time.
Many of our school customers will use custom hold music for less urgent matters. Parents can learn everything from upcoming open days to uniform policy changes while waiting to speak to someone.
Best VoIP for schools in the UK
We have spent a lot of time talking to schools about what they need, and we know from experience which VoIP services work best in an educational setting.
When it comes to the best VoIP phone systems for schools, we’re endorsing just two VoIP phone solutions at the moment. We’ll also include a competitor, just for the sake of balance:
3CX: best for schools with an IT department
3CX is a highly flexible and cost-effective phone system for schools that need more than 20 connections. Whether you need video conferencing, an intercom system or voicemail to email functionality, 3CX can handle everything.
3CX can integrate with Microsoft Teams and custom SQL databases, and your VoIP servers can be hosted on-site or in the cloud. It also works with any IP-enabled handset.
You get unlimited extensions with 3CX, but it’s only suitable for schools with a large IT department.
Gamma Horizon: a simple, reliable ‘ hands-off’ solution
If your IT department is overworked, you might not want to host your own VoIP system in-house. Fully-cloud-based Gamma Horizon offers almost as many features to the end-user of their phone lines as 3CX but with less IT involvement.
Gamma Horizon also lets you group individuals into departments. You can group numbers by school, subject and seniority, making it much easier to set up group chats and send out announcements.
B Online: a business VoIP service that could suit your school
B Online is an award-winning VoIP provider focusing primarily on the growing business market. They have an excellent customer service reputation and offer a brilliant reporting dashboard. They also provide great broadband and phone packages.
How to get the right phone system for your school
Picking a school VoIP system couldn’t be easier: you need to request a comparison quote from T2K! Start the comparison process online or call us on 01202 85411. We’ll ask you about your school’s telephony needs and provide an independent recommendation. We’ll get the ball rolling today.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does my school need special equipment for VoIP?
VoIP runs through the internet, so you need a router and a VoIP-compatible handset. The phone services we sell work with desktop computers and smartphones (both Android and Apple), making them ideal for colleagues who need to work remotely.
We usually recommend replacing your handsets to get the most out of your VoIP solution, but it’s not always necessary. If you want to run VoIP services through a network of old phones, it might be possible to do this with an Analogue Telephone Adapter (ATA).
How long does it take for VoIP to get set up?
Most schools allow 1 - 2 weeks to get VoIP set up. There are three parts of the setup phase that can take a few days to sort out:
- It can take up to 10 working days to port your landline numbers across from your old provider.
- It’s also helpful if we can spend a day or two auditing your school’s current phone system. We might need to send an engineer out to you, too. The more we know about how your school makes and takes calls, how many lines you have, the speed of your internet connection and what equipment you need, the better.
- After everything is set up, we like to spend a little time testing everything. This can take anywhere from a few hours to a day, depending on your school size.
On switchover day, your school can switch seamlessly from ISDN to VoIP with no noticeable downtime. You can enjoy safe, streamlined, high-fidelity phone calls immediately. School staff typically need around 15 minutes to learn how their VoIP mailbox works, record a greeting, try video conferencing and so on, but apart from that, you’ll be good to go.
Is there a free VoIP service?
VoIP for schools is cheaper than traditional rented phone lines, but it’s not free. Free-to-use smartphone apps like WhatsApp and Skype use VoIP technology, but their free offerings are built for private individuals — not large organisations.
There is no free VoIP phone service that can support the needs of a typical school. The best VoIP phone systems for schools cost a little money, but they’re worth it.
Can our school keep its existing phone number?
Landline numbers can be ported to your new VoIP provider; in the same way, you can bring your mobile number with you when you start a new phone contract. You’re not obligated to bring all the school’s numbers with you when you move to VoIP. If you have a lot of individual staff phone numbers that aren’t being used, you might be able to cancel these lines altogether. See our guide to SIP trunks to learn more about how VoIP handles calls for multiple users.
Who provides the cheapest VoIP phone system for schools?
First off, a VoIP phone system is cheaper than a landline phone service on a like-for-like basis. Here at T2K, we have switched many schools over the years. VoIP systems always work out cheaper than traditional ISDN phone lines and systems.
We take a whole-of-market approach when sourcing VoIP for our customers, so we can offer highly competitive and cost-effective pricing.