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Debbie Clinton - 9 December, 2019

Category : Blog

Turning around a failing MAT: Debbie Clinton & Vince Green share their journey with Academy Transformation Trust (part 2)

At Arbor’s MAT conference on 8th November in Manchester, Debbie Clinton, CEO, and Vince Green, Principal and Regional Director for Education, shared their experiences of turning around Academy Transformation Trust over the past year. To read part 1 of their presentation, click here.  It’s scary, isn’t it? How these edifices can collapse really, really quickly in

At Arbor’s MAT conference on 8th November in Manchester, Debbie Clinton, CEO, and Vince Green, Principal and Regional Director for Education, shared their experiences of turning around Academy Transformation Trust over the past year. To read part 1 of their presentation, click here

It’s scary, isn’t it? How these edifices can collapse really, really quickly in our sector.  So how have we fixed it? What have we actually done? I suppose we’ve done a lot of obvious stuff, really. First, I went on a grand tour – it had to be done. I don’t know how you can do it any other way as a new Chief Executive. You’ve got to get into these academies and get to know them, smell them, breathe them – just to feel what they feel like. 

So I said to the principals, “I’m going to carry out 22 section 8 inspections over a two term period.” That went down well. But it was actually really, really helpful. I did this because, with the absence of effective school improvement strategy and an effective MIS, I didn’t have intelligence I could trust. I didn’t feel that I could trust what I was being told across all 22 academies. On reflection it was useful because you see things that vary in quality from superb to rubbish.

It’s important to decide this: what are our priorities? A delivery plan was absolutely vital, because there was no culture to hold people to account whatsoever. While I am surrounded by lots of talent in the league of Vince, one of the problems that I had was that the absence of effective systems meant that quality assurance just wasn’t happening on a routine basis. 

So the executive leadership team complete an annual delivery plan and decide the following: here’s our strategic priority, here’s what I am going to do and here’s what that will be. Now, if  only getting the structure right led to rapid school improvement – wouldn’t we all be happy? 

I appreciate that I’m now in year two. Year one was spent doing that. And now in year 2, my trustees will say, “Okay then. Let’s see the impact of these significant changes.” It’s a fair enough question. But I hope what you see is a coherence; an approach to regionalisation; an approach to mirroring directorates that look like each other, which helps in terms of becoming one entity.

(Image 1: A slide taken from Debbie Clinton’s presentation showing how she will act on her three year strategy to improve Academy Transformation Trust)

People development is perhaps an obvious thing to bring up, as is the urgent need for the assessment of safeguarding and risk. We’ve appointed a Director of Safeguarding because we didn’t have one before. One of our schools went into category last academic year on the back of a very serious safeguarding criminal case. We’ve moved on quite a bit since then, but one of the reasons for it was that we just really weren’t understanding the complexity and the vagaries of safeguarding. I think Ofsted upped their safeguarding game remarkably in the past 12 months (about time, mind) and we don’t always agree with them, but actually, in light of that, it means that someone’s got to be driving safeguarding.

Governance is also really important. Our governance trust board had been radically reformed with the DFE’s involvement before I got there. They’re very impressive. Local academies were all over the place – outstanding through to absent, basically, because there’s no approach to governance. There’s no coherent approach to understanding what governance means in our trust.

We appointed a head of corporate affairs which was crucial. Neutrality is also really important. I know that Andy will happily whistleblow about me at anytime because he’s very clear that he is accountable to the chair of the trust. So, although he’s a salaried employee, he operates in a neutral way. 

We’ve taken a lot of time to think about the style with which we bring about the recovery. This is perhaps a bit blindingly obvious, but actually I’ve inspected too many MATS and schools to know it isn’t always: “What leadership technique and strategy will I use in this meeting, this workshop, this line management, this performance development compensation, etc.?”

(Image 2: A slide taken from Debbie Clinton’s presentation showing the style of her three year strategy to improve Academy Transformation Trust)

It’s also important to be humble. Humility: you can’t underestimate that. But you know that already. CEOs are famous for their egos aren’t they? I hope I park it as much as I can. There’s too much ego in our system already. We need to acknowledge that around us, we have so much talent. Tact: I’m mostly tactful, but I also don’t mess around. If someone’s not done a good job, they do know it.

I am patient mostly and ethical always. You can look at my expense plan. You can look at my salary. I’ve worked really hard and I spent a long time with my P.A. and one of our finance team talking about the management of my expenses accounts and how it was going to be; how it would be quality assured.

Then the other stuff is obvious. Communication practices: the most obvious thing. We haven’t got that right. In fact, we’re not very good at that yet. It’s getting better, but we need it. We do need an effective communication strategy. You can’t just by accident run a MAT of our size. You’ve got to be consciously thinking about how you get it all behaving as one entity. How will you constantly revisit what we are and what we say we are?

(Image 3: A slide taken from Debbie Clinton’s presentation showing how her strategy has started to improve outcomes for Academy Transformation Trust)

So as you would expect, there are some quantitative and qualitative examples of the impact of all of this activity so far. We ended last year with a £2.9 million deficit. We ended this year in surplus for £2 million. We still have a historic debt, which won’t be settled until summer of 2021. But in a year, we’re down to £2 million. So despite everything, despite ruthless financial leadership, we still did that because we were spending amounts like £200,000 on an army of goodness knows what. I’m out of time now, but I think that the rest speaks for itself.  

 

Debbie Clinton and Vince Green - 5 December, 2019

Category : Blog

Turning around a failing MAT: Debbie Clinton & Vince Green share their journey with Academy Transformation Trust (part 1)

At Arbor’s MAT conference on 8th November in Manchester, Debbie Clinton, CEO, and Vince Green, Principal and Regional Director for Education, shared their experiences of turning around Academy Transformation Trust over the past year. We’ve transcribed part 1 of their presentation below!  Debbie:  I’m Debbie Clinton, the Chief Executive Officer of Academies Transformation Trust and

At Arbor’s MAT conference on 8th November in Manchester, Debbie Clinton, CEO, and Vince Green, Principal and Regional Director for Education, shared their experiences of turning around Academy Transformation Trust over the past year. We’ve transcribed part 1 of their presentation below! 

Debbie: 

I’m Debbie Clinton, the Chief Executive Officer of Academies Transformation Trust and I have been in post since September of 2018. A bit about my background: Secondary headteacher (named in the House of Commons!) and all these accolades that actually were very precious to me at the time. And then I left all of that to join the dark side and become an HMI (forgive me!) but it was very useful. Then I went over to the Diverse Academy Learning Partnership in the East Midlands to be the deputy CEO and then acting CEO of a much smaller trust than the one I work with now. And then, obviously I mentioned that I started at ATT just over a year ago, and I’m loving it. But it’s also a bit loony, which we’ll come to.

Vince: 

I’m Vince Green and I’ve been a principal within the Academy Transformation Trust since 2014. It’s my 6th year with the trust and I’ve really experienced the interesting journey that our trust has been on during the last 5 years – very much ups and downs all along the way. I was principal for 5 years at Bristnall Hall Academy in Sandwell. But this year, I’m in a fortunate position. Having worked with Debbie for just over a year, I’m now Regional Education Director for Secondary West and also Executive Principal over Bristnall Hall and two other academies in the West Midlands. 

Debbie: 

First, we’ll do the boring bit. So this is us. We are big. We have 22 academies, 10 primaries and secondaries, 1 special school and 1 FE College. We operate across 2 regions, 10 local authority areas, 10 lots of schools forums, 10 lots of CED funding models, 10 high-needs funding models. It’s just great. We have a turnover of over 8 million – not enough, but obviously a significant budget to manage. We have 13,000 students and around 2000 colleagues. If I had had my old HMI hat on – and there’s at least one other former HMI in the room – I would have put our multi-academy trust straight into category for all sorts of reasons, and we’ll come to those now. 

