The Importance of Domains
With the every changing world of technology and education we all understand that nothing stands still. With more and more schools becoming Academies, buying a variety of services from a plethora of providers and having direct control of the funds to buy these, schools are generally more discerning about their presence on the World Wide Web. The bold choice to take control of the school's presence can be beneficial for a number of reasons. This change of stance can result in websites which engage with parents and learners, improve communication between home and school and provide better marketing with the local community and national groups
One of the frequent changes you see is around the choice of domain name a school will use. Traditionally, schools would use a domain based on their name, the geographical Local Authority they are in (but not always part of) and a tail of .sch.uk to identify them as a UK School, eg blogs-pri.dookland.sch.uk. This domain is allocated to them by Nominet, is linked to the DfE number of the school and belongs to the school.
Sometimes you will hear that the domain belongs to the Council / LA and this is not altogether true. The domain belongs to the school, but might be controlled by the LA as part of delivery of services (eg over an RBC) or has previously been managed by the LA on behalf of the school, via the LA tech support team. Schools can ask for the domain to be transferred to a Registrar of their choice and can have someone manage the associated DNS.
Some schools chose not to use their .sch.uk domain. This could be because of the above myth meant they registered a new domain when leaving an LA service, they might not like the long URL or email addresses it can give, it can be down to a marketing / PR choice or it might simply be personal preference of a member of Senior Leadership / technical staff.
There are a few important things to remember about your choice of domain though. Firstly, the ends of domains, that is to say the general Top Level Domains (gTLDs) such as .com, .net, or country specific / country-code TLDs (ccTLDs) such as .co.uk and .org.uk, have a specific purpose and identify the type of business or organisation you are. These domains are registered for a period of time and have to be re-registered on a regular basis. They are open to dispute by other groups of the same name and you can even find conflicting domains ([schoolname].com and [schoolname].org) being used by different schools or even one by a school and the other by a commercial comany with a good claim to both domains.
Some companies and organisations will try to capture all related domains so that this problem is dealt with, but schools often forget that they have the .sch.uk domain which they have left fallen by the wayside.
Your .sch.uk does not lapse, it is free, it can only be controlled by your school, it cannot be grabbed by a former student with an axe to grind and it doesn’t have to be your principle domain.
At the moment I recommend schools, which are choosing a different domain as their principle domain, to keep hold of their .sch.uk domain. If you are swapping email services then this extra domain can usually sit in the background so emails to the old addresses still reach their original recipients. Websites can have a CNAME record to redirect your .sch.uk domain to your preferred domain.
Generally, there is no excuse for not keeping the old domain other than wanting to have a ‘clean break’ or you make use of services which do not allow for other options. If this is the case then you need to consider the impact of lost emails, irregular communications which might get missed, etc.
A few hours of work now can save you days of trouble later on. Go on, be proud to let people know you are still a school ... that is what .sch.uk is there for after all.