III Forum Microsoft Educacion, Madrid, May 17th

Thanks to all those who came to my workshop and keynote speech at the III Forum Microsoft Educacion, Madrid (#IIIForumEdu). This was a really well organised and well attended event – and thanks to my Microsoft colleagues, especially Juan Ramon Alegret Crespi; Maria Zamorano Alberruche; Irene Ocaña del Rey; Lola Chacon Gutierrez; and Fernando Bocigas Palma.

Here’s a link to the OneNote file complete with on-the-fly annotations:

Schooling at the Speed of Thought keynote


The question of “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) is dividing opinion across the world of Ed Tech – and increasing scrutiny over how schooling budgets are spent is fuelling the debate. In essence, BYOD is about letting students bring their own devices – from mobile phones to full blown laptop PCs – into school as part of formal learning. Regardless of whether this approach is right or wrong, increasing numbers of schools – particularly in the United States – are adopting this approach.

In the US, BYOD is often seen as a strategy for schools to do more with less. EdWeek reported that one US State paid $56k in repairs for the computers they lease for $175k annually, so it’s easy to see how BYOD can seem an obvious approach for some. However, shifting the ownership of devices has many complex implications for how schooling systems operate. BYOD has complex and hidden costs which need to be considered carefully.

This article sets out the arguments for and against BYOD, highlights key considerations and proposes some potential ways forward.

What is BYOD?

In adopting BYOD, schooling is following a broader trend in the world of business. Monica Basso, Research VP at Gartner, predicts that by 2014 “90% of organizations will support corporate applications on personal devices.” At companies like Kraft Foods, rather than providing some employees with a standard laptop configuration, money is offered to let staff go out and get what they want.

Delloite observes that “most [business] users strongly believe they should be allowed to install any mobile application, visit any mobile website, and store any personal data they want on their personal device regardless of who paid for it”.

According to Forbes, reported on Yahoo, the adoption of technologies in the enterprise is increasingly being driven by consumer preference, not corporate initiative. “Many organizations are considering allowing personally-owned mobile devices to access business applications in order to drive employee satisfaction and productivity, while reducing their mobile expenses”.

In schooling, BYOD has different goal – it’s about enabling students and teachers to bring their own devices into school to support formal learning and productivity.

Why Should BYOD Be Considered?

From just a utility perspective, BYOD makes perfect sense. Why have a computer gather dust in the student’s bedroom while they are in school, and why have a school computer gathering dust in the 85% of time that students are not in school? Consolidating two resources into one has great potential for cost savings. Where the number of computers in a school is low, BYOD can be a quick way to boost access levels.

BYOD saves the school having to buy all the children a device, allowing school funds to be focused on providing access to the less well-off pupils.

Cary Harrod writing on the AALF blog –

“We launched our BYOL program this past January with our 7th graders. It was an overwhelming success in several key ways:

Out of 559 7th graders, we had 353 students bring in their own laptop, netbook or tablet pc. Add that to the 160 district owned devices and it’s easy to see that one of our major goals was met…to increase access to technology for ALL 7th graders… we successfully increased access to students who were unable/unwilling to purchase their own device access to technology without the barrier of having to check out a cart of laptops”.

Carry’s school didn’t’ service the computers either. “It was made clear to the parents that they owned the device… it was no different to when I take my device to Starbucks; Starbucks does not assume responsibility for my device…I do”.

Carry’s school is teaching their students “how to select the best computer and the most appropriate tools for their individual needs” and “through intensive professional development “we were able to move our teachers towards a student-centered way”

Why not BYOD?

Not everyone supports the BYOD concept. In fact, many people do not. Jim Wynn, former Headteacher and now senior Director at Promethean doesn’t believe BYOD is a viable concept for the classroom yet.

Imagine the possibility of 25 students walking into a classroom with what could amount to 25 different devices – with a teacher who is afraid of computers! Imagine the kinds of things that teachers could potentially hear in a BYOD environment:

“Miss, how can I get my phone to see the Wi-Fi”

“Sir, my battery has run out”

“Sir, a big boy put my computer in the bin”

Even the most advanced adult technology users frequently suffer from common technical issues such as getting Bluetooth devices to connect, so letting students loose across a range of technologies during classes is a recipie for potential chaos.

There are other factors to consider too:

  • The most commonly owned mobile device is mobile phones. Not everyone has got a phone that is powerful enough to enable high quality research, homework, coursework, revision, etc
  • Variation in the different types of student-owned devices, from Blackberries to i-Pads to Laptops, may make it hard for teachers to run lessons where they may want all the students to undertake the same tasks
  • Health & safety liability and requirement for all devices to be tested for suitability for use in a schooling environment

Gary Stager writing in AALF news asks “BYOD – Worst Idea of the 21st Century?” and says that BOYD:

  • Enshrines inequity
  • Narrows the learning process to information access and chat
  • Increases teacher anxiety
  • Diminishes the otherwise enormous potential of educational computing to the weakest “device” in the room
  • Contributes to the growing narrative that education is not worthy of investment

“Of course teachers should welcome any object, device, book or idea a student brings to class that contributes to the learning process. However, BYOD is bad policy that constrains student creativity, limits learning opportunities and will lead to less support for public education in the future”.

Towards BYOC

Gary Stager, asks “when was the last time you walked into a computer store and said, “I’d like to buy a device please?” Nobody does that. You buy a computer….. BYOD simplistically creates false equivalencies between any object that happens to use electricity… Repeat after me! Cell phones are not computers! They may both contain microprocessors and batteries, but as of today, their functionality is quite different”.

“Kids need a personal computer capable of doing anything you imagine they should be able to do, plus leave plenty of room for growth and childlike ingenuity”.

Whilst Cloud computing and HTML 5 will make the type of computer that you are using less important in the longer run, let’s be clear – effective learning with and through technology requires that students have computers. Ultimately, we want students to produce content – not just consume it – and develop their own learning experiences.

Ideally, every student should have their own computer for use both in and out of school. There will be many places where this just isn’t practical for all students, so in these cases there should be an appropriate progression towards increasingly available and increasingly powerful computing, so by the time a student leaves school, they are fully IT literate and ready to enter the university or the jobs market with a computer that they know how to use, and with a portfolio of high quality materials, applications and resources – online and on their hard-drive.

“Hybrid BYOC”

Clearly, BYOD or even BYOC as a blanket approach in any schooling system is going to be problematic.

Bruce Dixon again – “We are most likely going to see a gradual shift of the responsibility for the provision of a personal portable computer for our students from schools to families, as costs come down further, and computers are commoditized even more. But it will take time for the most effective funding, implementation and management models to be developed, and I expect they will, for the most part, be blended models”.

According to the e-learning Foundation, “In some areas all the pupils might have a suitable device they can bring in, so there’s no stigma attached to those who don’t have their own”.

There’s a crucial point here – BYOC may work in some areas – particularly where consumer technology usage amongst students is high and consistent. In other areas BYOC may not work at all because of a lack of appropriate devices in the hands of students.

There is no need to think of BYOC as a “blanket” approach at single school level either. E.g. at West Hatch School, London, just those students between 16 and 18 years old who have elected to stay at school for an extra two years can bring their own computers to school and access school resources.

Practical Considerations

Whether BYOC is the right approach or not, there is an increasing number of schooling systems under extreme budget pressures so there’s a practical reality that has to be addressed right now.

