Case study: IT Lead at a SEN Multi-Academy Trust

Maddie Kilminster - 14 July, 2021

Category : Blog

Case study: IT Lead at a SEN Multi-Academy Trust

In our recent blog, we took a behind-the-scenes look at the role of the School Data Manager – a hugely important role that contributes to key decision making in schools. It’s also a position that looks quite different from school to school, depending on its size, phase and priorities. This week, we spoke to Tom Kedie,

In our recent blog, we took a behind-the-scenes look at the role of the School Data Manager – a hugely important role that contributes to key decision making in schools. It’s also a position that looks quite different from school to school, depending on its size, phase and priorities.

This week, we spoke to Tom Kedie, IT Lead at The Open Thinking Partnership, to find out about the particular challenges and responsibilities involved in his role. Read his interview with Arbor’s Senior Partnership Manager, Daniel, below.

The Open Thinking Partnership is a Multi-Academy Trust serving three special schools (Dorothy Goodman School, Cleveland House, The Fusion Academy) in Leicestershire. The trust’s Executive Headteacher, Janet Thompson, was a member of the group behind The Rochford Review, a pioneering 2016 report that made recommendations to the Government about assessment for SEN students at primary level.

What’s the remit of your role as IT Lead?

Because we’re a relatively small trust, my role tends to be a “Jack of all trades”. A typical day sees me doing everything from replacing a printer cartridge, to resetting passwords, to working on our five-year IT strategy. I do have a part-time helper and the plan as we scale is for them to handle more of the administrative tasks in order to free me up to focus solely on strategic planning.

What are the particular challenges you face in your role?

As a SEN trust, we find that the goals of standardisation that many trusts are pursuing, don’t always apply to us. For some trusts, for example, it might make sense to roll out a standard policy or IT system across the trust (such as everyone to use Chromebooks) but for us, it’s unlikely that one decision will accommodate the unique and varied set of requirements our students have. So we usually have to tailor plans and be a lot more flexible.

We had an original plan to replace Microsoft Office with Google platforms across the board, but we have to keep the flexibility of sometimes using a hybrid. For example, most of our educational work is done on Google, with our more administrational work done on Office.

What is your top priority?

I see the purpose of my role as finding ways of making staff lives as straightforward and efficient as possible through technology. I look at ways staff are working and perhaps what they’re struggling with, and reflect on better solutions. For example, when I joined, the school office was using a physical diary for events, which I knew immediately we could improve by moving online.

One of the next things we’re launching is a new Intranet using Google Sites, which will bring everything that staff have to access day to day together into one place.

Why is working online or on the cloud important for your trust?

Cloud-based systems give us the flexibility to allow staff access to everything they need no matter where they’re working from. Being online also means we save staff needless, time-consuming admin such as updating hard copy forms and spreadsheets, because everything is kept up-to-date automatically in systems like Arbor. 

One of the main reasons we moved to Arbor was so staff could access school information without having to be physically at school. We had brought forward our Arbor implementation date to Easter 2020 which was timely just as the pandemic hit, and meant that staff could perform all their essential daily tasks (like processing payments and managing attendance) at home right away. I don’t know how this would have been possible with our previous MIS (Management Information System), which was only accessible via the school servers.

We’re also going to look into Arbor’s Single Sign On functionality which will allow staff to log into Arbor and all our Google or Microsoft apps with the same username and password, saving lots of time. 

How has Arbor transformed the way your trust works?

Moving to Arbor has made a huge difference to how we operate. It has not only given us more flexible and remote ways of accessing information, it’s helped us save money by getting rid of all the systems we used to use for things which you can do in Arbor.

This isn’t a hard and fast rule; some specialist systems are worth keeping alongside your MIS. But if you’re paying a lot for multiple systems to fill the gaps that your MIS can’t fill, you should question the value for money you’re getting.

The next thing we’re considering using in Arbor is the Interventions module which will allow us to create and cost specific provisions for their SEN students much more easily.

What are the three biggest wins of moving to Arbor?

1. Keeping track of staff training 

The nature of our work means our staff have to complete a high number of specialist qualifications as part of their roles. In our previous system it was near impossible to get a record of which staff had completed which training, and when they had to complete it by. Now, using Arbor means we can set up automatic checks which make it much easier to keep track of training for all staff. We’re also making use of Live Feeds to take reports out of Arbor into Google Sheets, and use conditional formatting to show us when training is due in less than three months. 

2. Allowing staff to be self-sufficient

Because information is much more easily accessible in Arbor, staff across the trust, including Teachers and Middle Leaders, do not have to rely on the school office when they have to get hold of contact information or other key student data. This speeds things up whenever they have to make a quick phone call to a parent, for example. Parents can update their own information via Arbor’s Parent Portal, such as when they move to a new address, and all the school office need to do is approve it, which saves them lots of time.

3. Supporting our growth plans

Arbor saves huge amounts of staff time on admin, which all adds up and frees them up to focus on more valuable tasks. The lasting impact of staff having access to Arbor remotely will also be that we can work towards having fewer site-dependent roles, and more staff who can perform tasks for the whole trust, such as routine data entry or census. 

“Arbor listen, adapt and help so our school management information system is efficient and effective. We are only at the start of what we can do with Arbor and already our administration has improved considerably. It is so easy to input, access or analyse data, send information or messages to parents or staff. The visual appearance of information is clear with easy to set permissions so that security is strong.

The reporting function is very flexible, we are easily able to customise our own reports. The support and training available is very high quality, with many easy-to-follow help guides supplemented by highly effective personalised online training.”

– Janet Thompson, Headteacher, Dorothy Goodman School

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Tom Kedie comes from Ekte, a leading provider of Managed IT Services and an Arbor Partner. To find out more about Ekte and how they could help your school or MAT, click here.

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