School in a Box - You Teach: We Deliver


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School in a Box is ultimately about choice, flexibility and providing schools with a new way to embrace and consume IT services.

The aim of this eBook is to present a new concept for ICT delivery within schools and support the idea that there is an empowering alternative for school leaders in how they use IT to deliver next generation learning experiences.

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School in a Box - You Teach: We Deliver

  1. 1. School in a Box You teach. We deliver. Simplicity, flexibility and choice... Educate more there is an alternative
  2. 2. School in a Box: What is it? School in a Box is ultimately about choice, flexibility and providing schools with a new way to embrace and consume IT services. The aim of this eBook is to present a new concept for ICT delivery within schools and to support the idea that there is an empowering alternative for school leaders in how they use IT to deliver next generation learning experiences. ICT has the ability to give life and energy to a schools curriculum, streamline administration, improve leadership and revolutionise communication and collaboration. We passionately believe that well delivered ICT can make a real difference to both engagement and achievement. What we’re suggesting is a new way to deliver your schools IT provision both in the short term and for the future. School in box describes a collection of software and services that’s tweaked and tailored to specifically meet the needs of your school, and ready to use – yes – “out of the box”.
  3. 3. Changing with the times Maybe your school is fine today, but are you confident of meeting the ICT needs of your school over the next couple of years? How about the next five or ten? If your IT strategy needs some development and you are now somewhere on a spectrum that goes from “slightly concerned” to “really worried”, then you are not alone: we are going through a time of unprecedented change in the Education sector, and the pace of technology innovation shows no sign of letting up. With this in mind, you may be able to associate with one of the following scenarios: • Leader of a new school that’s going to grow year on year, and at the moment has no complete building. You need a clear idea of how to provide effective ICT for all students, crucially including the very first arrivals, as you expand and move premises. • Head of a primary school with an ageing ICT estate, but struggling to find money, people and time even to keep it up to scratch, let alone grow it for the future. • Principal of an academy, working with others across your area, or beyond, to reach a cost-effective collaborative solution for ICT across the board.
  4. 4. School in a Box: Helping to ensureyou are always a step ahead What we’re suggesting, with School in a Box, is a way of achieving the following: • Improving your current ICT offering, starting right now • Future-proofing your ICT, in a fast moving environment • Cutting your overall ICT costs • Saving time on maintenance routines, giving it back as time to manage and lead your ICT policy. The phrase we’re thinking of here is IT as a Service. Think about your other services – gas, electricity, water. You don’t generate your own electricity; you don’t have a private gasworks. What you have are boxes in a cupboard with numbers to phone if the supply goes down. In the coming years, the delivery of IT will evolve to adopt a similar more utility orientated delivery model, and that’s what we aim for with IT as a service. IT provision on a consumption basis that can be tailored to meet the exact needs of your business, or in your case, your school. And, of course, what makes it possible is the internet and the opportunities for hosted services delivered over the web. Or to phrase differently, “cloud” based services.
  5. 5. It may be in a box, but it’s not a product At Microsoft we are clearly enthusiastic about the School in a Box concept. We are passionate about the education sector and the schools we work with, we know a lot about IT, and we have a firm grasp of the role that the cloud can play in bringing the two together cost effectively and efficiently. And, of course, we have some products, whether cloud based or otherwise, that can play their part in this overall process. These include Live@edu, Office 365, Office 2010, Windows 7 and many more (and there’ll also be a wide range of complementary products and services from our partners). So, what next? What we want is to get you thinking about the possibilities, and working out how you can benefit from this concept. Perhaps you can take your School in a Box from a Microsoft partner, another school, or a local authority? Perhaps you can deliver services to others? With so much flexibility and choice, there’s no single answer. “It’s important to understand that “School in a Box” is not a product. Whilst the idea of standardisation for 80% of requirements is key to the thinking, as is the use of cloud, there are likely to be many different interpretations of what the “box” should look like and how it should be delivered.” — Mark Reynolds, School Business Manager, Microsoft UK.