For those schools wishing to consider BYOC, an understanding of complex issues such as trust and liability is essential.


Which users do I trust with which data and applications and under what circumstances? Every organization should have its data classified in terms of who has access to it. However, BYOC adds another layer of complexity to the trust models because BYOC computers are not locked down as tightly as school owned computers, so can easily fall in and out of compliance.

Acceptable Use Policies will vary, and user expectations will differ. On school owned devices, users may accept not being able to use social networking apps, but that type of policy is unacceptable for personal devices.

West Hatch gets around this problem for student-owned devices, to an extent at least, by using a role based portal. Alan Richards – “the only reason this [BYOC] works is the fact that all resource are available through SharePoint, so as well as shared documents they can access their email, home drives, media etc”.


Whilst schools should have risk assessments covering actions such as unsecured use of organizational data to accessing inappropriate applications or websites, BYOC introduces new complexities:

  • Different protections may be required on different devices, depending on type of device and the OS that they run on.
  • A teacher or student who brings in their own device may have the expectation that they can use it however they wish. Is inappropriate use still a liability for the school, even if it doesn’t affect its data?
  • How is liability affected when computers are partly funded by the school?
  • There is a risk – albeit a small risk perhaps – of the school accessing and damaging personal data (for example, if IT inadvertently wipes a user’s personal data or applications)

On teacher-owned computers, at least, both the trust and liability issues can be addressed in part by if end-point data encryption implemented.

Regardless of how robust and secure the IT system, every school wanting to implement BYOC should seek their own legal advice on how to frame and assess liability between BYOC and more traditional access programs.

Equity And Finance

A key risk of BYOC is increasing the digital divide, so a BYOC program would need to be combined with effective initiatives to acquire or upgrade ICT, for those students that need this, including subsidized models.

Bruce Dixon, Founder of AALF, has given advice on 1:1 access programmes for nearly 15 years – “one of the benefits from an effective 1:1 program would be to provide 24/7 access, and there is a reasonable expectation that parents should make some contribution for the 80% of the time their son or daughter could now use a laptop for personal use outside school. However, I’m not sure why we can now suddenly expect parents to pick up 100% of the cost.”

According to the “e-learning Foundation” – a trust supporting the 1:1 access initiatives in the UK -“schools will need to provide all students who cannot bring their own device into school with something suitable, otherwise the school will create a digital divide, favouring wealthier pupils”.

Beware Of Potential Unintended Consequences

Transferring the burden of purchase to the students’ parents can be a “double-edged sword”. For example, organisations in consortia have purchasing power that can potentially drive costs down when ordering large volumes of IT goods and services. Passing on the cost of PC ownership to the student reduces the volume of IT purchased by the institution and therefore reduces negotiating power. When purchasing occurs on a large enough scale, a widespread BYOC policy could potentially drive up the net cost of providing computers to those who the schooling system will still need to provide a computer to.

There could be other unintended consequences too. As Microsoft’s Edgar Ferrer Gil points out, if a school depends heavily on Flash based learning content, then a whole subset of devices will not be able to utilize those resources, so a BYOC policy in isolation could reduce the value of investments in devices, IT resources and content.

There’s a cost too in supporting different technologies. For example, in the world of business the widespread adoption of RIM Blackberry’s required an expensive Blackberry server.


If several students have different types of software, then it will mean that teachers need to adjust to that. For instance, a teacher won’t simply be able to set up a lesson where the students collaborate using a single application or service. Imagine the scenario when an LMS won’t accept certain file formats leaving students to figure out how to turn in their assignments if its not in the correct file format.

If a BYOD or BYOC implementation allows any device to be brought in, then the organization can expect to see old, second-hand and possibly even stolen devices – which pose legal, and security risks from viruses or malware.

Edgar Ferrer Gil again – “Schools need to think carefully what BYOC means to them. There are things that are going to run fantastically well on the right kind of device – eg standards-based cloud services, internet connectivity, file sharing and in some cases virtualized desktops. But today, I think that the ROI of a fully-open BYOC policy will be extremely poor”.

IT System Architecture

BYOC can quickly lead to 1:1 access ratios, and this has significant implications for infrastructure and IT services –

Physical Environment

Cleary, having appropriate furniture, benching, electrical sockets for charging and extensive wireless access points, is a key first step. It’s also important to provide secure lockers for storage of computers when not in use.


As device choice becomes fluid, confirming identity of user and device, usually through the use of certificates, becomes more important.

Proxy servers are required to present login requests to users when using their own computers in the same way as you would filter usage for students using a school-owned computer.

At West Hatch, all routes for external traffic from the school’s data switches point to a Smoothwall box which deals with proxying. Computers that are on the school domain point to the same box but to a specific port. Computers that students bring into the school don’t point to a port and are captured by Smoothwall, which presents the user with an SSL login page asking for their domain credentials. This gives the same kind of user experience as you would get when using an Internet connection in a hotel or public space. At West Hatch, this approach works across any device or OS.

Optimised Core Infrastructure

Managing the extra workloads that a BYOC program would place on a school’s IT infrastructure requires that the infrastructure is optimized – ie made more robust and secure. Infrastructure Optimisation is a program that should be applied to the school IT infrastructure if BYOC is being implemented.

Key elements covered in Core Infrastructure optimization include:

  • Client Services
    • Management
    • Security
  • Identity & Security Management
  • IT Process & Compliance

Another key technical consideration is support. Whilst, as already discussed, some schools are passing-off technical support to parents, the danger with this approach is inequity – some students will have to wait longer than others for their computers to be up and running. On the other hand, it’s completely unreasonable to expect schools to be able to support just about any device on the market.

The only realistic way around this is to have a BYOC policy that narrows the range of computers accepted in the school environment to reflect capacity of local support services – both inside and beyond the school. In other words, if neither the school nor local computer repair shop can support a particular Operating System or computer, it’s best not to include these in the BYOC policy.

Remote Desktop Services (RDS, formerly Terminal Services)

Working with mixed computers in a classroom can be made a lot easier if schools were able to “push” desktops to those computers. In other words, regardless of computer type or its Operating System, the student would get a desktop provided by the school. Such a desktop could contain a full range of applications and resources needed to cover the curriculum. As the desktops would be delivered from a Server, the only requirement on the device would be a browser and possibly a small client application.

The first and easiest way to do this is through Presentation Virtualization, which was covered in detail in the “From Virtualization to Private Cloud” article. A relatively straightforward way to deliver Presentation Virtualization is Windows Remote Desktop Services (RDS).

RDS applications run in Virtual Sessions, each projecting a Windows user interface to a remote client computer. For non-Windows computers, a Citrix client application can be installed and this will allow the same user experience as with a Windows device. (There are also 3rd party RDP clients available for slates and phones). In a Remote Desktop Session, the device processes only screen refreshes sent from the server, and mouse clicks and keyboard strokes are being sent back to server. Whilst users will get a Windows interface, it won’t be a Windows 7 interface. Administrators should be careful not to assign administration rights to RDS users.

Virtual Desktop Interface

VDI offers a more sophisticated approach to remote desktops. From the client device perspective much is the same as with RDS, but there is added sophistication on the server which gives additional scope for flexibility.

