The pros and cons of automating school communication

blank Jem Jones - 7 March, 2019

Category : Blog

The pros and cons of automating school communication

More and more software on the market offers ways of moving beyond the classic time saving tools of mail merges and reporting templates, into the realm of fully automated workflows. As with all new technologies, this offers opportunities to improve the way we work, as well as potential pitfalls, depending on how you use them.

More and more software on the market offers ways of moving beyond the classic time saving tools of mail merges and reporting templates, into the realm of fully automated workflows. As with all new technologies, this offers opportunities to improve the way we work, as well as potential pitfalls, depending on how you use them.

What do we mean by ‘automated workflows’?

An automated workflow is essentially one in which a single input from a user can trigger several resulting actions. This reduces the amount of data that needs to be entered and screens that need to be clicked through to achieve a desired result.

 

Diagram: an example of an automated behaviour workflow

Every step in the process achieving the outputs above is one that would have to be performed manually by a staff member if they did not have automated workflows, and which can be performed in moments by automated computer software with access to accurate school records.

Some common examples of automated workflows in school software include:

  • Parent Portals which automatically show a level of live processed data about a student to their guardian, for instance to indicate what homework they have been assigned and which assignments are now overdue
  • Reports which automatically generate according to templates written by the school, and send at scheduled times for specified staff members to view
  • Behaviour workflows that can automatically email/text individuals, schedule disciplinary actions, or assign behaviour points, according to a negative or positive incident that has been recorded

The argument against

The most obvious concern when setting up these workflows is human error. If a serious behaviour incident were to be incorrectly logged against the wrong student, that could result in a confused or upset parent on the phone to the school office that afternoon (not to mention the unearned earful the unsuspecting student could be in for when they got home). If you’re interested in automated workflows but your staff are not yet very technologically literate, it might be better to set up semi-automated systems with stopgaps for admins to approve comms before they’re sent out, before trialling full automation.

The root of this concern is the level of training required for all the individuals using the system. If inappropriately knowledgeable about the level of information that a parent portal shares, for example, a staff member may end up disseminating more of their personal opinions to parents than they would like. Similarly, if a workflow is inexpertly set up, the administrator may cause far too much or too little information to be transferred, to the extent that notifications become either irritating or simply not useful. This is why it’s absolutely vital to have excellent support and training resources from your software provider when setting up automated workflows, and why you should choose software which clearly outlines to administrators which workflows they have set up and how they can be edited. If there’s no way to work out what your outputs will be, don’t use that automated process – regroup, reconfigure, and retrain.

The argument in favour

Even if you only implement semi-automation, and only for your most repetitive admin tasks, this can pay big dividends for staff time. This should give them more time to spend working with students. The best version of an automated workflow is one which removes the burden of data collection and processing from your staff, and lets you prioritise actually dealing with what the data tells you.

Automation also lends a degree of consistency to your policies, as the same results will always be generated from the same input, and staff don’t have to remember exact data processes perfectly every time themselves. While human error can lead to incorrect outputs, there’s far more chance for human error to creep in throughout systems which are entirely manual and paper based. We’ve seen firsthand how setting up consistent and reliable automated communications can have a big impact on parental engagement and school processes, particularly within behaviour workflows where consistency of both rules and rewards is really vital.

Case Study

Castle Hill had a couple of issues with parent comms before they moved to Arbor MIS, because almost everything was based on paper. When children showed good or bad behaviour, teachers would write a note in the student’s planner, which the child would then take home for parents to check. However, children couldn’t always be relied upon to take their planners home with them – especially if they’d been given a negative behaviour note from their teacher! Now they’ve switched to Arbor, the staff at Castle Hill log behaviour points in the system, which automatically sends an email to the relevant guardians. Parents can also log into their Parent Portal for a live update on how their children are doing. Children are now better behaved because they know that their parents know what they’ve been up to, and the school has less paperwork to get through.

Overall, like any tool in education, the effectiveness of automation depends entirely on how you can use it. If you are going to set up automation, it needs to be in such a way that it demonstrably responds to your specific challenges, and can provide the maximum possible impact to the time constraints currently affecting your staff and the outcomes of your students.

If you’re a current Arbor MIS or Group MIS customer interested in setting up more of your automated features, get in touch with your Account Manager or email myteam@arbor-education.com. If you don’t use Arbor yet and would like to find out more about how we can automate repetitive tasks to save teacher time, get in touch on 0207 043 0470, hello@arbor-education.com, or via our contact form.