The past year has dramatically highlighted the importance of communication in Education. The drawbacks of traditional fixed line school phone systems have been exposed. They are rapidly being replaced by faster, more flexible VoIP solutions for schools, powering school telecoms into the future.

So which school phone system is best, and how do you choose one?

how-to-choose-a-school-phone-system-hands-upOutdated and expensive, traditional line-based systems were never designed for remote working or virtual learning. Their limitations have become a serious operational and reputational impediment to all forward-thinking academic institutions.

For this reason, Schools, Universities, Colleges and MATs are rapidly turning to more flexible and affordable VoIP-based platforms, like 3CX, to carry them through the pandemic and into the future.

Perhaps you’ve been given the task of sourcing the best school phone system (or one for a university, college or academy)? If so this definitive guide tells you everything you need to know.


In just four simple steps, we’ll show how you can transform your telephony, and consign your under-performing legacy system to tomorrow’s history lesson:

  1. Evaluate what you need
  2. Compare different phone systems
  3. Decide what functionality you require
  4. Find the right telecoms partner


Keeping staff, students and parents informed is always a top priority. Unfortunately as the initial wave of COVID-19 took hold, hundreds of organisations quickly found that their existing telephony was not up to the task:

Outdated Equipment
Over-reliance on a legacy phone system, using old technology or out-of-date software releases.

Reduced Capacity
High call volumes mean parents can’t always get through.

Remote Working
No capability with existing system to integrate mobile devices or softphones for remote working.

Network Infrastructure
Areas where CAT5/6 is limited or unavailable.  Do analogue devices need to be considered?

High Running Costs
Expensive to manage with high maintenance costs and regular engineer call-outs.

Poor Line Quality
Crackly or interrupted call quality, making it hard for school staff and parents to understand each other.

Cannot Scale
Limited scope to extend current telephony to a new building, off-site extension or Academy.

Important calls are not being recorded properly.

As if all this wasn’t enough to think about…

ISDN Lines Are Going
BT has announced that ISDN lines will be phased out by 2025, which will render traditional, line-based systems redundant.

Sounds familiar? Then it’s probably time to ditch your existing telephony and replace it with something fit for the 21st century.

Here’s how you do it.


If you’ve been asked to source a telephone system, perhaps you might be wondering where to begin.

You are probably aware that telecoms has moved on substantially over the last few years, with internet-based (VoIP service) platforms rapidly becoming the norm for all forward-thinking organisations.

And you may know that new technology developments allows you to do much more than can with your existing legacy phone system. Yes, of course, you can make and take phone calls, but an IP phone system has so many advanced features, that it can also become your centralised communications hub for video conferencing, messaging and chat.

And of course, ideally you’d want it to integrate with Microsoft Teams or other Office 365 applications so there’s no disruption to your existing work flow.


Before you change, it’s worth asking a few questions about your existing phone service.

  • Will it need to cater for remote staff, or is everybody now back at work? school-phone-systems-receptionist
  • Are you interested in exploiting features beyond just the ability to make calls?
  • How about features like Call Reporting, Broadcast Functionality, Voicemail to Email, Auto Attendants and Mobile Client?
  • How flexible does it need to be to scale and accommodate your changing requirements?
  • Do you own your current system, or is it leased?
  • Is there any existing contractual obligation in place with your current provider?

Would you like an all-inclusive system, or one with the scope to add (and buy) extra functions as you go?


Typically you will find three main types of system in the telephony market: On-premise (traditional) PBX; Hosted VoIP or a Software Based.


On-premise (traditional) PBX

This is probably what most people have in mind when they think of a phone system. It’s an in-house Private Branch Exchange (PBX), owned outright by an organisation and located on-site with multiple wires, switches and cables in a single location servicing various system hardware on the premises. For years this telephony served organisations well, but BT has already sounded the death knell for these ‘legacy’ systems by announcing the phasing out of ISDN lines. This is rendering ISDN-based phone platforms obsolete, perhaps leading to ever higher maintenance contracts as the spares and support for such systems dwindles.

Hosted VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol)

This type of phone system is hosted in a data centre off-site. The software which powers hosted systems is managed remotely by an external provider, and dispenses with the need to hold and maintain expensive telecoms hardware on-site. Upfront costs are very low, updates are automatic, and day-to-day management is passed over to the system provider. With these systems, the pricing model is often calculated on a per user basis. Many options are payable as ‘extras’, which can mean unexpectedly high costs, especially when the system needs to be scaled up.

Software Based System

In many ways a software-based solution is the most flexible system of all. It can be deployed either on-premise or in the cloud and because it is just software, it can be moved if requirements change in the future. Pricing is based on simultaneous calls as opposed to per extension, and therefore it is ideally suited to organisations that have a lot of extensions but make relatively few calls. The solution is very feature-rich. Functionality such as conferencing, mobile applications, softphones, real-time and historic reporting, call recording and Office 365 integration are all included within the cost of the license.  Plus if you want to add additional users there is no additional charge.


school-phone-systems-what-functionalityYour existing phone system will probably cover basic functions like taking and making calls, transfers and the ability to put callers on hold, maybe to leave messages but probably not much more. Today’s software-based cloud systems have moved the goalposts forward dramatically.

