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The UK Schools Blog
News and views from the Microsoft UK Education Team
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  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Know thy reader - part one


    During this year, the readership of this blog has been climbing steadily. And I've become more curious about you, the reader. In my head I have an image of the person who reads the blog, but it's about time I checked with you! Over the next few weeks, I'll ask a little bundle of questions so that we can get to know each other better (and once you've voted, you can also get an idea of your fellow readers). If you're reading this in an RSS reader, you're going to have to pop over to the blog to answer the poll and see the results

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Improving Information - and controlling it - Capita’s One Conference


    Yesterday, Jason Burton and I went along to the Capita One conference in Leicestershire to talk about “Business Intelligence” and “Information Rights Management”. In real English, that means "how do we turn this mass of data into real information” and “how do we keep some control over how people distribute it”.

    The audience was a wide range of local authorities from England, from the teams that run the central local authority education systems. Jason, who’s from our local government team, doesn’t normally work in the education area – he’s more usually with the Corporate IT teams of the local authorities (and the differences between ‘corporate IT’ and ‘education ICT’ are many!)

    There were three parts to our presentation – a quick quiz on the new Information Handling rules from Becta, and then a jaunt across Business Intelligence (the ways that you can provide reporting to individuals within an organisation, where they can delve into data themselves, without having to give them access to all the individual data) and Information Rights Management (how Office can help you to manage who sees what, and what they do with the information you share with them).

    In amongst all of the serious stuff about data sharing, the bit that made me happiest was discovering the “Do Not Reply All” function in Outlook – so that I can now set that for any email. That is brilliant. Now, if only I could find a way to remove the Reply All button from other people’s Outlook menu for all of their emails…

    The presentation is below. A little later today, I’ll add a couple of links to related web pages (sorry, rushing out to catch a train right now!)

    (If you’re looking at this through an RSS reader, here’s the link)

    ps Do you think I should turn my Quiz slides into a web quiz for Christmas – one to share with the head teacher?

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Fun with Pictures


    Remember “Fun with Statistics”, the blog post where I noted that prisoners are given 8.5m2 of cell space whilst school pupils are given 4m2 of teaching space?

    Seems I’m not the only one who’s noticed disparities. I was catching up with the EduGeek forums today, and came across this marvellous post titled “BSF Prison”. It’ll either make you laugh or cry.


  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    The billion pound bet on education in Essex


    At first I thought it was a misprint – but no, it was correct.

    Essex have issued their tender notice for the £1,000,000,000 (Billion pound!) contract for their Local Education Partnership (LEP) – which will be responsible for building and running their first waves of BSF schools and the Primary Capital Programme, with options for it to be extended to all of their BSF schools, new Acadamies and the full  Primary Capital Programme.

    For all BSF schools in Waves 4, 5 and 6, the contract covers construction, managed ICT services, facilities management (described as “soft” and “hard”, which I guess covers buildings management as well as services such as catering etc). And it seems to cover the same for the Primary Capital Programme (which has just had its first wave of funding announced).

    The potential additional components described are Waves 7, 8 and 9 of the Essex BSF programme, Academies, future Primary Capital Programme Design and Build projects, managed ICT services for secondary schools not in Wave 4, 5 and 6, managed ICT services for primary schools, other Children and Young Peoples services, build & run buildings delivering Local Authority services and school improvement related services. All for the next 15 years.

    What this means is that if you are in an Essex school, the local authority is starting the process to find a partner to deliver all of the buildings and ICT services for all of the schools.

    This same pattern is happening all across England, but this is the first £1BN contract announcement that I’ve seen.

    If you’re sitting in a school today, running or using an ICT service, it’s worth keeping up with these developments, as they could fundamentally change your role. You can see the full Essex tender notice here

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Innovative Schools – the “trailer” video


    Yesterday, I wrote about the Innovative Schools videos – four schools, two hours of video, 187 pages of supporting documentation and hundreds of ideas.