  6. 6. Standardisation When money’s tight (and even when it isn’t) we have to find clever ways of spending it to deliver the biggest impact and benefit to the institution. The April 2011 James Review says that previous and existing school building programmes, including Building Schools for the Future (BSF), were too expensive partly because “designs are far too bespoke… Currently the bulk of new schools are designed from scratch with significant negative consequences on time, cost and quality.” The implication here is that to design individually “bespoke” buildings, unique from conception to commissioning, yet which essentially do the same job is a luxury the nation can’t afford and will not continue to finance. “New buildings should be based on a clear set of standardised drawings and specifications that will incorporate the latest thinking on educational requirements and the bulk of regulatory needs.” — The James Review
  7. 7. An ICT solution to go The same reasoning, word for word, applies as much to the school’s ICT infrastructure as it does to the building itself. So, our concept of the School in a Box properly applied, will make it possible to provide ICT quickly and cost effectively without the pressure to work within the limits and timetable of a building programme. Whether a new school has a new building, a conversion, a refurbishment or, during early days, no building at all, School in a Box can start doing its job right away. “Starting a Free School means that you have to do things differently. We will start small and grow one year group at a time so our IT systems have to be planned and purchased differently to those of a traditional school. We believe that using more Cloud- based technology will make it easier for us to scale up as numbers grow, and because we’re in a temporary building to begin with, the less kit we have to ship in and install, the better. The IT as a Service model should save us money and hopefully make IT just like any other utility. When we need more, we’ll just turn the tap, and pay a bit more.” — Toby Young of West London Free School.
  8. 8. So it’s that cloud again? That depends how you define “cloud”. Someone, weary of wordy descriptions of a cloud-based future, once defined “cloud” as “consuming a service delivered over the internet”. And really that’s what it is. If you have web-based email – Hotmail, gmail, btinternet etc – the storage and maintenance of your email service is managed by your service provider. This then offers, arguably, higher levels of security and protection then managing this yourself, and allows you the flexibility to access your email when, how and where you choose. Different sorts of cloud Cloud that’s for anyone to use, is called “public cloud”, and we need to emphasise that our School in a Box isn’t planned entirely around the public cloud. That’s too limiting, and shuts out the obvious advantages of having appropriate software and data hosted by a closely associated and supportive partner, such as another school, a local authority or a Microsoft partner. The alternative to public cloud, which is the type of cloud that could be provided by a Microsoft partner or another school, is the “private cloud”. The private cloud offers many of the same benefits for the user, but is usually hosted much closer to home. This is often viewed as a strong alternative when the need to address regulatory challenges is required. For example, the private cloud can be seen as the best option when looking for solutions to manage potentially sensitive information, such as student records or other MIS data. A further extension of the idea of the private cloud is when you host some of your own services on your own premises, but still offer those services to your users when they’re out of school. This helps you realise the benefit of ‘anytime anywhere’ access, and also keeps open the future possibility of sharing your very own “private cloud” with other schools or partners.
  9. 9. The rush to the cloud It’s not practical to think that schools will want to migrate all of their ICT to the Cloud immediately, or even soon for that matter. We are, however, advocating to school leaders that they make themselves aware of a new way of embracing IT that is potentially more efficient and cost effective than simply continuing to build more and more ICT on your own premises. As we mentioned previously, there is an alternative… Over time you can think about and study the alternatives in terms of how they might work in your school or college. There’s no rush. Technology that’s available in the cloud, from us or a partner, is also available for you to install on your own servers, so you can change gradually and at your own pace. At this stage, we advocate trying things out, mix and match between the public and private cloud and learn as you go. Microsoft, or your trusted Microsoft partner, is always here to answer your questions. “There will be more complicated systems that will take more time than others to move to the cloud but the important ones are the easy ones which, to me, are email, calendars, collaborative software, things like that. Maybe things like MIS systems will take a bit longer, for many different reasons.” — Steve Beswick. Microsoft UK Director of Education
  10. 10. Different but the same “Wait!” you say. “A pre-packaged offering, same for every school, surely ignores the fact that all schools are different.” We know perfectly well that every school is different. We’re out there working with them, learning from them about what they’re doing, what they plan to do and what we and our partners can do to help. We know they differ in size, in age profile, gender balance, ethnic mix, environment, ethos, approach to learning, uniform, the way they’re governed and financed, whether the kids all have to catch school buses or not – you could go on. And yet one thing we’ve learned, and again it ought not to be surprising, is that at heart they’re all focused in the same direction: a commitment to improving the life chances of young people.
