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March, 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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March, 2009

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Martin Bean at NAACE 2009


    Martin Bean is my favourite Microsoft presenter. He delivers his presentations with fantastic passion,and really grabs you at an emotional level. In some ways, he always leaves me feeling inadequate, either because I aspire to reach his level of presentation skills, or because I sit thinking “What am I doing every day dealing with details, when I should be transforming something big”.

    This morning, he presented a keynote at the NAACE Conference, and although I was originally scheduled to share the same stage (would have been a big moment for me) that was before I got bumped off NAACE to go and work on another thing. Fortunately a colleague stepped in to help with the demo in Martin’s keynote, but it meant I was only able to follow his presentation at a distance.

    image Martin talked about the journey that we’re on in the use of ICT in education, and increasing student expectations. The slide above is a very neat summary of how ICT can support learning and the education system generally.

    You can download his slides from here (as a PDF), and I’ve heard NAACE will be putting his keynote on YouTube soon (details as soon as I’ve got them)

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Free DreamSpark software downloads for school students


    DreamSpark logo

    This is one of those “Are you sure? Really sure?” blog posts. Where somebody tells you something, and you ask “Are you sure? Really sure?”

    So I have checked this, and now had it confirmed by the announcement of it in a Bill Gates speech this evening.

    We have announced that the DreamSpark programme is now open for school students. DreamSpark allows students to download, for free, a big pile of developer tools – which they can use for educational purposes.

    Here’s the software, straight from the DreamSpark home page:

    DreamSpark eligible products

    There’s quite a few products, but I think some of the most popular will be Expression Studio, Visual Studio Professional, XNA Game Studio and the Robotics Developer Studio.

    Read the FAQ web page which contains a good summary of the programme, and how to activate it for your school. Basically, somebody in the school registers, and they receive product keys to distribute to students. But students just download the software they want directly from the website – you don’t need to get involved in distribution.


    Free training on Dreamspark There’s also free training courses and materials available for students – including free books, “learning snacks” for Silverlight, Virtualisation, Web 2.0 development, Windows Server, and the free Microsoft IT Academy Student Pass. And there’s even free certification – students can claim a voucher for a free “Microsoft Technical Specialist” exam.

    The free exam offer is especially good if you’ve got any IT students leaving this summer – they can get a head start on students from other schools!

    The free software is good for everyone of your IT students, whatever year they’re in.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Shift Happens to students


    Of course, you’ll have seen the UK version of Shift Happens that I created in 2007 too many times already. But recently, I’ve been asked by various people to create mini-versions for specific events. And finally, the penny has dropped that I can share them with you if I used a copyright-free soundtrack.

    They may be useful for you for parents evenings, or assemblies or staff meetings. This version is the one I created for a recent day for Diploma students in London, in conjunction with e-Skills, and is a two-minute, student focused, story that extracts the part of the story that talks about the world that students are going into.

    You can download it from here

    imageIn case you are interested, I created this version by selecting the slides I wanted from the original PowerPoint presentation, and then saving the presentation as a series of JPEG images (under Save As> Other Formats in PowerPoint 2007).

    Each slide was then a separate image file.

    And then finally I used Photo Story 3 for Windows (which is free) to animate it as moving pictures, with background music, and turn it into a movie. The result is a lot more pleasing than simple PowerPoint slides or animations, and actually takes almost no time at all.

    I’m definitely going to use the same trick for more of my presentations, as it makes it look much better than a series of slides. And it automatically creates a copyright-free soundtrack (which are a pain to find sometimes).

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    What’s that icon Dad?


    imageBoth of my children (9 & 13) are fluent with technology – it is simply a part of their life, in the way that TV was a part of mine. It is often a challenge to keep up – they were into interactive online communities before I got truly understood their value.

    Last month, when my youngest daughter was doing a PowerPoint for school, her first question to me was “Dad, can I borrow a memory stick?”. She knew that was the way that you carry files around.

    Neither of my children have ever seen a floppy disk. And I realised this last week, when one of them pointed to the icons in Word and said “What’s that icon Dad?”. Good question, which turned into a history lesson!

    What should we change the icon to? An memory stick?

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Blogging over free breakfast


    The best public sector IT blogsLast year I was surprised and pleased to learn that I’d somehow made it to become the Computer Weekly 2008 Public Sector blogger of the year (for this very blog). And it led to me running a few internal training sessions for Microsoft people, talking about blogging and offering advice for people who are considering starting blogging, or had made some first tentative steps.