(Image 1: A slide taken from Debbie Clinton’s presentation showing key stats from the Academy Transformation Trust)

The main reason is actually very simple: the multi-academy trust was not behaving as a multi-academy trust. It was behaving as a set of 22 individual entities, some of whom, like Vince’s old academy, were fairly high-performing and doing quite well. So, they kind of just got on with it and thought “the trust is just a pain so I’ll just park that to one side.” As a formerly strong Head, I would’ve done the same. But others, of course, were desperate for the structure and support and challenge that lies at the heart of an effective multi-academy trust – and they weren’t getting any of that. So, everybody lost.

There’s a theme we hope that you pick up running through our presentation: the need to behave as a trust, but then defining what that actually means. We had the following problems: significant debt, 4 CFOs in as many years, management that wasn’t fit for purpose (I’m not talking about the individuals, actually, because many of them are still with me – which is actually a great testament to how far we’ve come). But the structures were just all over the place. Very poor systems. We’re still unearthing things now that are news to some of my senior leaders. Very poor control. Almost absent control at all levels, actually.

Then there’s risk management. I can say this now, because we’ve got one. We didn’t have a risk register. Can you imagine my reaction when I arrived to that? And the trustees were being told that everything was actually tickety-boo when it certainly wasn’t. Some academies had a risk register, so they were compliant, and in some cases quite good registers. But there wasn’t one in the centre. This was a huge problem.

(Image 2: A slide taken from Debbie Clinton’s presentation showing key financial problems within the Academy Transformation Trust)

Vince: 

Can I just add from a principal’s point of view that within our trust during that time, it was quite a strange scenario. About a year in, lots of our academies with financial issues were in positions where there had to be restructures and redundancy processes. We very much did those off our own backs, because we had worked with principals or head teachers before who’d always done the right thing: cut their crop accordingly. If you haven’t got enough money moving forward, you have a redundancy process. But many didn’t, and it wasn’t imposed on them by the Trust at all. 

At times, it would appear to most of us principals that financial people didn’t really know when these problems were coming. So, the only academies that were addressing this were those that had good financial systems and managers within their academy already. We realised this during a major redundancy process at my own academy at the time and I remember turning around to my SLT at one time and saying, “You know what? I reckon today we could go out and spend £100,000 on stuff for this academy and I think we’d get away with it.” Unfortunately, it’s taxpayers’ money, because otherwise it would be great fun. That was the kind of world we lived in at the time. 

Debbie: 

Absolutely. It’s a picture that I recognised from my inspection life as well. With regard to operations, you’ve got to think about the context. 22 academies, 10 local authority areas across East and West regions, massive geographical challenges and a massive geographical understanding that needs to be grasped that wasn’t. So, we’ve done quite a lot with H.R., which is getting there and ICT, which wasn’t regionalised – I mean how do you not regionalise IT and MIS? How can you not actually make sure that the very architecture on which you build your MAT has been properly regionalised? 

We also had poor procurement leadership; there was a Procurement Director. I have no evidence of the impact of that job at all. We had poor MIS leadership – absent, in fact. When you’re looking at areas like risk management and control systems, you need to be really clear on performance with regard to finance, operations and education. We don’t just do education in MATS – of course we don’t. We’re a multi-million pound business! How did we actually know what was going on? Well, we didn’t. And that’s kind of the point. Classic left hand, right hand stuff: too many people. 

If you look at old versions of our website, you will see that there’s all these people employed at the centre doing goodness knows what. And morally, I have an issue with that. So one of the first things we’ve done is try to drive ethical leadership culturally through the organisation. We have to be absolutely clear. What is that job that isn’t either a teacher, head teacher or member of associated support staff? What do they do? What is the point of me? What is the point of a job like this? And how do we continue to evidence the impact of these fairly highly-paid people? 

“What do you do?” That was a question that couldn’t be answered effectively by quite a number of people in those roles. Then there was an equally large problem: no approach to people development. There was no strategic, deep understanding that the most important thing you ever do as a trust – as any large organisation – is look after your people. Develop them. Challenge them. Bring them on. Make them feel like they want to be part of the journey. 

(Image 3: A slide taken from Debbie Clinton’s presentation showing key operations problems within the Academy Transformation Trust)

Vince:

I agree. In terms of education, there were some pockets of great practice going on within many of the academies and actually within our central team. We’ve had a lot of different staff that have worked separately for our trust over the 5 years I’ve worked with ATT. We’ve had some great individuals within those groups, but it’s never been joined up. And what it has resulted in is these academies pretty much working in silos, occasionally collaborating with other academies because the principals have taken it upon themselves to do it. But it’s been very much them and us. 

So that brings me on to where we are now. We are one organisation. We are one trust. I think what attracted me initially to work for ATT – to take on my first headship with it – was the fact that I was clearly going to have huge amounts of autonomy, which was very attractive at the time. I could bring in the people I wanted, which was great fun, and so on. And that worked well, even in my environment. I’m not just saying that because it’s me necessarily, because I had a number of other great things in place, but this did not work well in other academies where that wasn’t the case.  

We had, as I’ve said, uncontrolled spending. We had crazy staffing structures in some places and things not driving on educationally as one would want. Another big issue was definitely our people development strategy. In terms of talent mapping, capacity mapping and skill mapping, it was only done well in some academies. In others, we’ve lost some fantastic people along the way and I see them doing great things now in other trusts and in other organisations. And really, you know, our kids are missing out on those people now because it wasn’t mapped out properly at the time. 

Debbie

You know, Sir David Carter, as he left his role as National Schools Commissioner, talked about the spectrum of autonomous alignment and standardisation. What do you tightly control? What do you not really care about and what do you need to make sure you align? We did a lot of work on that, which is nowhere near finished, but we have begun a very important piece of work in our Trust about that. 

One of the things that most fascinated me in my interview for ATT was the total absence of this.  There were about 8 trustees involved in my appointment. During the interview they asked, “Have you got any questions?” And I said, “Talk to me about your school improvement strategy,” and they couldn’t tell me anything. It was disgraceful. 

In fact, the trustees were quite clear that this was one of their main worries that they felt unable to articulate. That classic Ofsted question: “Talk to me about how you improve academies.” What do you do? What’s your model? How do you know it works? 

So defining that was was really, very important indeed. When I arrived, they were spending £185,000 on consultants. So I asked to see the 16 contracts for these 16 consultants. Not a single KPI on any contract. One of them is charging around £800 a day (to fund his villa in Spain, clearly). I could not see any KPIs in any of those contracts, so they’ve all gone. 

(Image 4: A slide taken from Debbie Clinton’s presentation showing key education problems within the Academy Transformation Trust)

Vince:

Just to conclude, I mean, we will all be very aware of what’s happened with certain other high-profile MATs that no longer exist. And I think the bottom line was that ATT was in a position which was seen externally as relatively healthy. It was a MAT that had been allowed to grow – in a crazy way, really. If you look at the geography of a lot of our academies, we had at the time very rapidly declined, in a way that could have basically forced us to cease to exist.

Click here to read the next instalment of Debbie and Vince’s presentation, in which they talk about exactly how they approached turning around Academy Transformation Trust. 

Harriet Cheng - 5 December, 2019

Category : Blog

Our new partnership with School Business Services (SBS)

We’re delighted to announce that School Business Services (SBS) is now an accredited support partner for Arbor MIS. SBS is a leading specialist in school support services, offering a wide range of MIS services to suit schools’ finances, staff and vision. They work with over 1000 schools across England, with strong hubs in London, the

We’re delighted to announce that School Business Services (SBS) is now an accredited support partner for Arbor MIS.

SBS is a leading specialist in school support services, offering a wide range
of MIS services to suit schools’ finances, staff and vision. They work with
over 1000 schools across England, with strong hubs in London, the South
West and the North.

Consisting of ex-deputy headteachers, teachers and educational
specialists, the SBS MIS team builds trusting relationships with schools,
providing consultancy and training.

In addition to MIS, School Business Services is an onsite, offsite and online
support provider for Finance, HR and ICT. They develop the leading budget
management software SBS Budgets, accessed anywhere via SBS Online.

