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Jem Jones - 11 October, 2018

Category : Blog

3 reasons your school should avoid running competing IT systems

When you’re picking IT systems for your school or MAT, the options can be overwhelming. As every provider has a USP or ‘unique selling point’ to help them stand out, it’s easy to find different parts of competing systems more appealing. Maybe your business manager likes the features in one payment system, but your catering

When you’re picking IT systems for your school or MAT, the options can be overwhelming. As every provider has a USP or ‘unique selling point’ to help them stand out, it’s easy to find different parts of competing systems more appealing. Maybe your business manager likes the features in one payment system, but your catering team prefers the interface of another. Trying to combine them, and get the best of both worlds, is rarely a solution.

1. It saves money

This is the obvious problem with running systems in parallel. Schools who try to get their money’s worth and use every feature they’re paying for will not only become expert users in their chosen system, but will be able to cut down their unnecessary costs. For the two big software packages used to run your school, a Management Information System (MIS) and a Financial Management System (FMS), you also need to consider the cost of training. You only need one of each, and you should only pay for one of each.

2. It gives your staff back their time

In a recent survey of 11,000 NEU members, 82% of Secondary teachers reported that data collection was not streamlined in their school, and required them to enter data twice. Around 65% of both Primary and Secondary teachers described the amount of data they had to collect as unmanageable. This is indicative of the biggest problem with running disconnected or competing IT systems – they contribute heavily to staff workloads.

Your school systems should interface seamlessly to minimise data entry, using a feature like our secure, open API. This is a great way to reduce data entry between different types of system, and there are some systems which very rarely need to share data anyway, such as your MIS and FMS.

On the other hand, for systems which are designed to do the same thing, data can never be streamlined, as competing businesses preserving their intellectual property will rarely spend resources building integrations for one another. Some level of double entry will always be required.

3. Your data will be safer

Under GDPR, schools are obligated both to protect students and guardians from data breaches, and to keep their information up to date. Choosing secure systems in the first place is important for protecting sensitive information, so you should always check for an internationally recognised certification like ISO 27001 when you buy. However, data breaches don’t only come from attacks and system faults, but from human error. The more times you need to enter data, the more chances human error has to slip in.

Multiple systems, especially systems which aren’t connected through a secure API, are more likely to be inaccurate. Inaccuracy can seem annoying but harmless when it’s a small change, but when you look after hundreds or even thousands of children, little problems quickly get bigger. A wrongly recorded meal choice can mean grumbles from one student, or a severe allergic reaction from another!

By getting the most out of each of your systems, and simplifying your data collection processes, you can save both budgets and workloads from undue burden.

We’re on a mission to transform the way schools operate, and part of that involves reducing unsustainable workloads by bringing as many systems as possible into one place. If you are an Arbor MIS customer, check that your school is using every feature properly to reduce the time you spend plugging data into other systems. 

Our schools love the fact that Arbor brings all of their data into one central system, reducing the number of systems they use and saving staff hours of time manually copying and pasting data from one system to another. If you’re not yet an Arbor MIS customer, you can request a free demo and a chat with your local Partnership Manager anytime through the contact form on our website, or by emailing tellmemore@arbor-education.com or calling 0208 050 1028. 

Arbor - 10 October, 2018

Category : Blog

How governors can get to grips with data literacy

This blog has been written for Arbor by Oliver Kean, Service Development Manager at Governors for Schools.  One of the first things governors realise when they start is that the role involves data. A lot of data. Data on attainment, about progress, on different groups, data on pupils’ attendance, punctuality, behaviour incidents. And it’s not

This blog has been written for Arbor by Oliver Kean, Service Development Manager at Governors for Schools

One of the first things governors realise when they start is that the role involves data. A lot of data. Data on attainment, about progress, on different groups, data on pupils’ attendance, punctuality, behaviour incidents.

And it’s not just data focused for their own school. Governors are presented with data on national, local and similar schools so they can benchmark their performance to identify areas where they might be able to do better.

They then need to understand what the data is suggesting sufficiently well to construct challenging, relevant questions that hold experienced headteachers and other members of the senior team to account, and identify where it puts the school at risk of not achieving particular performance thresholds that could lead to intervention.

It’s a challenge for all governors, but especially those who are less confident with numbers and statistics (who may nevertheless have valuable expertise elsewhere). Nowadays, everyone involved in school governance is expected to be able to use data to help deliver effective governance. However, it’s clear that not all school governors can. A recent report from Ofsted said:

The ability to understand and query performance data was a common area of weakness … Weak governing bodies rarely provided enough challenge to the headteacher’s interpretation of published and internal assessment information, absence rates and exclusion data. There are also schools at which governors are not given access to assessment information. This limits their ability to challenge leaders.

Data’s rise within the accountability system hasn’t gone unchallenged, however. In response to the accountability system’s seemingly insatiable hunger for ever more complex, in-depth, up-to-date data some teachers have begun to complain that it now represents an unmanageable aspect of their work, and one that distracts them from the core nature of teaching. The oft-repeated complaint that education is about more than just numbers and learning is about more than just stats is nevertheless worth repeating, because it’s fundamentally true. You’d be hard-pressed to find a teacher that went into the role first and foremost to deliver incremental improvements in narrow performance measures derived from assessment results.

