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January, 2009 - Microsoft UK Schools blog - Site Home - MSDN Blogs
The UK Schools Blog
News and views from the Microsoft UK Education Team
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January, 2009

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Next Generation Learning for 30p a year


    Every now and again I come across a bit of information that I’m not sure about. Like this from a written answer in Parliament:

    The Next Generation Learning campaign sponsored by Becta is designed to raise the awareness of parents or carers, employers and learners of the benefits of the use of technology in education and to drive greater demand for it. It demonstrates how greater engagement with parents or carers can increase a learner's potential, how effective use of technology can improve schools and colleges, and how to ensure children are safe online.

    Becta funding for the campaign for the 12 months April 2008 to March 2009 was £3.1 million. Funding for 2009-10 and 2010-2011 has yet to be confirmed but Becta expect this to be in the region of £2.5 million per year. There is no commitment to fund the campaign beyond this period at this time.

    Next Generation LearningIs that good or bad? £3.1 million to promote Next Generation Learning this year, £8m over three years. I reckon it might be good – after all:

    • It’s less than 30p spent per student per year (there’s 9.6 million of them)
    • It is approximately 0.3% of the total spend on ICT in schools

    And if it makes a difference to how parents & schools see ICT in schools, it is a good thing. But is it making a difference to how parents or schools feel?

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    9 out of 10 children have Internet at home


    According to government research for the DCSF, 90% of pupils have computer and internet access at home. Even amongst primary school children, it was 88%.

    The research was part of the “Parental Involvement in Children's Education” report, published in 2007, and page 25 gives the statistics for Internet access.

    There’s an interesting breakdown by social grade in Table 2.3, but even amongst the most disadvantaged groups, the access is still over two-thirds:

    Social grade

    % with internet
    access at home











    The report is on the web here, and you can find Jim Knight’s parliamentary written answer on the subject here

    I came across this through one of my RSS feeds on TheyWorkForYou. I use it to watch for news and announcements in parliament about education, and often it comes up with interesting nuggets. The RSS feed I use (this is the link) provides all of the answers Jim Knight provides to MP’s written questions.


  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Road Trip Part 4 - Broadclyst


    Phew, after the hiccups at the end of the first day of this road trip, I’m still here and writing :-)

    We awoke in Devon on Friday, to a sunny day and blue skies – and plenty of countryside. Friday’s visit was the polar opposite of Thursday’s , when we visited one of the biggest secondary schools in the country in Birmingham. Today we’re at a tiny village school in Broadclyst, just north of Exeter. The village still has red phone boxes and a thatched bus shelter. And a Victorian primary school that dates from 1810.

    I’ve written about Broadclyst Community Primary School before, and you can also see their story in depth, told by the head, senior leadership team, teachers, pupils and parents in the Innovative School video case studies, so I’m not going to dwell in detail on their story. As this was my second visit, I wasn’t struck dumb as I walked into the main classroom, which closely resembles the Enterprise from Star Trek. Instead, I spent a lot of time talking with, and answering questions from, individual pupils. The thing that is very obvious is how independent the learners have become during their journey through Broadclyst school, and so each pupil seems to be working on a different piece of work. One pair were working on a flyer to save a local fictional wood, whilst the pair next door were working on the financial position of their fictional international business (and they wanted to know what a “good” profit margin was).

    image At one point the classroom started overflowing as the local BBC & ITV news crews turned up, and a photographer from the local press, but this didn’t seem to faze the class – they carried on working, ignoring the mayhem around them.

    You can see the short report from BBC Spotlight here that was broadcast in their regional news (and the Exeter Express & Echo’s report). Anoop Gupta (right) our worldwide Vice-President for Education, spent 15 minutes happily answering questions from the pupils, as they went searching for Bill Gates house on the web, and talking about what it was like working for him directly (Anoop used to be Bill Gates Technology Assistant)

    And if the interviews by the TV crews weren’t bad enough, Michael & Anoop were then shuffled off to the BTV studios (Broadclyst TV) run by the pupils. Without doubt, this was one of the most professional setups hat I’ve seen in a primary school, and they asked much tougher questions than the real TV crews. Hopefully I’ll be able to get a copy of the programme, and share the link with you.