With VDI, sessions are delivered through Virtual Machines run within a Hypervisor such as Hyper-V. Each virtual machine can contain a different Operating System and a different set of applications. This allows school to offer each student has their own specific desktop, subject/topic specific desktops. As each virtual machine (VM) runs in its own environment trust relationships are easier to manage. Each VM is a file enabling easy backup and portability. The entire desktop “estate” can be run through a management product such as System Center.

West Hatch School is evaluating VDI, looking at it eventually as a web-based resource for access beyond the school gates.

Classroom orchestration

Ideally, a teacher would not only be able to push out a common virtualized desktop, but orchestrate a class too. This means having control over the computers whilst they are in the classroom. For BYOC schemes that stipulate bringing in Windows devices, Multipoint server can be used to combine old and new school-owned computers with student owned computers in a single, orchestrated network.


The net is that BYOC is really not the silver bullet to widespread access that it appears on the surface. The argument that IT can’t be funded is a not a budget question – it’s a prioritization question! BYOC won’t come free – it will require investment, and as always, the most important question to ask with any IT investment is “what outcome do you want?”

Bruce Dixon, writing in the AALF blog, observes – “Seems the last thing anyone wants to ask is, ‘What will they want to do with it?’”

Full BYOC, partial or no BYOC at all, it makes no sense to decide on an approach without first being crystal clear about what results or impacts are wanted.

Once the intended learning and operational outcomes are clear, Schooling Enterprise Architecture offers a formal process for developing impactful learning solutions. Whether BYOC is an appropriate approach or not depends entirely whether it fits with higher level organizational goals, circumstances and capacity. BYOC, ultimately, should be part of the process of simplifying ICT, and if adopted at all, it should be very carefully thought through.

Thanks to:

Sven Reinhardt, Edgar Ferrer Gil, Dan MacFetridge, Erik Goldenberg, Bruce Dixon, Jim Wynn, and Alan Richards for contributions to this article; and to Brad Tipp/Howard Gold for graphics.

Driving Complexity Out Of Schooling ICT

This article is a first draft on what I think will become an increasingly important thread. Complexity has caused some serious and extreme failures in other areas of the Public Sector. The UK National Health Service “National Programme for Information Technology” project is just one of many high-profile, massive Public Sector ICT projects around the world that have buckled under the weight of their own complexity. As schooling ICT systems develop in sophistication and scale, it’s a reasonable assumption that the struggle against complexity in this area will increase significantly.

A Simple Model Of Complexity

Take 12 dice, put them in a bucket and give the bucket a shake. Pour the dice on the table.  How many possible combinations (states) could you have? The answer – 2 bn. To be precise, where you have 12 components each with 6 possible states, the possible number of states is 612 = 2,176,782,336. So what has this got to do with schooling ICT?

The dice example is a metaphor for how complex any ICT system can be. Each component in an ICT system – software, hardware, process, workflow etc – can all exist in many different states. A single piece of software, with 12 variables each with 6 possible states would have in excess of 2bn possible states. Likewise, a process with 12 decision points, each with six possible paths would also have over 2bn possible states. Combined, these systems have trillions of possible states.

So what does this mean to you? If your role involves responsibility for complex systems – either in a management or technical capacity – having a method for dealing with complexity will likely be very useful indeed.

Let’s begin by acknowledging that complexity is the enemy of effectiveness and efficiency. Complexity costs money and can cause systems fail to get off the ground, or collapse when they are running. Removing complexity removes costs – and lowers risk too – so it’s well worth thinking about. This article sets out a V1.0 five step processes for driving out complexity from your systems. Parts of this are based on a wonderful piece of work on this area by Roger Sessions called “Simple Architectures for Complex Enterprises”, which I strongly recommend. The method has 3 elements:

  • A container
  • 5 steps
  • A maturity model pathway
Schooling ICT Simplification System

Container – Enterprise Architecture

The 5 step process – which we’ll call “Schooling ICT System Simplification” – sits within the context of Enterprise Architecture. This is the container for all the components and relationships within large, complex systems. Three definitions are important here:

  • Enterprise: a collection of organisations that share a common set of goals. Enterprise in this sense does not mean “business”, though businesses can be enterprises.
  • Architecture: a system’s components and the organisation of how they relate to one another.
  • Enterprise Architecture: a description of the goals of an enterprise, how these goals are realised by processes, and how these processes can be better served by technology.

Enterprise Architecture (EA) is a 20 year old discipline, and is used to organise technology to add value in complex organisations.

There are several “off-the-shelf” Enterprise Architecture methodologies that one could use, eg:

The Queensland Government in Australia also has some potentially useful thinking in this area with their “Queensland Government Enterprise Architecture 2.0

These can all play a role in schooling systems, but schooling has some very specific structures and requirements that would require a ‘standard’ EA to be adapted considerably. This is why I wrote Schooling at the Speed of Thought – the goal of which was to help schooling systems develop a domain specific version of Enterprise Architecture called “Schooling Enterprise Architecture” (SEA). Since writing Schooling at the Speed of Thought I’ve updated SEA to Version 2.0 below.

“Schooling at the Speed of Thought” was designed to take organisations a long way towards defining their goals, how these goals are realised by processes, and how these processes can be better served by technology.

Schooling Enterprise Architecture V2.0 (SEA)

With Enterprise Architecture established as the container for all activities relating to developing ICT systems, the next step is to embark on the simplification process itself.

1. Govern

High quality decision making is the bedrock on which reducing complexity rests. You will need an organisational model for how decisions will be made, how responsibilities will be delegated and performance managed. At the SEA level, we are not concerned with the “how” (the ‘nuts and bolts’ of developing solutions) but the “what” – ie what does and what will our organisation do. However, the SEA team needs to be responsible for directing the policies that shape how solutions projects are executed and the higher level architectures and standards that they should work within.

Key SEA governance issues include:

  • Composition of the SEA team
  • Reporting structures for the SEA team
  • Processes for introducing functional components into the SEA
  • Ownership and management of the SEA development process
  • Ownership and management of the component inventories, taxonomies, standards, and technical infrastructure
  • Management of the technical infrastructure
  • Ownership of knowledgebase – i.e. SEA documentation and architectural designs

Governance should ensure that there are processes for:

  • Documenting organisational requirements
  • Managing artefacts
  • Establishing solution project requirements
  • Measuring milestones
  • Showing delivered value and ROI

2. Map

A Schooling Enterprise Architecture can be reduced down to functional components and the relationships between them. Key questions at this stage are:

  • What are the goals of the organisation?
  • How is the organisation structured into processes?
  • How do those processes relate to one another?
  • Which processes can be best improved through technology?
  • What is the plan for making those improvements?

Before we look at this further, let’s return to our dice analogy – starting with two dice in one bucket. On average, it would take 36 throws to get the same outcome (e.g. 2 sixes). Separating the dice into two buckets, we have to throw the dice six times in one bucket then six times in the second bucket to get the same outcome – a total of 12 throws. Applying the same maths, splitting up 12 dice in one bucket into 12 buckets each with one dice reduces the number of throws to get the same system state (say 12 sixes) from 2.2bn to 72. This is because we split the process of getting 12 sixes into 12 consecutive events, rather than waiting for the combination to occur simultaneously. In other words breaking up a tightly coupled chain of components into independent (autonomous) components radically reduces complexity. Mathematically, this is known as partitioning, and it can be applied directly to complex organisations.