    A colleague suggested that I should offer the same session to other people – so here’s the invitation!

    On 15th April, I’m going to run a “Blogging over Breakfast” session at our offices in central London, for unexperienced or less experienced bloggers – if you’ve always itched to tell your story, then this may be for you. It’s not going to be about the technology of blogging, but will focus on generic advice on blogging in the UK Public Sector. I’ll cover a bunch of things from the basics of sitting down to write, to information on the Civil Service code on blogging.

    I’m hoping that we can make the session quite interactive, and limit to a maximum of 14 people. It will be suitable for you if you want to:

    I’ve scheduled it during the Easter holidays, as I think that the kind of people who might find this useful wouldn’t be able to get out of school during term time. It’ll be a small group – and I’ll allocate places on a first-come, first-served basis.

    The details: 15th April, 8:30-10:30 at the Microsoft offices at 100 Victoria Street, London

    If you’d like to come along, then drop me an email.

    If I’ve got it wrong, and you could only make it during term-time, then flame me with an email, and if I get enough requests, I’ll add another date.

    I’ll buy the coffees and the breakfast – you just bring your ideas to contribute to the conversation

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    The Home Access pilot starts


    You may remember that in January, I wrote about the DCSF’s Home Access Programme – providing free home computers for students from disadvantaged families - and reinforcing to all families the importance of access to an Internet-connected computer to support learning. Just in case you missed , here’s the three articles to read – the basics, the suppliers, and the Microsoft software package. Well, we’re now into the pilot phase – with children in Oldham and Suffolk starting to receive their computers through the scheme.

    imageThe BBC NorthWest film crew followed Jim Knight to Oldham earlier this week, and then all the way to Evan’s house. It must have been a little surreal for the family – sitting in your lounge with the Schools Minister and a TV crew. You can see 10-year old Evan’s interview, with his mum, on their website.

    Anyway, the scheme’s underway as a pilot, and parents are starting to buy computers. They do this by applying for a grant, which arrives in the form of a single-use debit card they can go and spend with one of the 6 approved suppliers.
    The strange thing is that, even though the cheapest computers cost £600, they don’t have Office 2007 on them. Even though we’d been working with the Ministerial Task Force for 18 months, and even though we’d offered our Home Learning Package at a special price (which included Office 2007 Ultimate Edition, plus a range of other learning and family safety resources). In what seems like an even more bizarre twist, I don’t think that the suppliers are allowed to offer it as a pre-installed upgrade – instead, the families have to buy it and install it separately.

    To be honest, this doesn’t make sense to me. The scheme is aimed at families getting their first computer, and the more that’s pre-installed and ready to go, the better. And if their local school is using MS Office, surely it would make sense to offer them the option to have the same software on their home computer. I do understand the decision not to put it onto every computer, but to not even offer it as a pre-installed option?

    Anyway, the cheapest solution for these parents (and for some of your students too?) is that there are a pair of Microsoft partners who run online shops which sell student licences of Office at Academic prices – ie less than you’d normally pay for a copy of Office 2007 if you buy it in a shop.

    Software 4 Students

    RM’s The Basement

    image image

    Office Standard from £35
    Office Pro Plus for £44

    Office Standard from £35
    Office Pro Plus for £44

    You simply order from the site, and they’ll send you the DVD to install, along with the licence key. And you’re off…

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    MasterClass at NAACE 2009


    Last night at the NAACE Conference, my colleague Leighton Searle delivered the Masterclass “What will they think of next? Part 2”, following on from last year’s presentation which I gave with Chris Poole. Although I couldn’t make it this year, Leighton was joined by Steve Gillott of Wootton Bassett School, so the presentation was a mix of “gee whizz new technology” and practical experience from Steve’s school.

    You can download the slides here

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Another 450,000 students to get IT Academy with the SSAT


    It’s NAACE Conference time again – this year it’s in Blackpool – and we’ve just announced the expansion of the IT Academy programme in partnership with the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT amongst friends).

    Of course, because NAACE is in Blackpool, the official Microsoft Press Release starts “Blackpool, UK – Wednesday 4th March 2009”, which makes a change from “Seattle”, “London” or “New York”. At long last, we’ve put the north west onto our map!

