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December, 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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December, 2010

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Continuing learning when snow closes the school


    Monkseaton High School, Tyne and Wear are one of the many schools across the UK to have been badly hit by the weather. For them it was worse than just another snow day. Their building suffered, resulting in the three of its 100 roof panels becoming distorted - allowing water to come through and damage many of the school’s computers (You can see the report about this on the North Tyneside Council website)

    clip_image001Of course the school has been closed whilst repairs are being made. Thousands of the schools and colleges in the country have had to also close, disrupting learning. Through innovative thinking, Monkseaton has been able to use their new IT systems to continue personalise learning, keeping students and parents informed, and continue teaching by sending out school work via e-mail and their web site

    As a result, the number of students accessing the school website has increased dramatically in the last couple of days. It’s a great demonstration of how IT can support learning to continue outside of the classroom in any situation.


    Hopefully the bad weather won’t last for too much longer although if it does, Monkseaton can continue to work around the problem and teach outside of the classroom on the next snow day.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Halving the cost of servers at Leicester College with virtualisation


    As we talk about cost saving we keep coming back to server virtualisation. I don’t feel the need to make any excuse for that, because as so many schools have discovered not only does it provide substantial cost savings – and we all know how important that is – but it can also provide a better and more reliable experience for users.

    In a school, we’re typically talking about using virtualisation to reduce the number of physical servers from say a dozen or so down to four or five. Now, though, we’re seeing examples in further education that make the case in even more dramatic terms. Earlier this year, for example, we published a Microsoft Case Study of virtualisation at Leicester College, one of the biggest FE colleges in England, with 26,000 students.

    Like many colleges, it deals with a very mobile, diverse and dispersed body of staff and students. There are three main campuses in fact, as well as 200 other venues including churches, halls and community centres.

    It’s no surprise, then, that IT is vital for binding the whole enterprise together, nor that by the time the network staff looked at virtualisation, they were maintaining 100 servers with the prospect of more to come and nowhere to put them.

    “If we continued adding servers every time we wanted to offer a new service, we would have run out of space. Plus, our air conditioning system was inadequate and a new one would have been beyond our budget,” says Head of Libraries and E-Strategy, Paul Chapman.

    Virtualisation was the obvious answer, and they’d considered and even piloted it before with limited results. It wasn’t until they consulted Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Dimension Data, who recommended Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V technology that the project became viable.

    The case study describes how it was done, by Dimension Data people and College staff working together, over a very short period of time. You can also read about the very significant cost savings – a 50% reduction in the cost of the servers themselves; energy costs down by 18%; better and more cost-efficient use of staff time. And, importantly, a significant contribution to the College’s environmental strategy.

    You can read the full Microsoft Case Study of virtualisation at Leicester College here

    More ICT Money Saving TipsYou may also find the main Top ICT Money Saving Tips article useful, to learn more about ways that ICT can help save money in school budgets

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Primary school students learning through video conferencing


    Office Communications Server (OCS) is finding new friends across the educational spectrum – aka Microsoft Lync. We’re hearing good things about it from the University of Plymouth , for example, where it’s used by academics to keep in touch with students away on work placements across the UK and beyond. There’s a full case study in preparation, of OCS in education at University of Plymouth, so watch out for that.

    Meanwhile, up the line near Exeter, our friends at Broadclyst Primary School are proving that OCS is just as useful for children between five and eleven – and, of course, for their teachers. As Head Jonathan Bishop says,

    “We’ve put it on everybody’s desktop, integrated it with SharePoint, and provided web access to it for children and staff to use as another tool in the raft of tools that we have for communication.”

    Currently the children are involved in business enterprise projects -working with partner schools in Holland and the USA on designing, making and marketing a range of products from fridge magnets to cookies. OCS, says Jonathan Bishop, keeps the branches of this global business consortium in step with each other.

    “They can set a time when they need to work together in Outlook, then through a multi-way conference call using video and voice they can share screens and work together across thousands of miles. It gives them the sense of a multinational company and develops a very sophisticated skill set - engaging the children in learning”

    And closer to home, OCS in education opens up the ability to include children who are away from school.

