Life at Pool Academy: An Interview with Phil Jones

Maddie Kilminster - 11 March, 2020

Category : Blog

Life at Pool Academy: An Interview with Phil Jones

Pool Academy is a secondary school in Cornwall with 650+ students. We caught up with Phil Jones, Head of Academy Services, who told us about some of the ways life at school has changed for the better since they moved to Arbor back in 2018 Can you tell us why you decided to switch to

Pool Academy is a secondary school in Cornwall with 650+ students. We caught up with Phil Jones, Head of Academy Services, who told us about some of the ways life at school has changed for the better since they moved to Arbor back in 2018

Can you tell us why you decided to switch to Arbor? 

  • We were looking to review our MIS system as we weren’t happy with the one we had in place. We’d been using our previous system for years, but no one had ever really questioned it or thought to change it.
  • If it had been any other piece of software or system, we’d have been doing tenders every two or three years to make sure we were getting the best option for our money, but that just wasn’t the culture we were operating in. I felt that needed to change!
  • One of the first things I did when I stepped up to my new role as Head of Academy Services, was to look for a better MIS system. We looked at a few others but Arbor jumped out because it felt a lot more modern; the look and feel was much more up to date, which gave us the confidence that lots was being done in the background. The systems we had grown used to working with looked very dated, so it was great to see something that felt a bit more fresh.

Was having a cloud-based system important for you?

  • The fact that Arbor is web-based was a big pull for us. Now that everything else is moving into the cloud, we wanted that for our MIS too – at Pool, we’re quite IT literate, and staff and students all use iPads and laptops, so we needed accessibility from lots of different devices.
  • I remember once when we were using our previous system there was a sudden blizzard (we don’t get snow often in Cornwall!) and we needed to access parents’ phone numbers at a moment’s notice to let them know. It was a mess because we all had these iPads but only certain people had access to student information, and lots of that information wasn’t up to date. This is when we realised something wasn’t quite right. We also realised that we wanted access to our data in the way that we wanted it, not in the way that someone else had decided to format it, and that we then needed to work around.  

Which area of the system in Arbor has saved you the most time? 

  • We save a lot of time with our day-to-day tasks. Most importantly, it’s the reporting side of things that has really improved. The world is changing all the time and the Ofsted goalposts are always moving around, so we need to be able keep up with the different things we’re required to track, and Arbor has really helped us do this.
  • We were spending a lot of time extracting information out of our old system, just to put into other systems, and then putting that into Excel and running reports. Getting the data out that we needed was really difficult.
  • For example, I used to have to manually run a report for the Vice Principal every Friday, which she then had to manipulate further herself, and it was just a waste of everyone’s time. Now, Pastoral Leads and Heads of Year all receive an automatic report on Friday afternoon, which shows them who performed the best in their year that week, who performed the worst, who had the worst attendance, and here’s who you need to keep an eye on. They then know where they need to focus for the coming week, which is really valuable.
  • Plus, with tools like Live Feeds, the information is always there when we need it. We use a lot of Google apps at Pool – Docs, Sheets etc. – and to be able to feed key information straight into a secure Google Sheet saves us loads of time.
  • We’ve also started to use Arbor to help us engage with parents. The principal has a custom report that feeds into a weekly email for parents, which allows us to send out updates each week with a quick rundown of what’s happened in school for their child. This is really powerful (and helpful for parents whose child might not have mentioned that they’d had a detention that week!). 
  • Lastly, on a slightly more serious level, when you’re looking at attendance and we need to take something to the next level e.g. when we get to the stage where we need to prosecute  – to have that communications log in Arbor is invaluable. We now have an instantly accessible paper trail to show parents that, for example, we’ve been in touch with them every week about their child’s attendance, so it puts us in a stronger position.

How did you find the migration and implementation process?

  • When you undertake a big change, there’s alway resistance from some people! That said it was really crucial that teachers were happy, and that’s taken some time, but it’s people our Data Manager, Exams Manager and our HR Manager who use Arbor all day, every day who really like it and get on very well with it.
  • Before we moved to Arbor it wasn’t in our culture to question the way we were operating – it was more “We do this, we don’t do that”. Arbor has been a really great exercise in stepping back and questioning the ways we were doing things, and asking ourselves: “Why do we do that?” and “Can we do things a different way?”
  • For example, Arbor gave us an opportunity to question how we were running exams at Pool, and if there was a better way we could be doing things. Parents Evenings also used to be this massive deal, but with Arbor it’s now a breeze.
  • At the end of the day, there are people who’ve used SIMS for 15 years at Pool, but they’re slowing being won over! What’s more, things are continually improving with the Arbor product, and things keep changing, which is really exciting. I know my Exams Officer made a couple of suggestions that she’s seen implemented, which has been great. You never feel like you’re shouting into the dark!
  • Having access to the Arbor roadmap is really really helpful – we know where you guys are going, and being able to vote on things makes us feel involved in the conversation and the direction the product is going in. I’m now on the online Arbor community too – and I think as that grows it will be fantastic.

Are there any other aspects of Arbor that you have found particularly useful?

  • Like I said, we love the fact that Arbor is web-based. It’s also invaluable to have so much functionality built into one system.We used to pay for lots of other apps that we needed to sync with our old MIS, but now, having everything in one place makes so much more sense.
  • With our previous system, we spent a lot of time taking information out of it to put into other systems because there were so many things that it wasn’t capable of doing (like parents’ evenings for example) and we needed to buy an add-on. We then had another system to sync, and another system to keep up-to-date, and another system that could go wrong.
  • We were able to drop at least 3, maybe 4 third-party systems when we moved to Arbor – we kept things like SISRA for heavy data (which Arbor integrates with), but lots of the others we were paying for became obsolete.

Do you feel you get the support you need from the Arbor team?

  • Yes – I really like the online help chat tool. Obviously it’s great to be able to call, and every time I’ve called I’ve had my question answered, but there are times when I’m juggling 3 or 4 different things and need a quick answer then and there.
  • What’s great about the online help chat is that I can share the page I’m having a problem with directly with you. Nine times out of ten I get the answer straight away, and then if there’s anything that needs looking into further I get a call back pretty soon after.
  • It’s great to know that the Arbor team can help with even silly little things – and I don’t feel like an idiot!

Would you recommend Arbor?

  • I absolutely would!