For the sake of clarity and consistency we’ll call the functional components in a SEA “Autonomous Functional Capabilities” (AFCs). AFCs are the fundamental building blocks from which an SEA is built. They contain two components – “Process” and “Technology”.

‘Autonomous’ means that they can function independently of other AFCs; ‘Capability’ means that they can produce something tangible. We are only concerned with what AFCs do and how they relate to one another.

We use partitioning to make sure that every function of the schooling system lives in one – and only one – AFC. This means ensuring that they are made up of unique components, and their functions don’t overlap with other AFCs. Importantly, AFCs can be composed of other AFCs.

AFCs are not completely random with respect to one another as are dice. Typically, there will be interactions between AFCs – eg messages or database sharing. A design goal then is to minimise the number and complexity of interactions, balancing needs for interoperability between AFCs whilst controlling complexity inside AFCs. This means carefully defining relationships and using as few relationship categories as possible – these are typically:

  • Information Request
  • Information Broadcast
  • Work Request
Autonomous Functional Capabilities (AFCs)

AFCs can further be categorised as follows:

AFC Categories

Mapping the entire organisation, using partitioning to “decompose” functions into AFCs, and defining their relationships can reveal the full extent of organisational complexity, and pave the way for further simplification.

3. Rationalise

The next step in reducing complexity is to rationalise the map that we have created in step 2.

Returning to the dice analogy, another way to reduce complexity would be to reduce the number of dice in the system. In ICT terms, this means removing functions that are not absolutely necessary. It’s about ensuring that every function is linked to an explicit, concrete, and quantifiable requirement. It is also about looking for consolidation opportunities, and asking if there is already an implementation of a given AFC type that can be tweaked. Functions can also be removed by outsourcing them, and Cloud computing is opening opportunities for doing this.

With the SEA now analysed, mapped, partitioned and non-core functions removed or outsourced, the next step is to prioritise which new AFCs to implement or develop. The following factors should drive the prioritisation of which AFCs to fund:

  • Value drivers – e.g. cost savings, increasing learning, providing access to opportunities
  • Cost
  • Risk – organisational and technical
  • Organisational readiness
  • Team readiness
  • The cost of not deploying an AFC

Above all else, these factors should be quantifiable and easy to display together visually in a Radar Graph. Politics also plays a part in prioritisation, and often it makes sense to prioritise AFC deployments towards high impact, low risk and low cost. Creating short term, high visibility wins helps attract support for broader initiatives.

4. Solve

We can define the term Solutions as “a managed package of technologies, services and programmes that together solve an organisation’s problems or address new opportunities”. Solutions sit inside Enterprise Architectures and are the projects by which an organisation can achieve new levels of maturity. A solution project can address low level point problems, such as printing, or high level opportunities such as complete organisational transformation. Enterprise Architecture is the “what”. Solution projects are the “how”.

There are several layers of prescriptive guidance to consider when building solutions:

Solution Methodologies

There are several solution methodologies to choose from. TOGAF and the Zachman Framework are both Enterprise Architecture approaches and solution methodologies. However it’s the Microsoft Solutions Framework that seems to work best on complex schooling solutions projects. Whilst devised by Microsoft, this methodology is completely technology agnostic.


MSF is made up of prescriptive models and disciplines that guide solution projects through from inception to delivery.


The MSF Process Model consists of five phases:

MSF Phases

Envisioning Phase

This is about creating a broad description of the goals and constraints of the project.  In this phase, you identify the solution team and what the team must accomplish for the customer.  The purpose of the envisioning phase is to build a shared vision of the project among all the key stakeholders of the project.

This phase culminates in a Vision/Scope document, agreed and approved by all key stakeholders.  The document sets out what the project aims to achieve, what is in and out of scope, the project structure and a risk assessment. The document is built during an envisioning process that includes the following steps:

  • Defining the goals
  • Defining the project structure
  • Setting up the team
  • Assessing the current situation
  • Creating a vision statement
  • Identification of the scope of the project
  • Defining requirements and user profiles
  • Developing a solution concept
  • Assessing risk

The Planning Phase

Deliverables of the planning phase are:

  • Requirements: Organisation; User; Operations; System  
  • Use scenarios and use cases
  • Functional Specification—including design and architecture
  • Master Project Plan and Master Project Schedule
  • Development, testing, and staging environments

The main outcome of the planning phase is an approved project plan — due dates that are realistic, project roles and responsibilities that are well defined, and everyone agrees to the deliverables for the project.

The Developing Phase

In this phase, the team develops the infrastructure for the solution. This involves the source code and executable files, installation scripts and settings, and support elements.

The development process includes creating a prototype application; developing the solution components; completion of all features; and delivery of code and documentation.

Stages of the developing phase are:

  • Proof-of-concept application
  • All features complete and have gone through unit testing
  • The product is ready for external testing and stabilisation
  • Customers, users, operations and support personnel, and key project stakeholders can evaluate the product and identify any issues that must be addressed before the solution is shipped

The Stabilizing Phase

At the end of this phase the solution will meet the defined quality levels.  The stabilisation process involves running the solution in a staging area with actual users and real usage scenarios, including an extensive and comprehensive range of tests.

The stabilizing phase goes through the following stages:

  • Zero-bug release
  • Release candidates
  • Golden release — zero-defect and meeting success criteria metrics

At the final release, the responsibility for managing and supporting the solution is officially transferred from the project team to the operations and support teams.

The Deploying Phase

During this phase, the team deploys the solution technology and site components, stabilizes the deployment, transfers the project to operations and support, and obtains final customer approval of the project.

Deliverables of the deploying phase

  • Operation and support information systems
  • Documentation repository for all versions of documents and code developed during the project
  • A training plan
  • Project completion report

Deploying new solutions can be a source of complexity if large numbers of AFCs are rolled-out simultaneously. It’s better to roll-out a single AFC on a small scale, and quickly, and then add other sites and related AFCs over time, rather than attempt “Big Bang” deployments. 

Solution Architectures

Solution Architectures differ from Enterprise Architectures in as much as they describe the “how” in full technical detail. 

Any architecture should enable its users to:

  • Plan infrastructure, hardware, software and services procurement
  • Organise how information and services are used
  • Arrange the system components to function as an integrated whole

It’s important to develop Solution Architectures to a common set of design principles. Services Orientated Architecture Service (SOA) should be considered a strong candidate for this. A system based on a SOA will package functionality as a suite of interoperable services that can be used across the entire enterprise. Sub systems within an SOA interoperate through the use of communication methods based on industry-wide Web-service standards (e.g. SOAP). SOA can be used to guide design in each architectural domain as the overall solution design takes shape.

A schooling ICT system will have three main architectural “domains” – Software, Physical Infrastructure (hardware) and Information. The goal of SOA is to define architectures in terms of services. Each of these start at the conceptual level – i.e. the AFC mapping that we covered in Step 2 – before drilling down into logical and physical designs. 

Architecture Domains

The conceptual architecture summarises the overall design from the perspective of the user; the logical architecture shows how services work; the physical architecture shows how the hardware is configured.   


Here, AFCs are chunked into layers and groups that define what services stakeholders will receive, and where those services come from.