    Broadclyst_School_Bus BroadclystMinibusSuddenly, two hours had gone, and we had to head back to the station – Annop, Michael & Stephen had a plane to catch back to Seattle, so there was no leeway for extra time. But the final journey of the trip was down to the station in the school’s minibus. (After two weeks travelling constantly around Europe, I’m not sure if our party looked quite as neat as the school’s own minibus photo)

    Looking back, the two days had been really useful, to hear from others, and to see for ourselves, the reality of our model of ICT in schools, and to talk about how the UK approach differed from that in other countries. I’ll dwell on the thoughts for a few days before I share some of the discussion and conclusions!

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Road Trip Part 3 – There’s a job on the line


    If you’ve been following the last few posts, you’ll know that we’ve been enjoying a trip around a few schools in the UK with a group of high level Microsoft executives from the US who have been in Europe for a couple of weeks. So far they’ve attended the Learning & Teaching World Forum, with 60 Ministers of Education, and had a series of high level meetings with governments around Europe. And now they’re back with us in the UK, taking a road trip to visit some schools. And so far everything’s been going well – a day visiting Birmingham.

    The next stage of the trip didn’t quite work out as planned, and who knows, there may be an email in my inbox a little later today advising me of the need to pack my bags! Let me explain…

    The “Great British Rail Journey”…

    We arrived at New Street Station in plenty of time, and we had our pre-booked First Class train tickets in our hands. As you may know a platform at New Street isn’t the best place to kill half an hour waiting for a train, but it went quickly as we talked about the day’s visits. When the train arrived, it was chaos. It had only four carriages, despite running from Manchester to Exeter at peak hour. The First Class carriage was packed solid, with bags and people lining the carriage. And people already comfortable in all of our seats. It took us a while to sort that out, and get ourselves settled down. The rest of the two hours were okay – apart from having to suffer for the first 45 minutes to Cheltenham under the glower of the people who’d been sitting in our seats. (I can see their point of view, they too had paid for a first class ticket, but at least we had booked our seats. And the chap sitting in my seat insisted I produce all of the booking paperwork showing the seat number, despite the sign already on the seat, so by the time I’d finished that, my sympathy had waned a bit).

    Our hotel turned out to be quite close to Tiverton Parkway, so we left the train there.

    …followed by the “Memorable British Cab Ride”

    MichaelwaitingforthecabTiverton Parkway is one of those stations that is set in the middle of dark countryside, alongside the motorway. No bright lights anywhere near it. And it was absolutely hammering it down.

    Fortunately I’d pre-booked a minibus to meet the five of us, but it wasn’t waiting at the station. So I called the helpful chap Id spoken with on Wednesday evening. Unfortunately, the helpful Devonian had noted it down for an hour later, so the minibus was on the other side of the county, and there wasn’t another suitable sized vehicle, or a pair of smaller vehicles available. Aargh!

    Either everybody was going to have to wait in the bus shelter for half an hour or we could get a car that was too small in 5 mins. (As you can see Michael at this point was still enjoying the novelty of having his travel arrangements sorted by us, rather than the “Executive Travel Team” that normally co-ordinate all the arrangements of the top level teams from Seattle).

    This was an easy decision – send the normal size cab, and I could despatch everybody else to the hotel, and then I’ll follow on later. As far as I was concerned, that would mean that everybody would be happy – and a half-hour penance in a bus shelter would mean I’d feel the pain of not having checked on the minibus booking on the way down in the train.

    But the others had different views. When the little MPV turned up, absolutely everybody insisted that we’d find a way to fit all of us into it, and I wasn’t allowed to send them off. Instead, we had a game of sardines in the back for the 15 minute trip to Cullompton.


    This got recorded onto a series of photos (stitched together above) – I fear it’s so that when my next Performance Review comes up there’ll be documentation to discuss!

