Tibshelf Community School, Derbyshire serves a disparate community of nine villages spread widely across the districts of Bolsover and North-East Derbyshire. The school’s mission statement is ‘Working Together, Achieving Together’ in recognition of its collaborative culture. This collaborative culture is the nucleus of everything, including the school’s next generation ICT infrastructure.
“Stone Group has been very committed to making it work for us. They have consistently gone above and beyond what was expected from our new-build project. We really wanted inspiration and an injection of fresh ideas and Stone has given us exactly that. Their collaboration with our building contractor has been exemplary and that is testament to the skilled people they have within the team. Stone is not the cheapest, but their ability to offer a total solution and service is second to none.” Brian Fischer, Assistant Headteacher.
Outdated technology and a challenging site
- IT infrastructure grown sporadically since the 1980s
- All technology at ‘end of life’
- SAN 5+ years old, Servers 8+ years old
- Two Management Information Systems thanks to recent federations
- Just four IT suites for 750 pupils
- 95% of devices were desktops
- No WiFi due to Victorian construction of buildings
In 2008, Tibshelf federated with another school six miles away that was underperforming and took on additional pupils at their legacy site on the High Street – a location which the school had resided in for over a hundred years.
Brian Fischer, Assistant Headteacher explains: “Tibshelf Community School was Portakabin City for a couple of years. Our buildings were falling down, with leaks everywhere and plaster coming off the walls. We had prefabricated classrooms built for temporary use in the 1940s that were being held up by pit props! Teachers would look forward to lessons within the Portakabins as they were the best classrooms we had.”
Four IT suites were formally structured, with 2 of the 4 being used primarily to teach ICT lessons, giving little opportunity for other faculties to access ICT. Owing to Victorian blue-brick buildings, WiFi within the school was not cost effective limiting options and proving a thorn in the side of ambitious teachers and network technicians.
Lack of access to ICT was commented on by Ofsted, and was always raised as an issue during parent and pupil surveys. Brian gives an example of the issues: “Science teachers had a lot of creative ideas on how to use technology within lessons. They couldn’t get anywhere near any kit to book out, which meant integrating ICT into lessons was nigh on impossible.”
The aftermath of Building Schools for the Future
- School was a casualty of the demise of the BSF programme
- Derbyshire County Council funded and approved new building project after BSF withdrawal
- IT budget was reduced by over 80% from original BSF £4m
With oversubscribed pupils and inadequate school buildings that were falling down, the situation was less than ideal. Tibshelf was awarded priority on the Building Schools for the Future initiative in October 2006.
Brian continues: “We had been patching everything on a needs-must basis, and that included ICT. We were already a couple of years behind as we weren’t spending anything in anticipation of the windfall BSF would provide our school. This made an already bad situation even worse. The ICT Support Team worked wonders with the little that they had but lack of any new equipment was hindering their progress.”
However, Michael Gove announced in 2010 that the BSF programme was to cease, and Tibshelf’s situation became more critical.
Brian explains: “We were extremely far down the line with the BSF project – two months away from diggers arriving on-site. The Government put strict rules in place for the projects that could continue and we were only days away from meeting that threshold.”
With no BSF project, federated pupils and crumbling facilities, the school worked up an alternative plan with Derbyshire County Council. A £14.9m building project was approved in September 2011 with money from the County Council that included £8m from other Derbyshire schools.
Although the school new-build budget had been approved, the school’s ICT budget had been significantly impacted. With £4m earmarked through the initial BSF budget, the school had to put a strong case forward to secure funds in support of their classroom vision – eventually receiving less than 20% of the figure originally planned.
It was not just budget that was short on supply. Schools rebuilt through the Derbyshire BSF programme historically had a period of 12 uninterrupted weeks after building had finished to install a new IT infrastructure. Time was also going to be in short supply when it came to improvements to IT, owing to construction deadlines that could not be changed.
Building the next generation school
- Post BSF project changed in budget size and site footprint
- Collaborative classroom design with faculty staff
- Consultation pushed BYOD high up on the priority list
Construction on the new-look Tibshelf Community School commenced in September 2012. Although the school had secured vital funds, the project scope had to be altered to accommodate vastly different economic circumstances. The post-BSF project budget was significantly less than it had been and meant the school’s footprint had to reduce by around 50%.