    “My son, who’s five, was at home after having his tonsils out and he was able to sign in and join the story time with his class. We have had children ill in hospital joining in with lessons from the hospital school, interacting with the class and teacher and accessing all their work through the Learning Gateway”

    As Jonathan says, that’s really just a taster of the way that children who are temporarily out of school can be involved in learning and interacting with their friends and their teachers.

    Broadclyst teachers, for their part, are using OCS in education to collaborate with students and also with colleagues around the world, working and planning together on joint projects. As Jonathan says:

    “The potential to save time and money is tremendous. It is a great tool to bring schools closer together and to get home school links working successfully.

    P1010245%20smallBroadclyst’s always been at the cutting edge of school ICT and it’s not surprising to find that the school has had a more traditional, hi-tech video conferencing system for some time. The lecture theatre-style Year Six classroom, with a workstation for every child, has video conferencing available on a big screen, and it’s accessible in other parts of the school including the head’s office.

    OCS – flexible, well integrated with school systems and available on every desktop - obviously complements video conferencing in schools, but Jonathan and his team haven’t left it at that. They’ve managed to gain the best of both worlds by integrating OCS with their traditional style video conferencing system (older systems use the H323 protocol video system).

    “A museum, for example, might have a traditional video conferencing system, but we can bring their high definition images of exhibits here to our children’s desktops. It’s merging the two technologies together.”

    Given that there are undoubtedly people out there with traditional hi-tech video conferencing systems in schools, and they are also likely to have OCS either now or in the near future, network managers will presumably be interested in that kind of integration.

    The story, throughout, is one of communication driving collaboration, something that Jonathan’s passionate about. Broaclyst’s just become one of the first primary academies, and he sees this removal of boundaries as a pointer to the future.

    “Schools will need to work together through these difficult times, and having the technology to underpin collaboration is going to be increasingly important.”

    It’s a vision that’s attracting interest in some significant ways – for example the school was recently visited by Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools, Lord Hill.

    You can find more about OCS Server/Lync on the Microsoft website

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Efficiency using Microsoft SharePoint Free Event - Walsall College, 9.30am-15.30pm, 28th January 2011




    Walsall College would like to invite you to a free event on 28th January 2011  showing efficiency of using Microsoft SharePoint with sessions from Walsall College, Microsoft, Capita and RSC WM.

    • Personalisation using SharePoint
    • Live@EDU and integration with SharePoint/Moodle
    • Managing technology changes
    • SharePoint 2010 – what’s new!
    • SharePoint and information systems integration
    • Business process improvement with SharePoint

    If you would like to come along and understand more on Microsoft SharePoint, please contact Mir Baloch  to register a place.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Shameless plug as I am nominated for an Edublog Award


    Edublog awardsThe Edublog awards have been around since 2004, recognising and rewarding the best blogs in education worldwide.

    This year my blog has been nominated in the Best Elearning/Corporate Education Blog category, alongside a host of other good education blog sites (all of which can be seen here).

    If you've ever written a blog yourself, you'll know it's a labour of love, especially when you're obsessing about trying to get every blog post relevant and useful. So it's always nice to see your efforts recognised. If you agree with the nomination team, that this deserves a pat on the back, then you can vote here for your favourite until 14th December

    If you're looking for good eucation blogs to read (and vote for), then check out some of the other blog categories in the awards:

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Free Microsoft ebooks - feed the geek inside you


    A few weeks ago, I wrote about the free Virtualisation ebook.

    I'm still working my way through it on my Kindle - I've got to page 156 of 480, and am currently in the detail of desktop virtualisation. It's been really useful to help me understand some of the technical things I'd never understood about virtualising servers, and the current chapter is doing the same for desktop virtualisation.

    A colleague shared with me a list of other free ebooks from Microsoft, that you may find useful too. Many of them are quite technical, so they won't be for everybody. I bet there are some staff or students around you that would appreciate this list:

    Perfect Christmas holiday reading?

