What is Microsoft School Data Sync (SDS)?
SDS is a free Microsoft service which reads data from your school management information system (MIS or SIS) and syncs that data with Microsoft 365. This sync can be scheduled to ensure that your Microsoft 365 data is always up to date.
SDS is most commonly used to automate the process of creating and populating classes in Microsoft Teams, but there are also other uses which may be overlooked:
- Create user accounts for staff and students: Create Microsoft 365 accounts for staff and students and drop them into security groups.
- Sync other user data: such as qualifications, grades, email addresses, parent and guardian data, and date of birth for use within Microsoft 365.
- Create OneNote notebooks: Automatically create OneNote Class Notebooks within Teams. When enabled, each Class Notebook will have sections created and permissions set based on SDS class data.
- Email, OneDrive and SharePoint: SDS creates Office 365 Groups for online messaging, file sharing, and collaboration.
- Intune for Education: SDS creates security groups for device policy and mobile device management. SDS can also provide automated bulk licensing of Intune for Education for all students and teachers synced.
- 3rd Party Apps: SDS integrates with numerous apps within the Microsoft Store and enables Single Sign-On (SSO) app integration. Supported apps include Edmondo, Teacher Dashboard, Moodle, and Nearpod.
At the time of writing, if you fill in this application form, you can receive free one-to-one support for SDS for a limited period.
How do I access Microsoft School Data Sync?
If your school is already signed up to Microsoft 365 for Education, you’ve already got access. Just visit https://sds.microsoft.com to get going. You can also access the SDS admin page by visiting your Microsoft 365 admin portal where you will find an SDS link in the navigation menu.
How does my MIS/SIS Sync with SDS?
The sync works in one of three ways:
- MIS/SIS API Support: Some MIS systems have direct integration with SDS.
- CSV Create: You can manually create, or use a feature built into your MIS, to generate CSV files with the required data and schedule the files to automatically upload to SDS using a service or PowerShell.
Why use SDS?
There are a few routes you can take to achieve the above bullet points, but I strongly recommend using Microsoft School Data Sync (SDS) for the following reasons:
- There’s a support team at Microsoft dedicated to making sure School Data Sync works for your school — and they’re really good.
- School Data Sync handles the academic year roll over for you.
- An increasing number of school management information systems (such as PowerSchool and Schoolbase) are starting to build SDS support into their services to allow for easy integration.
- New features being added regularly, such as parent guardian data integration for sharing homework assignments and providing access to the student’s OneDrive documents.
- SDS supports for multiple schools synchronising to a single tenant.
- SDS, unlike some alternative solutions, will never delete data. When you remove a student from a class you don’t want to also risk removing their class OneNote notebook data as well, for example.
There are a few downsides (or quirks in some cases) to School Data Sync which are possible to overcome, but they are things you should be aware of:
- If you need to generate the CSV files to sync data from your MIS manually, the process can be extremely fiddley and time consuming. Make sure you have a good knowledge of SQL before going down this route.
- Despite Microsoft support and the official documentation stating otherwise, we have experienced problems when teachers do perfectly reasonable things such as changing the name of a class or adding and removing pupils in Teams. I don’t think his is by design.
- The errors messages when something does go wrong with SDS are improving but still not detailed enough to prevent hours being spent trawling through CSV files with thousands of entries.
What data does SDS sync?
The SDS administrator has fully control over the type of data sent to Microsoft, but at the most basic level you are required to send a school identifier, staff and student names and ID to identify them in your MIS system.
You can see the minimal data required for SDS to work highlighted in green in the images below, and you can take a look at some CSV example files here.
Which MIS systems does SDS support?
The list of supported MIS systems seems to grow every week, and while it does currently seem quite US-centric, more and more developers and building support into their system. At time of writing it appears that most of the big UK MIS providers, including SIMS, Schoolbase and iSAMS, now support SDS. For a full list of supported SIS/MIS systems, look here.
SDS Settings & Reports
SDS also provides a range of options to assist in managing your data:
- Section Usage Report: Generates a report to view all the classes sections (or in Microsoft speak, sections) in your tenant. The report will also indicate if the section contains any files and prevent the accidental deletion of teaching resources and assignments.
- Email Notifications: Opt in to receive sync status updates on a daily or weekly basis — good for spotting errors or sync problems.
- Student Personal Data Protection: These options allow schools to implement access controls and other protections for student personal data using Microsoft’s School Data Sync in Office 365 and Azure Active Directory.
- Security Group Sync: Allow SDS to create and manage a number of security groups based on the synced information.
Why use SDS over third-party or manual user setup?
SDS isn’t the only way to achieve the above, but in my experience, it is by far the easiest, best supported, and most importantly, cheapest option. I have dabbled with creating manual code, and if you’re looking for something a bit more bespoke, I can recommend SalamanderSoft, but
Further Useful Resources
- Microsoft Education Support – do contact them, they’re extremely helpful and proactive. I’ve had members from their SDS support team remote in to help me configure SQL exports and PowerShell commands.
- Microsoft SDS Website – the main SDS website which contains a plethora of useful documentation and guides to help you set up SDS.
- SDS Knowledgebase – a useful resource of technical information.
- Video demonstration of SDS
- SDS Student Data Protection page.
Was this useful?
If you found this useful, please let me know in the comments. Similarly, if there is anything that I’ve missed or got incorrect, please let me know so I can update the page.
Good luck setting up School Data Sync!