Guest post from Mark Reynolds, Business Manager for Schools South.

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Warwickshire County Council are moving their schools to the cloud with Microsoft

Last week I attended the launch of the new WeLearn365 service for Warwickshire Schools. Warwickshire County Council are a long-standing partner of Microsoft and the presentation was the first glimpse for the county’s schools of a new Education service built on Microsoft Office365 for Education. Schools currently use an on-premise Exchange 2007 email system which is integrated with the current WeLearn portal, built on SharePoint 2007 by specialist Microsoft Education partner RM. The county have now embarked on a series of presentations to Warwickshire Head Teachers, which launches the next generation of WeLearn services and announces the continuation of their partnership with Microsoft.

John Parmiter, Head of the ICT Development Service at Warwickshire County Council, said:

“Warwickshire ICT Development Services has been working very closely with Microsoft for over a decade and has benefited enormously from a great working relationship. This collaboration raises our partnership even further and I am delighted that, together, our services to schools are further improved using Microsoft products such as SharePoint and Office 365.”

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WeLearn365 will provide schools with Microsoft hosted Exchange email and a “thin layer” portal which they’ve designed and developed on SharePoint Online from Office365. Their vision is to provide a portal which gives schools “20% of the features that most VLEs have, but delivers 80% of the things which schools actually need”. Schools will then plug-in online content and apps from a variety of sources to be used by teachers and students, both in the classroom and at home.

Warwickshire have also developed the system to integrate the schools MIS data from Capita SIMS, which is hosted on a Microsoft SQL server farm at the Warwickshire HQ. By mixing some key “in county” private-cloud services for student data, with best-of-breed Microsoft public-cloud services from Office365, they’ve been able to achieve a very compelling proposition at a significantly lower cost than most traditional VLE’s or school portals.

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The interface was built with templates in SharePoint Online, enabling schools to quickly customise and personalise their own site with their school colours and logo. The Warwickshire team and Microsoft partner BFC Networks have turned the generic SharePoint service in Office365 into something friendly and usable for any school. All teachers and students across Warwickshire will also have access to a top level WeLearn365 site, enabling collaboration and sharing of best practice across the county.

Head teachers at the presentation on Wednesday were impressed with the interface, but also commented on the 25GB inbox per teacher and integration of the new Office Web Apps. By making familiar Office applications available from any browser, WeLearn365 will make learning far more accessible from a range of different devices and for families who cannot afford to license a full copy of Office2010 in their homes.

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Office 365 for Education will be released to all schools this summer. Keep an eye on our Schools Blog for further announcements.