Arbor MIS (Management Information System) is the hassle-free way for
schools and trusts to get work done.

Whether you’re a primary, secondary or MAT, Arbor helps make your
essential daily admin more powerful and less stressful – so everyone from
your back office to your SLT can get on and focus where it matters most.

We’ve already helped more than 800 schools and MATs make the switch to
our smarter cloud-based MIS. With human support at every step!

We visited the SBS Milton Keynes office recently to complete their
accreditation test.

The full day’s accreditation included:

  • A 1-hour training assessment to evidence SBS’s capability
  • A Service Desk troubleshooting test
  • An onsite inspection to observe SBS’ Service Desk

Following a successful day, we’re thrilled to say we are now working together to give schools the option to switch to Arbor MIS whilst keeping their trusted support team at SBS. Working with Arbor and SBS together gives your school:

1. A cloud-based MIS which makes your essential admin and day-to-day work hassle-free

2. Clear MIS data you can use to focus where it matters most

3. An MIS Support Team who will help you save time on data management

4. Peace of mind for statutory returns

5. A team who will empower your staff to develop skills

To find out more about switching to Arbor with the SBS MIS team contact
0345 222 1551 – Opt 5 or email hello@schoolbusinessservices.co.uk.

Beth Mokrini - 3 December, 2019

Category : Blog

Orbis becomes Arbor-accredited

In my last blog, I explained why SIMS Support Units are teaming up with Arbor right now – and why this is great news for schools. This week, we’re celebrating one of our new partners gaining their Arbor accreditation. Meet Orbis – a collaboration between Brighton & Hove City Council, and Surrey and East Sussex

In my last blog, I explained why SIMS Support Units are teaming up with Arbor right now – and why this is great news for schools. This week, we’re celebrating one of our new partners gaining their Arbor accreditation. Meet Orbis – a collaboration between Brighton & Hove City Council, and Surrey and East Sussex County Councils – who’ve just passed their test with flying colours! 

(Image 1: logo of newly-accredited Arbor Partner, Orbis)

The Orbis Partnership started seven years ago as a way of taking the stress out of procurement and helping schools get the best value for money. In 2017, they teamed up formally sothey could share more services and bring together decades of expertise in finance, business operations, HR and IT.

Orbis are proud of their public sector background and they know how important it is that the technology in your school “just works”. Their passion and experience help them go the extra mile for their schools by:

  • Offering a mix of on-site and remote IT support so you can create a package that suits your needs
  • Helping you keep your data accurate and up-to-date to avoid stress on census day
  • Backing up and restoring your data from a secure remote network
  • Advising you on how to meet Department of Education (DfE) and Ofsted requirements
  • Looking after the core hardware and software that makes your school tick
  • Giving outstanding training and support

(Image 2: The Orbis team explaining how they help schools and MATs)

Orbis chose to work with Arbor after noticing that more and more local schools were switching away from Capita SIMS each year and choosing cloud-based systems instead. SIMS – once the go-to name in schools for all things admin – has had some delays in bringing out a  cloud alternative to their traditionally server-based product. Now, schools and MATs are switching to the cloud in greater numbers than ever before, and are looking for a cloud-based MIS like Arbor that takes the stress out of daily admin and lets them work from anywhere. 

(Image 3: A graph showing the declining number of schools using SIMS and increasing number of schools using a cloud-based MIS)

This has transformed the way thousands of schools work, putting data at the fingertips of every teacher, administrator and senior leader to help them see the big picture and take action. Even so, schools are busy places and people still need human support! A new MIS can often do things they couldn’t have imagined with the old system, and they need training to empower them to use it.

Orbis realised that there was a demand for local, hands-on support and training from the hundreds of schools using Arbor MIS across the South East, so they joined Arbor’s partner program in February 2019. As well as championing the effective use of MIS in schools, they can also help with all aspects of IT within your school as part of their all-inclusive, fully-managed Premier Support Service. They can also advise you on Finance, HR and Payroll, Property and Catering – so you can get all your support from one team. 

The Orbis Partnership is one of 24 brilliant Arbor support units around the country – click here for a full list. If you’re a current Arbor customer and you’d like to switch your support to a local partner, reach out to your Arbor account manager on 020 7043 0470 and they’ll be happy to advise. 

 

If you’re new to Arbor and thinking of switching to our cloud-based MIS, book a demo by calling 020 8050 1028 or email tellmemore@arbor-education.comFor more information on Orbis IT Services you can call them on 01323 463133 or email itd@orbis.services 

 

Tim Ward - 28 November, 2019

Category : Blog

Research Led Curriculum Design

Every school has been working hard on ensuring they have an inspiring, rich and challenging curriculum for the pupils recently.  Whilst a great curriculum has always been at the heart of learning, the extra focus of the updated Ofsted evaluation schedule has led to schools revisiting their curriculum design. Whilst reviewing curriculum design, schools should

Every school has been working hard on ensuring they have an inspiring, rich and challenging curriculum for the pupils recently.  Whilst a great curriculum has always been at the heart of learning, the extra focus of the updated Ofsted evaluation schedule has led to schools revisiting their curriculum design.

Whilst reviewing curriculum design, schools should ask themselves not only what pupils should know, be able to do and understand, but also how these aspects work in a cross-curricular way.  Is there a skill that will help a pupil’s understanding of many subjects? Should we have explicit goals for learning behaviours that will assist learning in a global sense? Many schools will already do this but – when asked why – they often assert that such learning behaviours are impactful -, without being able to reference any real evidence.

Is this really a problem?  Perhaps not. After all, a skilful teacher or leader often draws on years of experiential learning of what works well.  High performing professionals are known to work in a constant loop of self-feedback that informs future practice.

On the other hand – maybe this is a problem.  Those of you who are familiar with the work of John Hattie will know that his research into the impact of what strategies truly improve learning can be very insightful. For example, his work highlights the relatively small impact of class size on outcomes – yet many still believe this is crucial. 

Before we make changes, we need to be sure we are making decisions based on sound evidence.

Which brings me to my main point: all schools should be actively researching and monitoring  the impact of their curriculum design. If you are about to spend significant time building a change to your curriculum, training teachers and updating documents, then you need to know this change will make a meaningful impact.

During my time working with Computing At School, I saw what I believed to be evidence that computational thinking had a positive impact in other areas of the curriculum, with a focus on problem-solving, decomposition of problems and self-evaluation of solutions.  But how could I be sure?

This is where we need to design a process that tests the theory by providing clear evidence of impact; this means building in a way to make the important measurable (as opposed to making the measurable important).

In my example, I may believe that pupils who are better at problem-solving perform better across the curriculum.  I might decide, therefore, to explicitly teach problem-solving. In order to effectively judge whether I am right, I need to know two things: which pupils are good at problem solving and does this correlate with other educational outcomes?

Time, then, for some active research. Using a rubric, I could evaluate pupils’ problem-solving skills.

(Image 1: A table taken from Livingstone Academies part of the Aspirations Academies Trust – Copyright 2016)

 

I could then cross-reference this to academic outcomes in English and Mathematics.  If a strong correlation exists, then it will be worthwhile integrating the teaching of problem-solving into my curriculum.

As ever though – this can be time-consuming work.  If schools are to engage in research like this, they need a hassle-free way to get it done.  They need a tool that can bring together what you already know about your pupils, such as their background and current academic grades, and your research evidence.

Luckily for Arbor schools, it’s very easy to make a rubric for assessing almost anything, such as the problem-solving example above.  Once this has been used, clear analytics can then be used to determine if a strong correlation exists.

Research like this needs to be a continual process, as the needs of your pupils may change; the world they live in certainly will! So, having the tools to make the process easy and hassle-free should be a high priority.

In summary:

1. When you review curriculum design, look for opportunities that improve outcomes across all subjects

2. Beware of falling back on assumed knowledge of “what works well”

3. Instead, find ways to make what you believe to be important measurable and generate your own research data

4. Use this data to make evidentially driven changes to secure maximum impact on pupil learning

5. Don’t start work without having the right tools at your disposal that will make the process hassle-free and help you get the work done quickly. 

