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Moving the school to Office 365 - 7 things that could catch you unaware

For any school looking to migrate to the cloud, planning is essential. Unfortunately, moving to the cloud can open a maelstrom of broken links and incompatibilities across a wide array of school services. Some of which you can prepare for and others you can’t.  So, a first step in a school’s planning is to document all of the current systems, individual services and any bespoke, one-off links that might exist, for example in your Management Information System (MIS).

Moving to the cloud can bring enormous benefits for schools in productivity, collaboration and student progress, but it is not a project solely for the ICT team.  It affects everyone in the school and it is critical that the right expectations are set and that all staff are kept up to date throughout the journey.

Our work with O365 in schools, in both the independent and state sectors, has meant that we’re uniquely placed to spot problems before they arise. Here’s six of the common things that schools need to prepare for: 

Windows updates are essential

Many of the features in Office 365 require at least Windows 7, or Windows 10 if you are looking to get the highest number of features. However, if it’s stability you are looking for, Windows 7 remains the safer bet. Windows 10 can be visually appealing but Microsoft are still ironing out some major bugs with logins, password changes and permissions. So, if you do decide to select Windows 10, make sure you have at least the ‘Anniversary update’, otherwise you will be fixing many issues that will then have to be resolved in an update.


This sounds trivial and should, of course, always be tested first. But, in a busy school environment, systems often need to be enabled urgently and can then be affected by associated systems. Office 365 uses many online URL’s and countless ports, so,  good advice is to ensure your filtering solution is ready for use with cloud platforms and look for presets that enable the functionality of O365 or Google Apps. Smoothwall is an education favourite and they have recently enabled a preset for Microsoft Office 365, enabling full functionality across the suite. It’s also best to encourage staff to use the O365 web apps whenever possible, as they will always be up to date and are the most accessible from any device or location.


Lots of schools opt for Microsoft Office in the belief that the desktop clients for Office 2016 are familiar to staff. Although there is some truth in this, the changes over the past few years to Microsoft’s interface have been so dramatic, most staff will now feel new to the system whether it be online, or on the desktop. It’s worth knowing that the web based versions are typically styled to the classic Office interface that staff are most familiar with. Plus, they have the added benefit that they can easily access the portal from any computer or device. When in school, the new Office 2016 desktop versions can be quite daunting for staff and training is therefore critical to ensure they understand how to access the school shares, printing, applications, etc.


OneDrive is very appealing to schools. The concept of a shared OneDrive folder to replace the network shares and individual OneDrive accounts for all pupils sounds very promising. But, Microsoft has not quite reached the user simplicity in OneDrive that it has achieved with the personal desktop experience. OneDrive works great when you are always on the same computer and not so well when you are moving between computers e.g where pupils might want to use it. This is because OneDrive saves elements of your OneDrive login locally to the computer, which results in reconfiguring OneDrive each time you log into a new computer. When working with OneDrive for pupils it’s therefore best to ensure they utilise the web based OneDrive app, whereas staff with individual devices or BYOD should be encouraged to configure their devices individually.


Does your school conform to a standard email signature? Have you deployed this signature to all staff? This is not available within the standard feature set that comes with the web based Outlook for Office 365. A school can only set relatively basic controls and deploy them to desktop versions of Outlook. For many schools, a quick email is normally enough, asking everyone to copy and paste the signature into their own settings. However, for larger schools it is possible to deploy a custom signature through injection code, our advice would be to approach a software development team for further information on this.


Office 365 has come a long way in the world of mobile apps. For a long while it was famously unavailable on the most popular devices such as the iPad and iPhone. But all of that has now changed. Microsoft has worked hard to bring the Microsoft Office suite to touch screens, ensuring maximum functionality and usability, whilst also maintaining the Office feel that so many schools desire. With the license provided to schools, all users get the suite as a free download, both as both desktop and mobile apps, providing equal opportunities for everyone, regardless of their ability to pay.


The leading request in most schools is for more training. Staff want to see training that focuses more upon learning outcomes and less upon the technologies used. Good advice is to try to think of the technology as a complement to the learning journey, it provides additional tools to get the job done. When introducing new tools, aim to encourage staff to develop projects and create real world outputs. A great way to get to grips with editing video would be to develop a lesson that requires video editing to reach the next stage. Perhaps ask your pupils to make a video about something they love. We have seen videos all about cooking, cats, football, roller skating and more. Introduce a structured training programme that sets a goal each week and revisits it the next. For more information and your chance to introduce tailored Digital Learning, click here.