They offer infinitely more ways to help you improve productivity, with options that include:

Hosted or On-Premise System
Is your preference to have a managed hosting plan, or do you have the capability to run it on your own premises?

Mobile Applications/Softphones
Do you need to equip staff for remote working, or ensure secure, open lines of communication on school trips and sporting events. Are these options included in your phone system, or only available as a chargeable extra?

Call Recording/Time Of Day Routing
Is there ever a need to record calls, perhaps for safeguarding purposes? Do you need to schedule call routing at particular times or to cover busy ‘hot spots’?

Office 365/MS Teams Integration
What Microsoft integration options are available, if any, with your chosen phone system? Is integration seamless, or does it require several clunky ‘plug-ins’ for it to have any chance of working properly?

Handsets & Headsets
From colour, touchscreen, gigabit pass through and DECT, the choice of handsets is vast – but which is best for you? Would budget be a factor in buying new, and if so, is there a refurbished supply option?

Would you like to easily customise greetings and get message notifications, with the option to email the message as an attachment with transcription? Really useful for absence lines.

Might the ability to send emergency broadcast or paging messages be a helpful communications asset to your organisation as part of an emergency lockdown procedure?

Real Time & Historic Reporting
Call reports can be helpful when you wish to analyse data that enables you to assess call response times, length of calls and busiest call periods.

The perfect school phone system: 3CX  

All-inclusive phone solution for Education

As a Platinum partner for 3CX, we’ve been broadcasting the benefits of this software-based phone solution for some time.

But it’s hardly a secret. More than 250,000 organisations, including numerous schools, colleges, universities and MATs, are transforming their telecoms by switching in vast numbers to the award-winning 3CX system.

Read our many case studies to discover why 3CX is fast becoming the no. 1 communications platform for the Education sector.



One thing you can be sure about is that there are plenty of telecoms companies that will be happy to help you. Which ones truly understand your needs, and how do you choose the right one?

Sector Experience

Perhaps the first thing to look for is supplier that demonstrates knowledge and expertise of the Education market. Does your telecoms provider have a proven track record deploying phone solutions for organisations like yours? Case studies or testimonials can demonstrate an understanding of your sector, especially the challenges and pressure points you face.


What is the commercial model?  Is it based on per user and does it represent a cost saving both over your current system and proposals from rival suppliers? One thing to ask about is which features are included with the system. If you have to pay extra for the options you want, then like taking a flight on a budget airline, you’ll find the costs soon start to add up. Look for all-inclusive phone solutions instead.


Simple question: if something goes wrong, what kind of support is available from your phone provider to fix it? Is it online, or over the phone only, and if so, at what times? Are they expecting you to pay a premium phone rate for the privilege of you telling them when the system they installed has malfunctioned? Do they have their own engineers they could call upon to come and visit at short notice if need be? Or do they rely on a team of subcontractors working for lots of different providers. These are all questions which should form part of your initial discussion and negotiation strategy.

Security & Resilience

How robust is your solution? Suppose there was a power-cut, how quickly could the system be back in action after a failover. You would want your supplier to know if it would simply re-start from where it left off, and would all data be protected? On a more important level, ask your phone provider to outline and explain how secure would your system be against hacking and other potential security breaches.

Flexibility & Scalability

Traditional fixed line systems have fared poorly on flexibility. Your new phone system should be able to support remote working, providing for multiple users with different requirements. As a software-based solution, your phone system is no longer limited by fixed cable phone lines, which means it should be scalable across different departments and sites. Perhaps you run a MAT and are looking for a solution that can be extended to new schools? Or you work for a college, which has just merged with another in the same area? Make sure your telephony can expand, or even be scaled back, according to your growth plans.

Unified Communications

You can get even more out of phone systems which offer a unified communications (UC) solution. Here, Voice, Video, SMS and Instant Messaging can be transmitted from a single, unified hub. It sounds great in theory and works really well in practice, as long as your staff are given the means to understand it easily. Many phone software providers are making this simple with easy-peasy intuitive consoles, providing seamless integration with Microsoft Teams and other Office 365 applications, so there’s no disruption to your existing work flow.

Network Infrastructure

Make sure your supplier knows you current infrastructure, the obvious starting point to upgrade it into a better one. The best suppliers should be asking you if they can conduct a site audit, which will enable them to discover and recover all your existing cabling, whilst also checking if you need new handsets, as well as perhaps advising you whether you might be able to sell off your surplus phone hardware.


Educational bodies are under increasing pressure to take external factors into consideration when making purchasing decisions. Do the suppliers on your telecoms shortlist offer any Green, Ethical and Sustainability initiatives, which may align with those of your organisation?


We hope this checklist has given you more understanding about school phone systems, and the options available. If you’d like some advice, we’re only too happy to help. For more than 20 years, we’ve been providing cost effective telecoms solutions to the Education sector, including Schools, Universities, Colleges and MATs. Ask us to explain the different options available, including guidance on keeping your existing phone number. We’ll give you friendly, impartial advice so you can decide which one is best for you. Please contact us today if you’re looking to upgrade your phone system, but would like some professional guidance.

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