Ofsted has begun to show signs of understanding this as it works on a new inspection framework; chief inspector Amanda Spielman recently said that schools that place too narrow an emphasis on their data systems are more likely to suffer falls in performance. But good governors have always known this. They know that understanding the health of a school is equally about the unmeasurable, the emotional and the invisible. That’s why the best governors understand and apply data to their role, but also make sure that they visit school, speak to parents, pupils and staff, look at books, displays, go for lunch, spend time in the staff room, and see the playground. Of course, this places demands on governors’ already limited time and energy – anything that frees them up to see a school, its complexities, nuances and atmosphere ‘in the round’ is to be welcomed.

Attending training on data is one way to get smarter, thus providing more time for governance other crucial activities. Training can help governors to quickly understand what data might be telling us, provide quick ways to assess its robustness and reliability, as well as show us the limits to its usefulness (and where investigation elsewhere might be more appropriate). A quick and convenient way to learn more is to use the Governors for Schools eLearning for an introduction to some of the key concepts and ways to use data.

Moreover, adopting more intuitive data reporting systems, such as that provided by Arbor Insight, goes a long way to providing governors with the information they need in a clear and digestible way, giving them clear leads as they hold leaders to account. Based on Department for Education data, they convert often confusing formats and measurements into something that is far easier to interpret and analyse. As such, it saves headteachers a huge amount of time in preparation and commentary.

While it’s clear that we aren’t about to see a wholesale abandonment of data anytime soon, data literacy for governors is increasingly going to involve thinking hard about proportionality, ease of use and accessibility. Anything that can help schools manage their data and performance analysis, such as Arbor Insight, should be welcomed enthusiastically.

Governors for Schools exists to improve educational standards so that children and young people have the chance to realise their full potential. You can visit their website here

Cosima Baring - 8 October, 2018

Category : Blog

6 steps to reduce teachers’ data workload

Much has been written recently by the government and in the press about reducing teachers’ workloads, with polls suggesting that 1 in 5 teachers intend to leave their job because they feel overworked. One of Arbor’s impact goals (which we analyse each year for all the schools we work with) is to reduce the time teachers spend on

Much has been written recently by the government and in the press about reducing teachers’ workloads, with polls suggesting that 1 in 5 teachers intend to leave their job because they feel overworked.

One of Arbor’s impact goals (which we analyse each year for all the schools we work with) is to reduce the time teachers spend on inputting & analysing data so that they can focus on improving student outcomes! So we decided to take a look at the data to see where teachers were spending their time.

By looking at teacher diary surveys, we found that in just three years the workload of teachers has increased by an average of 12%. Put another way, this is a huge 5 days extra work per year for a primary teacher and 4 days extra work for a secondary teacher!

Digging down into the data further, we found that three-quarters of this increase in workload can be explained by an increase in the amount of time teachers are spending on planning, preparation and assessment. Given that it’s doubtful that teachers have been ramping up the time spent on planning or preparation, as this has always been a core requirement, the change most likely comes from an increase in assessment-related work driven by government, Ofsted and school policies on data and reporting.

Following this analysis, if your school can reduce the amount of time teachers spend on assessment and data, you’ll go a long way towards solving the workload problem! To do so requires reviewing how and why you collect, analyse and report on data.

Teacher Workloads

6 steps to reduce teachers’ data workload

Arbor has built a simple 6 step checklist to help senior leaders reduce workload in your school:

Six steps

Implementing a data workload checklist

We’ve broken down the 6 steps above into a helpful checklist for senior leaders to help implement within your school, complementing the advice given by the Teacher Workload Review Group with an actionable list of key tasks. If it seems too much to take on all at once, just start with one item at a time, and remember that every step you take could help to reduce the workload burden on staff.

Tasks_Checklist_2

Click here to download this checklist as a handy PDF.

Cosima Baring - 4 October, 2018

Category : Blog

2018 KS2 Performance Data is available in Arbor Insight now!

Good news, we’ve added the latest KS2 Analyse School Performance (ASP) data to Arbor Insight, our free benchmarking portal for schools & MATs! We’ve created a free portal for every school and MAT in the country to help analyse your latest ASP & finance data, giving you a simple, visual overview of how well your

Good news, we’ve added the latest KS2 Analyse School Performance (ASP) data to Arbor Insight, our free benchmarking portal for schools & MATs! We’ve created a free portal for every school and MAT in the country to help analyse your latest ASP & finance data, giving you a simple, visual overview of how well your school or MAT is really doing. Read on to find out how your Arbor portal can help:

  1. Inform your School Improvement Plan

  2. Prepare for Ofsted inspections

  3. Provide context to your governors

Inform your School Improvement Plan

Your free, interactive dashboards benchmark your school not just nationally and locally, but also against similar schools and Outstanding schools, helping you see your school’s performance in a more holistic context. From there, you can drill down to uncover which student groups are driving over or underperformance, and use this information to help set specific, measurable objectives for your school improvement strategy.

I have found it incredibly useful for our MAT self-evaluation – it so clearly illustrates the impact of the MAT’s work at a simple touch of a button. The ability to compare our MAT and each academy to the outstanding schools average is also a brilliant feature, allowing us to evidence the impact of our aspirational target setting and provision.”

