Does your student’s backup system make the grade?

If your kid's teacher won't buy "the dog deleted my homework" then you need a plan B should disaster strike.

Students head back to school next week, many with a shiny new notebook PC tucked away in their bag. With two kids in high school I've invested in sturdy carry cases to protect their notebooks against the rough and tumble of life in the school yard, and hopefully you've done the same for your kid's computer. But what have you done to protect all those precious school assignments that lie within?

Does your kid know how to back up their important school work?

Don't assume your kid understands the difference between files on their computer and files in the cloud, or that they'll cover things like backups in class; our high school left the kids to figure this stuff out for themselves.

If your kid can't afford to lose everything the night before a big exam, then you can afford to spend a few minutes helping them back up their data; think of it like a digital insurance policy.

It sounds like scaremongering, but there's no shortage of threats waiting to claim that school notebook and its precious contents. Beyond fire, flood, theft and loss, something as simple as a power surge or failed hard drive could destroy a semester's work in a heartbeat.

Occasionally backing up files to a USB stick doesn't cut it; the best backup regimes run quietly in the background. Thankfully there are free and easy ways to automatically back up important files to the cloud.

The simplest option is to sync their entire My Documents folder (or Documents on a Mac) to Google Drive or Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud storage, using their free desktop software.

If you opt for Google, install the desktop software and click on the new Google cloud icon in the system tray at the bottom right of your desktop. Now sign in, choose the folders to backup, decide whether you want to sync files from Google to your computer and then click Start. You can now access your backups via under Computers.

It's a similar story with Microsoft, except by default it creates a new OneDrive folder on your computer and expects you to put everything in there. Thankfully once it's running you can right-click on the OneDrive icon in the system tray, click Settings, go to the Backup tab, click Manage Backup, choose the folders to back up and then click Start Backup. You'll find your files online at

If you're after more granular control and advanced features then you might look to a dedicated online backup service like CrashPlan, Carbonite, iDrive or Backblaze. If you don't like the idea of storing everything the cloud, you can automatically backup files to a home network attached storage drive each night, using software like Handy Backup or ChronoSync.

Whichever you choose, it's important that your kid remembers to always save files in their My Documents folder, rather than just dumping everything on the desktop. Don't assume they even understand what folders and the desktop are, especially if they've grown up using iPads at primary school.

The first step is to go into the My Documents folder and create a folder called School. In here they need to create a new folder every year, and then a sub-folder for each subject; this is where they save Word documents and other important files.

Google and Microsoft's free cloud services should offer more than enough storage space for school assignments. If you're running short on space because of large audio, video or gaming files in their My Documents folder, try backing up just their School folder.

Speaking of good habits, I'm still hounding my kids to do themselves a favour and restart their computers once a week. Low-powered school notebooks tend to grind to a halt when you leave dozens of YouTube tabs open in the background, not to mention Steam and Discord for gamers.

In theory cloud backups are set and forget, but I regularly ask my kids to double-check that they can see recently created files in the cloud backups. I don't want to wait until disaster strikes to discover that their backups haven't been running and their homework has gone up in smoke.

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