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Licensing changes for schools - there's good news coming at BETT


    Over the next few months, we are going to introduce some big changes to school licensing. It will make licensing simpler, and it will make it significantly cheaper for most schools in the UK. The big announcement of all of the detail will happen in January at BETT 2011 in London, but we're publishing some of the information a little earlier, so that you can think about it in your planning for next year's budget.

    All of the following information is a high-level overview, but at the end there are some very specific actions for some schools now.

    What changes are we making?

    From the 1st March 2011, we are introducing a new licensing scheme for schools, called Enrolment for Education Solutions. Or EES for short. This is a (better!) alternative to the School Agreement subscription scheme.

    • EES works on a single annual subscription payment, based on your Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) staff count, and what products you select. You can optionally license computers dedicated exclusively to one student, or computers owned by students. Today's School Agreement works by counting all of your computers.
    • You have a choice of software that you can license across all of the computers, including Microsoft Office*, the Windows Upgrade, and the Client Access Licence (CAL) suites.
    • You can then license additional software on some, or all, of these computers - eg Visio or Project

    Why is it good for schools?

    Firstly, costs will come down for most schools who use School Agreement, because you'll be counting staff, not computers. And in England, there's about two-thirds less staff than there are computers. We'll be able to tell you more about costs at BETT.

    Secondly, if you normally buy your software on a perpetual license (eg Select), then switching to this will reduce your annual bill substantially, as well as making sure you're always licensed for the latest version, whenever you choose to use it. This means the decision of when you move to the latest version of Windows or Office can be dictated by your teaching and learning needs, not by cost. Of course, because it's a subscription, you have to pay the subscription fee every year, but when you see the costs nearer the time, you'll understand why it's wise to seriously consider a subscription.

    What do you do now?

    Firstly, let me remind you that this is advance warning of a change coming on the 1st March 2011. So you can't get this new agreement now. But here's some advice on what you can do now:

    • If you are going to renew a School Agreement between now and the 1st March, ask your Microsoft partner whether you'd be best to get a short-term extension for your School Agreement. This would give you 3 months of cover, to take you through until you can switch to EES. Your Microsoft Partner will be able to advise you if this is likely to save you money.
    • If you're planning to buy any Microsoft software in the next year, then consider coming along to our BETT stand in January, and having a chat with us about your best option. If your Head Teacher is reluctant to sign off a day out of school, then point out how much you might save with the new way of counting (staff, not computers).
    • If you're not buying your software under a School Agreement subscription already, then take a look at this, and have a chat with other schools locally that are. Although the new EES scheme isn't the same, you'll get a good idea of the benefits of subscriptions over other methods, and that will help you to make the right informed choice for next year.

    You can see an updated comparison of the main schemes for Microsoft licensing for schools here

    We have published more advance detail on the Microsoft EES scheme here

    * The version of Microsoft Office 2010 that's included is Professional Plus , which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Publisher, Access and Lync (Full details here)

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Microsoft Education White Paper - Baby steps into the Cloud


    Education Services in the Cloud - White Paper front coverGerald Haigh, an education writer and journalist, is also an ex-head teacher and as a result he still has close contacts within many education establishments. It was because of this that we asked him to interview a wide group of people about the use of Cloud services in education, which meant understanding what's going on today, as well as what the future might look like. The results of this work is now available as a white paper - "Baby steps into the Cloud - ICT as a service for education"

    We think that in the future you're likely to see a more dynamic mix between on-site IT systems and cloud-based ones. And this white paper is designed to help identify, discuss and address some of the key considerations as more choices become available.

    One of the key questions is whether we expect the delivery of ICT services to fundamentally change direction in the future. I remember being told by Becta that UK education could never reach its carbon emission reduction targets whilst we had so many servers in schools. But does that mean taking them all out, and replacing them with Cloud services instead? And what does that mean about the role of IT managers? Well, the white paper doesn't have all of the answers - but it sets out to consider some of the questions that are being raised.


    Baby steps into the Cloud

    We don’t normally expect a school, college or university to generate its own electricity. There’s no building with a bank of generators, no “Manager of Electrical Generation”, leading a team of technicians and adding to the woes of a vice-chancellor, principal, head or business manager. That would surely be absurd, when all that’s really needed is a big “On-Off” switch and a phone to shout down when the service fails.

