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June, 2010 - 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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June, 2010

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Moving Tameside to web-based email - saving money and making users happier


    A little earlier this month, I had the chance to have a long chat with Darren Madden, from Tameside local authority (or, as it should be properly known, Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council). Darren’s the leader of the Schools Technical Team (you can find their website here), which is a merry band of 9 operating as a dedicated education IT team. Their job is to look after all the primary schools in the borough, whilst the secondary schools get their support through the BSF service provider. But they do provide support for the MIS systems in both the primary and secondary schools. Tameside, which is in Ashton-under-Lyne near Manchester, has 96 schools in total.

    The reason for the conversation with Darren is that they are rolling out our free school email service, Live@edu to all 81 primary schools by the end of the summer term, and replacing their existing 12-year old MDaemon system, which has been limited, and can only be accessed within school – so pupils and teachers couldn’t access from home. The end result was that school staff didn’t use their school email address extensively. And users also complained about the volume of spam mail. As they selected their replacement, they chose between upgrading each server in each school, replacing it with another central system, or outsourcing to another provider. Cost, security, flexibility and the service that users would receive all influenced the final choice to move to our cloud-based email service, Live@edu.

    So far they’ve rolled Live@edu out to 30 primary schools in the first 7 weeks – typically adding a new school in a few days. Each school asks for about 30 users – mainly staff – so the roll out will be complete by the end of the summer term. Then Darren expects it to increase to about 60 staff, and then schools will start adding pupils in Years 5 & 6. Part of the reason is that as pupils move from primary to secondary, they’re ready for using the same ICT they will find in secondary schools.

    Currently Tameside are managing users manually, as they’ve not yet linked to the school MIS systems, nor do they plan to - they feel it’s easy to manage users from schools sending a spreadsheet etc. As Darren says “It would be different if they were going to cover secondary schools – then they’d be linked to the school network system such as their the Active Directory”

    So what have been the differences?

    From a user’s viewpoint, Darren’s already spotted the benefits:

    Spam was a real hassle – now we’ve switched to Live@edu it’s reduced the amount of spam a long way. Staff are actually enjoying the service, and especially happy at the reduction in the amount of spam email that’s now hitting their mailbox.

    And the technical team have already started seeing the difference:

    We don’t have to worry about the backups, as that’s taken care of. Previously we used to backup schools once a quarter – which meant each mail server in each school.

    The fact that staff can access their email from outside of the school, means that they can catch up with email at home, rather than having to stay in school to do it. And there’s also a plan to encourage staff to enable email on their phones – not just for email, but also so that they can get remote access to calendars, to help them manage their time and out-of-school meetings.

    Development steps

    Darren talked about their next steps, expanding out from just the email side:

    We’ve started using Windows Live SkyDrive (a web-based file storage system) to reduce the use of USB memory sticks, which we expect to help reduce the infection by viruses. We can use Kaspersky to check the files as they are transferred from the web, and we also know that it’s permanently backed up.

    Waterloo Primary School was the first school to use this - they can now share files more easily with their governors, and collaborate by sharing comments on a single version of a document. In the past, they would have had to email each governor individually, and collate all of the comments separately.

    I asked Darren about the security and safety side of providing student email, and he talked about their options to consider as they widely implement student email. In addition to filtering, they can create rules – for example ‘if somebody uses certain phrases, then cc the email to a teacher’; or if there’s a bullying case, then they can set the system up so that it automatically copies emails from specific users to staff. As Darren said “This wouldn’t have been possible before, and on their previous email system it always seemed to act intermittently whether words on the banned list were actually being picked up.”

    So will it save money?

    By the end of this term, once the old emails have been transferred, Tameside hope to switch off all of their existing mail servers based in the schools. In a third of the schools it was running on a dedicated Windows NT server, so switching that off is going to save school electricity costs, and reducing the amount of support that’s needed by the schools. And they can afford to expand the system without having to replace hardware or software, freeing up resources for other projects.


    This example is where a local authority have stepped in to manage email on behalf of all of their schools, but individual schools can also sign up to the service themselves. There’s an excellent overview video of Live@edu here, with Ben Nunney from our team, and Guy Shearer from Lodge Park Technology College.