    I will, of course, point out that absolutely everybody was smiling in the photo (well, not me, for obvious reasons) and that it’s the moments like these that make trips memorable.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Road Trip Part 2 – Shireland Academy


    imageAfter spending last Thursday morning at Great Barr School, our merry band hopped into a minibus straight over to Shireland Collegiate Academy, on the other side of northern Birmingham, in Smethwick.

    I’ve written about Shireland before on this blog, and their development of a Learning Gateway which is used not just within the Academy, but by over 100 other schools. To avoid repetition, I won’t repeat any of those stories – but you can read it all for yourself in this article, or download a set of PowerPoint slides from BETT 2008.

    The Shireland Learning Gateway team

    Our visit gave us the chance to spend some time in class, and then meet the developers of the Learning Gateway. Anoop and Michael got the chance to chat with three ex-Shireland students (Natalie, Stephen & Ian), who had been hired by the team to develop learning resources on behalf of the schools who are using the Gateway. This is an employment model that I have seen before – successful students being employed by their school to provide ICT support services. Not only is it good for them, in continuing to build future employability, heads have told me that it is also motivational for other students still in school, as it is an aspirational goal for current students. Fr

    Meanwhile I was chatting with Ryan Guest, one of the team responsible for running the Gateway for Shireland’s academy, and got the chance to ask about their measures of success. If you’re running a Learning Gateway in a school, what are the ways that you measure your own success? I’m not sure if Ryan intended that I should share his answer, but I thought it would be useful comparison if you’re doing the same in your school. First and foremost, the success measure is learners’ attainment (and exam results). Of course, that means you may only know once a year if you’re being successful, so the everyday measures that are used are:

    • Website traffic increases
      The Learning Gateway team produce a daily report for Heads of Departments of traffic to their sections
    • Weekly Head of Department meetings
      To discuss feedback on usage, issues encountered, and developments (eg what assignments are to be uploaded, what changes are to be needed)
    • Informal feedback and requests from students
      Shireland’s Learning Gateway has a lot of quizzes and competitions on it, using learning games with leader boards. From the sound of it, Ryan regularly gets requested by students to design new games (often based on quiz shows on TV!) and/or requests to reset leader boards on existing competitions, so everyone can have another go. This bit was intriguing – students wanting to regularly take tests in order to prove their knowledge!

    A little later we met a head of a local primary school that had used the Gateway to keep in touch with parents whilst the pupils were away at a residential week. Travis Latham, who’s Head of Shireland Hall Primary School, told us about the way that a simple blog on the Gateway had engaged pupils and parents, with some parents logging on several times a day to get updates on how their children were doing. It made me wonder if it was a trojan horse for improving the engagement of parents with school work, as well as encouraging them to get more involved in the use of ICT to support learning.

    Time for discussions and questions

    Heading towards the end of the afternoon, we then got a chance to talk with a parent and to find out their views on home-school learning links, then a group of students who’d made it into last term’s 100% Attendance club. Once a term they have a reward meeting, with cakes and doughnuts to reward all of those in each year group that had attended every session. And this group of Year 8’s were given the chance to ask any questions they wanted of the visitors. I’ve been involved in a few of these now, and know that some questions will always come up every time - “Have you met Bill Gates”, “Did you design the XBox” and “How much do you earn” are favourites. This time around, with Anoop in the room (“Yes, I used to work directly for Bill”) the answers were a little more exciting, but next time we really must take somebody from the XBox team on tour!

    The thing that happened in this session, that has never happened before, was that the 100% club wanted to collect autographs from their visitors. I can’t imagine that they’ll ever have the same cachet as a footballer’s signature, but they’ll have something to talk about for the next couple of days.

    Finally, we had to jump back in the minibus to get to New Street Station, ready for our trip down to Devon. Armed with another set of interesting stories and different perspectives, we left with a debate going all the way back to the station (this time the discussion with the leadership team about different pools of data in the education system led us to a debate about what we could do to help all schools could effectively use their data sets to raise performance).