Jo Ashcroft, Director of Education at Aspire Educational Trust


Image 1: Our free interactive dashboards benchmark your performance against national, Outstanding, subject & demographic averages

Prepare for Ofsted inspections

Our Ofsted Readiness report has been designed to help you get ahead before your next Ofsted inspection. It predicts your next Ofsted grade and benchmarks your performance against “Good” and “Outstanding” schools, and clearly highlights which areas you’ll need to look into before the inspector calls. Once you understand the real story that your data is telling, you can have much more constructive conversations not only with Ofsted, but with stakeholders like your Governors to help you focus on your priority areas for the year ahead.

The Ofsted Readiness report is outstanding. It’s very easy to read and understand. It’s well presented and the data crunching behind it gives us something we can’t get from other sources. That and the customer care makes this a product I promote to colleagues widely

James Ayton, Headteacher at Walgrave Primary School

Image 2: Use our Ofsted Readiness Report as a school improvement tool ahead of your next inspection

Provide context to senior leaders and governors

The DfE’s ASP service creates scatter graphs and bar charts that are helpful for giving you a general  overview of your data, but you may need to look elsewhere to answer the key questions these graphs raise. In Arbor we help schools find these answers using plain text callouts to explain how significant a trend is, as well as displaying your data over a three year period to help contextualise your performance. Your Arbor portal also benchmarks different groups within your school against each other, and against national and local averages. Our PDF reports can be quickly and easily printed out to share with governors during meetings, giving them a clear, visual picture of how your school is doing.

Arbor Insight reports are simple, clear and easy to understand, with an obvious colour system that explains pages of data in a digestible snapshot

Richard Gasser, Headteacher at Park Junior School

Image 3: Our plain text call-outs explain the real story behind your data, making it easy to present to senior leaders and governors

We’ve been working hard to crunch your latest KS2 performance data into 7 personalised PDF reports that analyse your attainment & progress over the past 3 years, highlight gaps across your school and even predict your next Ofsted grade. These reports are now all available in your Arbor portal, and will automatically update with disadvantaged, FSM and KS1 data when it’s released by the DfE.

Click here to log in & access your 2018 reports and dashboards!

Don’t forget that you’re also invited to the free Insight training sessions that we’re holding across the country this term to help you get the most out of your reports & dashboards. You can click here to see the full agenda and book your place.

If you have any questions about how Arbor Insight can help your school better understand your data, give us a call on +44 (0) 207  043 1830 anytime, send us an email at insight@arbor-education.com!

Arbor - 2 October, 2018

Category : Blog

Ofsted, data and a school system in flux

By Loic Menzies, LKMco The school accountability system is changing fast. League table measures have been reformed dramatically and Ofsted has been grappling with how it can become a more proportionate and reliable force for good. This has led to a brand new strategy for the inspectorate and recent speeches and publications have started to set

By Loic Menzies, LKMco

The school accountability system is changing fast. League table measures have been reformed dramatically and Ofsted has been grappling with how it can become a more proportionate and reliable force for good. This has led to a brand new strategy for the inspectorate and recent speeches and publications have started to set out a new landscape which will have important implications for how schools use data to reflect, improve and prepare for inspection.

This blog talks about how you can use Arbor Insight Reports to analyse your schools’ performance and set out your plans for improvement. As Amanda Spielman, the Chief Inspector of Schools, put it this Summer: “Rather than just intensifying the focus on data, Ofsted inspections must explore what is behind the data, asking how results have been achieved”. This report should therefore act as a starting point for important conversations and reflection.

A new landscape

At secondary school, the shift to Progress 8 has heralded a new era in which a much wider range of subjects falls under the lens of school accountability and where the emphasis has shifted away from pupils on the C-D borderline. Meanwhile, life-after-levels and the new system of ‘scaled scores’ are now a reality in primary schools across the country. As further shifts come into place over the next few years, the pace shows no sign of slowing.

All this rapid change, and a shift in emphasis towards progress – sometimes from unreliable base lines – is leading to some unexpected and unpredictable results. It is therefore particularly important that you scrutinise data particularly carefully to be clear what it is and is not saying. Ofsted has also made it clear that attempts to predict progress scores are not worth the effort since they are impossible to know in advance. Instead, your school should be prepared to respond to queries from inspectors who will have looked at a range of information in advance including:

Details from the school website – much of which will be data-driven like:

  • The school’s pupil premium strategy (including rationale and evaluation)
  • The PE and sport premium (in primary)
  • The Year 7 literacy and numeracy catch-up premium (at secondary)
  • The curriculum
  • The special educational needs (SEN) information report
  • The promotion of equality of opportunity and other information for parents

Inspectors will also have looked at key data summaries such as: the Inspection Data Summary Report (IDSR), ‘Analyse School Performance’ (ASP), (which Arbor’s Ofsted Readiness report helps you analyse), and the Level 3 Value Added (L3VA) report. This will help determine any pupil groups that inspectors want to focus on during the inspection. Careful advance scrutiny of your data can therefore ensure you are not taken by surprise. (School Inspection Handbook, p. 15 & 23)

As Ofsted’s National Director of Education explains in relation to the new ‘short inspections’, what the inspectorate wants to understand is:

  • Whether leaders have a sound grasp of relative strengths and weaknesses in their school/provider
  • If there’s a credible plan to address the areas for concern and maintain the strengths

The two key questions to ask yourself are therefore:

1. What do we do well/less well?

2. What is our plan going forward?

On the other hand, Ofsted has also been keen to insist that:

“Ofsted does not require self-evaluation to be graded or provided in a specific format. Any assessment that is provided should be part of the school’s business processes and not generated solely for inspection purposes.”