    And for more information about the service, then go to the Microsoft Live@edu site


    imageQuickly find all the other Live@edu posts on this blog

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Live@edu Implementation Guide


    imageBen Nunney, who writes the UK Live@edu blog, has just finished updating the Live@edu Implementation Guide. It covers a wide range of advice and guidance that is helpful as you plan to move your email services to the free Live@edu service, based in our cloud datacentres in Dublin. (This link will tell you more about what Live@edu is)

    The guide is specifically written for network managers and others who are responsible for the school IT infrastructure. Some of the guidance that you’ll find include:

    • How to structure your email domains
    • Options for configuring your student IDs
    • Switching your domains from your in-house servers to ours
    • Managing domains where staff are on an in-house mail service whilst students are in the cloud
    • Configuring Single Sign On
    • Automating the synchronisation of your user accounts
    • Setting up mail transport rules eg for banned words, mail filtering, domain restrictions etc
    • Branding your mail service

    If you’re planning a deployment, or your curious to see just how much control you still retain when you move to an outsourced mail service, then Ben’s guide is incredibly helpful.

    imageDownload the Live@edu Implementation Guide


  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Windows 7 is fast while Windows XP heads towards the retirement home - Things I Learned This Week #9


    1. Seven copies of Windows 7 are sold every second

    Brandon LeBlanc, on the Windows Team blog, said earlier in the week that Windows 7 has sold 150 million licences so far – which makes it is the fastest selling operating system in history with 7 copies of Windows 7 sold every second.

    2. The World Cup makes the Internet busier and quieter

    Rory Cellan-Jones’ blog reported that there were 800,000 concurrent streams of the England/Slovenia game on Wednesday – as people watched the game over the Internet in the office, at school and at home. Internet traffic spiked by between 55% and 226%.

    Meanwhile, between 3pm and 5pm on Wednesday, I did not receive a single email at work. Not one. When normally 150 emails per day arrive in my inbox. What a strange anomaly.

    Bonus info: If England had got further you might have found The Angry Technician’s info useful. He had written  clever instructions to stream the World Cup around your school, from a Freeview receiver. Oh well – keep them for next time!

    3. Windows XP SP2 is at its End of Life

    If you’re still running any Windows XP machines in school which have only been upgraded as far as SP2 (Service Pack 2), you have a fortnight to upgrade it to SP3 – after that time we’ll not be issuing updates or supporting it. I’m guessing that 95% of you have already installed SP3, because it absolutely pays to ensure you have Windows Automatic Updates set up. But perhaps you’ve got a few random machines that need a check. Perhaps the one in D&T that’s controlling a DNC machine? Or an odd one setup for a project and left alone?

    Windows XP was first shipped in Autumn 2001 (look at this BBC web page to see how long ago that was, design-wise), so it’s probably not a surprise to see that almost a decade later new applications aren’t being designed to run on it (some of the new Windows Live applications, and Internet Explorer 9, won’t be available on Windows XP). The final End of Life date for Windows XP is Spring 2014, so there’s time to plan an orderly migration to Windows 7.

    If you want more info on product lifecycles, and want to know when we end Mainstream and Extended Support on any product, then go to our Product Lifecycle Search page

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Reminding teachers about some of the things that Office can help them with



    If you’re like me, you’ve been bought up using Office. As each new version comes along, you discover new features, and you latch onto them. I remember when Pivot Tables were first introduced into Excel, and how it made life so much easier. I still find myself wanting to use the new animations in each version of PowerPoint, just to stay one step ahead of colleagues.

    But what happens if you’re not somebody who rushes straight into the latest version of software, to discover what it can now do? How many of the colleagues that you work with in your school don’t know the features which will make their life easier? To be honest, they aren’t going to read the 500+ pages in the latest Office product guides for Office 2010, nor did they do that for Office 2007. Or even for Office 2003.

    Which means that only some of your teachers know that Track Changes in Word is brilliant commenting on and marking essays. Or that OneNote is a really useful for pulling lesson plans together, as well as for students to do research.

    So the "Teachers guide to Office" might be just the thing to print out and leave laying around the staff room. It works for Office 2007 and Office 2010, and there are only 4 pages to it. It would be perfect as a teaser for a training afternoon, if you’re planning anything for the end of term?

    It’ll also look very nice on a table near the lovely Office posters.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Planning migration to Office 2010


    This year, we’re on schedule to launch almost one new product every week. Of course, if you like discovering new technology, then that’s a good thing. But if you’re managing a big network of computers for other people – which is most of you reading this blog – then it also comes with challenges!

    But these days, you are likely to find that many of our significant new release – like Windows, Office and Windows Server – will come with enhanced deployment and planning tools.