Conceptual Architecture


In the Logical Architecture, the Conceptual Architecture is re-drawn as a series of technical service layers and blocks with clear relationships:

Logical Architecture


The Physical Architecture sets out where the physical infrastructure components sit in relation to one another in order to deliver the services defined in the Logical Architecture:

Physical Architecture


The great thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from! Industry standards can certainly help simplification if they themselves are simple to deploy. Choosing standards that partners or vendors should adhere to can be a way of simplifying interfaces between organisational boundaries and simplifying interoperability.

There are many standards for IT as a whole and for a complete list I recommend “Enterprise Architecture at Work” by Marc Lankhorst et al., Springer. For the education domain, and for schooling in particular, there are a few standards, but their application in schooling solutions across the world is inconsistent to say the least – they often just get in the way.

Below is a sample of education relevant standards:

E-Folio IMS e-folio
Identity Management Shibboleth, LDAP, Kerberos
Content Management Metadata: IMS/IEEE LTSC Metadata & Dublin Core, IMS Content Packaging, IMS Digital Repositories
Content creation XML
Data Management SIF, ZIS, Metadata: IMS/IEEE LTSC Metadata & Dublin Core
Collaboration and Communication IMS Enterprise Services, SIF, XML/Web Services
Business Process Integration Business Process Execution Language for Web Services (BPEL4WS)
Learning Management IMS Enterprise Services Web Services, SIF, XML/Web Services
Library Management/resource management   IMS Resource List interoperability, OpenURL, Z39.50;Z39.50, SRU/ SRW (mainstream search protocol), MARC 21bibliographic record format, DC (Dublin Core)
Assessment and Reporting IMS Question & Test Spec
Staff and Student Management IMS Learner Information, IMS Enterprise

Of these, SCORM and SIF are the most widely used in schooling systems.

The golden rule of simplification when it comes to standards is to only apply them if there is a strong case clearly linked to a well-defined need.

5. Move to Next Maturity Level

What counts as a good SEA in the highest performing schooling systems in the world will be completely different to that of schooling systems taking their first steps towards using ICT. Naturally, schooling systems need to evolve, therefore it makes sense to think of SEA not as a static blueprint but rather a series of steps on a maturity continuum.

As discussed in earlier articles, there are four quite clear stages of schooling system maturity –

Often, entire technology categories – such as laptops or whiteboards – are seen as an end in themselves and are implemented without considering how they fit within the broader organisation. This, of course, just increases complexity. A better approach is to identify the current maturity level of your organisation, then analyse the steps that need to be taken to get to the next levels of maturity and use solution projects to get there. 

Putting It All Together

To summarise, driving out complexity is about structuring ICT in terms of architectures and processes, and then applying models, methods and disciplines to solution development.

  • The container for managing the sum total of the complexity of any large organisation is Enterprise Architecture, and the domain specific iteration of Enterprise Architecture for schooling is Schooling Enterprise Architecture (SEA).
  • An SEA Governance Team needs to be responsible for directing system development policies. Policy should state “simplification” as a key design goal.
  • Mapping the functions of the organisation using partitioning to decompose functions into Autonomous Functional Capabilities (AFCs) is a key next step.
  • Further simplification can be achieved through rationalisation – which includes removing, consolidating and prioritising AFCs.
  • The goal of developing schooling ICT systems is to progress along a maturity continuum comprising four distinct phases. This is achieved through running solution projects.
  • Solution projects should be run through the MSF process
  • Solutions are developed through designing Conceptual, Logical and Physical architectures and this should be guided by Services Orientated Architecture.
  • Standards may have a role in some solutions projects, but should only be used where there is a clear need to do so.
SEA Process

The Transformed Phase

This is the fourth and final article on the phases of transformation that schooling systems go through. The first was “Taking the First Steps”, and this phase is characterized by access. The second, Taking the Next Steps – The ‘Enhanced’ Phase, is where technology is used to enhance existing processes. The third -“The Strategic Phase” – is characterized by using technology to meet strategic goals and help determine what those goals should be.

Feedback that readers have kindly sent me had prompted me to adjust the overall maturity framework so each of the main characteristics of each phase now look like this:

Four Stages of Schooling System Maturity

Whilst the three preceding phases were about applying technology to schools as they currently are, the Transformed Phase is about fundamentally changing the nature of schooling itself.

Using ICT to transform schooling allows us to ask questions such as “where is school”, “how do we deliver personalised and engaging learning experiences”, and “how can we develop highly effective and efficient schooling systems”?

Whilst transformation will mean many different things to many different people, there are three main ingredients to a transformed schooling system.

The first is providing anytime, anywhere learning for all citizens. The second is providing highly personalised experiences to all learners. The third is about building a culture of high performance throughout the entire schooling system.

Anytime Anywhere Learning For All

The first principle in transforming schooling is to redefine its “customer” base. At present, schooling reaches learners between the ages of 5 to 18, within narrowly defined geographic boundaries, and for around 18% of the year only. Now, there is a significant opportunity to deliver learning services to entire populations at relatively low costs. This is because the cost of digital content and software only marginally increases with the number of users, and because the cost of delivering e-learning services at massive scale through Cloud computing is increasingly cheap and getting cheaper.

To date we have thought about learning in the physical sense of going to a place called a school. Going forward, schools will facilitate learning less as a physical experience and more as one that can take place across different locations. Increasingly, we can expect the process of schooling to become less dependent on learners regularly attending a single campus over a long period of time.

Schooling will spread out of the physical confines of the school campus, and into ‘found space’ such as offices; high street locations; apartments; and even the homes of children.

The youngest learners need somewhere near their own home where they can physically go to access learning facilities; to learn with other groups of learners and access richer materials than those which they have in their own home. Older learners need learning spaces to interact with their tutors, counsellors and learning managers, but also need to learn in environments that are appropriate to their learning tasks. For example, a specialist science learning module – say optics, for example – may well be based in a traditional (campus) school laboratory, but equally there could be a company in the local community specialising in optics that would be willing for students to learn at their facilities.

In this model, there is still room for the traditional “Campus School”, but as a social, intellectual and resource hub – a place for those specialist learning facilities which might not be available in the local community such as laboratories, workshops, libraries, art studios and gymnasia. The Campus School is also a place from which to organise and manage learning and produce learning content.

The Campus School of the future will be a community resource; it will be open for 52 weeks a year, 7 days a week from 7.30 am (with breakfast clubs, computer clubs, gym facilities etc.), and will stay open until 10.00 pm (with after school clubs, homework clubs, sports facilities, cyber cafes etc). Its pupils will be aged 1 to 100. The four walls of a classroom/school will be replaced with online classrooms/schools/homes, ensuring access to technology and information for all.

Many university towns reflect this approach, where university learning facilities are embedded in the local community. Schooling is catching up. In “First Steps” we’ve already seen the ‘Kiosk’ model in India, where learning is simply put out onto the street to be consumed by self-organising groups of children. On the other side of the world, in New Zealand, Discovery Learning has schooling facilities deeply embedded in the community with locations in shopping malls and central business districts. Here, “school” isn’t a building and children are given “trust licences” to learn where they need to in the local community.

In this model, there is a vast spectrum of types of learning spaces, from traditional classrooms to cyber cafes, each type able to facilitate different levels of collaboration and self-directed learning.