Arbor Insight Reports – in particular the Ofsted Readiness Report – are intended to support you in understanding the two key questions above. It should prompt you to consider your strengths and weaknesses and help you dig beyond the headlines to question what might really be going on. This is crucial since the strength of leadership and management is largely driven by “the rigour and accuracy of self-evaluation and how well it leads to planning that secures continual improvement.” (School Inspection Handbook, p. 41)

Key in this is looking across different sources of information to triangulate and reach better evidenced conclusions. As the current Inspection Handbook points out, “No single measure or indicator should determine judgements”, and as Ofsted’s recently published strategy points out:

“While data will always be an important starting point, our inspections should look beyond published data, explore how results have been achieved and in some cases act as a counterbalance to any unintended incentives in the broader accountability system.”

Metrics

The inspectorate will consider:

  • “Performance information” including:
    • Data published before the inspection
    • Information you present about current pupils across year groups and previous cohorts
  • Information on progress, attainment, attendance and exclusion, with a particular focus on:
    • Consistency in performance, trends of improvement or decline, and differences in the performance of groups
    • The accuracy of the school’s assessment of pupils’ progress and attainment
    • The robustness and accuracy of the school’s self-evaluation or equivalent, particularly about pupils’ outcomes, teaching, learning and assessment and pupils’ personal development, behaviour and welfare

Primary school accountability

According to the DfE Guidance, last updated in August 2017, headline measures for primary schools are:

  • The percentage of pupils achieving the ‘expected standard’ in Reading, Writing and Mathematics at the end of Key Stage 2
  • Pupils’ average scaled score:
    • in Reading at the end of Key Stage 2
    • in Mathematics at the end of Key Stage 2
    • the percentage of pupils who achieve at a higher standard in Reading, Writing and
    • Mathematics
    • Pupils’ average progress:
    • in Reading
    • in Writing
    • in Mathematics

Secondary school accountability

Key measures for secondary schools are:

  • Progress 8
  • Attainment 8
  • Percentage achieving the English Baccalaureate
  • Percentage of pupils entered for the English Baccalaureate
  • Percentage achieving grade 5+in English and Maths
  • Students moving to and sustaining educational or employment destinations

Given that Progress 8 is now the headline secondary measure it is important to take into account the following key definitions:

Key progress 8 values Interpretation
+0.5 or greater Pupils are making well above average progress
-0.5 or below Pupils are not achieving the floor standard

You can find out more about the full range of measures and how they are constructed in Schools Week’s special supplement by LKMco.

Using the data

Progress 8 at secondary school and relative progress at primary school have shifted the emphasis of school accountability to how pupils with similar starting points are doing in different schools as well as how each pupil is performing – whether they are starting from a high or low baseline. The national and ‘‘schools like you’ measures in this Arbor Insight Reports will help you to scrutinise this and identify your schools’ particular strengths and areas for development. Consider for example:

  • What proportion of pupils with different starting points are making average progress or above average progress?
  • How does this compare to schools nationally?
  • How about different ethnic groups or demographics – how many of them are achieving different benchmarks?
  • How does that compare to outstanding schools nationally? How does this vary between subjects?

Throughout your analysis, be wary of making overly concrete conclusions based on small groups, for example, if you only have five black male pupils, do not use statistics based on this to make major claims about their relative performance. Look carefully at the patterns you spot and be prepared to use three-year rolling averages for example to spot longer term trends amongst larger cohorts of pupils. Where this report helps you identify an underperforming group, be careful about jumping to quick fit solutions, Ofsted itself has recently stated that:

“The existence of a gap does not always indicate that an intervention at sub-group level is the right approach. Very often, identifying and correcting institutional shortcomings (for example in curriculum, teaching or behaviour management) will improve outcomes, with disproportionate benefits for lower attaining and disadvantaged students”

It is therefore perfectly acceptable to identify an underperforming group and consider how whole school improvements might address this issue, rather than specifically targeting a new intervention at the group. You can investigate gaps further using Arbor’s set of Gap reports which analyse the performance of pupils in different groups (based on gender, SEN, prior attainment, ethnicity and disadvantage).

If your pupils appear to be doing particularly well, note this, and combine it with different sources of information, including your professional judgement to understand why, and how you can build on this. Ofsted too will look at a range of evidence so be prepared to share how you have brought a range of different sources of information together to plan for improvement. Consider for example how patterns vary across subjects and how you might spread good practice from one area to another.

Explaining and presenting this information however, need not mean putting together extensive and labour intensive pre-prepared packs. As Ofsted has explained:

There will almost invariably be areas in which your pupils are doing well, or groups that are doing particularly well so share your reflection and plans with inspectors. As Simon Eardley, Head Teacher at Orton Wistow Primary School, explains, the morning of his school’s short inspection was all about “dialogue and discussion” and an:

“Opportunity to go through our school self-evaluation evidence and tell the story about our school and to pick out the things we think we thought we were doing well but also the things we’d recognised we needed to get better on… that initial conversation steered the rest of the day.”