    The question from day one of the project was “How do we make this digestible?”. You know the situation – somebody has a great series of videos, so they pop it onto a DVD and then post one to every school in the country. I’m pretty sure that within reach of your desk, you’'ll have one of those DVDs in a folder – from an acronym organisation like Becta, NCSL, DCSF, QCA or SSAT – which you feel you really must get round to watching some day. But you haven’t found the time yet – even though it arrived two terms ago!

    Well, we wanted to avoid that. So we won’t be giving away DVDs at BETT, or sending your head teacher a folder for her to pass on to somebody else.

    Instead, we’re going to let the resources sell themselves. We’ve put together a great trailer video, which gives a bit of an insight into what’s in the full videos – it is designed to appeal to those who are itching for change, as well as those who aren’t. It will hopefully sell the idea that change can be good and can help raise standards. And it will challenge those who think that they can resist change!

    But you can judge that for yourself. I’ve been fortunate to present this video to a wide range of people in 1:1 briefings, and have seen a range of positive reactions. But letting you watch it is the ultimate test:

    (If you’re not using Silverlight – shame – then here’s the direct link)

    Does it get you interested in the rest of the work? The whole website is open for you to explore

    If you noticed any similarity to Shift Happens in a couple of the student statements, then you’re not mistaken. When I created the UK version of Shift Happens, I hadn’t really understood how many people would be downloading it, emailing me, and showing it at conferences. (If I had known, I’d have changed the iPhone photo for sure!). But given the way that Shift Happens went completely viral – and the way that the slides I’d added for the UK Education audience have been referenced in so many other places – I thought it was worth developing the story further. I don’t know yet if this video has the same power as Shift Happens, but one of the lessons learnt is that it, and the rest of the material, doesn’t emphasise Microsoft – that’s one of the reasons we’ve branded it very differently. We have tried to be very balanced, and present a great school story – it is definitely NOT a Microsoft story.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Innovative Schools – what do they do differently?


    Last week, we announced the availability of the Innovative Schools video case studies. Although they were on the web earlier in the year, we weren’t ready to tell everybody about them until we’d completed all of the work on the website. But now, that’s been done, so I can tell you all about what’s there...

    MSUF_Brett_LowRes Earlier in the year we were asked to produce a series of ‘deep case studies’ for use by schools around the world. The goal was to go way beyond our normal style of case study, which looks at what schools have done, to focus on how they had done things – what were their stories of success and what lessons had they learnt on their journeys.

    We identified four UK schools who’d been using ICT in innovative ways, and who had learnt lessons worth sharing. The schools were chosen for their differences – urban & rural, successful & less successful, primary & secondary – to ensure that whatever your situation, you would be able to find things which are meaningful for you. The schools we chose are:

    • Bowring Community Sports College, in Knowsley
    • Broadclyst Community Primary School, in Devon
    • New Line Learning Academies, in Maidstone, Kent
    • Shireland Collegiate Academy, in Sandwell

    And then we started work – with a film crew, an education journalist, an education researcher, and a small team from within Microsoft – to record the schools’ stories.

    We received fantastic support from the schools, who made available staff and students, and even arranged for parents and governors to be interviewed. We ended up with nearly 40 hours of interviews, and then had to start the hard task of boiling their whole story down into reasonable size chunks – reducing 40 hours to a couple of hours (and even now, I want to find a way to also share some of the things that ended up on the cutting room floor).

    One way that you could judge the quality of the result is the words of Jim Knight MP, Minister of State for Schools and Learners when he commented in our press release

    FirstquotesInnovation is core to ensuring that the UK education system is positioned at the forefront of learning globally. By focusing on the journey made by each school through the eyes of teachers, pupils and parents, the Innovative Schools case studies are an extremely useful tool to excite and inform the education sector about what is possible while providing a forum for the discussion of best practise online. With resources like this, we hope that all schools will be able to incorporate IT effectively, building on the success of those that already do. The four schools being profiled by this programme should be very proud of these achievements and the fact that they will Endquotesencourage others to follow their lead across the world.

    MSUF_Barney_LowRes We decided to focus on nine chapters, and each school’s story is broken down in this way to make it easier to use:

    • School Overview
    • Change Management
    • Student Experience
    • Learning Outcomes
    • Parent Experience
    • School Administration
    • Local Government View
    • Use of ICT
    • Where Next?