Learning Spaces (C/O lookred)

New types of learning spaces will facilitate a much wider spectrum of learning methods too:

Technology Enabled Learning Styles. C/O lookred

Where Is School?

“Anytime Anywhere Learning for All” means exactly that. Every citizen, anywhere, able to access organised learning.  Not everyone will need to, or be able to, attend school in order to receive schooling services, which poses the question “where is school?” In the transformed schooling model, schooling is embedded deeply into the local community in the following way.

Anytime Anywhere Learning for All

1. Community Learning Spaces

Community Learning Spaces are places in which formal, organised schooling takes place for school age learners, that are not within the walls of the traditional Campus School. These spaces are, in effect, “franchises” of the Campus School, and firmly embedded into the Campus School’s systems. Learners in Community Learning Spaces have managed internet access, and plug their personal learning devices straight into e-Learning Service. Even the youngest children can learn with ICT – e.g. games based learning, immersive environments, interactive whiteboards and programmable toys. Learning to write with a Tablet PC helps young children to acquire basic skills long before they can type or use a mouse.

Learners are registered as members of the Connected Learning Community and the process of data collection begins. Managed learning pathways and dynamic timetables ensure that students work on the tasks that are most appropriate for their stage of learning. A spectrum of creativity, productivity and learning tools ensure that the optimal blend of computer and teacher mediated learning takes place. The ICT infrastructure comprises wireless network, workstations, display, scanners. Infrastructure and Core Sofware Services mean that computers joining the wireless network are managed via a Virtual Private Network. Users and devices are authenticated, and policies – especially security and filtering policies – are imposed.

Teachers, assistants and other responsible adults – connected to peers and experts through the technology – directly support the learning process. Learners progress through the curriculum as quickly as their learning performance permits, and move to different learning spaces when appropriate. Staff and learners alike access the Connected Learning Community portal to get information, content and tools. Learners can see their assignments, feedback, learning materials and web links from a single site, and populate an e-portfolio with their work. Community Learning Spaces are extensions of
the Campus School, and both staff and learners will spend some time at there.

2. Campus School

The Campus School acts as a central point for organising, managing and creating Anytime Anywhere Learning in the community. The Campus School in effect “franchises” learning operations in Community Learning Spaces, so ICT is used to drive alignment; manage performance; and ensure high quality, paperless administrative processes. Live communications ensure that expertise within and beyond the Campus School can be “piped” into the Community Learning Spaces (CLS) on demand.

The IT Infrastructure of the CLSs are supplied as a service from the Campus School.

Learners – of all ages – visit the Campus School to use specialist facilities and IT equipment that are unavailable in the Community Learning Spaces. Whilst learners bring their personal learning devices into the campus, the site has a proliferation of multi-touch interactive displays and these enable learners to access a vast array of information and content from anywhere on the site.

In the Schooling Enterprise Architecture model, Campus Schools are branch sites from the Local Education Authority hubs and as such receive the full range of Schooling Enterprise Services for Student Relationship Management, intelligent intervention, performance management, planning, operations and administration.

A master database of resources – people, spaces, equipment and content – enables the Campus School to dynamically timetable learners so their precise learning needs can be met immediately. Predictive analysis of learning pathways enables the system to book or purchase resources well in advance.

Underpinning the IT infrastructure at the school and its “franchises” is a set of Core Software Services including Security, Identity, Comms & Collab, System Management and Directory services. Services are either delivered through on-premises servers or relayed from data centres, private and public clouds “upstream” at LEA and/or MoE levels.

3. Local Education Authority

As a Hub in the Schooling Enterprise Architecture, the Local Education Authority’s main role is to deliver Schooling Enterprise Services to Campus Schools. Their managerial functions, facilitated by ICT, are to drive accountability, alignment and performance.

Another key role is to run large scale access programmes. Using aggregated buying power and regional connections the LEA is in an ideal position to acquire devices, infrastructure components and support for the best price-to-quality ratio. As a Hub for the MoE, LEAs should be able to ‘enforce’ MoE mandates on standards, quality and Service Level Agreements.

The LEA can also be an aggregation point for data held on children by different authorities – health, social care, the police and education – to be aggregated to give a secure ‘big picture’ on children,
particularly those who may be at risk.

4. Workplace

Anytime anywhere learning for all means delivering learning experiences to all, including those in work. Online vocational courses are available through the Connected Learning Community portal. Workplaces offer valuable learning opportunities to learners of all ages, especially where specialised equipment is beyond the financial reach of the Campus School. The workplace can also be used to house Community Learning Spaces. Being part of the Connected Learning Community Portal; local businesses can have direct dialogue with – and receive relevant learning services from – their local Campus School, FE College and University to better meet the learning needs of their organisations.

5. University

Universities offer a rich extension to the Campus School learning community by offering online access to lectures, experts and learning resources. Within the Anytime anywhere learning model, Higher Education is made available to students who are ready to take learning modules offered by the University – virtually or otherwise.

6. Off-Site Learning Environments

With community-wide Wi-Fi coverage, homes, cyber cafés, hospitals, and recreation areas can all be turned into learning environments.

Personalised Learning

Transformed schooling organises the learning around the individual, not the other way around.

Learning, by definition, is personal—no one else can learn for you. People learn different things at different speeds and in different ways. When students walk into a learning space, they bring very different sets of attributes, abilities, knowledge, skills, understandings and attitudes with them.

Over recent years, the concept of personalising learning has gained considerable ground.

From a technical perspective, personalising learning is about:

  • Delivering an extended range of opportunities to learn – individually and collaboratively
  • Delivering content that addresses precise learning needs
  • Managing learning pathways

Extending Opportunities to Learn

The wider and deeper the choice of content, the more personalised the learning experience can be. When providing learning to an entire community, the type of learning experience consumed will range from informal learning to structured and accredited courses.

Extended Learning Opportunities for All

With a wide and deep supply of learning content, learners can have a wide choice of learning experiences, modalities, pathways and assessments. For example, being able to pick from a menu of languages to learn is a more personalised experience than just having one to choose from. To be able to choose what level to study a language at – from beginner to advanced – again adds to the degree of personalisation.

Personalised learning is not about learning in isolation, however.  It is quite the opposite in, fact.  Learning is a social activity and personalising the learning experience is to do with providing opportunities to collaborate as well as to learn independently. A learning task that has been personalised for somebody could involve them working in a team, and part of the assessment could be how well they have managed to collaborate with other people. Therefore, another technical requirement here is to provide Communication and Collaboration tools – the more sophisticated these tools, the
greater the possible degree of personalisation.

Addressing Precise Learning Needs

Learners learn in completely different ways, and at different rates depending on prior knowledge and their learning styles. Therefore personalised learning systems need to deliver content so that different learning styles are addressed and different learning speeds are catered for. For example, in learning about the skeleton of dinosaurs, one learner might learn best by listening to a recording, another through looking at pictures, another by using a Tablet PC to kinaesthetically piece together the bones with a stylus.

From a technical point this means that content needs to be packaged so that learners can access it through multiple learning modes. Increasingly there will be automated agents that scour the internet and deliver content that precisely matches learning needs.

The relative length of time that it takes a learner to acquire the expected learning in each module shouldn’t matter as the e-learning services will adjust the personal learning pathway that the learner takes accordingly.