    For Office 2010, there’s the free Office Environment Assessment Tool, which helps you to find out what applications you have installed, what add-ins are used in Office (including the ones which interact with Office but aren’t registered as add-ins). It scans your environment, and then produces a pair of nice reports.

    There’s three steps to use this toolkit to get ready for Office 2010:

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Can you describe what SharePoint does in one sentence?



    Possibly the most difficult job I get asked to do is to describe SharePoint succinctly.

    It’s not because I don’t know what SharePoint is, and what it does – in fact, I use it extensively myself for lots of different purposes, and I see it in regular use in schools, colleges and universities. But the reason it is difficult to describe is because SharePoint is such an multi-functional system, that it’s like trying to describe the whole of Windows, without using the words “operating system”. In fact, I often resort to saying “Well, SharePoint is to the web like Windows is to the PC – it’s the thing that enables everything else to happen, and it’s designed to help you get a job done, whatever the job is”. It stores documents (like a shared drive and document management system combined), it manages document workflow, it allows you to create websites, wikis and blogs, and hundreds of other things too.

    Gerald Haigh

    That flexibility is part of the reason why it’s now used by 80% of universities in the UK and over half of all schools (either directly, or because their learning platform is based upon it). Sometimes schools run it themselves, and other times it’s provided as a hosted service (like the SIMS Learning Gateway).

    As it’s a topical issue on this blog (especially with the launch of SharePoint 2010), I asked Gerald Haigh, a freelance journalist and author of a number of educational leadership books, to take some time out to share what he’s learnt about the way that schools are using SharePoint. He’d recently spent some time with Tom Cooper in Lewisham, and they are using SharePoint there in the BSF project:

    I’m fascinated by what’s happened with SharePoint in Lewisham schools, because it’s a prime example of schools engaging in their time-honoured tradition of taking ownership of something in a way that wasn’t quite foreseen.

    I heard the story from Tom Cooper, who is Lewisham’s Strategic Lead for ICT, and for my money one of the most clued up people in the country when it comes to what ICT can do for school transformation. What seems to have happened, give or take some technicalities around procurement, management services and BSF, is that because Lewisham Borough Council as a whole have long used SharePoint 2003 for basic communication purposes, it seemed a good idea for the Borough’s BSF secondary schools to have SharePoint as part of their managed learning environment, along with a VLE and an MIS. They’d then be able to exchange information with the local authority.

    So SharePoint 2007 went into nine secondaries as part of a trust arrangement between the schools and the authority. The idea was that SharePoint would be a sort of overlay, available on the school home page as the Lewisham BSF portal with basic information such as the ICT service desk phone number.

    But what happened, according to Tom, is that when the schools saw it sitting there, there was the collective sound of pennies dropping.

    “One of the first BSF schools, Forest Hill, said, ‘We’ve got a use for this. We think we can put the whole of the school admin up there’.”

    Fortunately, they were talking to the right person, because Tom immediately responded and he and VT Group (his BSF Partner), worked with Forest Hill to set up a web-based SharePoint infrastructure that’s become the main area of communication for students, teachers and the leadership team.

    “Teachers have access to their files from wherever they are. We’ve expanded it to governors and it’s now going out to parents to give them access to the areas that the school agrees they need.”

    At Forest Hill, SharePoint is now completely customised to the school brand. The home page leads to a wealth of information with photographs and video.

    “We’ve been able to reduce the VLE down to the basic teaching and learning tools,” says Tom, “With SharePoint bearing the load for everything else.”

    Now the Forest Hill initiative has been used as a model for the other eight schools, with more to follow as BSF rolls on. I suggested to Tom that the image that comes to mind is of a thin layer of SharePoint being spread over the top of the schools as a convenience for the authority, then the people in the schools looking up and thinking “Hey, that looks useful” and reaching up to pull it down for their own use.

    Tom agrees.

    “Originally we put it in to integrate with the other council departments and the schools picked it up and ran it with and customised it. The bottom line is this has become a really important vehicle, integral to our BSF strategy and with what’s available in SharePoint 2010 it’s going to improve dramatically.”

    imageQuickly find all the related SharePoint posts on this blog

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Harnessing Technology Grant–an update


    Last Friday, when the government announced the creation of Free Schools, they also announced that some of the capital funding for them would come out of this year’s Harnessing Technology Grant for schools and local authorities. Cutting ICT grants to fund Free Schools led to a certain amount of commentary from the education ICT community, across Twitter and blogs etc, so I’m going to steer very clear of the emotional side of it, but try and provide a summary of what’s going on to help you to plan ahead if you are in a school, and thinking about your ICT budget.