    The results, which you can see on the Innovative Schools website, is a series of videos featuring the voices of head teachers, deputy heads, classroom teachers, students, parents, and local authority staff. It is schools telling their own stories, and sharing the lessons that they have learnt along the way – and their approach to innovation.

    Over the next fortnight, I am going to write more about these case studies, and what can be learnt through them, but for the moment, pop over to the website, and take a look at one or two of the materials there.

    These stories are good to watch/read if you want to know what other schools are up to, and especially useful if you are looking to convince others in your school of the need for change, or to have a dialogue about what change could look like. There are so many individual interviews that I could pull out to look at, but for the moment, just take a look for yourself. I’ll start pulling out my highlights tomorrow!

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Top Ten Blog Posts


    I had a look back at my blog statistics this morning, and thought you might be interested to see the Top 10 blog posts from this blog – just in case you missed any of them

    Rank Date Title Link
    #1 June 07 Shift Happens/Did you Know
    This was #1 by a mile!
    #2 Sept 07 How to get the best deal on Microsoft software in Education View
    #3 Oct 07 Bolton's BSF Conference View
    #4 Jun  08 Free Office 2007 classroom posters View

    Feb 08

    How robust does a laptop for education have to be?


    #6 Sep 07 Thin Client, Rich Client or hybrid?  View
    #7 Jun 07 Handwriting development on a Tablet PC View
    #8 Feb 08 Shift Happens and Freezing Frogs View
    #9 Apr 07 Moodle on SharePoint View
    #10 Jan 08 Another BETT Learning Gateway story View

    I can’t vouch for these being the absolute best of my blog posts – but I do remember them all as being interesting ones to write!

    • It was no surprise to me to see the Shift Happens download post as number one – I still get lots of email from people who are seeing it for the first time, and comment or ask for more information.
    • The #2 “How to get the best deal…” post is one I can still remember writing. I couldn’t sleep one night, and actually wrote this at 5am, simply because I couldn’t believe how complicated we can make licensing (apols to my professional colleagues who write official licensing information, but really, do you expect people to understand it?)
    • And #4, “Free Office 2007 Classroom Posters”, shows up quite high in Google rankings – let’s face it, anything with the words “free”, “classroom” and “posters” is bound to be popular! By the way, I’ve just received new stock of posters, so if anybody still wants them, let me know.
    • My favourite (apart from those) has to be #8 “Shift Happens and Freezing Frogs” – it’s just a shame that my photo of frogs frozen in a block of ice wasn’t good enough for the blog.

    Anyway, happy reading.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Hello TES readers


    Woke up early this morning. I don't get a daily newspaper delivery, and it was absolutely bucketing it down - hence no trip to the newsagent. So instead I settled down with my TES to catch up with all the latest news. And suddenly I found myself staring at a reference to this blog - in the "5 things to think about this week" section.

    Somebody at the TES has obviously been reading the blog, and referred to all of the Information Security posts that I've been writing recently. So, if you've arrived via page 37 today, then welcome!

    If you're looking for the information security information, then start on this page - it's got the latest posting, plus a link to all of the other blog posts about information security. Mind you, if you're reading this at the weekend too, get yourself a cup of tea first - it's a long read!

    And if you want to skip straight to Ed the Fed's article, jump here. (Ed the Fed is the Microsoft UK Chief Security Advisor, and as his nickname suggests he's got an interesting background that means his advice is robust!)

    Whilst we're on the subject of the TES, which drops through my letterbox every Friday, here are my thoughts, for what they're worth:

    • What I like about the TES:
      • The Magazine (even as a non-teacher)
      • The "5 things..." section
      • The stories about the latest teacher who's ended up in front of the GTC (this week's is astounding!)
      • The analysis (this week, the Jim Knight article is great, and you know something's going right when the unions praise a minister!).
    • What I don't like about the TES
      • The FE section never seems to tell me anything really useful.
      • I wish I could get the version without the Job Ads, because my bin is always full with those on a Friday night.
      • They really haven't managed to re-capture the Ted Wragg moment - the back page which always made me smile
  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Office for the Web


    I go away on holiday, and suddenly tons of things get announced. Hurrah. I should holiday more!