Managing Personal Learning Pathways

The extent to which a learning task has been personalised is a function of the extent to which that individual’s prior knowledge, skills, preferred learning styles, and attitudes have been taken into account when assigning the task.

In this model, learners are constantly assessed as they move through the learning programme, and the pathways that they take continuously evolve as they work their way through. This relies on feedback loops and systems which can dynamically adapt to the twists and turns of the learning process, and set challenging learning goals and tasks. This is essentially about using “business logic” which in turn uses data to decide what students need to learn next and manage the learning process.

Setting the learning task automatically is something that intelligent tutoring systems and learning management systems such as “Success Maker” have been doing for many years. However, if completing the learning task needs more than just a computer, managing the process dynamically becomes complicated.

This is where dynamic timetabling comes in. Dynamic timetabling starts with the premise that learning should be organised on a ‘performance’ as opposed to a ‘time’ basis (see Schooling at the Speed of Thought for more details). The core idea is that dynamic timetabling matches the optimal learning experience for a learner to the resources needed to deliver it. For example, if the learner has  mastered the concept of soil erosion in Geography, the next task may be to apply that learning in a practical experiment. This involves working with others who are at the same learning stage, using equipment, a physical space and teacher/assistant supervision. Ideally, the dynamic timetabling system will have predicted when these resources will be needed, organised them ahead of schedule and matched the learner to what they need to complete the next task.

Dynamic Timetabling

Today, this can be at least partially accomplished through resource scheduling within CRM.

Once the learning task is completed, a record of achievement builds in the learner’s e-portfolio.

Culture of Performance

In the Transformed Phase the entire schooling system is working at optimum efficiency and effectiveness – what Joey Fitts and Bruno Aziza (Driving Business Performance, 2008) call a “Culture of Performance”. To get to this stage schooling systems will have gone through the following stages:

  • First Steps: Increasing visibility
  • Enhanced: Moving beyond gut feel, and planning for success
  • Strategic: Executing on strategy

A culture of performance is goal orientated; results are measured and members of the Connected Learning Community are competitive in a constructive way. A culture of performance is
about transparency, predictability, and the ability to adapt to changing conditions. With capabilities to monitor, analyse, and plan, performance orientated organisations can create a culture where information is a prized asset, aligned execution is the norm, and accountability is embedded.

From a learner’s perspective, this is about friction-free administration regarding courses, options and assessments. It’s about micro payments, and cashless vending, and not having to repeatedly enter the same basic data for silo’d administrative processes. It’s also about the seamless escalations of issues – such as requests for special support.

From a teacher’s perspective this is about doing the lowest possible levels of administrative tasks, confident in the knowledge that the system is dealing with the administrative mechanics of running the schooling operations. For those administrative tasks that teacher have to do, reporting, administration, productivity and communication & collaboration tools ensure that the tasks are efficiently executed and add real value to the organisation.

Administrators and managers get the benefit of using processes that have been integrated. For example, when new staff join the organisation, background checks, basic data collection, terms and conditions, salary and on-boarding systems all work together as a single function, crossing organisational boundaries automatically. When strategy is set at the highest organisational level, this cascades down automatically into the objective setting process, ensuring organisational alignment. Performance management tools linked to in-depth data about learner performance ensure that teaching staff are rewarded fairly. Business intelligence is available to provide deep insights into operations to ensure that resources are being used to maximum effect.

Bringing it All Together

The key difference between a transformed schooling system and any of the other phases is the degree to which the entire system is architected around the student.

Learner at the Centre

The Transformed schooling system will integrate a spectrum of services and processes, many which would have been in silos before the transformation process, around the student. The result of this is that the student experiences a range of highly individualised services, delivered by a high performance, highly connected, lean, efficient and cost effective schooling system.

Getting to Transformed schooling is a long journey. In most countries there will be significant inertia from legacy systems. Paradoxically, one of the drivers for transformation is diminishing budgets. In the United States, for example, there is a strong surge towards anytime anywhere, personalised learning for all – delivered from outside the formal schooling system, driven by collapsing schooling budgets and widespread dissatisfaction with the current system.

Ultimately, the point of investing in transforming a schooling system is to get an order-of-magnitude improvement in return on education budget investment, and this cannot be done in isolation. The whole enterprise of transforming schooling needs to be organised within the framework of a Schooling Enterprise Architecture, as described in detail in Schooling at the Speed of Thought.

Schooling Enterprise Architecture

Focusing on the “IT Platform Architecture”, the Transformed phase has 5 interconnected layers:

Tranformed phase - five layer Schooling Enterprise Technology Architecture

And finally, across each layer are the following key technology levers:

Schooling Enterprise Technical Concept Architecture - Transformation Phase

This is the last in this series of articles on the phases through which schooling systems evolve, but watch this space for related articles. All comments, feedback, questions and suggestions for articles will be very welcomed.

Thanks to Matthew Woodruff and Chris Poole from lookred for contributions to this article.

Transforming Schooling in Old Buildings – “New Wine in Old Bottles”

A question that I get asked constantly is “how do we implement change in ordinary ‘factory schooling’ buildings”? Last week I was fortunate enough to be able to visit the Cornwallis Academy in Kent in the UK where they are part way through transforming out of the factory schooling model into something much more effective.

Whilst, clearly, there are significant differences between schooling systems in the UK and in other parts of the world, there are many lessons from Cornwallis that are applicable in most countries.

Cornwallis Academy is a large mixed secondary school with 1600 students and is part of a consortium of schools called Future Schools Trust, headed by Chris Gerry.

Results in Cornwallis have improved 16% since 2008 – but the ambitions of Chris, David Simons (Cornwallis’ Principal) and the staff go way beyond getting good academic qualifications. The aim of Cornwallis Academy is for their students to grow up to be happy, fulfilled citizens who can support themselves and contribute to society.

The main drivers for change at Cornwallis were:

  • Developing a work model for students and staff that is representative of the world outside the school
  • Building a team model to share good teaching practice rather than the traditional model of the ‘lonely ‘artisan’ teacher’ 
  • Developing a wider skill set such as social and 21st century skills that are relevant in modern world

These were all built around a relationship driven culture where pupils are part of the learning experience – not just recipients with the teachers in total command of the learning.

‘Attainment’ (i.e. learning performance) and ‘Wellbeing’ are the two main agendas that are used to ensure that students are successful.

  • The ‘Attainment’ agenda aims for 100% pass rate in examinations
  • The ‘Wellbeing’ agenda focuses on emotional intelligence and risk reduction, and recognises that social development helps drive academic success 

An economic model underpins management decisions across the Future Schools Trust consortium. In other words, managing costs and maximising effectiveness of spend are the key management drivers. Through the lense of economics, management at Cornwallis pull three main levers simultaneously:


A key aim is to develop more creative teachers through a more modern work environment that breaks the link with traditional approaches and attitudes.

Teachers are required to work in small groups and have choices about how they manage their work.

The school’s management can provide detailed guidance to teachers within this environment if they need to.

They are designing systems that feedback information on performance to both pupils and teachers, and compare performance with averages. Exposing the data in an open way provides “nudges” to performance. There is a focus on improving lesson quality and continuously collecting data on how well pupils are learning.

The school runs a 6 weekly reporting schedule that includes reporting on the development of “soft skills”.  Teaching teams are continuously collecting and reporting lesson data.


