Saving time and money with Arbor MIS

Amy Underdown - 21 July, 2023

Category : Blog

Saving time and money with Arbor MIS

Today’s blog is an interview with Kirsten Beaven, the School Business Leader at Vaughan Primary School (674) since 2018. The interview was part of a wider research project into how Arbor saves schools money and time. Part of the project involved surveying over 300 SBMs and COOs about how they’re making sure their MIS is

Today’s blog is an interview with Kirsten Beaven, the School Business Leader at Vaughan Primary School (674) since 2018.

The interview was part of a wider research project into how Arbor saves schools money and time. Part of the project involved surveying over 300 SBMs and COOs about how they’re making sure their MIS is doing exactly that – you can download the report for free and hear from more SBMs here.

Arbor’s new report investigating the ROI schools and trusts get from our MIS.

How did your school cut down on costs through digital transformation?

During lockdown, our school realised the underinvestment we’d made into our ICT systems – we were reliant on legacy systems and antiquated manual processes. I was asked to lead a digital transformation project, creating a strategy that overhauled our systems from a core teaching and learning point of view, from an internal systems perspective and how we interface with stakeholders. All of those things that we need to do effectively to continue the popularity of our school, filling our pan and being funded appropriately. 

In February 2022, we kickstarted this project and began to do away with the legacy systems and on prem solutions that we had. Servers were taking up lots of room, consuming lots of energy (particularly as kept air conditioned) and didn’t give staff flexibility – I lost count of the number of times I had to come onsite to get access to something stored beyond the system. We carried out detailed system analysis and realised we were buying into an unnecessary amount of additional systems, simply because our previous MIS didn’t support those functions that were necessary to school life: things like assessment of children’s progress, school meals, receiving payments from parents, school club provision etc. Back in February 2022, we were having to interface all these additional apps into our MIS, sometimes having to export and import continually to allow for the most up-to-date information. Not only were the additional subscriptions and applications costly, but also labour intensive from an administrative and organisational point of view.

Another significant cost was the MIS maintenance and support costs which we had to buy into from our Local Authority, when our previous MIS had to be upgraded or tweaked in the form of rolling out patches and updates, in order to support the specialist support team there. 

When we looked at what we currently bought into, there was almost £19,000 worth of additional subscriptions and costs that we could effectively eliminate by moving to Arbor. 

How did you pick the right cloud MIS for your school?

We did thorough market research, looking at other cloud providers to make sure we found the right fit for our school. What we liked about Arbor was the deep functionality – and that it joined up our processes across the school. Just having those elements talking to each other and connecting the dots is what makes the difference to the efficiency and effectiveness of the school as a whole. It’s logical thinking, and it seems evident, at least to me, that those building the system really understand education in terms of the administrative functions around it and the impact it will have on staff and students. 

One good example was a previous pain point of ours, which was parents pre-ordering school meals for their children, but if the student was absent on the day, the kitchen wouldn’t be informed – this led to parents still wanting a refund and food waste, as well as the manual work this creates in order to smooth these external relationships. In Arbor, because the system is interconnected and all the different elements speak to each other, this updates automatically. 

How is Arbor helping to reduce admin? 

We used to spend almost £1000 a year on generating booklets to manage admissions, with parents expected to fill them out, and then our admin team manually inputting this information into the MIS. That process of transposing that information took our office team two weeks in the summer, and had an impact on data accuracy where things weren’t clearly written down. And when September would come around, there would be a mad rush of trying to correct these details when the office is already busy dealing with lots of queries that the new academic year brings. 

Not only that, but I previously had to bring in an agency temp to help my office team with a volume of paperwork that was received on the admissions side. We hadn’t received everything we needed, resulting in phonecalls and chasing outstanding paperwork. Now we just click a button and send automatic reminders. 

Having the Parent Portal is a massive step forward for us, then, in terms of both cost and time-saving. You’re improving data not only data accuracy, saving paper and the environment, reducing cost and relieving administrative burden on the office staff. The team then has more time to give a more personalised approach for those that do need it that way, e.g. for parents with less digital capability or those with EASL. 

Having an MIS with deeper functionality, and connecting those dots across the system, relieves the administrative burden on school staff, which in my opinion, gives staff the capacity to concentrate on those higher value activities. Those things you might not always have the day-to-day bandwidth to support. 

For instance, last term, we had an external organisation come in to run some financial management workshops for parents, as we wanted to recognise that some of our families are facing challenges in today’s economic climate and work with them to develop skills which help them back into the workforce or to manage their day-to-day home finances better. In the past, we wouldn’t have necessarily had the time or bandwidth to organise that in terms of administration, marketing, facilitation etc, but now that is  a real example where we can say we have made a difference by and added value

We can put more of our energy into doing those kinds of things that benefit our wider community, help our families, or even simple things, like increasing our tours and marketing to make sure we receive the maximum amount of funding that we are eligible for. Because if your numbers are below pan, you’ve still got to staff the same classrooms, which puts the students at a disadvantage. So for me, marketing and lettings and generating additional income to supplement the school budget is critical, because it impacts student outcomes. With the right MIS, you should be able to free up some of the administrative capacity to manage that. 

And that’s not only good for budgeting reasons – you also want to keep things interesting for people, which supports staff engagement too. Certain things have to happen at certain times in schools, and some of the more labour intensive work can be more monotonous, which causes peaks and troughs in terms of individual workload, particularly when we were dependent on lots of manual processes. Arbor is helping us to level off those peaks effectively. Of course, we’re still busy, but not to the point where people are completely overwhelmed and where work is more interesting that supports staff development, recruitment and retention.

Anything else you’d like to add?

  • I get quite excited about the Arbor updates. I love the responsiveness of the organisation, where they recognise that schools have requested this or this is a common theme amongst users. We’re keen to keep abreast of the developments and make sure we are always on that front foot.
  • Teachers love Arbor’s user-friendliness – they feel like they know their pupils better because of it, and that comes down to the information they need being right there in front of them, in one place. 
  • The data that’s surfaced in Arbor, in terms of attendance, progress and attainment data, is accessible, digestible and allows you to make data-driven decisions. You’ve got a more accurate and up to date understanding of your data, which helps you determine what the next steps are in terms of moving a child’s learning forward. 
  • It’s evident Arbor’s developers have a real understanding of education. That’s one of the overriding benefits of the system – you understand what we need to make our lives easier, and that seems to naturally fall into the cycle of development. For me, it has to be one of the best decisions we’ve made. 

Total cost-saving (as a result of moving to Arbor)

Third party applications and support contracts: £19,638 annually

Server, warranties and maintenance: £4,000 annually

Other savings e.g. admission booklets: £1,000 annually

Don’t yet use Arbor? Find out more about our school MIS here.

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