Embracing advanced technology for the digital parent – SharePoint at St Helen’s Northwood


There are many ways in which schools, colleges and universities are making use of SharePoint within education, and today we’re going to look at one of the perhaps less obvious applications of this collaborative space.

Parent engagement is a crucial aspect of any institution’s heartbeat, and is a great way to ensure a complete learning experience for the students, and for the school to be receptive of feedback from outside the gates. We pick up this particular story in North London…

sthelenslogoAs a leading independent girls’ day school and member of the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA), St Helen’s provides an outstanding education for girls aged three to eighteen. Situated at the heart of Northwood in north London since its foundation in 1899, the School provides the opportunity for more than 1100 girls to excel academically, to fulfil their all-round potential and to acquire the skills, insight and confidence to become leaders in their fields, their professions and their communities.

St Helen’s School aims to ensure that its large parent community is engaged and plays a full and active part in School life. Microsoft SharePoint has been used in the School for over two years as a staff/student intranet and virtual learning environment, and recently this has been extended to include a Parent Portal.

St Helen’s decided to create their parental platform using Microsoft SharePoint 2013. The tools available in Microsoft’s most popular server application enabled the school to take advantage of templates such as announcements, document libraries and custom lists. The flexibility in the product allowed the School to work with Cloud Design Box and customise these lists with workflows, responsive display templates and web parts. Parental communication documents such as PDFs are now permissioned dynamically using workflows, so only the relevant groups of parents see the documents.

David Nanton (Head of IT Systems) said, “We liked the idea of targeting announcements and specific documents at different groups of parents across our many year groups accurately and rapidly. With SharePoint it was easy to do this with workflows. Every time we upload a new document, it’s easy to target a particular parental group. The workflow does all the hard work in the background to ensure that the correct permissions are applied .”

The new Parent Portal combines the latest responsive design technologies including bootstrap and CSS3 to render lists and libraries with a mobile touch-friendly interface. It was important for this school to have a mobile-first mentality when it came to parents.screenshots

Dr Paul Arnold, Deputy Head (Development), explains: “At St Helen’s we are always striving to take advantage of the latest developments in communications technology – the mandate in this instance was to deliver a responsive, mobile-friendly digital communication platform to engage our busy parents who need access to School information while on-the-go. With the launch of the Parent Portal, they can now quickly click through to the latest communications from us on their smartphone, tablet or any other mobile device.”

Working with Cloud Design Box allowed St Helen’s to take full advantage of their experience developing SharePoint portals by adding workflows and responsive design. The impressive portal gives parents access to:

  • Announcements: each announcement can be tagged with a particular parent group which is automatically permissioned using SharePoint workflows.
  • Communication Documents: the visibility of these are tailored to each parent, so only the relevant documents are displayed – such as specific year group letters or consent forms.
  • Attendance, published reports and class information via integration with Capita web parts from the SIMS MIS data. Data collection sheets are available for parents to update their own information.
  • Important links to the School’s connected websites.

David Nanton also added: “The experience we have had with Microsoft SharePoint so far has proved to be excellent and we can see so much potential to streamline collaboration and communication. We found Cloud Design Box to be a professional and knowledgeable partner. They were helpful in turning our designs and ideas into reality.”

St Helen’s have started to use Office 365 and aim to create a hybrid experience in the near future to combine the full functionality of Office 365 with the on-premises data. St Helen’s worked with Cloud Design Box (www.clouddesignbox.co.uk) to customise their SharePoint site using responsive designs, workflows and custom display templates.

Tony Phillips from Cloud Design box added, “Responsive design is so important in modern web development. Website access is ever-increasing via mobile devices and tablets. We are really excited to see the new Parent Portal in action; it combines the functionality of SharePoint with our responsive display templates so that it looks great on all devices.”


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