Shaftesbury High School is a special needs school which OFSTED has praised as being exemplary and outstanding, for putting the needs and achievements of its students at the heart of all it does. The school has provision for 150 students, age 11 to 19, who experience a wide range of needs.
Whilst the school had a number of learning and communication systems there was some difficulty for all staff being able to access information in a timely and efficient manner, and it was felt that the virtual learning environment systems were not flexible and responsive enough to keep up with today's educational demands.
For example, the legacy email system (that was only used by teachers) was built on old technology and was unreliable (often having delays in email delivery), had poor calendering facilities, was difficult to administer, inaccessible on phones and tablets, and expensive to maintain.
Keeping an eye on the future, the school considered how they could overhaul their ICT environment to help both staff and students to enhance their outstanding teaching environment with regards to:
- Communication amongst staff
- Communication between staff and students (e.g. for lesson planning and access to resources outside of school).
The ICT Strategy team at the school considered whether new cloud applications (which require no server and technology in the school) could help and sought outside guidance to help to consider their options.
Steegle.com is an award winning specialist Google Apps consultancy that employs high calibre experienced industry specialists. The company, as experts in ICT, were engaged by the the school to help consider the best way forward for their ICT strategy. Whilst several market propositions were considered, the final recommendation was to use Google Apps for Education, because of its compelling features, cost-effectiveness, ability to engage with the student population at home or in school, and its simple deployment. It has also great traction in education with schools and colleges around the world and the UK for example with 148,000 registered school users in Norfolk.
The features of Google Apps that were exceptional:
- Zero licensing costs for bona fide education organisations - and no need for servers and costly maintenance.
- Enhanced modern email available from any device, to staff and students alike.
- The ability to use productivity applications like word processing, spreadsheets presentations, forms and calendars from a simple web browser - without the need for expensive new PCs Collaboration - Student and staff can share documents and work on them together in real time.
- Powerful provisioning tools to ensure students have the right access.
- Audio / video conferencing (with Google+ Hangouts and Google Chat) to enable fun group based remote working.
- Shared and personal calendars which encompass both people and resources and tools like projectors and room locations.
- And finally, a fast, easy, low cost and flexible Virtual Learning Environment - built with Google Sites, which empowers the individual teachers to take control of their own classes and needs.
Steegle worked closely with the school to implement Google Apps for education and to migrate existing users from legacy systems to the new system to get the full range of benefits.
Unlike traditional applications, where implementation can very slow and difficult (like putting in new networks and infrastructure in place), the challenges with modern, web-enabled, cloud-based system often relate to change management (after all a system is only good if users can understand and use it effectively). So, a focus on helping staff plan and understand the benefits of the new technologies and facilities available to them is paramount.
Thus, after the initial technical aspects were delivered, Steegle focused on change and project management. They helped the school manage the change in the following ways:
- Built a communication programme to raise awareness.
- Gave the programme a name (Project Meerkat), to help build excitement.
- Developed one-to-many training for all staff in seminars.
- Trained technical and nontechnical staff one-on-one to cater to individual needs.
- Developed, customised and trained staff to use the Virtual Learning Environment.
- All students and staff have resilient, robust and reliable email and calendars, accessible at school or home.
- Teachers have a fast and efficient Virtual Learning Environment that they can use and adapt in creative ways.
- Communication in the school is improved.
- As the service is from Google is free, ongoing costs have been drastically reduced.
“Using Steegle to assist with the installation of Google Apps within the school has rapidly increased usage of Gmail and Drive by both pupils and staff. Other Apps are now beginning to be used throughout our special needs school environment, with children absorbing the lessons and skills very quickly.
The simplicity of the VLE along with the quality of training has allowed a smooth evolution of technology to take place. Combining investment in high spec technology with software that allows the complete range of a differentiated technological competency has reduced the usual fear of change, enabling children with the skills for their economy of tomorrow.
The sharing of responsibility through document and site development has also encouraged pupils to use skills beyond the classic single student, single computer approach. In the same way, the social side of email has seen a surge in pupil and teacher's use of email as a resource outside of the ICT suite and outside of the school, their ability reflected in their access to knowledge.”