 

If you’d like to find out why Arbor is the MIS schools love to use, why not contact us? You can also book a demo by calling 0207 043 0470 or email tellmemore@arbor-education.com.

 

Rebecca Watkins - 25 November, 2019

Category : Blog

KS4 Performance Data Analysis: Now available on Arbor Insight

We’re really pleased to announce that your latest KS4 data is now available on Arbor Insight!  We’ve been hard at work crunching all of your 2018/19 ASP data, so you can spend more time focusing on how findings from your performance data will inform your school improvement planning.  We’ve produced 7 premium PDF reports, which

We’re really pleased to announce that your latest KS4 data is now available on Arbor Insight! 

We’ve been hard at work crunching all of your 2018/19 ASP data, so you can spend more time focusing on how findings from your performance data will inform your school improvement planning. 

We’ve produced 7 premium PDF reports, which benchmark your school against similar schools and top performing schools, as well as the national average. You can quickly and easily share these reports with your team, governors and even parents. We’ve also created free performance dashboards for every school in the country, where you can look at all of your headline measures and drill down into your data to see your strengths and weaknesses and where your biggest gaps are in attainment and progress. Adjust filters to change the year, demographic group and benchmarks; this makes your analysis quick, simple and highly effective.  

(Fig. 1 Key Findings page from an example Understanding Your School Report)

 

The percentage of pupils entered into the EBacc increased this year by 1.6% from 2018; this is the highest entry rate since the introduction of the Ebacc in 2010. Both Humanities and Foreign Languages subjects had increased entry rates this year compared with last, which contributes to this increased entry rate. However, this increase is not across the board, The Department for Education has stated that this year 58.4% of pupils with high prior attainment entered the EBacc, compared with 30% of pupils who have middle attainment and just 9.4% who have low attainment. 

There is also a lot of variation in terms of what subjects students choose across these 3 attainment groups. We’ve created a curriculum summary in the “Understanding Your School Report”, so you can see what subjects your low, middle and high attainment pupils have taken this year and a separate summary for the subjects your FSM pupils have entered. Our Understanding Your School report also shows you the subjects your disadvantaged students have entered into in comparison with their peers, so you can see whether there are issues with access to different areas of learning between different pupil groups.

(Fig2. Curriculum Summary focus on disadvantaged from an example Understanding Your School Report)

 

Another feature of the “Understanding Your School Report” is our “Schools Like You” benchmark, which is hugely effective in demonstrating how the specific demographic context of your school affects pupil attainment. This is something that the Progress 8 measure cannot show by itself and it’s useful to know how similar schools are performing, so you can use this as a realistic benchmark. Our “Schools Like You” benchmark shows an average figure of all schools that have a similar demographic intake to yours. We’ve used the methodology of the Education Endowment Foundation for the weighting of demographics in this benchmark, which is: average prior attainment (40%), variance prior attainment (5%), FSM 6 (25%), EAL (20%) and IDACI – Income Deprivation Affecting Children (10%).

(Fig. 3 Maths attainment page showing an example of the “Schools Like You” benchmark from the Understanding Your School Report)

 

Researchers at the Centre for Multilevel Modelling, Bristol University, compared the current Progress 8 measure with an “adjusted” measure that also accounted for pupil criteria such as gender, age, ethnicity, residential deprivation, Free School Meals, English as an Additional Language and Special Educational Needs. Adjusting the Progress 8 measure to include background factors like these meant that, in national rankings based on accountability measures, 20% of schools would change by over 500 places. 

Exam results can also be disproportionately affected by social and geographical context. You can see how the area your school is in has impacted your pupils’ outcomes in our “Understanding Your School Report”, which features our new Area Type Comparison graph. This graph brings ONS area classification data together with your ASP attainment data – something entirely unique to Arbor Insight. The ONS has classified every LA in the country into 8 “supergroups”, which share characteristics, based on socio-economic and demographic data from the national census. Our graph explains which supergroup (or area type) your school is in, and shows how your performance compares to schools in areas with similar socio-economic characteristics, helping you to examine patterns between your student intake and attainment.

(fig. 4 Area Type Graph of a school in “Affluent England” taken from an example Understanding Your School Report)

 

Arbor Insight is our industry-leading benchmarking tool for every school and MAT in the country. It’s free for everyone! If you haven’t already, sign up today in just 1 minute: https://login.arbor.sc/auth/register

If you already have an account, log in to see your updated performance dashboards: https://login.arbor.sc/auth/login

 

Over 80 secondary schools have Arbor MIS and if you want to know why they love using Arbor, then take a look at the product here: https://arbor-education.com/products/school-mis/. Get in touch by phone on 020 8050 1028 or email hello@arbor-education.com -we’d love to hear from you!

Andrew Mackereth - 20 November, 2019

Category : Blog

A day in the life

I read the news today, oh boy.  Unfortunately, I’m not going on to talk about the lucky man that made the grade in the famous song by The Beatles; instead I’m talking about the story that appeared on BBC News with the caption: “I had an interest in school – but zero help.”  I felt

I read the news today, oh boy. 

Unfortunately, I’m not going on to talk about the lucky man that made the grade in the famous song by The Beatles; instead I’m talking about the story that appeared on BBC News with the caption: “I had an interest in school – but zero help.” 

I felt profoundly sad for the families and their unmet needs but as a former Headteacher, I also felt for the schools as they seemed to be taking the presenting issues extremely seriously but their “help” wasn’t helping. 

Thinking back to situations I had managed in my schools, I remembered the round-robin reports that regularly hit my desk about the progress, behaviour and attendance of pupils causing concern. This was our way of capturing the presenting issues in order to formulate a plan.

The sort of report I’m talking about is the kind that is being generated right now by teachers and pastoral leads across the country (and across the world) to explore concerns, or support meaningful meetings with parents. Every school seems to have their own template and completes in a way that meets their specific circumstances. However good I thought our report templates were, there was always some information that we hadn’t captured to complete the picture of the child. It’s only since I’ve been working with Arbor MIS that I realised just how poorly set up my schools were to surface student-level information quickly due to the limitations of our previous MIS. To compound the problem, my teams could only access the information when on site, which put an added burden on working parents and carers. 

Our weekly student focus meetings brought together progress, educational support, welfare and attendance leads to discuss current and emerging issues. A typical action arising from the meeting would be for a key worker (in this instance: me) to make contact with home to request a meeting. 

For the purpose of this blog, I am going to walk through a typical “student of concern” scenario but in this instance, the fictional student is Kimberly Adams, a Year 10 student at Pinewood Secondary School. As Head, I’m collating information ahead of a meeting with her parents. The meeting is therefore at our request because, as I shall explain, her name had cropped up in a number of progress and well-being meetings recently and we want to engage with home at the earliest opportunity. I want to get a comprehensive picture of the student using Arbor MIS.

The following picture begins to emerge:

Kimberly appears to like school; her attendance is currently 96%+ and this is an improvement on last year. She has regular planned absences for medical appointments due to a long-standing medical condition: the result of a head injury that causes a lack of focus. She has the highest attendance in her Tutor Group.

(Image 1: Screenshot of Attendance in Arbor broken down into different groups) 

 

Unfortunately, since the start of Year 10 she has begun to arrive at school late. There is no particular pattern to her lateness to school but she is frequently late to Pd3 which follows break. This is an area to investigate.

(Image 2: Screenshot of Attendance in Arbor broken down into time of day) 

 

Her behaviour is generally good but September the 18th was an uncharacteristically bad day. Kimberly didn’t suggest a reason as to why she had such a bad day but perhaps her parents can offer some context that would explain it. This is an area to investigate.

(Image 3: Screenshot of Behaviour in Arbor broken down into time of day) 

 

It seems that Kimberly does not adapt well to temporary teachers and, looking at her behaviour log in more depth, there seems to be a correlation between her incidents of misbehaviour and supply teachers. As a side issue, I can see that she had eight lessons where her regular teacher has been absent which is potentially having a de-stabilising effect. This is an area to investigate. 