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Taking a road trip


    Yesterday we were out and about on a West Midlands road trip with a gaggle of colleagues from the global education team. The aim of the trip was to see some of the things that are happening in UK schools, to inform our future directions and policies.

    It was a little bit like a school trip, as I checked at each stage we hadn’t lost anybody on our way. The ‘Tour Party’ was:

    • Steve Beswick, the Microsoft UK Director of Education
    • Anoop Gupta, Corporate Vice President for Microsoft globally
    • Michael Golden, Corporate Vice President for our Education Products Group
    • Stephen Coller, Senior Director of Technology, Policy and Strategy

    It is unusual to be able to get a couple of days of time from all of these people, and it was really nice that we were able to spend that time visiting schools, rather than stuck in the meeting rooms at our offices in Reading. It has been a busy fortnight for the HQ colleagues from Seattle, as they were over for BETT, then onto other European countries. Finally, they landed back in Birmingham on Wednesday night, flying in from Portugal via Germany! They would probably have appreciated a break from the pace and energy of travel, but no let up in the Midlands.

    Great Barr School

    We started our visit at Great Barr School, with a packed 3 hour agenda, sitting in lessons, taking maths tests (eek!), meeting teachers and governors as well as the leadership team and the IT team. It was good to be in a classroom to see the reality of teaching today.

    GeographyClassroomNeil Morland’s Geography Lesson

    Perhaps it’s because Geography was my favourite subject at school, but I really enjoyed sitting in a Geography lesson with Neil Morland. The lesson was one China’s ‘One Child per Family’ policy, and although it wasn’t an ICT rich lesson, Neil had created a PowerPoint presentation using pictures, music & text to get across an important message to introduce the lesson. When I watch people presenting in business, using PowerPoint, it is amazing how often I see them tripped up by the technology, or simply unfamiliar with what the mouse buttons do. Whereas Neil was confidently using a remote mouse pointer to pause the the PowerPoint and music, in order to discuss a point, before carrying on. I don’t know how many teachers have a remote mouse (or similar remote gadget) but it made a real difference to the way that the lesson flowed, and conversation could be constructed.

    The biggest thing I noticed in the classroom layout was that every single surface was covered in learning resources. Not just the walls, cupboards and windows – it is the first classroom I’ve visited that you can’t escape from learning by staring at the ceiling – covered in national flags.

    Wandering around the classrooms

    MathsClassroomAnother hour was spent wandering the school, dropping into lessons – into the science labs, the IT Support offices and the multimedia labs – and getting a sense of how learning is delivered in Great Barr, and how teachers are supported. There was one anxious moment (left), when a Year 8 Maths Group challenged us to a Maths Quiz, using Brain Trainer, to see who could get the highest score in 100 mental maths questions. Fortunately we had Anoop on our side, a professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering from Stanford University, and a holder of the President’s Gold Medal. Unfortunately, I was on our side too. And obviously the Year 8’s have had plenty of practice on their Nintendo’s – so in the end it was an unequal fight and we lost gracefully.

    The other anxious moment was when we were in the corridors as the bell went (did I mention that Great Barr has 2,400 students and 350 staff?). The building guidelines that schools use – BB98 – define standard corridor dimensions for schools, and these are irrespective of the number of students. Even so, 2,400 students turning out on onto the standard narrow-corridors turned out to be okay – although we obviously had no choice about where we were going – we just had to go with the flow of the thousands!

    In the conversations during the hour, we learnt a lot about the students and the school. 85% of the students have a broadband connection and computer at home, compared to 53% nationally. And that every teacher has their own laptop and every classroom has a projector (is there any school in the country where this isn’t yet true?)