    But we have expected our education institutions to be experts at running their own “IT Power Stations”, generating their own utility service. Even though, as consumers, we are increasingly using IT as a utility service – to communicate, collaborate, work and play.

    You may see where this is going. We believe we are at a critical turning point, and it’s time to debate the future provision of IT in education. And at the centre of this change is “the Cloud”.

    Attempts to define Cloud computing often make the analogy with the development of public utilities - electricity, gas, water - where the move from on-site, or very local generation, through to national and international distribution has brought increased efficiency and lower costs.

    So, goes the argument, why not provide computing power in the same way? It can be “generated” remotely by a factory-size bank of powerful computers (“servers”) and delivered over the internet to subscribing consumers who can take as much, or as little as they need.


    The white paper includes interviews and thoughts of some of the early adopting customers - people who have already had extensive experience of our Cloud services, and share their experiences and thoughts:

    • Mike Whyment, from the University of Aberdeen
    • Guy Shearer and Stephen Peverett from Lodge Park Technology College
    • James Mason, from Chichester University

    And we've also tracked the thoughts from key people in the Microsoft team:

    • Steve Beswick, the Microsoft UK Education Director
    • Ben Nunney, who's an Evangelist in the Microsoft Developer and Partner Evangelism team
    • Daniel Batts, our Head of Public Sector Business Development for Cloud services
    • Chris Rothwell, who's now Microsoft UK's Cloud Services Business Manager

    You'll be glad to hear that we haven't produced a technical document - instead Gerald has worked hard to get to the issues behind the technology, and understand the issues which might guide your thinking as you develop your future IT strategy.

    Learn MoreDownload your own copy of the Microsoft Education White Paper - Baby steps in the Cloud

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    System Center for education - webinar recordings from end of November


    At the end of November, Rich Lane the resident techie of the education team ran a couple of webinars. If you want to have a listen in, you can view the recordings below.

    Secrets of successful desktop virtualisation: The Optimised Desktop

    VDI is a hot topic at the moment but what actually is it? When is it the right solution … and when not?

    In this session, Quest discussed the future trends for the desktop, the options available, and how to blend different approaches for the right results.  They also discussed their current VDI project at Kingston University rolling out globally to 20,000 students and staff –  making this a practical session which cuts through the confusion and hype to provide realistic ways forward.

    View Recording

    System Center Service Manager

    System Center Service Manager is Service Desk solution providing incident and problem resolution, change control, and asset lifecycle management.  By unifying knowledge across the System Center suite, Service Manager helps IT continuously adapt to new business requirements while reducing cost and lowering time to resolution.   This session delivered by Silversands included a demo of the product.

    View Recording

    Want to find out more? All  recordings of our Microsoft Education webinars can be found via this link

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Using SharePoint and Office 2010 to analyse student data - at Marsh Academy


    Every now and again, I ask Gerald Haigh to write up the stories of some of the schools that we work closely with. And a few weeks ago, he mentioned what's happening with data at Marsh Academy, and how they are using SharePoint and Office 2010 to aid better understanding of their school data. I'll let Gerald pick up the story…

    A  retired head tells me,

    “When I went into my first headship, I found that the staff were regularly giving the children published tests the results of which were put into a filing cabinet and forgotten. And I don’t think this was the only school where that happened.”

    The arrival of ICT should have seen the end of that. Data is now more manageable, more visible, more open to examination and analysis by a wider range of people.

    But it is really like that? Or is the data still sometimes under-used? Quite possibly. Making data accessible and intelligible doesn’t of itself ensure that it’s studied and acted on. The missing link is how it’s managed. That’s why I was so interested in talking to Lin Burrows, Vice Principal of Marsh Academy in Kent. She described to me how she and her colleagues use SharePoint and Office 2010 as a foundation for effective leadership of the school’s improvement programme, and pupil intervention.

    Marsh has a school year of six terms, each of six weeks. Pupil performance data across all subjects is collected and stored at the end of each term by the SIMS Management Information System.