(Image 4: Screenshot of student cover statistics in Arbor) 

 

Academically, she is performing fairly well. She is a low prior attainer but she has a flair for Maths and English. It would be useful to explore the issues around English and the relative underachievement in Computer Science and Textiles from her perspective.

(Image 5: Screenshot of assessment and progress statistics in Arbor) 

 

Kimberly has not signed up for any trips or visits this academic year but she is a member of the Eco Club. Her form tutor, Ms Kelly runs the Eco Club and this seems to have sparked her interest somewhat. Ms Kelly fears she may be bullied by some of the other girls in the tutor group but Kimberly has always denied this. This is an area to investigate. 

Neither parent has logged into the parent portal, so may be missing vital communications from school about events, achievement and progress. I should offer to reset their password or resend the joining instructions if required. 

I am confident that I can approach the meeting with some good evidence to back up my concerns and steer the conversation to cover the areas for further investigation. 

Meetings like this one will happen everyday in schools for a myriad of reasons. I’m fortunate that, because Arbor is designed to turn insight into action, I have all of my information on students at-risk together in one place – and not all over the place.

 

If you’d like to find out more about how our hassle-free, cloud-based MIS could help you act on everything important fast, so you and your staff can focus on what matters most, contact us. You can also book a demo by calling 0207 043 0470 or email tellmemore@arbor-education.com.

Rebecca Watkins - 19 November, 2019

Category : Blog

Budget Planning with your Schools Financial Benchmarking Report

We are all aware of the widespread funding shortfalls in the education sector, and it’s definitely a challenging time to be a budget holder in schools and Multi Academy Trusts. Having full visibility of all income and expenditure is hugely important in order to understand your school’s financial allocations, like where you may be lacking

We are all aware of the widespread funding shortfalls in the education sector, and it’s definitely a challenging time to be a budget holder in schools and Multi Academy Trusts. Having full visibility of all income and expenditure is hugely important in order to understand your school’s financial allocations, like where you may be lacking in funding and areas you might be overspending in. 

We have created a Schools Financial Benchmarking report (SFB) for every state school in England, which displays all of your income and expenditure in a clear, easy-to-read PDF report. Over 1,000 schools have used their Arbor Insight Financial Benchmarking report since we launched it in 2015; sharing it with governors, using it as evidence in internal and external meetings and using it to inform their budget planning.

(Image 1: A screenshot of Grant Funding as presented in Arbor’s Financial Benchmarking Report)

 

Your school budget should reflect your School Improvement Plan – covering a five-year basis, showing two years in retrospect, the current year, and the next two years’ forecast.

Before setting up any new budget, you’ll want to have handy:

  • Old budgets/past financial data to look at past performance, so you can learn from under and over-spends. You can find the last 2 years of financial data in your SFB report with clear trends shown in line graphs and 3-year rolling averages 
  • Pupil numbers, so you can find the last 5 years of your school numbers in the free ‘School Context’ dashboards in your Insight portal and in the free Performance Summary report we’ll be launching in Spring Term (keep an eye out!)
  • Exam results, so you can identify which parts of the curriculum could benefit from more money, and which have previously benefited. You can use your free Attainment and Progress dashboards or Premium Performance Reports- available to purchase from your Arbor Insight portal or Staffing requirements, including updated pay scales.
  • Other resource requirements – money needed for insurance, maintenance, etc.

 

Being aware of where you expect to see larger expenditure and accounting up front for your budget planning and communication is really important. For example, staffing costs in schools typically account for between 75 to 85% of the overall school expenditure and premises costs 10 to 12%. It’s therefore important to forecast likely costs in these areas early on. In your SFB report, you will see all expenditure and income sections shown as a percentage of total spend so you can visualise all of your finances better. We also break down every value as an amount that has been spent or received per pupil in your school. 

(Image 2: A screenshot of total spend as presented in Arbor’s Financial Benchmarking Report)

 

Arbor’s Schools Financial Benchmarking report is a useful resource for school budgeters, as you can see how much schools in your local authority spend on resources, such as classroom assistants, catering, building maintenance and so on. We also benchmark you school against other schools that have a similar demographic cohort of pupils to you, weighted by percentage of prior attainment, FSM and EAL pupils. If you have a high proportion of disadvantaged pupils, or perhaps pupils with low prior attainment, it’s important to see whether similar schools have comparable spending patterns – or if being benchmarked against these schools highlights some areas of funding/spending that might be good to look into. 

 

In terms of planning your budget and making sure it aligns with your school improvement planning, you can see how your finances have shaped up over the last 3 years with our line graphs that include trend figures. We also show the last 3 years of finances for each resource compared with that of the national average, schools in your LA and schools like you. Our 3-year rolling average for each expenditure and income resource can help you predict and plan your future 3 year expenditure planning. 

(Image 3: A screenshot of Premises as presented in Arbor’s Financial Benchmarking Report)

 

How to present this data to other key stakeholders:

Now you’ve got to break down the school budget for the governors. Come with easy-to-understand, clear budget reporting sheets, such as your Schools Financial Benchmarking report and feel prepared to explain any holes with recommendations for avoiding them in the future. For example, if you overspent on building maintenance this year, you could suggest implementing more regular building checks to spot problem areas, or negotiating better terms with your insurers and maintenance providers.

 

If you’re looking to keep your cost low and give next year’s budget a little wiggle room, look at how Arbor’s simple, smart MIS can help you not only centralise your systems and data, but also your costs, so that you can focus on what matters most, your pupils. 

 

Haven’t yet signed up to your Arbor Insight portal? No problem! Sign up here in seconds: https://login.arbor.sc/auth/register

Already signed up? Just log in here: https://login.arbor.sc/auth/login

If you have any questions or would like any help, you can reach the Arbor Insight team at insight@arbor-education.com or by calling us on 0207 043 1830.

 

Arbor Insight is a free tool we offer alongside our hassle-free MIS that schools and MATs love to use. If you’re interested in learning more about how our MIS can make daily school admin easier and your data more useful, book a free demo here or call our MIS Demo Team on 0208 050 1028.

Cosima Baring - 17 November, 2019

Category : Blog

Why 72 MATs have chosen to move all their schools to Arbor

Now that 72 MATs are using Arbor’s MIS to manage and collaborate more efficiently with their schools, we looked at the 4 key reasons MATs decide to switch to us.  Stay connected to all your schools Arbor MIS for MATs brings all your schools’ data together so you can instantly see how your students are

Now that 72 MATs are using Arbor’s MIS to manage and collaborate more efficiently with their schools, we looked at the 4 key reasons MATs decide to switch to us. 

Stay connected to all your schools

Arbor MIS for MATs brings all your schools’ data together so you can instantly see how your students are getting on, and jump in if you need to. Act on everything important, fast – and all from just one system, so you and your staff can get on with focusing on what matters most.

Follow up centrally

Arbor lets you log into your schools’ MIS systems in one click, meaning jobs like chasing absent students, following up on behaviour incidents and investigating overdue marks are simple, painless, and take far less time.  You can even set up escalations and workflows to get things done automatically, and track progress using standardised or non-standardised assessment frameworks.

Never ask for data again

Reporting in Arbor is as painless as it should be. Use our Report Builder to create reports for stakeholders in minutes (not days!) and send them out daily, weekly or termly to suit the needs of your Central Team. Stakeholders have the information they need without having to ask all the time, and can make better-informed decisions as a result.

A smooth transition with human support at every step

Having helped over 72 MATs and over 800 schools make the switch, we understand the importance of making sure your new MIS is a success for your schools and your Central Team. We’re on hand to answer questions every step of the way, and our phone lines are open 8am-5pm every day of the week.

“Arbor’s simple interface is easy to use, and we love the MAT reporting tool – the ability to see MAT data in one place without having to contact all schools individually has saved us so much time!”

