Warwickshire County Council wanted to offer its schools a cloud-based learning environment to replace a physical platform that was no longer cost effective. The council migrated its WeLearn platform to SharePoint Online and Exchange Online through
Office 365 Education. Instead of paying between £4.50 (US$6.80) and £8 per student, the cloud service costs 185 subscribing schools £1.50 per pupil, with extra services and larger mailboxes for teachers.
The council, a tier-one local authority in the United Kingdom, delivers services to more than 200 schools in the county. From 2004, this included a SharePoint learning environment—WeLearn—delivered by a Microsoft Partner as part of a time-limited Public
Finance Initiative (PFI). The platform also integrated the county’s on-premises Microsoft Exchange service to provide email for schools.
With the PFI subsidy coming to an end, the new partner-proposed pricing of between £4.50 and £8 per pupil was beyond what most schools would be able to pay. So the council started talking to the principal virtual learning environment suppliers about a replacement
It became clear to the council that most of the products on the market were complicated and had too many features. Harvey Woodall, e-Learning Adviser, ICT Development Service, Warwickshire County Council, says: “By the end of 2011, we had focused our attention
on developing a solution around Google and were working with a third party to pilot this in a number of schools.”
Around this time, Microsoft approached Warwickshire County Council with an offer of support. It recommended Microsoft Partner BFC Networks—which provides customisation for Microsoft Office 365 Education—to look at an in-house solution based on Microsoft
SharePoint 2010. In early 2012, developers produced proofs of concept for both the Google and SharePoint solutions and presented them to schools. Feedback from schools was positive for both solutions. Woodall says: “The preference was for SharePoint, because
schools had used it before through the PFI-financed system.”
The council decided to concentrate on SharePoint Online after Microsoft made Office 365 Education available to schools free of charge. Schools would still be obliged to pay a per-pupil charge to the council to cover development costs and third-party integrations,
but much less than continuing with the previous system.
Alex Pearce, Managing Director, BFC Networks, says: “Our solution was to combine a local instance of SharePoint with the Office 365 Education cloud service. The local instance provided the facility to integrate code, which would have been impossible in the
The council had previously offered a hosted school email system based on Microsoft Office Outlook Web Access. The move to Office 365 Education provided an opportunity to migrate this older system across to the cloud service using Exchange Online. BFC Networks
could take advantage of the Warwickshire single Active Directory identity management server containing all school users. Pearce says: “This provided the basis of a federated solution with the required Windows Azure Active Directory. Schools can plug-in online
content and applications from a variety of sources to be used by teachers and students, both in the classroom and at home.”
In May 2012, presentations were again made to schools. They demonstrated the Office 365 Education SharePoint sites—subsequently branded WeLearn365—and the new email system. Pearce says: “At this point, schools were asked to commit to an initial two-year
subscription to the service. Certain third-party products, including Purple Mash and Autology, were added at no extra cost for the first two years.”
The council has also developed the system to use school management information systems (MIS) data to provision the WeLearn365 service. This is an automatic process that uses a group call agent to extract information from schools’ MIS, which is then populated
into the Warwickshire single Active Directory. Pearce says: “By integrating some key private cloud services for student data with Microsoft public cloud services from Office 365 Education, the schools have been given a compelling proposition.”
Warwickshire County Council is offering its schools a learning environment and education service through Office 365 Education at just £1.50 per pupil for the first two years. The interface—built with templates in SharePoint Online—help schools quickly customise
and personalise their own websites. Office 365 gives teachers 25-gigabyte mailboxes and WeLearn365 provides free access to third-party services, including Purple Mash and Autology.
Schools pay just £1.50 per pupil for cloud-based system. The WeLearn365 service has been adopted by 185 Warwickshire schools and now has 85,000 users. Woodall says: “The lowest price per pupil under the previous system was around £4.50,
so the current offering is an attractive package for schools, with lower administrative costs for the council. There’s no need for a physical infrastructure or the expense related to it.”
Users find WeLearn365 easier to use. Warwickshire County Council and BFC Networks have turned the SharePoint service in Office 365 into a user-friendly tool for any school. All teachers and students across Warwickshire,
including non-subscribing schools, can access a top-level WeLearn365 site for collaboration and sharing of essential schools information and best practice in education. A head teacher comments: “We’ve enjoyed designing our school space and making it interactive.”
Free services boost value of environment. The two-year subscription deal for schools gives teachers 25-gigabyte mailboxes and access to extra services, including educational resources such as Purple Mash and Autology. J2E is soon to be added,
along with integration of new Office web applications. A head teacher says: “The children adore Purple Mash. They’ve used it both in school and at home, creating some excellent work.”
Students value enhanced learning environment. Warwickshire County Council has been praised by students in primary and secondary schools for the new learning environment. One student says: “I think the new portal is even
better than the last. The links to the websites are quick and easy to use.”
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