Case Study: City of London School for Girls (SharePoint Server 2010)
Published: June 28, 2011
This technical case study describes how the City of London School for Girls implemented Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 including integrating with the school’s MIS system.
Making life easier for teachers, students, and parents was originally not the stated requirement for the City of London School for Girls portal technology. However, with the selection of SharePoint Server 2010 and some key design decisions and development work, the school’s IT team accomplished this feat.
In this article
The following design architecture illustrates the solution that is described in this article:
About the City of London School for Girls portal
The City of London School for Girls is a prestigious, independent day school situated in the heart of London’s financial district. Its impeccable reputation is based on consistently high results and high rankings. Five years ago the school developed an intranet portal to help with information management and sharing. Over the years, the home-grown portal was built upon in an ad-hoc manner and, while adequate to support user requirements, it was difficult to manage and unsustainable in the long term.
In the summer of 2010, the Director of IT, David Libby, and the former Data Systems Manager, Matthew Brumpton, began to implement a strategic plan to integrate the school’s data systems using SharePoint Server 2010. The requirements included exposing data and functionality from the education-specific MIS system through SharePoint sites ways that made it simple for students, staff, and parents to interact.
As a result of this work, all operations are now managed through the portal, including timetable management of classes, students, and rooms. Classroom sites are automatically created based on each class in the MIS system and permissions to these sites are automatically granted for the appropriate staff and students. Rooms and resources for other activities can be booked online.
Curriculum reports are linked to the timetables and managed entirely online, significantly reducing the amount of manual work required by the staff. Each student receives a personalized view of their schedule and reports and can interact with each of their class sites to access lesson content and assessments.
Students interact online with their peers to discuss class materials and submit homework and coursework. Parents are also able to see class materials and check on their child’s progress. Additionally, students can view and sign-up for a broad range of clubs and events on the extra-curricular activities site. Parents benefit from the online fees payment system, catering information, and online publishing of exam results.
Features like the News section allow important updates to be communicated throughout the school quickly. The portal has also improved communications with parents and allowed the school to meet important legal governance around communications.
New parents considering the school are given guest access to the portal so they can see the level of teaching and support the students receive, and how technology is used to serve the school community.
Partnership with cScape
The project began with a consultation with cScape’s Ben Robb, SharePoint MVP. The team reviewed the architecture and plan for deployment. cScape was hired to carry out many of the development tasks and also helped the school to develop the processes, infrastructure, and testing environment that allows for future growth, optimization, and development.
Integration with the MIS system
The City of London Girls School uses Engage, by Double First, to manage the school’s data and information. Engage uses a single SQL database and gives support for integration with SharePoint Products and Technologies. The following diagram illustrates the sites that are connected to the MIS system.
Classroom sites in SharePoint are automatically created by a scheduled process and each subject owner or group administers their own sites, a task that would be impossible to do centrally. The sites are created according to the timetable system of Engage.
The following is a curriculum site for the A Level Economics blog which is used extensively to discuss and share resources for this subject.
Room assignments are also booked using Engage and automatically represented in SharePoint by a custom calendar, where additional timeslots can be reserved by a staff member.
Because the school is situated on a very small site with space at a premium, it was essential to create a Room Booking System that pulled out the room bookings made during timetabling process (by Engage) and then allowed staff to book available rooms throughout the year. Permissions are set so that only the Room Booking Administrator can delete timetabled lessons and bookings made by other members of staff. The majority of staff can only delete or edit their own bookings. The system was created giving each room its own calendar (shown below). The IT team added a Book Room button. Every time a room is booked, validation takes place to ensure that there are no conflicts. If a conflict occurs, a link is provided to the calendar item.
The Reports site is integrated with Engage to both read data from the MIS system and save data to the MIS system. The reporting system is discussed in greater detail later in this article.
Authentication and zones
The City of London School for Girls environment includes roughly 2400 users: 700 students, 100 staff members, and 1600 contacts (including parents). These accounts are all managed in Active Directory. Kerberos authentication is used as a requirement for secure interaction with the MIS system.
A login page prompts parents to enter their account credentials and also provides a link for students and staff that redirects to the appropriate URLs. The following diagram illustrates the mapping of URLs to zones for users.
The SharePoint environment is hosted on three servers and the school makes use of virtualization to maximize these resources. Virtual servers are hosted in VMWare vSphere to provide High Availability (HA) and distributed resource scheduling. Each of the physical servers (Dell PowerEdge R710) meets the following specifications:
2 x Quad core Intel Processor
32 GB RAM
12 Network Interface Cards (NICs)
2 x 72 GB SAS HDD Mirrored for ESX 4.1
Storage is provided by EqualLogic SAN with 4TB of disk space.
The following diagram illustrates the server farm environment.
Backup and recovery
The IT team at the City for London School for Girls uses a combination of backup and recovery tools:
The SharePoint Server 2010 farms are backed up using Symantec Backup Exec 2010 with the Backup Exec Agent for Microsoft SharePoint.
SQL databases are backed up to tapes using Symantec Backup Exec 2010 with the Backup Exec Agent for Microsoft SQL Server.
Online databases are backed up using Asigra Cloud Backup.
For business continuity, all databases are replicated on a disaster recovery site in a separate data center.
Portal features and sites
The rest of this article showcases some of the features and sites of the City for London School for Girls portal.
News articles are submitted by the school community to the Marketing Officer, who approves and publishes them. Because this system integrates with the school’s other systems, the same form is used to add news articles to the digital signage screens.
The curriculum reports system matches the workflow of the school with subject teachers providing important data and then tutors signing off on the final reports for each student.
A report is automatically generated for any timetabled lesson. A flagging system is incorporated which shows when reports have not been started, when they are in progress, and when they are complete.
When a subject teacher selects a report, the reports page lists the students in that particular class and presents data on a student-by-student basis. When a report is marked as complete by the subject teacher, it then becomes available to the tutor. The tutor is responsible for as many as 25 students and each student can have 15 reports. All reports are proofed and corrected before the tutor comments are entered.
With the volume of reports, it was important to design the system with the fewest number of clicks. A color coding system flags different stages across the lifecycle of a report. After approval by the tutor, reports are locked and cannot be edited by the subject teacher.
The following diagram shows a an individual student report. Notice that some reports show a status of green or red.
Finally, the Head of Year accesses reports for the tutor groups of a particular year. The Head of Year is responsible for final approval. The Reports Printing page allows reports and examination results to be printed. It is also used by staff as an archive.
Reports are also published to parents. A link is given to each student’s report on their profile page. This system has dramatically reduced the administration and cost of providing parents with school reports. The following screen shot shows the parent view of a reports page for a student whose name has been removed.
Extra-curricular activities are an extremely important part of the overall education of the students. Monitoring extra-curricular activities in a school can be a difficult task considering the dynamic nature of such activities. This site:
Lists all of the available extra-curricular activities.
Provides a method for students to enroll in an activity or club.
Provides parents a view of the extra-curricular activities their student is participating in.
Reports on the activities taking place, the number of students involved, and the students participating in each activity.
The Exams site gives information about external exams for staff, students, and parents. This is administered by the Assistant Examinations Officer.
Each member of the staff and all of the students can view their own timetable of classes and activities. In addition, staff can search for any timetable when trying to locate students or other members of staff.The school has a two-week timetable. Week A or Week B is always displayed in the banner of each page.
Virtual learning environment
The school is using the SharePoint Learning Kit to provide a virtual learning environment. Courses are created to provide lesson content and assessment. The school is interested in continuing to develop this offering.