    In a nutshell, we’ve announced a partnership with the SSAT that expands availability of the IT Academy programme out to a further 500 secondary schools in the next year, on top of the 300 universities and colleges that deliver it today. In today’s economy, where ‘employment’ is right at the top of students’ minds as they head towards the workplace, it makes sense to expand the programme – the primary goal of the IT Academy programme is to provide Microsoft certifications, which are widely recognised by employers. Potentially, within a year the scheme could be covering up to 450,000 students in the UK. And the qualifications it covers include Digital Literacy Curriculum (suitable for 13-14 year old students), Microsoft Desktop Technician (equivalent to an A/AS level), up to Microsoft Certified System Engineer (MCSE) which is the equivalent of an NVQ Level 4 (First Degree)

    Here’s the detail from the News Release:


    Blackpool, UK – Wednesday 4th March 2009: Microsoft has today announced an agreement with the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT) to help schools deliver IT qualifications designed to meet the needs of students, employers and the 21st century school.

    Microsoft’s IT Academy programme has been re-designed to meet the needs of SSAT’s network of schools and gives students practical skills in information technology that are rewarded by a Microsoft certification that is recognised by employers across the world. The programme will be made available through SSAT’s network of specialist schools and academies.

    With students worried that it will be difficult to find a job when they leave school, college or university, it is important young people have relevant skills and knowledge that will help to improve their employment prospects. This announcement of an agreement between the SSAT and Microsoft will help schools to respond to the needs of the employment market, and to raise the information technology skills of students and teachers, which will have a positive knock-on effect on local communities.

    The programme is expected to cover up to 450,000 students in 500 secondary schools within the first year, building on the existing 300 colleges and universities that deliver the courses and qualifications already.

    Speaking of the new partnership between Microsoft and SSAT, Elizabeth Reid, the Chief Executive of the SSAT, said:

    “It is important young people have the skills and knowledge required to enter the workplace and make a valuable contribution from the beginning. This initiative builds on our commitment to ensuring students are fully equipped for the challenges of the 21st century. We hope that it will also serve as a valuable resource for the whole community.”

    Responding to the requests of the SSAT’s network of schools, Microsoft has re-designed the IT Academy programme, which has been running for the last five years, to deliver training and development for students seeking employment in the IT workplace. The programme has also helped students seeking employment in less technical jobs, but where the use of IT has become a commonplace requirement of employers. At the end of their course, students are able to qualify for a recognised Microsoft certification, which is widely recognised by employers – for example, as a Microsoft Certified System Engineer.

    Alan Stevens, Deputy Head teacher of the Sawtry Community College in Essex has implemented a similar IT Academy programme to today’s announcement for a number of years, and has used it to help students, staff and employers in the local community:

    “One of our 16-year old students has now achieved the recognised Microsoft Certified Trainer qualification. It doesn’t replace her achievement at GCSE level, but it will help her to stand out from the crowd when it is her turn to look for a job.”

    With the changes in the formal education leaving age coming in 2010, there is a recognised need for all students to have a curriculum that matches their employment aspirations, and the new IT Academy programme agreement between the SSAT and Microsoft will directly contribute to meeting this need. Microsoft has been working with qualifications awarding bodies for at least 5 years to ensure that the programme fits into the national awarding schemes, and today’s expansion of the scheme demonstrates how quickly employers and the education system can work together to respond to the current economic conditions.

    Andrew Dent, MD of a local employer to Sawtry, says:

    “When I am recruiting new staff, I look for the right qualifications and experience to do the job. If I’m faced with two similar candidates, the one who has job-relevant qualifications will stand out – and a recognised Microsoft qualification would only normally be held by somebody who has already been in a job for a number of years. So students applying with these qualifications have a head start on all of the others.”

    Schools joining the Microsoft IT Academy Programme will save money and, through the SSAT, will be connected to a network of other schools involved in the programme, thereby giving them the opportunity to learn from others.

    Gordon Frazer, Managing Director of Microsoft UK, said:

    “This agreement with SSAT will provide students with the right tools when they enter the jobs market, which is an increasingly competitive place, especially for those with limited experience.  The IT Academy programme is being created to give students the best possible opportunity to secure a job and show their new employers that they are able to contribute to the business from day one.”

    You can register and find out more from the SSAT website. To get the special SSAT member pricing of £560 pa, you need to contact Prodigy Learning to register for this programme by phone (0845 399 1553) or by email at The £560 per year, which includes all training materials and qualification resources, to support teachers to achieve Microsoft Certified Professional and Microsoft Certified Trainer status.