  11. 11. Finding the common thread Even with the differences found within schools across the UK, much of what they actually do with their ICT is actually the same. In fact we estimate that eighty percent of what schools are doing with ICT is common to all of them. We’ve put together a diagram to show what we mean, based on our direct experience of how ICT is used in UK schools.
  12. 12. Don’t knock the twenty percent Twenty percent is actually a lot, and our diagram on the previous page deliberately puts it at the top of the stack. It is in that twenty percent that a school shows its individuality. That’s the bit you’ll see as you go round and look over shoulders and into classrooms – the interactive whiteboards, the digital screens in the corridors, the multi-media work in the arts department. In Hampshire, for example, the local authority is already leading the way, delivering a School in a Box from their own private cloud. They offera very complete hosted ICT service for their schools, which they manage centrally, but there’s clear recognition of the eighty-twenty principle. The lead officer responsible for this innovative hosted solution is Daniel Fearnley, Business Partner for Children’s and Schools. Daniel says: “Every single school gets a different quote. Even though they’re all using the same underlying technology, and gaining the economies of scale through a combination of our own datacentre and Office365, that last bit is what makes it unique to the school.”
  13. 13. Why reinvent the wheel? So with eighty percent of ICT functions being largely common across all schools, there is huge potential for schools to embrace these via external providers delivering standard, though customisable, packages. Not long ago, to make sure of the software you needed, you bought and installed it, and all other schools, including the one across the road, did the same. Then, you had no choice. Now, you do. The world’s changed. Better broadband, wireless technology and the internet means you can have a small number of remotely located servers which allow schools on-demand access to all the software and services they need. You’ll pay for access to it from revenue budgets (potentially), therefore significantly reducing the need for capital spending on hardware, especially for a new or refurbished school. With the school not needing to deliver the 80%, additional resources can be contributed to the 20% – the part which makes your school unique and defines its personality. Mark Simes, Commercial Director at specialist education reseller European Electronique, finds that School in a Box chimes neatly with developments in his own company: “We’re mindful of the direction of travel of technology. In the year 2000 half a million devices worldwide were connected to the internet. In 2010 two billion devices were connected of which 800 million were mobile devices. And the average person can now connect to the internet from any of ten devices. That leads you naturally towards externally hosted services.”
  14. 14. So, is it cheaper that way? It certainly should be. Steve Beswick, Microsoft UK Education Director, says “I truly believe that schools can save money by doing it.” After all, the James Review says a typical secondary school spends £200,000 a year on ICT, “of which at least half is capital expenditure”. If you don’t have to replace or maintain some of your servers, because what they previously looked after is now coming to you as a service from an outside provider, then that’s a clear saving of capital expenditure. There are other savings, too, associated with maintenance and staffing and efficiency. There’s also the experience of universities, colleges and schools who have migrated their email to Microsoft’s free Live@edu, thus saving significantly on maintenance and enjoying a better service. Interviewed for the Microsoft White Paper, Baby Steps into the Cloud, Steve says: “Cloud gives you an opportunity to reduce your spend on existing systems, and invest more in innovation, rather than being dragged back all the time into maintenance mode for old systems that require management.” But he emphasises that School in a Box isn’t a form of outsourcing. It’s not paying a fixed price for a fixed service. It’s a way of doing what Steve calls “the heavy lifting”, allowing each school the flexibility to take what they want, at the pace that suits them. So it’ll vary so much, school to school, that the figures on saving are hard to pin down – remember Daniel Fearnley in Hampshire? “Every single school gets a different quote.”
