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

 

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