    The Microsoft IT Academy Programme will provide SSAT schools with a complete roadmap of IT education and certification. Additionally Microsoft certifications are recognised by OCR, City & Guilds, SQA and Edexcel. These awarding bodies provide validated exams in Functional Skills, GCSE, A-level and Diploma levels and schools are able to gain valuable performance points and draw down programme funding.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Another TheyWorkForYou nugget – Thin Client doesn’t equal energy efficient


    I like “They Work for You”, a website which tracks things which go on in Parliament. I use the RSS feeds of education ministers to keep an eye on news I’ve missed (such as new statistics published like these, or progress on big programmes like BSF), and I’ve also used it personally to contact my local MP about an approaching vote on publishing MPs expenses. It has to be said, a lot of what is published is quite dull, but every now and again there’s a nugget.

    Like last Monday, when Jane Kennedy (who is Minister of State for Farming and the Environment at DEFRA) was asked in a written question “What steps the Department is taking to encourage (a) thin computing and (b) environmentally-friendly computing practices in the public sector.”

    And the answer is:

    “DEFRA carefully considered the promotion of 'thin' clients, which are centrally managed computers with most of the function of the system located in a central server room. However, evidence to date has shown that the increased electricity consumption of these server rooms (e.g. through the air conditioning needed to cool the room) renders this technology less attractive than previously thought from an energy efficiency perspective.

    The Government's "Greening ICT Strategy" published last year sets out a strategy for reducing the environmental impact of Government's computer systems. One of their main aims is to make the energy consumption of our ICT systems carbon neutral by 2012. We also mandated a set of minimum environmental standards for commonly-purchased products, including ICT.”

    Read it yourself here. Just in case DEFRA is new to you, the “E” stands for “Environment”, so they’ve definitely got credentials!

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Information Security – how the other half live


    This Friday, my colleague Ian McKenzie, is hosting a Live Meeting on “Information Governance and Assurance in the Public Sector”. It’s one of a series that he’s been running, and I thought it would be worth telling you about this one because it has relevance to your challenges. And the good news is that you don’t need to move away from your computer, as it’s run as an online meeting on the web.

    Following on from the various reports about Data Handling and Data Sharing, the aim of the session is to throw some light onto what our technology can do to help you with information security, and some customer examples of how it has been used. I know it won’t all be 100% relevant, but I have found that when talking to people about this issue, there’s a lot of useful information already out there – and that the challenges we’re facing in securing information in schools are often very similar to challenges faced by bigger departments across Whitehall.

    Here’s the details from Ian:

    Header to Live Meeting

    The next Live Meeting in our series on how you can optimise the use of Microsoft technology to improve the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of Public Sector ICT will focus on information governance and assurance.

    This Live Meeting explores the Microsoft technologies that enable Public Sector organisations to address the security requirements of the recent Data Handling (Cabinet Office) and Data Sharing (Information Commissioner’s Office) reviews.  During this Live Meeting our experts will provide you with an overview on:

    • Microsoft technology for establishing a secure ICT infrastructure and protecting confidential information ‘at rest’ on devices and ‘on the move’ for an increasingly mobile workforce
    • Microsoft customers and the benefits they are realising from applying Microsoft technology to their information governance challenges

    Our experts will demonstrate, with practical examples from Public Sector organisations, how Microsoft’s approach to information governance can enable the secure deployment of public services online, including the new services that will be enabled by Government Connect that links local authorities to central Government data via GCSx.

    What the Live Meeting will cover:

    11:00 Opening remarks and Live Meeting guidance

    11:05 Microsoft and Information Governance

    11:45 Questions and Answers

    12:00 More information and next steps

    When the Live Meeting takes place:

    Friday March 20, 2009: 11:00 – 12:00

    How to take part:

    Simply click on the link below for more information and to register to take part. You will automatically be sent your access details to connect to the Live Meeting on Friday March 20th at 11:00:

    Microsoft and Information Governance

    All we need is 1-hour of your time at your desk, in front of your PC/web browser and Microsoft experts will explain how you can get more out of your investment in Microsoft technology by implementing flexible and mobile working solutions that improve information access and increase staff productivity

    If you do attend, come back to this post and add a comment on it’s value – it’ll be helpful to others and to me (eg should I be telling you about some of the other Live Meetings that Ian runs?)

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