  15. 15. School in a Box in action Let’s look now at some scenarios of where you might find School in a Box in action. They’re hypothetical and illustrative, but firmly based on what we know about the reality of UK schools. “Greengrass School” Greengrass is a new-build secondary school on the edge of town. It’s going to open in a temporary building, with one year group, and it’ll grow year by year, adding a year group of about 200 each September. That’s quite a challenge, because there isn’t yet the funding to build the complete ICT infrastructure as an in-house solution. And yet the first group of children through the door deserves the full menu of support services available. Ten years ago that would have meant big purchasing decisions about server hardware. Now, working in partnership with a local Microsoft supplier, Greengrass can use the internet to draw in the bulk of its “back-office” requirements – MIS, Finance, email, storage, back-up, to name just a few, from outside. The partner will create a package and the school will pay from revenue. While this model’s clearly attractive to lots of schools, it’s particularly suitable for free schools which, typically, will grow from small beginnings in temporary accommodation, and yet will need to offer high quality and cost-effective ICT from the very start.
  16. 16. School in a Box in action “Transformer Academy” Transformer is a “converter”. That’s to say it was a local authority comprehensive and is now starting out under a new name, in the same building but rebranded as an academy. Signaling a new start has involved a raft of initiatives, and the leadership want to send strong signals about their commitment to technology. That’ll mean significant improvements to their ICT provision, with little in the way of capital funding available. A large part of the answer for them is to explore what’s available to them as School in a Box. They’ll probably be able to move some of their existing ICT to outside hosting, and find new and upgraded solutions along the way, paid for from revenue. This model is clearly suitable for any school that’s looking to keep its students in touch with best and most up to date ICT without having to spend too much precious capital on hardware.
  17. 17. School in a Box in action “Bootstrap Primary” Bootstrap is a 180 pupil rural primary. They’ve just got a new head teacher. The governors appointed her with a number of specific briefs one of which, in response to Ofsted comments, is to improve the use of ICT for administration and learning. But the new head has a terrible dilemma. The school’s ICT hardware is outdated and there’s no sign that there’s ever been a coherent budgetary plan to keep it up to date. Of course, the governors are ultimately responsible for this, but the new head needs to go to them with positive plans rather than recriminations. She realises that what limited money there is would be well spent on upgrading the wireless network. Then it’ll be time to look at what’s available from the cloud – public cloud or from the new secondary academy to which her children move at eleven.
  18. 18. School in a Box in action “Canny Cluster” Just one of many school groupings, Canny Cluster is centred on a large secondary school that has a national reputation for the quality of its ICT provision. It’s invested wisely and well over the years, and has a powerful array of virtualised servers put together and maintained by a far sighted and able network team. Now, the school is in a position to be the hub of a “private cloud”, providing software and services over the internet to its partner schools. For the primaries in the cluster this is very much a lifeline. They’d been very reliant for the local for all of their ICT support. In recent times, though, this had gradually dwindled, and primary heads and governors were faced with difficult and expensive decisions in an almost complete absence of advice and, more importantly, funding. This model can be seen as a form of replacement for the local authority, although examples are emerging of local authorities transforming themselves into private cloud providers. The example shows, too, how a school which is, well-resourced for IT both in terms of equipment and expertise, might position itself on the supply side of School in a Box.
  19. 19. A mixed economy in schools So you see, even though School in a Box is intended to take advantage of that 80 percent of commonality in schools’ use of ICT, it’s still far from being a “one size fits all”, or “any colour so long as it’s black” solution. There are all kinds of tailored variations – because you don’t have to take everything that’s on offer, in the form that it’s offered. Here are three examples of how School in a Box might work. They’re not complete, nor free-standing nor mutually exclusive examples. You see as read down them how a wide range of permutations is possible: • Local Microsoft Office 2010 installed on the school network, mixed with free cloud services SkyDrive and Office Web Apps for multi-device and home working • Email delivered from the Microsoft public cloud (Live@edu) and MIS delivered from a partner or LA private cloud (taking advantage of their data protection capability) • A single local, virtualised server to enable logon should the internet fail, with remote data backup and storage to save money and use the economies of scale in large datacentres.