By providing this type of information in an easily digestible form, Arbor’s Ofsted Readiness Report helps you prepare for these discussions. Used well, it will be an invaluable part of the tapestry of evidence that you use to support your pupils, raise standards and evidence your achievements to inspectors.

Interested in finding out more about how Arbor Insight Reports can help your school ahead of your next inspection? Drop us a line at hello@arbor-education, give us a call on +44 (0) 207 043 0470 or get in touch via the contact form on our website.

LKMco are an education and youth-development ‘think-and-action tank.’ They support schools, teachers and education and youth organisations by planning, evaluating and improving the way they work. LKMco work to ensure all children and young people receive the support they need to make a fulfilling transition to adulthood by carrying out research and campaigning for action.

 

James Weatherill - 27 September, 2018

Category : Blog

Why have 4,000 schools switched MIS to the cloud?

With the launch of the completely new, cloud-based SIMS8, it’s now an inevitability that all schools will be switching MIS, it’s just a question of whether they’ll be retraining on the new SIMS or an alternative provider. This is a good opportunity to select the system that best suits your school, LA or MAT and

With the launch of the completely new, cloud-based SIMS8, it’s now an inevitability that all schools will be switching MIS, it’s just a question of whether they’ll be retraining on the new SIMS or an alternative provider. This is a good opportunity to select the system that best suits your school, LA or MAT and provides value for money.

Ahead of your school or group switching, we thought it would be helpful to help answer some questions you might have about the cloud. After all, we’ve been doing it for years!

Q) How many schools have already switched their MIS to the cloud (mostly from SIMS)?  

1 in 5 primary schools and 1 in 20 secondary schools have already switched their MIS to the cloud. This number is increasing at around 18%, or 500 schools each year. The vast majority of primary school MIS switchers are moving away from SIMS, whilst secondary schools are typically switching from SIMS and CMIS/Progresso.    

Q) Why have so many schools moved to the cloud already?  

Most schools have switched for a combination of the following factors:

  • Save money, and reduce the number of systems in school: cloud-based MIS systems are typically 20%-30% cheaper in terms of license fees and support. They also help reduce the number of systems you need in your school, as functionality isn’t modular and comes as standard (e.g. SMS, online payments, parent evening booking etc). This is important as budgets are tight.
  • Bring all your school data together in one system: Cloud-based systems can help consolidate all core student and staff data, including attainment, progress, behaviour, payments and messages into one system, improving reporting
  • Free, simple integration with third-party systems: all new cloud-based systems can integrate easily with other apps in your school, meaning no more excel uploads and downloads, and one password to sign into all those systems!
  • Access from anywhere, and any device: this seems simple, but it means staff can enter marks from home, and aren’t tied to their desk in school.

Q) How much cheaper is a cloud-based MIS?

Typically you can save ~30% on your total systems costs, meaning the cost of support and license fees together. Be careful to compare like-for-like with functionality to calculate this accurately. Oh, and you can get rid of your server, which is an additional cost!

  • Primary schools: can typically save £1k-£2k+ per year by reducing MIS pricing as well as reducing the number of different systems they need (e.g. payments, SMS, progress tracking etc)
  • Secondary schools: can typically save £3k-£6k+ per year by reducing MIS pricing as well as reducing the number of different systems they need (e.g. payments, SMS, progress tracking etc)

Q) How secure is a cloud-based system?

Much more secure than your school server! MIS systems like Arbor’s simple, smart cloud-based MIS have passed security standards such as ISO27001, have been accredited by the DfE to hold sensitive information from ASP, are penetration tested each year and are GDPR compliant. You can read more about our security standards here. We take care of ever-changing security requirements so you can rest at peace knowing your school is compliant.

Q) What about the brand new cloud-based SIMS – I’ve heard that’s out now. How is it different to old SIMS?

SIMS has embraced the cloud and launched SIMS8, their completely new cloud-based MIS, so it’s now a question of when not if your school will move! Here is what we know about SIMS8 at this point (accurate as of 6th March 2018) – if you use SIMS we’d urge you to ask your contact for their version as we’re biased ;). Better yet, ask to hear from the schools who use it to see what they think!

  • It’s still being trialled by less than 20 schools: which is behind schedule, and less than the 500-1000 that was originally intended. This indicates the product roll-out might be further delayed.
  • It appears more expensive: pricing is very similar to SIMS7 but includes a £500 hosting charge. SIMS have been reluctant to release pricing, so ask your rep to see if you’ll be charged more.
  • Third-party integrations haven’t been built yet: as third-party suppliers are waiting to see how many schools pick it up due to the low take-up above
  • You’ll need to retrain your staff: it’s a brand new system, and although there are some similarities to old SIMS, you’ll need to retain your staff on how to use it.

Q) So what should I do as a school?

It’s now a question of when, not if, you’ll be moving to the cloud. The question is simply which provider you go with – whoever it is, you should ensure they provide value for money and fit your ethos as a school. If you’re with SIMS or CMIS, compare them to 2 or 3 other providers to see who you like the best and make a choice by inviting them to pop in. You’ll be with them for a few years at least, so it’s worth making a considered choice, and it’s as much about the people/service as the product. Oh, and if you’re a MAT, LA or group of schools then you will likely have to conduct a slightly more formal process via a tender as a cloud product is a brand new product and service, so can’t be grandfathered in under the same terms.

