The IT team serving a large Academy Trust use Microsoft Technologies to realise economies of scale. They are promoting collaboration and making a significant contribution to school improvement across the Trust schools.
Part of our mission in these blogs is to share the message that a well led IT team, by deploying and supporting appropriately chosen ICT, can make a significant contribution to a school’s drive for improvement.
If it’s professionally satisfying to do that for a single school, it’s even more rewarding to be part of the improvement strategy across a whole federation. That, briefly, is the story of Phil Thacker’s work at the Doncaster based School Partnership Trust Academies (SPTA) which brings together fourteen primary and secondary schools across the North of England.
At the heart of the Trust is a Core Improvements Team providing school improvement and a range of support services, playing a key role there is Phil Thacker, the Trust’s Director of ICT.
Phil came to the Trust with considerable experience in advising schools on the appropriate use of the management information systems and learning platforms and how they can support school improvement. Now, in his current role, he’s using technology to promote the most efficient and cost-effective ways of working across the whole Trust to support collaboration and shared best practice.
As the Trust rapidly expanded from four schools to fourteen, with more growth to come, Phil saw that some bold steps had to be taken.
“I said that we had to break the mould if we were going to reap the benefits and savings from true collaborative working.”
What he has achieved, quite remarkably over a short period of time, is a completely integrated and centrally managed infrastructure for the schools, with a single Active Directory and a single sign-on for users. All of the Trust’s software is covered by a single Microsoft EES licensing agreement. The savings in time, and efficiency of this alone are considerable. In brief, what the Trust now has includes In order to achieve this, Phil’s made extensive use of Microsoft technologies and cloud services. He’s rolled out Windows 7 and Office 2010 across the Trust, and the AD is provided through a private cloud from a data centre that’s extensively virtualised using Hyper-V. The shared learning platform, Civica CloudBase , is built on SharePoint. All students and staff all have access to Microsoft’s Live@Edu which provides for access from anywhere in the Trust to SkyDrive for document storage, sharing and printing.
The benefits accrue to this level of integration are almost too numerous to mention. For the moment – and this is a story to which we can return – let one example suffice.
The Doncaster Partnership.
Five of the SPTA schools are in and around the town of Doncaster. All five have sixth forms, each offering a range of curriculum choices for post-sixteen students.
“Each school offered a limited menu of subjects to their sixth formers. But they were losing students to a Further Education College that offered a wider range of courses.”
The Trust solution, underpinned by ICT was to link the sixth forms through technology so that students could attend any course at any of the five schools.
“We said we’d create a specialism in each school – science in one, PE in another and so on, with the aim of offering not ten but fifty courses across the five.”
As a result, with combination of online learning and moving between schools, Doncaster post-sixteen students can now pick any course in any of the five schools.
The most striking result of this flexibility has been 100% increase in post-sixteen recruitment and a consequent budget boost that will bring benefit to the whole of the Trust.
The levels of integration mean that a student can walk into any academy, log in with a single username and access their learning and resources, true nomadic learning
Adding value and quality across a group of academies or schools by sharing services and specialisms is an aspiration for most school federations. In reality, it’s not easy to achieve in a cost-effective way, and the fact that the School Partnership Trust Academies has achieved so much through the innovative use of Microsoft technology means there are real lessons to be learned. We intend over time to look in more detail at some of their individual initiatives.