Saint Bede’s Catholic High School is located in Lytham St Annes, Lancashire. It is a Business and Enterprise College, providing secondary education with a grounding in the Catholic Faith to around 800 pupils between years 7 and 11. Saint Bede’s was rated as a ‘Good’ school by a recent Ofsted inspection.
The school’s key aims are to be an efficiently run, well-ordered, happy and successful school, which students enjoy attending and that is a cornerstone of the community.
Lynn Dickinson, Business and Enterprise Leader at Saint Bede’s, alongside Headteacher Philip Grice, were supporting the education and business needs of the school and its pupils on an RM CC3 network, which had remained almost unchanged for twelve years. While reviewing the school’s plans for future investment in new technologies to facilitate initiatives such as Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), and the use of applications and mixed media in lessons, it was agreed that the existing network infrastructure was no longer fit for purpose, and that a total transformation was required.
“The plans we have for the ways in which we use technology in everyday lessons and away from the classroom were hindered by our ageing IT infrastructure,” explained Lynn Dickinson. “Most aspects of the system have remained unchanged for a decade or more. Our servers were obsolete, and we could no longer back up properly. Most of our devices were still running on Windows XP. Our WiFi network was unreliable and we were dissatisfied with its security and coverage.
“We wanted to provide facilities for BYOD and implement a one-to-one device scheme, and by ‘device’ we meant ‘any device’. So I knew we needed an infrastructure flexible enough to support that. We also knew that we had some very important parts of our existing system that, despite being embedded on obsolete machines and sections of storage, needed to remain available to staff following any infrastructure change, so there was a certain sensitivity and level of expertise required.
“Our biggest challenge was our deadline for project completion. Everything needed to be scoped, installed, tested and working within the six weeks of the summer holidays. As we prepared the tender, we knew we were providing quite a difficult brief.”
Stone were chosen by Saint Bede’s to complete the infrastructure transformation after a very competitive tender process. “Stone Group was successful for three key reasons,” continued Lynn Dickinson. “Firstly, they were extremely competitive on price. Secondly, we found them to be the most understanding and amenable to our needs – for example, Stone’s device agnostic approach when it comes to the supply of notebooks or tablets. Lastly, the level of detail and personal attention in Stone Group’s response gave us the true belief that they were able to offer us the one vendor solution we were after.”
Stone began working through the specification with Lynn and her consultant, Andrew Murden, to understand the levels of performance and availability that were required. A detailed design process was also undertaken by the Stone team, including a due diligence analysis of the Wi-Fi network. Once the entire team was satisfied that the specification was feasible, the project was signed off on the last day of the school term, and work began immediately.
Stone removed the previous RM CC3 network and associated hardware, consolidated all available cabinets and renovated the existing server room at the school. The redundant hardware was then picked up and recycled by Stone at its on-site recycling plant as part of the project.
The new network infrastructure was designed to save Saint Bede’s both footprint and energy. Stone deployed their School Infrastructure (SI) solution, consisting of a Stone Integrum hyper converged server and storage appliance, a backup server and terminal server host.
The Stone Integrum appliance was recommended for Saint Bede’s to ensure access to the most frequently used data and the fastest available media from multiple devices through its high storage platform.
The Stone Integrum appliance uses a combination of both local disks on each of the two server nodes, and shared disks provided by direct attached SAS to meet the schools’ storage requirements. Local disk storage is used to host both the Integrum’s hypervisor and a single virtual domain controller, used to host the schools core infrastructure services like Active Directory, DNS and DHCP.
Hyper-V is provisioned on each node and connected to the storage pool to provide a platform to virtualise the school’s server environment. Each of the nodes is equipped with one dual port 10GB network card, and an on-board dual port 10GB Ethernet adapter. The storage is configured as a shared pool by the Windows failover clustering feature, and management is shared between both of the Integrum server nodes.
Stone Group also designed and implemented a new network for Saint Bede’s. Comprising a HP core switch, cloud managed Cisco Meraki switches at the edge, wireless access points, including guest management and mobile device management (MDM), and a Meraki firewall. Provided as a supported service, the network can be controlled, monitored and repaired by a technician regardless of their location, via a simple online dashboard. Stone implemented a remote desktop services solution to enable the school to utilise non-windows devices on and off site, further supporting the school’s BYOD aspirations.
Saint Bede’s also chose to refresh its hardware estate using Stone’s @ccessAbility scheme, which allows one-to-one device provision to pupils and manages the support, financial administration and insurance for the school.
With the help of the Stone Payment Solutions team, hundreds of tablets and iPads have now been rolled out to students as part of the parental contribution scheme. Due to the highly positive uptake from students, when new year 7 pupils join the school in September, they will also be offered the chance to get a device for use at school and home through @ccessAbility.
“Despite the complexity of the technology to be installed and tested, I was extremely pleased with the speed and surety of Stone’s work at the implementation stage,” confirms Lynn Dickinson. “When staff came back to school for the autumn term, everything was in and ready to go.”
Benefits and results
“The infrastructure immediately accelerated our use of technology in the classroom, and beyond,” commented Philip Grice, Headteacher. “The Wi-Fi network is used by everybody all over the school and the school grounds. Things have gone from barely functioning to being state-of-the-art: it’s fabulous.”
ISP services, such as internet connectivity and filtering are provided by Lancashire Council, with Impero Education Pro rolled out across the site by Stone Group for added peace of mind on e-safety.
The @ccessAbility tablets and teachers’ chosen hardware are able to connect to the new network both on-site at school, and securely at home, so that homework plans can be followed and staff have more flexibility regarding working location.
The network infrastructure is delivering applications to the classroom faster and has given pupils and teachers a much higher level of trust in their use as a learning aid. The Eclipse.net library system is completely accessible across the new network, and each staff member has desktop access in every classroom.
The infrastructure is supporting DisplayNote, the wireless presenting tool that is now used in every classroom, facilitating more interactive lessons. The school also has its own television show, The BedeBC, which is made and produced in school and streamed weekly to pupils.
“We asked the heads of department to work with us at the start of term to ensure that all teaching staff were up-to-speed with the new infrastructure before the pupils returned,” commented Lynn Dickinson. “We were working to such a tight timescale that the Stone team had very little time for testing; the network was only unavailable while work was being done for one day. Staff and pupils have only benefitted from the improvements.”
Affordability and support
Saint Bede’s worked with the Stone Payment Solutions team to work out a leasing structure for the network improvements over a five-year period. “The way for us to realise our goals and plan for the future was to lease the infrastructure we needed from Stone,” confirmed Lynn Dickinson, “few schools are in a position to release enough capital to make such wide scale and necessary changes. Leasing has given us the ability to plan for the future and build the necessary levels of management and support into our new infrastructure.”
The @ccessAbility scheme’s managed structure has enabled Lynn’s team to be free from the burden of keeping on top of the payment and insurance administration that parental contribution programmes can bring. Stone manages each process on Saint Bede’s behalf, leaving the team free to focus on training and developing new pedagogical uses for the devices.
Lynn and the ICT team at Saint Bede’s also receive ongoing remote support from Stone Group. Stone’s Managed Services team are on hand to provide essential network upgrades, security and software patches and other troubleshooting, all of which can be carried out remotely.
Support wise, we’ve had a fantastic, patient project manager and a dedicated and talented team to help us with this installation.
Everything we’ve thrown at them has been attempted with great diligence. Morale has gone up 100 fold within the Business and Enterprise team, and wider staff, because of this new infrastructure. It’s just so fantastic that it works and doesn’t let us down.