Lisa Sarikaya, Deputy CEO at St Bart’s Multi-academy Trust

 

Join our Community of MATs

Over the course of this year, we’re bringing MATs from across the country together to discuss how to successfully centralise data and operations – we’d love to see you at an upcoming event!

Image 1: The Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, where our fourth conference will be held 

 

8th November 2019 

Scaling Sustainably: Our fourth MAT Leaders Conference

See the full agenda and sign up for your free ticket here: https://scaling-your-mat-sustainably-19.eventbrite.com

 

13-14th November 2019

Schools & Academies Show Birmingham

Visit us at stand F30 for a chat and a free demo to see if Arbor’s cloud-based MAT MIS could be the right fit for your trust. Don’t miss our live session on day 2 in the Business & Finance Theatre on Arbor’s free dashboards, which give you clear, aggregated, out-of-the-box analysis of your schools’ latest performance data.

 

31st December 2019

Give your MIS provider notice if you want to switch

If you’re planning to move all your schools to a cloud-based MIS like Arbor, most MIS providers (e.g. SIMS) need at least three months notice if you want to switch this school year.

 

22-25th January 2020

BETT 2020 at The ExCel

We’ll be at stand NM30 in the main area from Wednesday through Saturday! Drop by to see our MIS in action, come watch our talk at the Tech in Action arena or join us at Tapa Tapa restaurant for a free lunch & glass of wine each day.

 

27th March 2020

Arbor’s Spring MAT Conference

We’re holding our 5th MAT conference at Kings Place,  a ten minute walk from London Kings Cross Station. Put the date in your diary, and stay tuned for more details from us soon.

 

If you’d like to find out more about Arbor’s MIS for MATs, these events are all great opportunities to see if Arbor could be a good fit for your trust. Don’t forget, we also come to you – email us at tellmemore@arboreducation.com or call us on 0208 050 1028 to arrange a free demo.

 

Sophie Elms - 15 November, 2019

Category : Blog

Who is Arbor?

What we do and why… At Arbor, we’re on a mission to transform the way schools work with smarter, hassle-free tools teachers love to use.  You’ve seen the headlines. Sadly, the mess and stress of data and admin is a major source of unhappiness in our schools. 60% of a teacher’s time is spent on

What we do and why…

At Arbor, we’re on a mission to transform the way schools work with smarter, hassle-free tools teachers love to use. 

You’ve seen the headlines. Sadly, the mess and stress of data and admin is a major source of unhappiness in our schools. 60% of a teacher’s time is spent on admin related work, 53% agree that it contributes to stress and it’s only getting worse every year. 

So, at Arbor we put everything we have into building hassle-free school technology, like our MIS (Management Information System), that’s as powerful and intelligent as it is easy to use. 

Ultimately, we’re here to help make our schools and trusts stress a little less, and focus on what matters most – improving the lives of teachers and outcomes of students everywhere! 

So, who are we? 

We’re a diverse team of ex-teachers, education enthusiasts and motivated people who are all working towards the same goal: to help schools stress less and focus on what matters! Our interview process includes specific questions to make sure candidates’ values are aligned with our own.

(Image 1: A diagram showing Arbor’s core company values)

Finding people who share the same passion for our social impact not only makes our company an amazing place to work, it gives our customers a consistent, 5* service that sets us apart from our competitors.

Why working at Arbor was the right move for me

I joined Arbor in July 2019, with little knowledge of the EdTech market, but with a passion for helping people and finding great talent, which aligned well with Arbor’s mission. It was refreshing to join a company that cares just as much about values and cultural fit as experience and a CV. 

Arbor also aligns its values with the benefits offered to its employees, including a volunteering day with a cause/charity of your choice, flexible working, half day Fridays during the summer, personal and professional development training budgets – and much more! 

Arbor’s values aren’t just something we promote on our website; people say them out loud in the office; people live them day in, day out – internally with teams and externally with our customers.

(Image 2: A photograph of the Arbor team)

 

Hear it from our schools…

“Working with Arbor is a pleasure in every way. It is an exceptional tool but the people make the real difference with their friendly but professional manner, clear knowledge of the system, and most of all a strong passion and desire for delivering the desired outcomes and improving features and functionality.” – Stephanie Bass, Business Manager at Bridge Schools Trust

“We genuinely love the Arbor system and the team behind it who seem to just want the whole system to succeed at the Lakes. There’s always a bit of heart in the mouth when you instigate such change in a school and I would just like to say a huge thank you to yourself and your team, who really have looked after us and who have wholeheartedly helped us confirm that the decision to change to Arbor was the right one.” – Andy Cunningham, Headteacher at The Lakes Secondary School

 

Hear it from our Arborians…

 

Emma Sharples, Head of Professional Services

“Employee number 35 and number 4 on the ground in Leeds. I started Arbor as an Engagement Manager, working on special projects and building our implementation models for future onboarding.

After approximately 1090 working days, onboarding over 600 schools, supporting nearly 40 MATs, I’ve had a fantastic opportunity to help shape the customer team! My own career development has gone from strength to strength, from engagement manager to programme manager, to building out the Secondary Support Team as we took on the world of Secondary, to now Head of Professional Services!”

Stephen Higgins, Lead Product Manager

“I left a 6 year career in Teaching to join Arbor. Initially I was worried if I could “make the jump” to a new career and a new city, with a new set of colleagues. 

My first experience of the Arbor family was to join the company at their annual winter conference in Belgrade. After spending a few hours with the team, I realised that my fears were completely unfounded. Everyone was so friendly, smart and passionate about solving problems in education, and they instantly made me feel like one of the team. 

Since that first day, I have learnt so much about myself, about business and about my new profession. It was hard work and challenging at times, but I’ve never looked back!”

 

If you’d like to find out why Arbor is the MIS schools love to use, why not contact us? You can also book a demo by calling 0207 043 0470 or email tellmemore@arbor-education.com.

Hannah McGreevy - 13 November, 2019

Category : Blog

10 question topics that are likely to come up for MAT leaders in Ofsted inspections this year

This September, Ofsted’s new inspection framework came into effect, putting more of an emphasis on curriculum as opposed to just academic results with their new “quality of education” grade. A consistent theme in teachers’ feedback to inspections so far seems to be that Ofsted have become more rigorous; rather than settling for a surface level

This September, Ofsted’s new inspection framework came into effect, putting more of an emphasis on curriculum as opposed to just academic results with their new “quality of education” grade. A consistent theme in teachers’ feedback to inspections so far seems to be that Ofsted have become more rigorous; rather than settling for a surface level view, they now want to dig a little deeper into how schools and trust operate and why. 

According to Tes, some leadership and teachers have described these new inspections as intense and stressful, while others say it provides a fairer, more balanced view of how you work. Either way, we can safely say that it definitely wouldn’t hurt to prepare to tackle some tough questions about your MAT. 

To help you prepare, we’ve put together this useful list of questions that you might be asked during an Ofsted inspection this year. Our list is by no means exhaustive, but acts as more of a checklist for you and other MAT leaders to read ahead of any upcoming inspections. 

Questions are based on inspections that other schools have experienced this year. Many of these questions can be credited to governingmatters.wordpress.com who posted this useful article to help governors prepare for Ofsted inspections. 

 

1. MAT structure and values

Ofsted are very likely to ask you at least one question about your MAT’s values and the aims that you have for your pupils. Consider why your trust operates the way that it does and how you think this will help to shape your students’ education overall. 

A. How is your MAT structured and why? 

B. What are your priorities for your schools?

C. What are your ambitions for your children?

 

2. Governors

You’ll be expected to provide some information on your governors, including their training and the role they play. Think about how you can show that your governors are adequately trained and appropriately contributing to how your MAT is run. 

A. How does the MAT board work with Local Governing Bodies?

B. What role do your governors play in school leadership? How do you recruit new governors?

C. What training do your governors receive?

 

3. Headteachers and SLT

Have a think about how often you hold your headteachers and SLT members to account for how their schools are performing. Be sure to have some proof that you can present to Ofsted ahead of your inspection! In Group MIS, it’s easy to check how your different schools are performing by looking at your data dashboards when you first log in to your portal.