    And then the management side

    After the tour, we all made it into one of their conference rooms, where we were able to spend some time discussing the school’s ICT strategies and how it was being used to support learning. There were some things that jumped out from this discussion - as this was a fast-paced discussion that kept changing direction, I’ll summarise some of the key bullets:

    • The Becta Self-Review Framework (SRF) had been really useful in deciding on priorities and to do an analysis of the starting position. At the first pass, in November 2007, the Red/Amber/Green analysis it produced showed just 53% of areas were green, whereas this month it shows 100% green.
    • The SRF revealed that the two development focus areas were ICT across the curriculum, and staff confidence with ICT.
    • The school has built a parental reporting gateway, to meet the online reporting targets, and currently have 900 parents using it. At around 40%, that seemed good compared to other schools I have talked with, but Great Barr were aiming for higher, and so have a range of initiatives in place to increase this, for example by promoting it heavily to the Year 7 intake this year.
    • Since May 2008, the school’s added 13 new servers – and because they are using virtualisation, that has meant only 4 new physical servers. That’s saving money as well as reducing the carbon footprint.
    • They use blogging in various parts of the curriculum, and the staff can use their choice of tool for this (the example we saw in History was a blog created in Blogger, but then the IT team brought that content directly into the school’s Learning Gateway. This seemed a great way to enable innovation and spread ownership, but maintaining a central way of accessing the whole set of teaching resources.
    • In German they use blogging to enable peer feedback – a student is able to create a blog post in German and then other students can add their comments (On a side note, it also illustrated the use of different writing styles – from formal to straight-forward ‘txt spk’ in the comments)
    • Alex Pearce, the “Learning Gateway and ICT Manager” at the school had done a really straightforward, and powerful, analysis of the linkage between ICT investment projects and the learning goals of the school. This allowed people to see how the current project (flood wireless) linked back to the Teaching and Learning objectives for the school.
      (I’ll see if I can get a copy from Alex, or ask him to pop it onto his blog)

    Where next?

    Technologically, Alex and Dan talked about how they want to provide support for students using ICT at home. One of their aims is to take advantage of the high broadband usage to provide Internet telephony (using Office Communications Server, which is now my default phone system when sitting at a desk). The other is how they can help students personally use ICT more in their learning, and using OneNote for supporting learning. (If you don’t know about OneNote, read Mike’s OneNote in Education blog)

    Finally, after three hours had passed in a flash, we had to jump in a minibus to get to our next visit. Without a shadow of a doubt, we had all learnt a lot more than we expected at Great Barr School, and as we drove away, the buzz was already starting about what could happen if lots of other schools were making similar changes at a similar pace.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Late at night, at BETT


    Last week, late one evening, we hatched a plan. What about a BETT flashmob? All of those crazy polo shirt colours* suddenly turning up en-bloc at another stand suddenly, performing and disappearing.

    Sadly, the idea seemed a little bit too much to organise the next morning (the sober light of day?), but we thought we’d hold the idea for next year.

    Obviously, T-Mobile started planning a bit earlier – take a look at this video of their flashmob at Liverpool Street Station, filmed for an advert.

    Reading the RSS feed? Link to it here

    I’m not sure how I’d have felt if I’d been standing in the middle of the concourse at the time. Given my historical aversion to anything ‘disco’, I’d have probably broken out into a cold sweat.

    * Footnote: Obviously, when I refer to “crazy polo shirt colours”, I’m thinking of Promethean’s orange, and Dell’s vivid pink. Perhaps I should insist we wear sunglasses when we choose our colour for next year, so that we’re not put off by the garishness of the choices.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Photosynths made at points in history



    Having lived through BETT last week, I had to relive it again this morning when Mark A’Bear showed me his Photosynth of the BETT stand. He’d snapped 278 photos of Olympia, and Photosynth had them stitched them together into an explorable photo model.

    It’s just like being there – but without the noise, crowds and freebies.

    imageI couldn’t help noticing that CNN had created a big inauguration Photosynth too, were they had asked members of the public to send in their photos, and they’d then popped them all into Photosynth to make a massive diorama that you can browse around and explore. And on the main Photosynth site, there are piles of others, some created by individual people from a single perspective, others by groups of people together. And they’re all overlayed on a map of Washington so that you can navigate amongst them.

    This is a big step for social networking and digital photography, because it is more than just people sharing photographs on a site like Flickr or FaceBook, but actually ties the images together to create perspectives that no single person could have seen.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    The London Grid makes a move


    We made a few announcements in BETT week – and during the course of this week, I’ll make sure I write about them all (if you’re impatient, you can see them all here).

