Creating a regional school’s network

I had the opportunity today to visit the Warwickshire Education Services in Warwick, and their ICT Development Services team who provide a “one-stop-shop” for  ICT services for schools in the Warwickshire Local Authority. The authority provides services to 249 schools (36 Secondary and 213 primary, nursery and specialist schools) – a total of around 80,000 learners and 15,500 teaching and support staff.

I was generously hosted by Chris Page who has worked as Technical Development Manager there for more than 15 years, during which time the authority has seen a lot of development in terms of the ICT systems and infrastructure linking all the schools. IT was a wonderfully insightful meeting and tour of their facility, providing me with some useful insights that I can take back with me to New Zealand where we’re in the process of building regional school networks based on fibre connectivity.

Key features of what I saw include:

  • All schools in the authority are using a common student management system – SIMS by Capita
  • There is also a common portal service (Sharepoint-based) and VLE (RM provided) for all schools
  • All students in Warwickshire schools are entered into a common identity database on entry to school – making the issue of IAM straightforward to deal with, and enabling the movement of students between and among schools etc. to be more easily managed.
  • Use of SWIVEL to enable two factor authentication for access – assures greater security without creating more layers of interface for the user.
  • Funding for support for ICT in schools is on a user-pays basis by the Ed Services group, and is provided on a subscription system.
  • They have adopted the SIF protocol for data interoperability between systems.
  • IAM process and SIF usage also enables common access to a variety of services, including the learning portal, the VLE, SIMS, cashless catering, absences and reporting etc.
  • Strong emphasis on user support and professional development in all of the planning and visioning of programmes
  • Implemented solutions to address the Parental Engagement Agenda, using an application called Insight by Tasq, that draws data from the MIS package and presents it in a form for parents to access – including an iPhone app that is in development.
  • Strong emphasis on cyber safety and monitoring of online usage – including the use of monitoring and filtering software from Forensic Software that is installed and managed by the ICT Services group, and also WebSense, used to monitor much of the admin application usage.
  • Well developed disaster recovery procedures, with data centres located in four parts of the region, each connected by fibre with regular backups scheduled etc. The software used allows for the virtual backup of all machines (including teacher and student laptops) in all schools on the network.
  • All computers in schools are managed using an imaging process, allowing for remote updating etc through a virtualised environment, using Microsoft’s VMware and MS HyperV server technology. In this way the ICT services group are able to set up a new school installation in a morning.

I’m sure I’ll surface more thoughts once I’ve reviewed my notes more – but the key thing I came away with was a confirmed understanding of the importance of a comprehensive approach to IAM at the centre of a shared services infrastructure, and the importance of a common data interoperability framework to enable discrete systems to talk to each-other (or at least share data!)

There are a number of examples and case studies of the work they do available online, including:

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