  20. 20. A mixed economy of suppliers There’s variation, too, in the way School in a Box can be delivered, using public and private cloud. A school might take its service from: • A Commercial company. These will include Microsoft partners, offering a School in a Box solution to any school in the country. Already, a number of Microsoft Partners are working to deliver their versions of School in a Box to new free schools • A “School aggregator”. This category includes Local Authorities or grouping of schools or academies, offering a School in a Box to schools in their authority, cluster, federation or group. • Another school or academy. This is where a large school or academy, or perhaps a college, offers a School in a Box to partner primaries or other local schools. It’s a more local model than the ‘aggregator’ above. (There’s an example on the next page) Again, though, these are not fixed-in-stone categories. As time goes on, other models may emerge as customers and suppliers find their own solutions. The core outcome, of which, is that we hope that industry will essentially square the circle and deliver more choice for schools at a lower price point.
  21. 21. A school supporting its neighbours And here’s a real example. Havant Academy was one of the schools that missed the cut off and did receive its BSF money. As a result it was able significantly to upgrade its ICT infrastructure. Richard Markey, ICT Director, says “We have lots of in house expertise. We run a fully virtualised Hyper-V environment and we’re realising the benefits in terms of performance and cost savings.” Now, the plan is to support up to six neighbouring primary schools. “We’ll be able to provide Windows 7, Office 2010, the full offering of the latest software.” There’ll be significant payback, he points out, in terms of transition from primary school to secondary. “What we are looking to do is offer our own ICT as a service. We become our own cloud.” The school is taking a serious business approach to the project, says Richard, with an eye to sustainability,efficiency and responsiveness. “The model I’m trying to achieve is suited to our local area. It’s very exciting.”
  22. 22. Barriers and challenges We wouldn’t be making a credible case if we didn’t recognise some of the realities that have to be faced by ourselves, our partners and our customer schools. These include: • Connectivity worries. Broadband experience varies across the country. Consumer demand will push reliability, but impetus from government would help. The James Review calls for a strategy to get best value from broadband networks, including minimum bandwidth standards. Without that, patchiness will continue. • Legacy networks. James also spoke of the many schools where the approach is “ad hoc”. These new ways of implementing ICT will call for imaginative and knowledgeable leadership at all levels and an end to school networks which grow “organically”. You need a robust ICT strategy and a clear planning process to make best use of the cloud while maintaining the balance between access and security. Mark Simes from European Electronique says: “One of the interesting things is how you integrate all these different pieces and handle the protocols for security and protection around the information.” • Change management – schools and teachers continuing to rely on old software that can’t be hosted remotely because the change process seems too daunting.
  23. 23. What we’re about isResponsive Standardisation Eighty percent of ICT activity is common from school to school. That’s the underpinning rationale for School in a Box. It’s asking, do you want to keep buying the same ICT functionality as all other schools? Or do you think there’s a better, more efficient way forward; using the advances we’re seeing in connectivity? How are you going to cope with a more demanding user base, who both need and expect anytime anywhere access? There’s a bigger question, too – Have you considered the benefits that might come if, in the process of going outside your walls to find the software you need, you find yourself in easy and frequent contact with a whole host of fellow educators and students? All that, really, is for you to explore and decide. But here’s a final and practical word from Microsoft, underlining our clear commitment to what we see as the future for schools and ICT: “This is the first year in 30 that there has been no ring fenced budget for IT for schools. As a result of this, we need to be realistic about how the funds that are available for IT are utilised. To be effective, a combination of more standardisation and the cloud is crucial to keeping UK schools competitive. We think School in a Box can bring about a fundamental shift in terms of how technology and schools combine to deliver great results” — Microsoft Education Team
  24. 24. Acknowledgments and sources This e book drew on interviews with Microsoft executives, school customers and partners and on: • The Microsoft Discussion paper School in a Box (June 2011) • Microsoft shows routes to cloud in ‘School in a Box’ , in Merlin John’s website, • Baby Steps into the Cloud Microsoft Education White Paper. Continue the conversation We would love to hear your thoughts on the concept of School in a Box. Join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #siab