    One of the most significant from a product/service perspective was that we announced the launch of the London Grid for Learning’s new email service. I’ve snipped some of the detail from the press release below:

    LONDON — 14 Jan 2009 — London Grid for Learning (LGfL), a consortium of all London’s local authorities, has today launched Microsoft Live@edu services for up to one million students across London. This is the first network of its scale for schools, and the LGfL is the only network globally providing fibre optic connections to every school, positioning London at the forefront of 21st-century collaborative education worldwide.

    Branded “London Mail” by LGfL, the new service will incorporate 33 local authorities and 2,500 schools, and is the largest potential deployment of Microsoft’s Live@edu mail services worldwide. Schools will be making significant cost savings using the hosted service, as Live@edu includes applications such as mobile, desktop and web-based e-mail — encouraging students to collaborate, create online communities, and make learning and the sharing of information easier.


    The Live@edu service has been around for a while, and is widely used across universities to provide their student email service, and this is the first implementation for schools in the UK.

    Students get a 10GB inbox, and they also get to use the latest Office webmail client – which is in effect the next version of Office. As Brian Durrant, the CEO of London Grid for Learning said in the press release:


    Part of our responsibility within education is to bridge that gap between school and the world of work; London Mail gives students an e-mail experience in line with what they will use when they graduate. Amongst the 25,000 students we have been piloting the system with, we have enabled an increase in teamwork across schools, which is extremely positive. And, practically speaking, using this service has helped schools make significant savings. We estimate the average secondary school could save around £18,000 a year using London Mail, so across the 2,500 schools in London, it’s a multi-million-Endquotespound reduction in costs.

    For LGfL and the schools, there are further benefits. Firstly the fact that we provide the core service free, means that you should be less cost for a better service. And secondly, we carry the full responsibility for running the datacentres and the backup and disaster recovery plans etc.

    To comply with the Information Security guidance from Becta, we run the datacentres for the Live@edu service in Dublin, meaning that the student data is stored within the EU. For those who visited Olympia last week, imagine a data centre three times bigger than the Grand Hall, which runs this and other services.

    Now that this service is live in LGfL, we’re not expecting a rush of individual schools outside of London to sign up for the service. Instead, we’re in conversation with some of the Regional Broadband Consortia over their email provision. (If you’re interested in the service in your school, you can find out more here, but rather than asking us to provide the service, we’d prefer it if you asked your broadband consortium what their plans are to update their email services!)

    Email has become such a big tool for students’ lives, and the need for ever-more powerful email services is creating a demand for education establishments to provide more powerful services. Although most students aren’t going to need a 10GB inbox and 25GB of collaborative storage space on the Internet, providing it removes a few barriers for years to come!

    ps You might also be interested to see what the press said about the announcement, on ComputerWeekly and Softpedia,  and on Merlin John’s blog

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Live@edu – mixing software and online services


    I wrote a little earlier about the LGFL decision to switch LondonMail to the Live@edu service. But I didn’t really explain the context behind the move that is going on for us, towards a range of cloud-based services (don’t ask me why everybody says “Cloud-based services” instead of “on the Internet”, but I guess it sounds trendier, so I’ll copy it too).

    Within Microsoft we talk about “Software + Services”, and although you’ll find that phrase used externally too, I think it would be better to describe what it is we’re doing – which is basically moving from a model of software on computers, to a mix of software on computers and web-based services, and integrating them together to deliver a completely different experience. It leaves you free to build an IT system where your services are delivered partially from in-school IT and services from the web.

    Fortunately, my colleague Steve Clayton, has worked with CommonCraft (the animations-on-paper-to-describe-complex-ideas people) to produce a video about what this all means. It’s not been written explicitly for education, but it all makes sense in the context of schools.

    I’ve love Common Craft videos, because they take a complex idea and break it down into plain English. Some of my favourites are about podcasting, blogs, wikis and web search strategies.

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