Long Eaton School has the advantage of occupying brand new buildings, built to their specification, with IT and communications built right into the infrastructure.
The school also has a high ratio of computers to pupils, as their policy over recent years has been to invest heavily in the latest IT.
As Richard Vasey,the head teacher points out, “If we are preparing children for the big wide world, we need to replicate that world by providing the latest equipment and software”.
Having said that, when the school moved into its new premises in 2006, they re-located the majority of the desktop and laptop computers that they had been using in the old buildings. Five years ago the school had only limited hardware and networking, but by purchasing 100 PCs each year, they have steadily increased the ratio. In 2006, when moving to their new premises, 200 more PCs were purchased and some of the oldest stock was deleted. This now means that the school has 470 PCs for the 1,300 pupils to access, with the oldest PCs being 3 years old.
Part of Long Eaton’s strategy has included taking advantage of their Microsoft School Agreement. This enables the school to keep right up to date with the latest developments in software. Alan Richards, the school’s Network Manager is a strong supporter of this and feels that it gives the school an edge. “With the Microsoft School Agreement, we don’t have to go back to the governors to bid for more budget each time we want to implement an upgrade. All we do is download the latest version of the software we are licensed to use and away we go.”
This is exactly what happened earlier this year when the IT team planned to upgrade their entire system to Windows Vista, Office 2007 and Microsoft Office Sharepoint Server 2007. They had planned to wait until the summer to upgradetheir PCs, but as they needed earlier access to Sharepoint 2007 to support a curriculum project, they decided to bring it forward.
Working with their technology partners Teksys, and using the Windows Deployment Services in Windows Vista, the IT team were able to deploy the new software in record time and with a minimum of disruption. “We created 2 images – one for students and another for teachers, which included the software for the whiteboards – and used Windows Deployment Services to upgrade all the desktops and most of the laptops” says Alan. “Previously we would have needed separate images for each hardware profile, which would have proven extremely time consuming and problematic, but with Windows Vista the process was straight forward. Of course we did come across a few issues as we went along but they were resolved by consulting Technet and provided a useful learning curve for the team.”
Although staff complained about the changes initially, now they would not go back to the old system. The benefits experienced by IT and teaching staff, and by pupils, mean that the upgrade has met with resounding approval. “Staff and pupils are finding the Office 2007 system more intuitive. They particularly like the SmartArt and other graphical tools in Powerpoint 2007. Staff also like the gadgets in the sidebar and have found interesting uses for the Say It gadget, such as quietening down a class,” says Alan. “From the IT perspective we are able to fix problems much more quickly than before, so downtime is reduced. Even if a teacher walks in with a hopeless case, we can reinstall from scratch and have most computers back up in 1 hour. The security features in Vista are also very useful and easy to use. Privileges can be elevated from within an application to allow admin access, rather than having to log off and back on several times to make a change, which can significantly speed up problem resolution in the classroom. Another useful tool is the extra Group Policies, which allow us to turn on and off access to certain features and provide great flexibility.”
In terms of the rest of the curriculum software running on the upgraded system, Alan and his team have found that the majority of the software has migrated with no problems. “There have been one or two pieces of software that won’t now run but in the case of one, when we asked for a copy of the software, we were given a 3.5in floppy disk! The software was so old that it is amazing it had run at all on the previous system.”
Printing has changed radically too as the school has invested in a state-of-the-art “follow me” RICOH printing system. Staff or pupils send the item they wish to print to the server and then approach any printer in the school, swipe their card and out comes their printing. As well as being efficient, this has the added benefit of reducing waste, as the printouts only print if the user is there to collect it. If not collected within 24 hours it is deleted, saving paper.
Overall Long Eaton School’s experience of upgrading to Windows Vista and the Office 2007 system has been very positive, with all users of the network finding benefits in the new features in both operating system and software. As Alan commented, “There were quite a few moans to begin with but if we took it away now there would be an uproar!”.
Let me give a quick plug for Teksys, who are the school's Microsoft partner. Teksys specialise in education licensing, and have an enviable track record for being the partner for some of the most inspirational Microsoft Learning Gateway implementations.