    Funding for Free Schools results in a £50M cut Harnessing Technology Grant

    Given that it was a manifesto commitment, it’s perhaps no surprise that the new government brought this initiative in so quickly. What was a surprise was that in order to pay for the capital costs of setting up Free Schools this year [1], they decided to dip into one of the few capital budgets that they could – the Harnessing Technology Grant [2]. In total, they’ve shaved £50M from that grant, which is one quarter of the total amount available this year.

    The Harnessing Technology Grant is a 3-year programme, running from 2008-2011 to provide £639M for schools and local authorities to fund some of the capital costs of specific parts of education ICT. This year the grant was £200M, and was allocated out via formula to local authorities [3]. Each local authority was allowed to retain 25%, to fund central costs eg broadband provision, whilst 75% had to be devolved to schools.

    The DCSF/DfE, through Becta, gave very specific guidance [4] on what the grant was for:

    • Learning services: learning platform services, email services, personal storage areas for learners and staff and the infrastructure to access these services. Services need to support the safeguarding of learners, be available for all users inside and outside educational institutions including users’ homes and must be available outside core school hours.
    • High-quality digital learning resources in line with Becta’s quality principles, taking advantage of national and local collaboration opportunities.
    • Integration of learning and management systems at institution, local authority and – where appropriate – regional level so that data is available securely when and where it is required.
    • Parental reporting: online access to reporting systems and information. Schools should provide timely, meaningful and manageable information to parents through appropriate and secure use of management information systems, learning platforms, managed learning environments, messaging services and other suitable online reporting systems.
    • Broadband infrastructure to provide services, appropriate to need and safety, with sustainable plans for further development of local and regional networks to ensure that the necessary capacity and services are available.
    • Simplified sign-on for users: establishing authentication and authorisation infrastructure capable of granting individual learners with secure anywhere/anytime access to educational resources – must be implemented in conjunction with the UK Access Management Federation using Shibboleth, with the local authority or Regional Broadband Consortium acting as identity and service provider.

    And they also spelled out what it couldn’t be used for:

    The Harnessing Technology grant is a capital grant. It can be used to purchase computer software and digital learning resources provided that the resource being paid for can be treated as capital in accordance with normal accounting rules. This can apply to both one-off purchases of software resources, also licenses, depending on the terms of the contract. Subscriptions to services that provide digital curriculum resources on an ongoing basis would normally be treated as revenue, unless the service includes the creation of a capital asset owned by the purchaser. That is, ownership passes to the school or local authority at the end of the service period; or the school or local authority receive a licence to use the resource for a specified time period longer than one year.

    The reality, in some schools, is that head teachers saw it as “the ICT money”, and used that (and only that) as their ICT budget.

    So what happens now?

    Here’s some assumptions from me:

    • The money was distributed to local authorities on a quarterly basis, so I’m guessing that the next few payments to local authorities will be smaller by £50M.
    • The money retained by local authorities will probably mostly be already committed to long-term contracts for learning platforms and broadband provision
    • So the cuts will mainly be in the amount passed on to schools – meaning that schools may lose between one quarter and one third of their grants

    Before this news, when the grant was £200M, all local authorities will have told their schools how much grant they will get, and I’m sure that will have been factored into your schools budget at the full amount.

    I think over the next few weeks, as the message gets out, you’ll probably be hearing from your local authority about their plans to ‘claw back’, or limit future payments, on the grant – and this will be somewhere between 25% and 33% of the year’s total.

    But didn’t they say they were protecting school budgets?

    There’s more on this issue on Merlin John Online, but in a nutshell, DfE say that the promise was to protect the revenue budgets (the stuff that pays salaries etc), but that no protection had been guaranteed for capital budgets [5]

    So what do you do?

    Now you’ve got all the facts, what do you do about it? Well, rushing off and spending your budget as quickly as possible isn���t wise (see above!), but perhaps it might be a good time to remind your head teacher about the primary purpose of the Harnessing Technology Grant (for the areas outlined above) and to continue the conversation about the strategic value of ICT in the learning process – not just for the subjects where it is core - like ICT, business studies, media studies – but across the whole curriculum.

