You may have heard references to Free Schools that are now opening up around the country, in response to communities who feel, they are needed in order to improve education for children local to them.

I recently met with Bob Pigott, Sales Director in the Education Division, for Microsoft partner Civica, who told me all about the work they have done in implementing their CloudBase solution to one of the growing numbers of Free Schools and how this has made a difference for teachers, parents and students alike.

The Free School Norwich is something of a pioneer in education, being one of the first wave of Free Schools set up under the Governments education reforms. Drawing on the Free School’s initiative’s scope for community-based and flexible learning modules, the school is changing the standard model of primary education for the better – both in terms of teaching and the role a school plays in the local community.

To bring true flexibility to their daily operations, the school uses the Civica CloudBase platform to maintain a secure and stable IT environment regardless of the user’s location. The school is already taking full advantage of its capabilities, with an out-of-school learning exercise occurring almost every day with its 98 current students (which is planned to expand to 168 by the end of the next academic year).

The Challenge

The Free School Norwich was set up by Tania Sidney-Roberts, Principal,  who had the idea of changing the role of a school, creating a school that caters for the needs of ordinary, working parents who cannot afford to pay for after-school care or sf20110108%20-%20Norwich%20Free%20School%20Prospectus-10nannies whilst they remain at work.

This vision meant creating a school that made the most use of the time available to parents, and catered for its pupils until the end of the working day, for a full 51 weeks of the year.

With the vision set, it was clear the Free School Norwich required a powerful and flexible platform that was able to take the education experience out of the school, and allow parents to take an active role in their child’s education without having to book time away from work to do so. Consequently, allowing parents to access the ICT platform remotely and monitor student activity was a must.

Alongside this flexible method of communication, the Free School Norwich aimed to change the way students learn and Tania wanted an interactive experience for the pupils that could truly take the learning experience outside of the classroom. The school therefore needed to be able to access their education applications through a variety of mobile devices, and with a target audience of 4-7 year olds, this process needed to be as fast and easy as possible.

Finally, between the contract awarding and the first day of service, there was just 6-8 weeks remaining before the school needed the cloud solution up and running in order to be ready for the first day of term.

The Solution

To meet Tania’s expectations, Civica’s educational consultation team worked with the Free School Norwich team to install, test and sign off the CloudBase solution within 6-8 weeks, allowing the solution to be implemented for the start of term, and the cloud to be working smoothly from day one. On top of this, Civica provided teacher and staff training during the installation period and afterwards to make sure they were able to fully utilising the platform from the beginning of the term. The Civica e-learning consultancy team is continuing to build upon these skills, supporting teachers and staff as they grow with the solution.

CloudBase is a single sign on, hosted, online environment built on SharePoint 2010 that allows pupils and staff to access email, MIS, office and educational applications quickly and simply, regardless of location - easily facilitating the many trips to museums, theatres and libraries that happen at the school every day. The flexible solution allows for collaboration not just between staff and pupils but also with parents. The school recently installed a tracker system that will allow parents to check up on their child’s attendance, their progress in lessons, as well as for any outstanding homework that may need completing!

Finally, Civica’s managed service desk supports the CloudBase solution remotely, allowing the school to call upon Civica’s expert technical support services at any time.

The Benefits

The Free School Norwich has seen a tremendous level of support from staff, who are using the solution to support academic outcomes, as well as from pupils and their parents, for its pioneering work and positive attitude towards embracing next-generation technology.

Attendance at the school’s after-hours “Squirrels” club has vastly exceeded expectations, and parents that enter the school regularly comment on how quickly and easily they are able to log onto the school’s cloud system and access resources.

Tania Sidney-Roberts, headmistress of The Free School Norwich, commented: “I wanted cloud based ICT because I knew that this is the way forward in education. Cloud offers the whole school community (parents, pupils, staff and governors) the opportunity to interact with the school at any time of day or night, from anywhere in the world. The school is never closed as it has a cloud.”

She continued: “We’re extremely pleased with the smooth installation and running of the CloudBase system, considering the scale of the project, as well as with the level of support we have received. Staff in particular are impressed with the “single sign-on” capabilities of the Civica CloudBase solution – which allows them to access all apps/software in the cloud without having to memorise multiple login details”.

Civica has worked with Tania and the Free School Norwich team to achieve their vision of a 21st century school within just 6-8 weeks, providing a full service and platform, as well as onsite floor walking support for the school during the first two weeks of opening. Civica’s floor level support team take their job seriously – even helping to clean up the school before the Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit in September 2011.

The Future

The Free School Norwich plans to expand from 98 to 168 pupils over the course of the next school year – in addition, Tania is planning another Free School in Barnsley, and will recommend the Civica CloudBase system. Due to the nature of the cloud, with the CloudBase system already fully functioning at Norwich, this process of expansion will be incredibly quick and efficient.

If you would like to find out more about this and other new and innovative ways to work in education, please feel free to ask them more at BETT 2012 on their stand, K54.