The country’s largest academy chain will save almost £1 million from moving its ICT services to a “cloud-based” service.

The Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) began the transfer of email, websites and all documents over to Google’s cloud service in 2012 in a bid to reduce costs and co-ordinate computer systems across all its schools.

It now estimates that it will have made £900,000 in “real, tangible” savings by 2017. This includes savings in electricity, licensing costs and server maintenance. Hosting websites on Google has saved £33,000.

The trust runs 68 schools across England, having handed eight schools over to more local sponsors since December. Each has moved its IT over to the cloud – a remote server – which is free for schools to use.

The trust’s ICT director, Chris Meaney, says innovations, such as Google Hangout, have led to further savings that cannot yet be calculated.

For example, AET’s finance director carried out most budget meetings with school business managers and principals using Google Hangout, saving more than 60 journeys to schools. “Not having to invest in email servers or software is inevitably going to make us look at other things we can put in the cloud,” Mr Meaney said.

“We are very close to having what we call ‘total cloud primaries’ where they don’t have servers at all. The cloud’s ease of use has massively improved so you don’t need as highly trained staff using the tools that schools would normally have to buy in.”

He said some primary schools spent up to £30,000 to procure ICT services, which was a “largely caretaking” role. Schools that used a cloud system could spend the money elsewhere.

In secondary schools, which often have onsite IT technicians, the staff could be used in the classroom rather than in the “back office”, Mr Meaney said.

But Jon Richards, Unison’s national education and children’s services secretary, said that these sort of innovations could lead to redundancies.

“The public and private sectors are littered with examples of IT deals that have led to service failures and not achieved the savings claimed.

“Schools must also be able to guarantee that sensitive data on issues such as safeguarding for children will be both secure and confidential. The level of service to pupils must be protected, and ‘local’ expertise must be available to deal with onsite problems.”

Recent guidance from the Department for Education reminds schools of their obligations under the Data Protection Act when moving over to cloud-based systems.