    And it might also pay to have a scour of the Top ICT Money Saving Tips, to see if there’s anything there that could help you to save money – not just in your budget, but in other department’s budgets in the school.

    imageQuickly find all the Money Saving Tips on this blog

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Academic discount code for Tech∙Ed Europe in Berlin



    There are normally over 50 UK Education attendees for colleges, universities and local authorities at Tech∙Ed Europe, which is in Berlin this November 8 – 12. Given that there’s a growing band of “in-school developers”, then perhaps this may be of interest to some school staff. It’s a full week of deep technical education, hands-on-learning and opportunities to connect with Microsoft and Community experts one-on-one.  The main reason that people attend is to get deep training to our technologies, as well as the chance to see what’s going on across the breadth of our product portfolio.

    Although the full conference price is €1,895, there is a discount code available to staff and students at UK Education institutions, which reduces the price by more than 50% to €795.

    I’m not allowed to publish the discount code on this blog, so just drop me an email  and I will send you the code via email.

    If you don’t qualify for the academic discount, then remember you can still save €500 by registering before 5th July 2010

    The organisers describe the event this way:

    Tech∙Ed provides the most comprehensive technical education across Microsoft’s suite of released, or soon to be released, products, solutions and services. Tech∙Ed is for IT professionals and developers who are involved in implementing, deploying or building solutions using Microsoft technologies.

    Having attended a few years ago, I came away with a brain full of information, so I’m definitely a fan of the event.

    On the agenda, the Technical Track includes:

    • Application Server and infrastructure
    • Architecture
    • Business Intelligence
    • Cloud Computing & Online Services
    • Database platform
    • Developer Tools, Languages and Frameworks
    • Development Practice
    • Office and SharePoint
    • Security, Identity and Access
    • Unified Communications
    • Virtualisation
    • Web Platforms
    • Windows Client
    • Windows Server

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Free classroom posters for Office 2010


    *** UPDATE - apologises, but the Office 2010 posters are now out of stock ***


    Are you rolling out Office 2010 this summer? Or perhaps you’re one of the schools who already has. Well, here’s some good news:

    We’ve just had the new Office 2010 posters delivered, to replenish our stock of Office 2007 posters that had dwindled to zero in the last few weeks. The last set had four different posters, whereas this time we’ve got seven free classroom posters:


    • Office 2010 – an overview of the whole suite
    • Word 2010
    • Excel 2010
    • PowerPoint 2010
    • OneNote 2010
    • Outlook 2010
    • SharePoint Workspace 2010


    If you’d like a set of free classroom posters, then email Ellie Jones, including your name and school address, and she will put a tube full of posters in the mail to you.

    If you just can’t wait, and you want to download the PDFs, then click here to get them from my SkyDrive folder.



    If you’re reading this from outside of the UK, then I’m afraid I can’t post out the tubes – they’re big and heavy. However, you can still download the digital versions above, and you may be able to get alternatives from the Microsoft team in your own country.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    One third of head teachers don’t know how much they spend on ICT


    Continuing my “Things I Learned This Week” series – this week, Part Eight

    This week I’ve been continuing my reading of the Harnessing Technology survey from Becta. Buried deep in the data tables, and summarised on the analytical report, is some interesting information about Information Communications Technology (ICT) spend in UK Schools.

    1. 33% of head teachers don’t know how much they spend on ICT

    In the main report (the “School Survey Analytical Report”) it has an interesting analysis of ICT budgets, starting on Page 19 (Section 3.24). They asked school head teachers, from primary, secondary and special schools, to estimate what proportion of their total school budget they spent on ICT.

    Although the report only shows the breakdown for each school type, the background table show the summary across all schools, which is what I’m going to use.

    An astonishing(?) 33% didn’t know the answer to the question.

    2. 44% of head teachers say they spend more than 5% of their budget on ICT

    • For primary schools - 41%
    • For secondary schools - 53%.

    After taking out the “Don’t Know” category (which have unhelpfully been included in Becta’s breakdown), you end up with the following profile, for all schools responding to the question:

    “Please indicate what percentage of your overall budget spend is on ICT”

    Proportion of budget spent on ICT Percentage of schools
    1-5% 56%
    6-10% 24%
    11-15% 9%
    15%+ 11%
    Which leads me to What I Learned This Week factoid number 3

    3. 11% of head teachers say that they spend more than 15% of their budget on ICT

    Surprised? I am. I simply don’t believe it. An average school spends 75% – 80% of the school budget on staff, so even if there are a few exceptions that have made massive investments in ICT this year, it still wouldn’t get us to 11% of all schools.

    I suspect the answer is that perhaps in their head, most of those saying above 10% read the question as being about their resources budget, rather than their whole school budget. And the other data published on school ICT spend doesn’t support 15%+

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