Q) We are a MAT and have both primary and secondary schools in our trust. What should I do?

Good question! If you decide to stick with SIMS across your trust, you won’t be able to get the full benefits of a cloud-based MIS for your central team & schools until 2019 (at the earliest) as SIMS Secondary isn’t ready yet. It’s worth thinking about whether you’re willing to wait this long, particularly as it means you’ll need to maintain multiple different systems across your trust until then (which is costly, time-consuming, and less efficient than having standardised systems). It’s also whether checking whether the MIS provider you go with lets you manage data, workflows and reporting for all the schools across your MAT from just one system – take a look at our MAT MIS as an example of this

Jem Jones - 26 September, 2018

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Category : Blog

5 simple steps to move to Arbor MIS

We know that switching MIS can be a daunting idea, but it doesn’t need to be. Schools & MATs who are thinking of switching MIS often ask us what moving to Arbor involves, so we’ve written this short blog to show how easy it is. You can do it in 5 simple steps! Step 1:

We know that switching MIS can be a daunting idea, but it doesn’t need to be. Schools & MATs who are thinking of switching MIS often ask us what moving to Arbor involves, so we’ve written this short blog to show how easy it is. You can do it in 5 simple steps!

Step 1: Work out whether Arbor is the right fit for your school or MAT

To help you do this, we’ll arrange a meeting with one of our local Partnership Managers. Our Partnership Team meets schools & MATs to talk through how you use data across your school, understand the requirements you have for your new MIS, and show you how Arbor could help by demonstrating the system and introducing you to local schools who use it. If you like us, your Partnership Manager will help you identify the right package for your school and share a contract for you to sign.

You can request a free demo and a chat with your local Partnership Manager anytime through the contact form on our website, or by emailing tellmemore@arbor-education.com or calling 0208 050 1028.

Step 2: Create your personal implementation plan

Once you’ve signed your contract, you’ll be assigned your own Customer Success Manager who will schedule a kick-off call with you to create an implementation plan that’s tailored to your school or MAT. During this call, you’ll talk about what your main objectives are for your new MIS and how we can help you achieve them.

Step 3: Migrate your data

Following your kick-off call, we’ll help you cleanse and migrate your data to Arbor before you start your training. This is to make sure that your data is as clean and accurate as possible before inputting it into Arbor – after all, the data in Arbor is only as good as the data we can import! Once that’s done, we’ve got lots of free resources to help make sure you hit the ground running, including unlimited free online training and a series of videos to show you how the system works. You can also choose to purchase in-person training packages that we’ll deliver for you throughout the year.

Step 4: Get to know your new MIS

Once you’ve launched, we’ll help walk you through the basic functions of Arbor and get the system running smoothly throughout your school. We’ll make sure all your staff are sufficiently trained for day-to-day use of the system, before introducing you to some of Arbor’s more powerful features.

Step 5: Make sure Arbor is a success at your school

Once you’re all set up, we have a dedicated Customer Support Team who are there to support you every day of the week from 8am-5pm by phone or email. We also provide free online guides and training sessions, just in case you want to top up your knowledge! Once you’ve completed your training, your Customer Success Manager will hand you over to your Account Manager. You’ll have termly check-ins so we can see how you’re getting on, and after 12 months you can book an Arbor Health Check to review your first year with us to see what impact Arbor has had on your school’s performance.

It’s as simple as that! Once you decide to make the move to Arbor, we’re here to ensure you get all the support you need so you can immediately start getting the most out of your system. Don’t take our word for it though – see what our schools & MATs have said about moving to Arbor recently:

  • “Migration was a very smooth process. A small matter of saving a backup and a couple of other files pre-switch and a few (expected) minor tweaks after. Such a massive transition, such a small impact. Excellent.”

Stephanie Bass, Business Administration Manager at Bridge Schools Trust

  • “If I had to talk to a school that were thinking about changing to Arbor, the one thing I would tell them is to just do it, because your data will actually mean something to you. Instead of inputting data and not really appreciating why or what it means, you will get a view of what is actually happening in your school”

Ruth Davies, IT Manager, St James’ CofE Primary School

 You can read more quotes here!

Harriet Cheng - 16 July, 2018

Category : Blog

Free Arbor Insight & ASP training is back!

Join us at a free training session on getting the most out of Arbor Insight this Autumn.

Join us at a free training session on getting the most out of Arbor Insight this Autumn

Last Autumn 300+ schools joined us at our free training sessions to learn how to use Arbor Insight as a replacement to RAISEonline. For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, Arbor Insight is a free benchmarking tool we’ve created for every school & MAT in the country to help you analyse your latest Analyse School Performance (ASP) & finance data. Signing up gives you access to interactive dashboards and reports benchmarking your school or MAT locally, nationally, and against similar and “Outstanding” schools. You can see your school’s free portal for yourself here.

The good news is that this Autumn our free training sessions are back! We’ll be delivering training at 45 events across the country – everywhere from Somerset up to Cumbria. This year, the sessions will explain how to use your performance data & Arbor Insight portal as part of your annual school improvement cycle. We’ll cover:

1. Benchmarking
We’ll demonstrate how to use Arbor’s reports and dashboards to quickly identify strengths & weaknesses, and share them with Governors and SLT. You’ll swap reports with other schools to challenge your preconceptions and get a fresh perspective on your data.