    Alongside all of the Windows announcements (the first public view of Windows 7 and the new cloud-computing platform, Windows Azure), we also previewed the Office Web Applications which will be included within the release of the next version of Office in early 2010.

    For schools, this seems an important development, as it will mean that you will be able to have complete transportability of documents and work (with complete fidelity*) between home and school, regardless of whether your students have Office at home or not, or have an older or more recent version than you use in school.


    First Look: Office 14 for Web

    I don’t think that moving to web-based Office applications is the right thing for everybody, in all circumstances, because a lot of what students (and teachers) do today involves a rich mix of media and data, and it would be wrong to assume that everybody is online all of the time. But it provides another element of flexibility. It’s still a year away, but the Beta will be available sooner, and we’ll all get the chance to play with it and see what it can do.

    * With complete fidelity: This is something that I think is quite important to students & teachers. If I create a document where the pictures all line up, and it looks perfect, I don’t want to transfer it to another piece of software which makes it look different. Sometimes (but decreasingly) I get that experience moving between Office 2003 & Office 2007, but I have seen some wild changes moving between different applications which use .odt, simply because there doesn’t appear to be a standard way to implement an open standard! What the team demonstrate on the video above is that one of their clear focus areas it to ensure that when you move from the Office suite to the web suite, and back, it retains all of the information, and all of the formatting is consistent.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Twynham School’s Award Winning Learning Gateway


    Twynham School in Christchurch (a particularly lovely and genteel part of Dorset) were happy list night, as the school won one of the Becta ICT Excellence Awards. Shortlisted earlier in the year, they were up against very stiff competition – the shortlist contains some of the very well known names that pop up in the media and ICT in Education magazines all the time.

    TwynhamAwardIt was therefore even more fantastic that they scooped the sole award for the “Learning beyond the Classroom” category . They have done a huge amount of work to enable parental access to information, and have found plenty of new ways to connect parents to their children’s learning, as well as improving many of the processes of parental communications through their innovative parental portal.

    As you can see, it was a black tie do last night – and Assistant Head Teacher Mike Herrity is obviously happy with his award. I’m worried about Dave Coleman (on the left) – I think that perhaps he’s realised that a heavy weight of expectation now sits on his shoulders for next year!

    Becta's mini case study is here.

    I was down in Dorset earlier in the year to visit the school, but to my shame haven’t really written much about them here, so here’s my chance to right the wrong!

    Twynham’s Learning Gateway

    They have been enthusiastic in developing their portal, and also in creating mini-sites that share their work with others. If you go to you can get a really good idea of everything that they are up to – with PDFs, PowerPoints and even videos of parts of their system.

    The videos cover many different aspects, and you can see a walk-through of how the school have implemented:

    • Twynham Revision Gateway
    • Parent Gateway & Real-time Reporting
    • Data in Reporting Services
    • Online Options Process
    • Student Mentoring
    • Student Homepage

    Online Parental Reporting

    The team at Twynham have created a parental reporting site that fully meets, and goes well beyond, the expectations of the DCSF’s Real-Time Reporting targets, and parents are able to login and see the latest attendance information, as well as a neat analysis of attendance for individual subjects, as well as the timetable, and grades from the latest review or report. They can also download full reports historically.

    One of the nicest things about their site is that they’ve realised that many other schools will be interested in what they have done specifically on online reporting, and have created a mini-site just for this so that you can see it for yourself. You can see what they have done, and the web-parts they have created to merge information from the MIS system, on the link below:

    With the current rush to implement Learning Platforms in schools, to meet the Government targets, there’s a sense that the purpose of a learning platform is being forgotten a little – I’m starting to see research which says “Schools have learning platforms, but aren’t sure how to get the strategic value from it”. If you’ve got the time to look at what Twynham have shared, I’m sure that it will help you to understand the true potential of creating a Connected Learning Community (and how the Learning Gateway can help you get there)

    The full list of winners isn’t on the website yet, so hopefully I’ll hear more from other schools soon

    The Becta website has all of the winners on it now - take a look at the full list on

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