A. How do you hold your headteachers and SLT to account?

B. How do you ensure that you are not just relying on information provided by the head? 

C. Can you give an example of how you challenged the head and brought about a change? 

Image 1: A screenshot of the main Dashboard when you log into Arbor Group MIS


4. Staff performance and wellbeing 

Be ready to provide examples of how you handle both positive and negative staff performance, as well as how you make sure the staff across your MAT are well looked after and happy. In Arbor MIS, you can use our Staff Development function to track staff appraisals and training. 

A. How do you ensure staff wellbeing? Can you give any examples?

B. What is the link between teacher appraisal and pay?

C. How is teacher underperformance dealt with in your trust?


5. Measuring progress and school improvement 

Think about how you’ve analysed your KS1 & KS2 performance data so far and whether you’ve effectively pinpointed where your MAT is performing well and where it could be doing better – click here to find out how you can do this using our free Group Insight reports and dashboards.

A. What do your schools do best and what could they do better?

B. How do you contribute to and monitor your school improvement plan?

C. Please describe the MAT’s journey since the last inspection. Have you made an effort to fix issues that were picked up last time?


6. Curriculum planning and tracking 

Ofsted is putting more emphasis on the curriculum than ever before with their new inspection framework. Use Arbor’s curriculum tracker to manage the way you deliver the curriculum across your MAT, and our analytics to inform your methodology. You can also read our helpful blog on curriculum planning and improving student outcomes. 

A. How do you monitor your schools’ curriculum and how do you know it matches the national curriculum?

B. How do your students do in foundation subjects? 

C. How do leaders discuss the sequencing of curriculum development? How do your teachers know what to teach?


7. Education equality 

Consider the provisions you have in place for your disadvantaged pupils and how you make sure they have as many opportunities as their fellow students and that they are treated equally. Remember – you should be able to show how you measure the impact of these provisions! In our Group MIS, you can use our “By Demographic” function to keep track of disadvantaged students and work out where to intervene; you can also use our Interventions tracker to monitor any progress made. 

A. How do you meet the equalities act? How do you know diversity is being taught in your schools?

B. What do you know about the performance of your SEN/EAL/disadvantaged pupils?

C. How do you use Pupil Premium and Sports Premium monies and what impact has this had? How are pupil premium children progressing and what do you have in place to ensure higher attaining Pupil Premium students are challenged?

Image 2: A screenshot of attendance by demographic in Arbor’s Group MIS


8. Data monitoring 

It’s possible that Ofsted will also ask you about the way you monitor and measure the data you receive from schools across your MAT. You need to be prepared for questions about the accuracy of this data; do this by collecting tangible evidence ahead of time. In, you can use our helpful data dashboards to diagnose any potential errors before your inspection. 

A. How do you know that the data you get from your schools is accurate?

B. How do you measure pupil attendance in your schools?

C. How do you monitor pupil behaviour in your schools?


9. Safety and GDPR

We’re pretty confident that you’ll be asked about the level of safety in schools across your MAT. Make sure you have evidence to show that you’re compliant with GDPR regulations and that you have all the necessary procedures in place to keep your students safe. Visit our website to see how you can keep your data safe with Arbor. 

A. Are children safe in your schools?

B. Do you have safeguarding training? Are safeguarding audits carried out regularly

C. Are you aware of and happy with the lockdown procedure in your schools


10. Parental engagement 

Finally, you may be asked about your schools’ relationship with parents and how this relationship is maintained. You might want to check out our blog on “5 ways to boost parental engagement at your school” to see how you can effectively keep in touch with your parents. 

A. How do you communicate with parents?

B. Are parents supportive of the schools in your trust?

C. Can you tell me more about your parent questionnaires?

As we’ve mentioned in a previous blog, our new “Understanding Your School Report” will help you prepare for the new Ofsted inspection framework by allowing you to benchmark your schools’ performance data against the national average, top quintile, and schools with a similar demographic intake. Download our new report to help your schools prepare for the next inspection: https://login.arbor.sc/auth/register

Hope you find the list helpful!

 

Arbor MIS for MATs brings all your schools together so you can instantly see how everyone’s getting on, and jump in if you need to. To find out more about Group MIS, get in touch via the contact form on our website, email us at tellmemore@arbor-education.com or give us a call on 0208 050 1028.

 

Hannah McGreevy - 12 November, 2019

Category : Blog

Your latest Academy Financial Benchmarking report is now available for free on Arbor Insight!

Your academy’s free Financial Benchmarking report for 2017-2018 is now available on your Arbor Insight portal. The report was prepared by Arbor Education Partners using your most recent Schools Financial Benchmarking data from the Department for Education. The aim of these reports is to help you with benchmarking your income and expenditure, as well as

Your academy’s free Financial Benchmarking report for 2017-2018 is now available on your Arbor Insight portal. The report was prepared by Arbor Education Partners using your most recent Schools Financial Benchmarking data from the Department for Education. The aim of these reports is to help you with benchmarking your income and expenditure, as well as helping you to plan your budget effectively.

What is Arbor Insight?

Arbor Insight is our industry-leading benchmarking tool for every school and MAT in the country. It’s free for everyone! See your school’s performance on all your key measures from the DfE – including comparisons with similar, national, local and top quintile schools – in easy to read reports you can share with your whole team. We also give you personalised recommendations for your school, so you can understand exactly where to focus. 

Why create a report?

Our reports have been created just for your to help you see the power information can have when intelligently analysed, and intuitively presented. It also acts as a small introduction to what Arbor can do! While this data may be from last year, it is also totally free as part of our mission to help schools stress a little less and focus on what matters most – use our data to help drive your school improvement for the coming year.

Fig 1: Screenshot showing how total spend is broken down in your Financial Benchmarking report

 

How did you get the data? 

This report has been created using Academies’ Financial Benchmarking Data from 2017/2018 as released for the first time in October 2019. We combined this with data sourced from the Department for Education which our clever data scientists then imported into Arbor’s Adaptive Management System for analysis and output. The result is an individual academies’ financial budget report unique to each academy.

 

What’s included? 

Your Financial Benchmarking report will contain an overview of funding and spending across your academy from the years 2017-2018. We have also compared your data with schools like you, schools in your local Authority and the national average. Quickly spot trends and anomalies in your finance data with our easy-to-read graphs, and see how your income and spending has changed over time with our 3-year rolling averages. 

Income

See how much funding your school received last academic year broken down into percentages and compared to schools like your, Local Authority schools and the national average.

Find out what percentage of grant funding you were given, across: direct grants, community grants and targeted grants.

Fig 2: Screenshot showing a Grant Funding breakdown in Arbor’s Financial Benchmarking report

 

See what percentage of self-generated funding you had, taking into account: community-focused school facilities, income from facilities and services, income from catering, receipts from insurance claims, donations and more!

Fig 3: Screenshot showing Self-generated Funding in our Financial Benchmarking report

 

Spend 

See how much your schools spent in the years 2017-2018 broken down into percentages and compared to schools like your, Local Authority schools and the national average.

Find out what percentage of staff spend there was, across: teaching staff, supply staff, education support staff and administrative staff.

Fig 4: Screenshot showing a Staff Spending breakdown in Arbor’s Financial Benchmarking report

 

See what percentage of income was spent on the school premises, including: premises staff, cleaning and maintenance.   

Fig 5: Screenshot showing a premises spending breakdown in our Financial Benchmarking report

 

Have a look at your spending on different occupations, including: energy, water and sewage and catering expenditure. 

Fig 6: Screenshot showing occupations spending in our Financial Benchmarking report

 

See what your academy spends on supplies and services, taking into account: administrative supplies, educational supplies and bought-in professional services. 

Fig 7: Screenshot showing supplies and services spending in our Financial Benchmarking report

 

How do I get my hands on a free report?