2. Typicality
We’ll show how to dig deeper into the trends behind your benchmarking data to help you investigate whether this year’s results are typical for your school, or specific to one cohort.

3. School Improvement Workshop
We’ll examine how your performance data feeds into planning & writing specific, measurable objectives for your School Improvement Plan.

What you’ll take away:

  • Free Arbor Insight portal with ASP benchmarking dashboards, a Free Performance Summary report and an exclusive discount on your eight Premium reports
  • A personalised data map showing the information your school collects and where it sits, so you can streamline your operations, save on IT spend and improve your GDPR-compliance
  • Direct feedback from colleagues on your benchmarking data and School Improvement Plan to give you a fresh perspective on your strengths & weaknesses, and help tighten up your objectives for next year

Click here to book your free place!

Let us know if you have any questions by calling 0207 043 1830 – hope to see you there!

Chris Kirk - 11 July, 2018

Category : Blog

How to build MAT central teams and services

Chris recently wrote a blog for us about the 6 phases of growth that MATs go through, and the crises that can follow each phase, as well as how MATs can use an ‘operating model approach’ to ensure that they’re laser-focused on delivering their vision. His latest blog for us looks at the four common tensions faced by MATs when centralising operations, and how to avoid them.

Chris recently wrote a blog for us about the 6 phases of growth that MATs go through, and the crises that can follow each phase, as well as how MATs can use an ‘operating model approach’ to ensure that they’re laser-focused on delivering their vision. His latest blog for us looks at the four common tensions faced by MATs when centralising operations, and how to avoid them.

As I approach 25 years in the education sector I can’t remember a more demanding environment for reducing costs and increasing accountability.  Whilst we all continue to make the case to government for addressing the many challenges this raises, it’s incumbent on education leaders to manage the resources they have wisely, for the benefit of students.

That’s why Academies that come together into Multi Academy Trusts often do so in pursuit of greater efficiency and effectiveness.  Many MATs find that Finance and HR are the easiest services to centralise, followed by Estates and IT.  On the education side of things, it is common to see school improvement, Family Support, and Special Needs Support Services benefit from this approach.  This all sounds straightforward, but there are four common tensions to be aware of.  In this blog I explain what these are, and how to avoid them.

Tension 1: “To the person with only a hammer, every problem looks like a nail!”  
Before you fix on one approach to structuring your central teams, there are five choices to consider:

  • A MAT shared service: An obvious option is to scoop up the roles (and, sometimes, parts of roles) involved in the same activity across the Academies, and then redesign a new shared service.  This will mean changing some roles, and moving the reporting lines for operations staff from local Academies to your central/ functional team. I’ve helped MATs significantly reduce the cost of Academy-level finance and other operations activities through this approach
  • A shared service with other MATs: If the business case for a shared service within the MAT is not strong due to lack of scale, consider whether you can create a service with other MATs.  This is particularly useful for high cost/low incident services such as aspects of SEN; for specialist activity, e.g. MATs sharing a Maths or Science programme; or for MATs who see benefit in sharing operations, but don’t want to merge fully
  • Purchase: It might be that rather than sharing a service, you just need to centralise the purchase of something – e.g. insurance, energy, catering.  This can give some rapid success compared to the restructuring options above
  • Professional management: Sometimes it is enough to give guidance and some systems at the centre, and leave delivery local.  This is a good option for activities that are hard to standardise, but the downside is adding central team cost without reducing local activity
  • Improve culture or skills rather than structure: Are the problems/opportunities actually the result of structure at all, or are there some cultural or capability improvements you need to make first?

Tension 2: Balancing ‘build capacity in advance of need’ with keeping overheads low
Case studies of MATs who have grown sustainably point to forward planning, with capacity to provide effective support to new Academies.  However, I have also come across MATs who created new central roles in anticipation of growth that didn’t happen, due for example, to delays in approval from the DfE, and were left holding an expensive baby.
To address this, there are two principles you can apply:
(i) The first is ‘often recruiting; occasionally hiring’.  You can be scouting for talent before you are in a position to commit, so when you do need to hire you aren’t starting from scratch.
(ii) Secondly, build in agility – can you create additional capacity through partnerships or buying in services, until you know you are ready to make a permanent hire?

Tension 3: “To SLA or not to SLA… that is the question” 
As you move from a service which was managed and received by the same leader, i.e. an Academy Principal, to one which is managed by, say, the Director of Finance, there is a risk of getting caught up in a nightmare of “Service Level Agreements” and supplier/customer relationships.  Most MATs take the sensible view that, for an internal shared service, the starting point is colleagues working together to the same end, with defined roles and responsibilities, but without SLAs.  On the other hand, if you have decided to purchase from an external Shared Service Centre, or to share a service between MATs, you are going to need more formality, and this usually takes the form of  SLAs and a Service Catalogue.  This sets out what is delivered, to what standards, who it’s delivered to, and any delegation/escalation arrangements.  Whether its internal or external, aim to delegate as much as you can to the front line (with appropriate Schemes of Delegation) so that problems can be solved quickly and easily with minimal need for additional layers of decision making.