“This made us re-look at the whole flow of the school in order to ensure we made effective and efficient use of every single square metre,” commented Brian. Tibshelf’s Senior Leadership Team consulted with teachers and students to answer the fundamental question – ‘What would you want in a new school?’ – and asked them to draw their ideal classroom, knowing this would put pedagogy at the heart of the new-look, accommodating for the different teaching styles of faculty staff.
Ideas were smart and pupil-focused, for example, access to classrooms would be built outside under canopies as corridors took up vital indoor learning space – a result of the faculty’s desire for nothing to detract from the quality of the teaching environment.
The school had the starting point of curriculum excellence. With Mark as network manager involved in all stages of this consultation, the role of technology as part of the overhaul to learning spaces was integral.
A number of overarching themes became apparent:
- The notion of anytime, anywhere teaching and learning. The Senior Leadership Team and governors wanted the same experience at home for all – students, teachers and admin staff should be just as productive out of school as they are in school
- Personalised experience – to further the notion of anytime, anywhere, the faculty and students wanted to get the same experience whether working on a smartphone, PC or tablet
Mark offers his perspective: “This meant that Any Device Learning went to the top of our strategic IT priorities. Considering where we had been with funding historically, our budget for the future and the drive from students and teachers – this made sense for us.”
Selecting an IT partner
Brian explains: “For us it was all about the infrastructure. Our consultation ignited this vision of a single consistent user experience, delivered anytime and anywhere regardless of device. We knew the foundation for this utopia was the network and the wireless. We were not at all concerned initially with what hangs off the end of that. We wanted it to work like a tap. You just turn it on and it works. In fact, due to the strong BYOD element, and with an uncertain view of future budgets, our tender was written around not providing any devices at all.
“Our priorities also involved a level of future-proofing, providing a scalable platform on which to adapt to future curriculum requirements and changes in technology.”
Mark explains: “Audio visual was a big area for us. Ten year old interactive whiteboards do not move premises easily and our projectors were all due for replacement as they had been stretched beyond use.”
Once interested parties had sent back their tender responses, as Mark points out responses were varied: “At one end of the scale, we had an education ICT business recommending we did it the same way every other school they supplied did it. On the other end of the spectrum, we had another organisation claiming if we adopted their cloud only ICT infrastructure model we could be up and running within 10 minutes.
“Stone Group sat nicely in the middle with a good blend of innovative cloud technologies with proven on-premise solutions. It was all underpinned by a healthy dose of innovation, while still giving us comfort that it was not so far on the cutting edge that support would be impacted.
“Stone Group’s people also proved themselves committed to what we wanted to do from the very outset. Some competitors were new in the education market and this presented unnecessary risk to the project as a whole as Stone were proven specialists in the UK education field.”
- Eight digital signage screens
- Two CTOUCH interactive displays
- Interactive touch boards in each classroom
- Over 40 whiteboards with eBeam interactive technology
- Lenovo Ultrabooks
- Microsoft server technology
- Microsoft Hyper-V private cloud
- Unified Windows 8.1 across all devices
With tight construction deadlines, Stone as the ICT partner had to begin work before construction on the school had finished.
Once budget was in place, things moved extremely quickly. Between the £14.9m funding being confirmed from Derbyshire County Council and the school opening to pupils was only 20 months.
Once Stone had been appointed, to ensure that pedagogy would be at the heart of the new ICT solution, the school once again engaged relevant stakeholders – governors, teachers, admin staff and pupils.
Brian explains: “During the second consultation, some of our faculties used it as an opportunity to introduce new techniques in the classroom. For example, one of our ICT teachers rotated his class around so that desks were facing away from the teacher.
“Chairs swivelled to front-of-room lecture style delivery, then when working on-task the pupils would turn 180 degrees – giving the teacher full visibility of each individual learner’s grasp of the subject matter. Double projection boards also allowed students to see lesson content regardless of their orientation.”
In PE, there are two CTOUCH interactive large format displays. These are used in conjunction with iPads to allow GCSE students to critically analyse performance and technique as conducive with Active Participant research.