Much work has been done to remodel learning spaces within existing buildings and within constrained budgets. Much of this has involved knocking down walls to create bigger spaces and painting – low-budget activities. The aims were to:

  • Impact mood positively
  • Foster group work
  • Provide more space than conventional classrooms
  • Allow some choice of work space
  • Embed technology

The Future Schools Trust has pioneered a new kind of learning space called the “Learning Plaza” – a large space created from knocking down walls between traditional classrooms, or using an existing large space such as an assembly hall.


This space was once four separate classrooms. Knocking down walls forces a transformation at relatively low cost.

According to Gerald Haigh,  a UK Education Journalist, “if we believe that transformation involves providing children with a wide range of learning opportunities, among which sitting still and listening to the teacher is one of the least important, then the concept of the ‘Learning Plaza’ immediately looks like an entirely logical solution.

There, children can consult more than one teacher. Teachers can consult each other. Children can work in groups—of any size from two to ninety—or independently, and with their technology to hand.

The figures show that the children who use the Learning Plazas are less likely to be absent from school, and much less likely to be excluded for misbehaviour”.

The Learning Plaza concept – large open spaces, and lots of technology, give staff and students room for creativity and collaboration

A key Change Management principle is “Test Bed Areas”, and through trialling Learning Plazas concept they found that it is 20% cheaper to build schools based on the plaza concept – for a start, there is less brick and mortar going into a new-build school using this approach.


At Cornwallis, they are not afraid to take the best ideas from the world of business, so they make great use of “Business Intelligence” – BI. This allows them to operate a model driven by measurement.  

Working closely with Microsoft partner lookred, they pioneered the use of CRM (SRM) and predictive analytics to manage student relationships.     

22 different risk areas are identified, and each student has an individual risk profile relating to likely success both at school and beyond. This enables teaching staff to make data-driven interventions, and manage risk. The system is ‘intelligent’ – over time it ‘learns’ which approaches have been most successful. The interventions are informed by the consortium’s work with Yale University on ‘life space’ which looks at how children make life choices and how they might influence these.

Underpinning this, Management Information Systems provide real-time information on how the school is performing.

Technology is used extensively in teaching and learning, with most of the curriculum online now and the intent to have it all online by the start of the 2011-2012 school year. Students and staff have ubiquitous access to devices, and Cornwallis was one of the first schools in the UK to make extensive use of Tablet PCs. The school also runs a “Connected Learning Community” through a Learning Gateway (SharePoint) portal, which provides all stakeholders a unified platform for communication and collaboration.

Students and staff make extensive use of technology, including a Learning Gateway portal

This smart use of technology leads to potential savings across a range of public sector services including welfare, health and law enforcement.

Looking to the Future


“Breaking the mould” – where there once were classrooms, there’s now a well used informal learning space, complete with coffee shop

Cornwallis will be moving into a new building in September 2011, with all the advantages of having first trialled new approaches successfully.

In recognition of the lessons that can be learned from the Cornwallis experience, this summer they will host 180 leaders from China who will be there to learn how to bring about transformational change at scale.

Key Lessons from Cornwallis

  1. Economics underpins everything. Financial autonomy is essential.
  2. Leadership training is crucial. You can have all the physical assets you like, but without clear goals and solid management nothing will happen.
  3. Create momentum, and advance on all three fronts – people, space and technology – aggressively and in parallel.
  4. Invest in Test Bed Areas – don’t implement wide scale reform without first trialling it. Start with transforming the model for a single year group.
  5. Focus on the end-user experience. It’s all about building engaging learning experiences around the student, not forcing students to fit the factory model.  


The result of the new approaches at Cornwallis is that learning has speeded up, to the point that the “key stages” – the time taken to progress from one segment of the UK National Curriculum to the next – can be accelerated. The staff at Cornwallis believe that their students could complete Key Stage 3 in 2 years instead of 3; external examinations (GCSE) in 1 year instead of 2; and even university courses in Year 13.  

Whilst I’m totally inspired by what I saw at Cornwallis, I think there is one crucial  piece missing from the jigsaw puzzle – a full shift from a time-based to a performance-based model. This approach is brilliantly articulated by Richard DeLorenzo from the Reinventing Schools Coalition in his book “Delivering on the Promise, and underpins the approach taken by Kunskapsskolan schools. To do this at scale will require “dynamic timetabling”, something that a number of organisations are keen to develop.

Saying that, Cornwallis offer a solid, practical and well thought through model for anyone wishing to make transformational change within hard resource and environmental constraints. What’s more, they generously share their “secret sauce” for the benefit of the wider community.

A Principal for whom I once worked told me that the best way to eat an elephant is “one chunk at a time”. Cornwallis has shown that it’s better to eat 3 chunks  – people, spaces and technology – simultaneously.

Thanks to Chris Gerry; David Simons; Claire Thompson; the staff and students at Cornwallis; Chris Poole and Matthew Woodruff of lookred; Andrew Wild of Manchester City Council; and to my Russian and CEE colleagues, Igor Balandin; Anton Shulzhenko; Alexander Pavlov and Teo Milev, who prompted the visit.

SeeChange Plans

Strategic plans to improve schools are crucial, however the vast amount of data can make this process time consuming and ineffective. In the US, Mariner’s SeeChange™ Plans allows teachers and managers to turn data into insights to drive school improvement.

Teachers and administrators can easily access the relevant data, ask the relevant questions and measure outcomes. SeeChange™ Plans asists schools in Strategic planning and School Improvement Planning, establishing a data driven environment. The tool is “designed specifically for teachers and mangers to align district strategic goals with individual school improvement plans and provide a clear path to improving district effectiveness and accountability.”

SeeChange is built on Microsoft SQL and uses familiar tools such as SharePoint and Excel.

Mariner is currently organizing a webinar on March 17, 2011 @ 1pm eastern time – Click here to register.  Mariner’s SeeChange Community module, enables all of the school district stakeholders to communicate and collaborate to improve student achievement. Through a website, integrated into the district’s website,  superintendents can communicate their own district’s goals. 

View the video for more details.

Visit Mariner’s website, www.mariner-usa.com/SeeChange to learn about the entire SeeChange Performance Management System including archives of previous webinars on SeeChange Instruction, the principal and teacher portal and SeeChange Data Foundation, the technology behind the tool suite.

Thanks to Sally Phillips

School Improvement Solution from Tribal

It can take a lot of work for an individual school to build development plans, but a new solution from Tribal could help get better results with less time and effort. “Inspirational Schools Partnership™” (ISP) is part software toolset and part collaborative network.

David Moran, from Tribal explains – “Quantifying the culture of an organisation to enable transformation is difficult for schools. The key to solving this problem is gathering and understanding the right qualitative and quantitative data. With ISP, school leaders get reports from qualitative review; quantitative analysis of achievement; and attainment estimates based on tried and tested models. This can then be used to identify where a school’s strengths and areas for development are.

Two key software components are:

ISP Intelligence™ used by staff to create a clear picture of individuals and groups of students.

ISP Navigator™ provides a collaborative environment for developing knowledge of where the school is now and where they aspire to get to.

Underpinnng the solution is Silverlight, Pivot and SQL.

ISP is currently being piloted the UK with a launch anticipated at the end of this summer, and with plans to take it to other countries soon after. 

For more information click here.

Thanks to David Moran and Larry Nelson