Data, schools and Covid-19
30 Sept 2020 / Pete Atherton
It would be a spectacular understatement to say that since the unwelcome arrival of Covid-19, school life has been complicated.
The impact on the day-to-day running of the school and the logistics of teaching and learning, on the physical and mental health of pupils and staff, the awarding of exam results and plenty more besides. This blog post cannot unpack all of the above. Instead, I will focus on how important it is that some things are dependable when all else is in a state of flux. How important is effective and efficient dataflow in helping to hold it all together?
The right blend or blended learning?
Teaching and support staff have had to adapt to blended learning and have sometimes been working from home. In the event of a local lockdown or pupils or staff having to self-isolate, education does not and cannot stop. Remote learning works alongside face-to-face, socially distant learning. While this sounds potentially progressive, the reality at ground level has frequently exposed inequalities in connectivity and inconsistencies in school systems. When everything around you seems to be malfunctioning, reliable information is crucial.
This has also accelerated the need for a robust, reliable and efficient management information system (MIS) to secure effective data flow within the school, or collection of schools in the case of a MAT. Some schools have moved their MIS to the Cloud and this has largely been a positive step. However, just because an MIS is in the Cloud, it doesn’t necessarily follow that everything will work in a slick, joined up fashion. Excuse the pun, but many schools are still far from Cloud 9.
Stuck in the data mud?
It is not uncommon for schools in UK to have the same MIS for decades. One of the reasons for this is the complicated and problematical procurement process. Procurement is, put more simply, how you manage to get your products in a way that is fair, honest, cost-effective, transparent and legal. Procurement is a process that provides answers to crucial questions like these:
- How do you find the right supplier?
- Once you’ve done that, how can you ensure that you are covered from all angles?
- How is the new system going to work?
- What happens if it goes wrong?
- What will the technical support look like?
- How much ongoing training will the staff need?
- How does a school ensure that their data management enables the school or MAT to be compliant in terms of the DfE and GDPR?
- How can MIS be legally watertight to avoid potential litigation arising from data breaches or leaks?
To many schools and MATs, the procurement process is something of an inhibitor. Some schools, though, have taken the plunge. One of these is Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School, who had been using Advanced CMIS for ten years. This school had endured the same 90s/0ies style MIS for so long, it was holding them back. This led to an overall lack of certainty about how to move forward.
The cure to a malaise like this does not come easily but Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School had a plan.
Procurement case study: Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School
This is how Matt Dovey, their Network Manager successfully navigated the procurement process and came out the other side with a positive outcome.
Step one: consider your options.
The school considered a variety of potential suppliers: Progresso, SIMS, Bromcom and Arbor. These were eventually whittled down to only one supplier - Bromcom. The remaining systems all lacked crucial features. SIMS was difficult to access remotely and the school doubted that the online support would be good enough.
Their existing supplier – Progresso - is now called Cloud School. They felt that its features were not quite as complete as Bromcom’s and it still relied on third party solutions that are buried behind a raft of menus. Bromcom had clearly come a long, long way from the old days on portable electronic registers.
From an aesthetic and end user perspective, they didn’t like the bland interface and lack of flexibility on SIMS. Arbor was initially a promising option, as it was designed for the cloud and felt fresh. It sounded promising as it was built specifically for the cloud and was approaching things from a fresh angle. When they scratched the surface, however, they found that Arbor’s backend couldn’t quite cope with the everyday running of every aspect of a school with 1200 children.
Step two: Ask the internet.
Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School understood the importance of an up to date cloud-based MIS. To research the market, they went on the Edugeek forums and discovered that SIMS were a few years away from launching a cloud version of their MIS. Though the Headteacher at the school had come from a SIMS school, they were ready to embrace a crucial change.
Step three: listen to your staff
If you’re like me, you’ll hate it when tech products’ idea of technical support is a link to a load of information.
The staff at Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School were impressed with how Bromcom’s interface - unlike any of the other MIS that they had considered - succeeded in walking you through the whole process. Instead of palming you off, the system held your hand.
Step four: make a decision and stick with it
Let us pause for a moment here. Have you ever sat through several MIS presentations? I have. The room can sometimes resemble something like the image to your left. I’m the guy with his palms on his cheeks, a little like Munch’s The Scream.
At Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School, a strange thing started to happen when Bromcom did their presentation. There was a sense of excitement about what could be achieved in no more than three clicks. This was mixed with a sense of shame that the school hadn’t considered switching MIS earlier.
There were several other things that made Bromcom stand out to Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School. Bromcom’s sales team knew the rationale behind any updates to the system. This convinced Matt Dovey, the school’s Network Manager and the senior leadership team that Bromcom not only cared about the customer but also about the evolution of the product itself. Matt and the senior staff were also impressed with how Bromcom were easy to contact in order to provide feedback, which they always took on board.
In the next blog post, I will tell you how a school uses MIS to help them through the Covid crisis.