Eight digital signage screens adorn the walls throughout the school. Equipped with the latest Smart Signage Platform, the Samsung screens are powered by system-on-chip – meaning no PC players are required to power the screens. Management and administration is again undertaken from both within the school and anywhere with an internet connection using the cloud-based SignageLive solution.
Interactivity came in the form of interactive touch boards in each classroom, with eBeam Edges providing touch screen functionality for over 40 interactive white boards. Classes are inherently interactive while helping to keep costs down when compared with native touch screen displays.
All teachers are equipped with the latest convertible Lenovo Ultrabooks, adding to the touch screen interactive capabilities. Access to the projectors powering the interactive touchscreens are all wireless, using the very latest Intel Wireless Delivery (WiDi) technology. Using this technology, we hope to see teachers presenting from anywhere in the room, giving students the ability to interact directly with the boards without moving from their seats.
Streamline network management
The school’s server infrastructure is based on the latest Microsoft technology and includes:
- Windows Server 2012 R2 as the backbone – 4 Hyper-V hosts, 7 physical servers, 40 virtual servers in all powered by Hyper-V private cloud
- Unified Windows 8.1 across multiple smartphone, PC and tablet platforms – Windows Server 2012 R2 remote access and Virtual Desktop Infrastructure functionality
- DirectAccess through Microsoft’s server platform – gives teachers and admin staff across the school seamless three-factor authenticated remote access
Mark explains: “With the Microsoft backbone, we now have resilience in the infrastructure that we’ve never had before. We now have high availability as standard, with failover in case of an issue. Crucially this means our pupils, teachers and admin staff are non-the-wiser in the event of a malfunction on one of our physical servers.”
“The benefits for Tibshelf are tangible and have been far reaching.” Mark explains: “We knew we had it nailed when we looked at the network logs and saw we had pupils logged into the school’s systems on Christmas Day!”
Consultation on the school’s BYOD scheme illustrates that in excess of 95% of the school’s students will use the BYOD provision.
Bearing in mind the school’s desire to future proof and ensure the latest technology was underpinning academic ambition, Windows 8.1 was standardised across all PC technology. Likewise, the VDI solution ensures that a consistent Windows 8.1 experience is available even on other tablet and smartphone operating systems.
Training and engagement
Putting in a new ICT infrastructure has required a change in behaviours for many teachers and staff, in order to mirror the innovation in the classroom.
End user training sessions delivered by Stone started before the school’s move and continue to be part of the school’s commitment to CPD. For end users, sessions are focused on helping to familiarise all the faculty with Windows 8.1 and ensure that the nuances between each teacher’s pedagogical approaches can be accommodated. From a technical perspective, Tibshelf’s internal ICT support staff engage with Stone’s infrastructure specialists to ensure that they are fully abreast of the latest technology developments. This enables their staff to get the most out of the systems for the whole school’s benefit.
Formal end user training has been supplemented by peer-led learning. Mark explains: “Functionality such as the ability to add custom tiles pointing to specific folders and creating a bespoke user interface, is something that has spread from teacher-to-teacher. Word of mouth has enabled best practice to spread quicker than that of our formal training.”
Tibshelf is an early adopter of Microsoft’s Student Advantage programme, and will be giving all pupils within the school and up to 5 members of their family a free copy of Office 365 ProPlus to use on both BYOD devices and those used in the home.
ICT within the school has gone from being difficult to introduce into lessons at all, due to a lack of provision, to now being integral to the vast majority of curriculum delivery. Mark explains: “As a network manager, during lessons I used to be able to wander freely around the building undertaking administration tasks. Now I get accosted on every corner as learning has truly gone beyond the four walls of the classroom at Tibshelf. Pupils are outside lessons, capturing content on digital devices and using the core infrastructure we have provided to further their personal development.”
Already offering a supreme level of support to the school, Mark’s network management team has benefited from new network management tools. Microsoft System Centre Service Manager 2012 R2 monitors the network and provides alerts, meaning the school’s internal helpdesk offers ITIL compliant processes.
Impero Classroom Management is deployed across the school’s estate, combining network management, desktop management and classroom management in one single consolidated solution.
For us it was all about the infrastructure. Our consultation ignited this vision of a single consistent user experience, delivered anytime and anywhere regardless of device. We knew the foundation for this utopia was the network and the wireless.