    Next, though, comes the important bit. First the data is extracted by the school’s data manager from SIMS and displayed subject by subject on a series of Excel spreadsheets where the progress of individual students and selected groups is shown numerically, supported by “traffic light” colour coding. The whole is available to all staff on the SharePoint-based Marsh Academy Gateway (MAG)

    The Marsh Academy GatewayThe  Marsh Academy Gateway

    Lin has kindly written to me with a clear explanation of key parts of the process.


    The Cohort Overview and /Student Progress sheets track every student in each year group for every subject they are taking.  As soon as a data entry is completed in SIMs the data is exported into this sheet - which will immediately calculate the current progress against whole school, group and department targets.  The data is used by the senior leadership team to identify trends and put in place interventions on a whole-school level. The Student Progress Sheet tracks each student in each of their subects against their Fisher Family Trust (FFT) data, and their 3 Levels Progress targets.  Excel then adds Red, Amber Green (RAG) indicators to indicate the current situation. We then draw up specific interventions. For example we recently used data to identify KS4 students who were underachieving.  We then drew up for each individual an action plan, to try to ensure that these students reach their potential targets. 

    All staff can access all of our data through the Data Portal on our Gateway.  There are specific links to each type of data we hold, as well as a calendar so that staff are fully aware of the reporting and assessment timetable.  There are also “video” tutorials demonstrating how to access and analyse the data.  No data is now printed off for staff, as everything is now available for them on the MAG.   All Key Performance Indicators (KPI) are also easily reached from this page.  The KPIs themselves are based on the Cohort Overview spreadsheets.  The KPIs therefore automatically update as soon as a new data entry is completed and the spreadsheets are uploaded to the MAG.

    I hope this is of help.


    Yes, Lin. It certainly is. She further explains that the process of examining the data and deciding on interventions involves a series of meetings at which graphical versions of the data are collectively studied by teachers, with set questions asked and answered, and proposed interventions recorded.

    Following departmental meetings which involve every teacher, heads of department produce summary documents, in a form which also calls for trends and middle-leader interventions to be identified. These summaries are then studied at a meeting between heads of department and their respective line managers in the senior leadership team.

    The final level of scrutiny of the data comes at a senior leadership team meeting. Lin Burrows says,

    “We have all the progress data from departments but I can also cross reference because I can look at year groups, across all subjects and across our pastoral “Mini Schools”.

    Completing the picture, data on attendance and behaviour is also cross referenced in.

    The process was devised in Office 2007, but the arrival of Office 2010 has added some useful features, such as 'Sparklines' – mini graphs – which provide additional visual alerts on where an individual or group’s progress is headed.

    The tracking sheetIn the screen example above, conditional formatting has been used to make trends and patterns easily identifiable. Instead of staring at pages of numbers alone, you can easily spot patterns for particular data points, or particular students - for example, it is easy to spot the column showing underperformance, with a line of red bubbles. Or the absence of data items, with the black bubbles.

    For me, it’s clear that while Lin’s clever use of Microsoft software to make data intelligible and available is crucial, what’s at least equally important is the way it’s all put before staff. Everyone, classroom teachers, middle and senior leadership, is brought into contact with the data.

    “The main thing,” says Lin, “is that data is presented in a way that is easy to understand and therefore easy to analyse. This would not be the case if the mark sheets came straight out of the MIS.”

    Importantly staff aren’t only left to absorb the data at leisure. It’s actually “pushed” to them, to use the term in its ICT sense, in a formal meeting environment, in a way that defines and highlights areas of concern. Along with that goes a series of pointed questions about what interventions are being proposed and undertaken.

    Subject Tracking Analysis sheetThe example above(click for the full-size version) is the Subject Tracking Analysis, and shows some of the data and questions asked)

    Put together the various cross-references, identifying each child as a member of a year group, a teaching group and a mini-school, and Lin is well justified in saying,

    “No child here can slip through the net.”

    What Marsh Academy has in place then is an impressive combination of ICT expertise, up to date software and data enabled strong leadership, and it’s not surprising that other schools are increasingly asking Lin to visit and tell them how it’s done.

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