How we’ve used a cloud-based MIS to manage our schools during Covid-19 – Vicky Harrison, COO at HCAT

blank Vicky Harrison - 12 May, 2020

Category : Blog

How we’ve used a cloud-based MIS to manage our schools during Covid-19 – Vicky Harrison, COO at HCAT

Arbor’s CEO James Weatherill caught up with Vicky Harrison, COO at Hoyland Common Academy Trust (HCAT), about how she’s adapted to change over the last few weeks  Why did you decide to move to Arbor? Last year we had significant growth, acquiring a large secondary school with over 2000 pupils and two more large primary

Arbor’s CEO James Weatherill caught up with Vicky Harrison, COO at Hoyland Common Academy Trust (HCAT), about how she’s adapted to change over the last few weeks 

Why did you decide to move to Arbor?

Last year we had significant growth, acquiring a large secondary school with over 2000 pupils and two more large primary schools, as well as working with a school in Barnsley as an associate MAT member. We were previously using Capita SIMS but it wasn’t working for us as an expanding trust, so that was the main reason we decided to move to Arbor in February.

What have the biggest challenges been during Covid-19? How has Arbor helped? 

In general, it’s not been about challenges, it’s been about successes. There were a lot of unknowns, so we had to react to the daily information from the Government. We’ve used the central team really well, which has freed up our schools to concentrate on the key worker kids, student wellbeing and chasing up vulnerable children.

Arbor helped us alleviate some of the burden on teachers and admin staff having to create staff rotas and track free school meal pupils, because we could access all the free school meal data via the MIS from our central office, and upload it to the Edenred site. To get the FSM data, I could easily log into everybody’s Arbor and create a simple report with the names of pupils, their contact numbers, addresses and email addresses, then send out a blanket message to them asking them for the supermarket of their choice. We’ve also created a whole raft of letters and emails centrally that we’ve rolled out across the trust. That just wouldn’t have been possible before. 

One of the things we’ve found useful is that Arbor has been very reactive to the situation. You react as soon as something happens, and being a cloud-based system, updates are instantaneous. Like with the free school meals report, for example, it was there ready to go within a day. Also, initially we were doing the registers at a trust level – logging on every day and putting the hashtag code in but Arbor soon created a fix in the system that automatically put in the hashtags, which saved us another thing to think about. 

The ability to use Arbor at home has been especially helpful to our teachers and headteachers. On Capital SIMS, we had to rely on something called Forticlient which teachers had to have installed on their laptops and didn’t always work. With Arbor, teachers have been able to log on at home to contact their class through a safe portal. It’s also been really easy to use for any staff who are “anti-ICT”. 

You moved in February of this year, which was a busy time and overlapped with the start of Covid-19. How did you find juggling a lot of change at the same time? 

It was really seamless. We made the decision to move to Arbor in February because we still had until the end of March with Capita SIMS. This was so if anything had gone wrong, we could still use Capita. Initially I was kind of dreading it. I was thinking all our data was going to be lost, and that we wouldn’t be able to find anything but it’s been really straightforward and simple and really supportive from the Arbor team as well. We were using SchoolComms and Parent Pay and initially planned to roll Arbor out in phases, but because staff found it so easy to use at a school level, we decided to roll with it from day one. Even if you’re not particularly ICT-savvy, it’s so straightforward and you can see where you’ve got to go to get the information you need. If you don’t, Arbor’s live chat and the Arbor Community forum have been really useful. 

How has Arbor changed how you communicate with parents?

When we were using Capita SIMS, we relied on our local authority to write reports because it was so difficult to work out where you needed to go to get the information. Then when we wanted to send a communication to a parent, we had to log into a separate text messaging service and there was no log of communications. With Arbor, staff are able to readily access children’s contacts without having to rely on somebody back at the office. You can track what you’ve sent out (for example the messages to FSM families I’ve sent during Covid-19) and see if they get back to see you – and parents can see too. Then if you do need to chase it up, you can send a text out again.

Part of the reason we designed Arbor was to give school staff more agency so they can get the information they need, communicate and take action. How have you found training your staff on how to use Arbor, since you haven’t been able to see them?

Because the system is so easy to use, they’ve not needed much training. When we first rolled it out, we did initial training on core things like how to take the register, how to manage dinners etc. And they all picked it up. Then we just sent an easy, simple crib sheet to staff with how to contact Arbor if they needed. Prior to school closures, we did a staff briefing on how to contact parents and how to get the information they needed.  

Our associate school is local authority maintained and still on Capita SIMS at the moment but because we’re having to keep contacting them to get all the information we need, we’ve decided to roll out Arbor for them while Covid-19 is going on. So it won’t really be a barrier to rolling out Arbor any further. 

Is there anything over the last couple of months that you’d have done differently?

I don’t think so. If we’d have known about Arbor sooner, we’d have moved sooner! 

Beyond this term, how do you think Arbor is going to change how you work?

At the moment everything is unknown. We don’t know what Boris is going to announce when he does. If he decides, for example, to send back families, Arbor will give us that ability to quickly find out what families we’ve got in school and what year groups they’re in, so we can concentrate on the timetabling. It’ll also mean we can do rotas flexibly, for example if staff are in on odd days. 

If you’d like to hear from more MAT leaders about how they’re managing their schools remotely, we’ve got lots more free webinars coming up. Check out our schedule of remote working webinars here. We’ve got a special webinar this Friday with Jonathan Bishop, CEO at Cornerstone Academy Trust. Jonathan will be discussing how to make online education a success at scale. You can sign up here for Friday. 

 For all the guidance on how to use Arbor during Covid-19, it’s all here.