“Oh You Can’t Use G Suite in Schools, It’s Not Secure!”

Rumours. They're a weird thing. No-one knows where exactly they start, or what path they took when spreading, but they can easily find their way to all four corners of the country. As my work takes me to schools all over Wales, I often hear such rumours as they spread. And there is one particular rumour that drives me crazy, because it's a complete and utter falsehood. The rumour concerns G Suite for Education (previously Google Apps), and the story goes that schools shouldn't be using the service because "it's not secure". Let's give you a quick background first...

Here in Wales, every school has access to Office 365 through our national platform, Hwb. Whilst Hwb adoption was originally slow, it has improved significantly since the launch of the Digital Competence Framework (and since the focus was moved from the dated Hwb+ VLE to other parts such as J2E and Office 365).

A small, but significant, number of schools have decided that instead of using Office 365 (or, in some cases, in addition to it) they would set up G Suite for Education and use Docs, Slides and Sheets instead of Word, Powerpoint and Excel. I will go into detail on the features of G Suite's tools in another post, but for now I'll just say that they are fantastic for schools and can transform your use of technology. In fact, such was the growing demand for G Suite in Wales, the Welsh Government have announced that they are going to create accounts for every pupil in Wales, alongside their current Office 365 accounts.

And yet, the rumour persists. For example:

  • Just this week, a Head asked me what on Earth were we doing using G Suite in our school? Didn't we know it wasn't secure? Didn't we know we were putting our pupils' personal data at risk?
  • A school in my county uses G Suite, but refuses to let its teachers write any pupil name on any document in G Suite (which clearly makes it a pointless exercise).
  • A school I visited in another county were told by their Local Authority that they cannot buy Chromebooks because Chromebooks don't have Internet Explorer and any other browser is "not safe".
  • In one of our cities, I had three different Heads tell me that their regional education Consortium had 'warned them off' G Suite because it sends pupils' data to the United States.

The particulars of the rumour change with each setting, often no more detail is given than "it's not safe". But when a reason is given, it usually consists of one of these arguments:

  • Google hosts their data in the US, which means the US Government can access it.
  • Since not all of Google's data is kept in the EU, you would be in breach of EU Data protection laws if you used G Suite.
  • Google uses your data for adverts, we can't do that to our kids.
  • Keeping your data in the cloud is dangerous, you could get hacked.

Schools use all manner of services that host pupils' names: Sumdog, Purple Mash, J2E, Office 365, SeeSaw, Mathletics, and yet for some reason the rumour only surfaces in relation to G Suite.

So, let's debunk this rumour once and for all. G Suite is secure. G Suite is safe. And if anyone dares tell you your school shouldn't use it because of data protection, here's what you should make clear to them:

  • Google for Education is different to normal Google tools. The company do not use Google for Education content for advertising. Not only will there be no adverts in the core apps (Search, Classroom, Gmail, Docs, Slides etc.) but neither will Google use any data from them to personalise future adverts.
  • Your pupils data are MUCH more secure on a reputable cloud service such as Google than they are on your school server. Imagine how much easier it would be to hack into a school server, or even simply walk up to it and insert an USB pen, than it would be to hack into Google itself.
  • Google for Education is used by 80 million pupils and teachers worldwide, including many Scottish Local Authorities (and now Education Scotland's National platform Glow), a large chunk of London and, from Easter, all of Wales.
  • Nothing in EU Data Protection laws prevents schools' data from being held in other countries, including the US. To take the belt and braces approach, Google have included extra terms in its contract with schools to ensure compliance with EU law.
  • When the new, extra tough, EU Data laws come into effect in May (GDPR). Google will be fully compliant as a Data Processor. (Schools will have to ensure they are fully compliant as Data Controllers, but that's true for everything they do with data, not just G Suite).

Hopefully this rumour will fizzle out now that G Suite is being added to Hwb, however false rumours can be very hard to eradicate. If you need any documentation to convince a Head or your Consortium, here are a few useful ones:

Let's put this rumour to bed!

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