Tension 4: 1% Inspiration, 99% perspiration
Thomas Edison’s famous quote has some relevance here.  Strategy, design and forward planning can be energising, and tend to catch the attention of senior leaders.  Important though this is, the really difficult stuff is implementation.  Make sure the MAT leadership team is actively involved in leading the change, and that there is Board level sponsorship.  You’ll also need a ‘Change Project Team’ to handle planning, resolving difficult problems through negotiation, ensuring that the services to be provided are clear, that they deliver what the users actually need, and that everyone is supported through these changes.  You’ll need to think clearly in advance about HR, legal and financial implications of making the change, especially in terms of job roles.

That’s quite a few tensions, and so it’s worth reminding ourselves why it’s important to consider changing the roles of the central team as a MAT grows.  In my experience, there are 4 major benefits to be had:

  • Share hard-to-find and expensive expertise to make the biggest impact
  • Centralise onto single systems, therefore improving speed and efficiency of service
  • Economy of scale by pooling requirements and resources
  • Reducing costs, by fitting the right expertise to the right task, rather than having routine tasks carried out by expensive people

All of this saves time and money to reinvest in improving learning outcomes, and gives the Board a clearer view of what’s going on, therefore reducing risk.  This has to be right in today’s challenging times.

Chris Kirk is Director of CJK Associates, an education consultancy.  For more information about MAT central teams, operating models and strategy, take a look at his website here.

Daniel Giardiello - 25 June, 2018

Category : Blog

How Assessing Without Levels can make a difference at your SEN school (part II)

In my previous blog, I talked about how schools can adapt the one size fits all approach to assessments to better serve the needs of SEN students. Part two will talk in more detail about how schools can opt for flexible assessments without having to deal with the administrative burden, using residential SEMH provision Freiston Hall in Lincolnshire as an example of a school that uses Arbor’s curriculum tracker to create flexible frameworks that work for their students.

In my previous blog, I talked about how schools can adapt the one size fits all approach to assessments to better serve the needs of SEN students. Part two will talk in more detail about how schools can opt for flexible assessments without having to deal with the administrative burden, using residential SEMH provision Freiston Hall in Lincolnshire as an example of a school that uses Arbor’s curriculum tracker to create flexible frameworks that work for their students.

Dr Clem Earle, Head of Education at Frieston Hall, believes that the SEMH environment ‘forces us to be different and take risks, as the kids provide us with such a range of cognitive challenges every day.’

More and more SEN schools are now using the freedoms of assessing without levels to establish frameworks that measure self-confidence, self-awareness, managing feelings and making relationships, as well as academic progress. During my time at The KLMS Federation in Leicester, we established the Behaviour for Learning Driving License. This was a framework of descriptors which combined elements of Personal Learning and Thinking Skills (PLTS), Social Emotional aspects of Learning (SEAL), the EYFS Early Learning Goals and the content of targets from within each student’s SEN statement. This framework helped us to re-focus provision onto the things that really mattered, giving us the opportunity to evidence traditionally unmeasured aspects of student development alongside academic ones. From addressing these formative needs first, the students at the KLMS federation are now achieving the highest academic grades the schools have ever seen.

Arbor’s Curriculum Tracker – A system to support flexible assessment
In a profession already burdened with high levels of administrative demand, creating frameworks, collecting data and carrying out analysis can lead to significant additional workload if you are not using the right system to help you. Whilst it provided valuable insight, Gathering Behaviour for Learning data in my case did lead to many hours of staring at Excel sheets and copy & pasting figures from emails and bits of paper to get what I needed.

Sitting as an integrated module within Arbor’s MIS, the Curriculum Tracker is a tool that gives schools and trusts the complete flexibility to assess in the way that they want without administrative burden. Schools can choose to use a combination of published frameworks such as Rising Stars, NAHT and the National Curriculum statements or define bespoke assessment frameworks of their own. There is complete flexibility in setup both in terms of the number and content of statements or KPIs in each mark sheet and the setup of grade scales used to measure progress against them. This all allows for them to strike just the right balance of national/local alignment and individual autonomy within one system.

Freiston Hall School in Lincolnshire are a residential SEMH provision who are making full use of this facility to create frameworks that fit their students’ needs and focus on social, emotional, and problem-solving skills as well as academic progress. The image below shows the input page of a framework developed by Kathy McLoughlin (a teacher at Freiston Hall) which focuses on students developing their abilities to communicate, interact, resolve conflict, live healthily, learn, and work as a team.

Freiston Hall also uses the Curriculum Tracker to measure the impact of its Forest School provision in a similar way alongside other national Frameworks for subjects such as Maths, English and Science. Read what Dr Clem Earle, Head of Education had to say about how Arbor’s MIS helped him create a bespoke assessment solution for his pupils:

“Many professionals are trapped in a mentality of wanting to get it right, or more likely “not risking getting it wrong”  so they continue with what they know. In a way, the SEMH environment forces us to be different and take risks as the kids provide us with such a range of cognitive challenges.

We work with young people that have behaviour difficulties and attachment trauma/mental health issues so we have to think and live “outside the box” for most of our working day. This means we have to be highly creative in how we customise curriculum delivery for our young people. Arbor allows to us be responsive in ways that other systems can’t facilitate. As a team, we can discuss a new idea or an amendment and have a working model up and running within a couple of days” 

Interested in how Arbor can help? Click here to find out more about how our integrated curriculum tracker could improve outcomes for SEN students at your school or MAT.