It’s super easy for you to download your academy’s free, personalised financial benchmarking report. Just log in to your Arbor Insight portal here: https://login.arbor.sc/

I haven’t used Arbor Insight before – how do I sign up?

Click here to sign up to your academy’s free Arbor Insight portal: https://login.arbor.sc/auth/register

You haven’t answered my questions! Can I contact you for help?

Absolutely. You can reach the Arbor team at tellmemore@arbor-education.com or by calling us on 020 8050 1028.

 

Arbor Insight is a free tool we offer alongside our hassle-free MIS that schools and MATs love to use. If you’re interested in learning more about how our MIS can make daily school admin easier and your data more useful, book a free demo here or call our MIS Demo Team on 0208 050 1028.

Arbor - 21 October, 2019

Category : Blog

800 schools & MATs are now using Arbor MIS!

Last week, we reached an exciting milestone – over 800 schools have now switched MIS to Arbor to transform the way they work! Of this 800, we have 620+ primary schools, 80+ secondary schools and 100+  special schools using Arbor. We also work with 71 MATs, including Bridge Multi-Academy Trust, United Learning, and REAch2, the

Last week, we reached an exciting milestone – over 800 schools have now switched MIS to Arbor to transform the way they work! Of this 800, we have 620+ primary schools, 80+ secondary schools and 100+  special schools using Arbor. We also work with 71 MATs, including Bridge Multi-Academy Trust, United Learning, and REAch2, the largest primary MAT in the UK.   

Schools normally decide to switch to Arbor’s smart, cloud-based MIS to bring all of their data into one place, which not only saves money on server costs & licensing fees, but gives teachers their time back in the classroom to concentrate on their pupils.  

To celebrate our 800th school, we thought you might like to hear a few of our favourite stories that have been sent in to us by schools using Arbor. From saving hours of time per week following up on absent students, to being able to spot trends more quickly & improve student outcomes, read on to find out how our schools are using Arbor to improve the way they work.

How Arbor saved Parkroyal School £10,000 on server costs

Parkroyal’s admin server was coming up for renewal a couple of years ago, and they were quoted around £10,000 to replace it. Instead of paying this fee, they decided to move everything onto the cloud. They put their curriculum into Google, switched MIS to Arbor, and their finance system to SAGE. They invested in Chromebooks for the staff. They now have only one server on-site and it’s not out of choice – they have to use it to interact with the Local Authority Child Services system, which can only be done through the LA intranet. They were really glad they made the decision to switch to Arbor when the school needed to carry out building works on the school office in 2017. Previously, it would have cost thousands of pounds to move and safely rewire the servers into the temporary portacabin, but because they’d moved everything to the cloud, all they had to do was carry their desks and laptops downstairs, connect to wifi and log in to Arbor!

How Arbor transformed parent communications at Castle Hill St Philip’s

Castle Hill had a couple of issues with parent comms before they moved to Arbor, 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!

How Arbor streamlined assessments at St Paul’s CofE Primary School

At St Paul’s, teachers used to use “Key Performance Indicator” tick-sheets in every child’s book, that they would mark every time a student met an objective. Each term, this handwritten data was inputted into Target Tracker, which the Headteacher, Anthony David, would then export into Excel for analysis. This resulted in a high paper burden, and if a child lost their book, a lot of data would disappear along with it. It became difficult to keep track. Since moving to Arbor, St Paul’s have been using our Curriculum Tracker to track children’s KPIs. This feeds straight through into our Summative Tracker, so that rather than manually inputting it, teachers can see pupil progress analysis automatically. They then use this data to create automatic intervention groups for children who are struggling.

If you’re interested in finding out more about how Arbor could transform the way your school operates, get in touch! 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.

Hannah McGreevy - 18 October, 2019

Category : Blog

KS1 & KS2 data for your MAT is now available in Group Insight!

We’re excited to let you know that all your KS1, KS2 and Phonics Analyse School Performance (ASP) data has been added to your Group Insight portal. We’ve crunched your schools’ 2019 data ahead of the DfE and used it to build free, interactive dashboards which you can use to explore aggregated statistics for all your

We’re excited to let you know that all your KS1, KS2 and Phonics Analyse School Performance (ASP) data has been added to your Group Insight portal. We’ve crunched your schools’ 2019 data ahead of the DfE and used it to build free, interactive dashboards which you can use to explore aggregated statistics for all your schools. Keep reading to find out more about Group Insight and how you can use it to plan your MAT’s improvement approach for next year. 

What is Group Insight? 

Group Insight is a free performance analysis tool for MATs to help you analyse your schools’ latest Analyse School Performance (ASP) data. We automatically analyse your MAT’s latest school performance data and present it back to you in easy-to-understand PDF reports and personalised dashboards, so you don’t have to spend hours aggregating and analysing the raw data yourself. 

Fig 1.: A screenshot of a Group Insight dashboard displaying KS2 data across a MAT

 

How do you present my schools’ KS1 & KS2 data? 

Your dashboards are great for helping you spot trends over the past three years, identifying which schools are driving over (or under) performance, and benchmarking your academies against national and top quintile averages. You can also use them to view each of your schools’ outcomes side by side, drill down into individual school outcomes and show impact over time when reporting to trustees.

Fig 2.: A screenshot of a Group Insight comparing a MATs school results by cluster 

 

We’ve also updated our popular pre-paid PDF reports analysing your schools’ attainment and progress, highlighting areas to close the gap, and exploring patterns between your trust’s outcomes and the context of your unique demographic intake in our new Understanding Your School Report, which you can download via your portal. 

 

Click here to log in & access your 2019 reports and dashboards: https://login.arbor.sc 

 

Fig 3.: A screenshot of a Group Insight comparing a MATs results by demographic 

 

“Clear, saves us time, available sooner than DfE MAT data, and is extremely well presented, making reporting to Trustees very straight forward” 

– Paul James, Chief Executive Officer at River Learning Trust 

 

How do I sign up?

Click here to sign up to your MAT’s free Arbor Insight portal: https://login.arbor.sc/auth/group-register

When will you add KS4 data to my portal?

We expect to receive your 2018/2019 KS4 data from the DfE very soon – so watch this space! If you’re already signed up, we’ll email you automatically to let you know when this happens.

Do you offer training on how my schools can use their Arbor Insight portal?

Yes! We run a free Arbor Insight Roadshow each Autumn Term offering free, in-person training to help your schools’ central teams to get the most out of Arbor Insight. Click here to sign up

Where can I hear more about Group Insight? 

You can hear our CRO, Phillippa De’Ath, talk about how you can use your ASP data to drive school improvement across your MAT at the Schools & Academies Show in Birmingham. She’ll be speaking in the Business & Finance Theatre from 10:10-10:30 on 14th November 2019. 

Can I use Group Insight alongside the DfE’s ASP service?

Yes! Arbor is an accredited supplier of ASP data, which means we receive secure, early access to all your school performance data from the DfE as soon as it’s released. So far over 10,000 schools have signed up to use us. Lots of schools and MATs use us instead of the DfE’s ASP service, but you can also use our reports and dashboards as a companion to the DfE’s analysis.

You haven’t answered my questions! Can I contact you for help?

Absolutely. You can reach the Arbor team at tellmemore@arbor-education.com or by calling us on 020 8050 1028.

 

This November, we’re also holding another of our popular MAT Conferences in Manchester. Over 80 MAT leaders from over 50 MATs have already signed up! Click here to book your free place before they sell out

Cosima Baring - 13 October, 2019

Category : Blog

Next Arbor MAT Conference announced

Following three sold out conferences in London and Manchester last year – attended by over 200 MAT leaders representing 157 trusts – we’re very excited to announce that the fourth conference in our popular series will take place on Friday 8th November in Manchester!   Fig 1.: The Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, where our fourth conference

Following three sold out conferences in London and Manchester last year – attended by over 200 MAT leaders representing 157 trusts – we’re very excited to announce that the fourth conference in our popular series will take place on Friday 8th November in Manchester!

 

Fig 1.: The Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, where our fourth conference will be held 

 

Our fourth conference will bring together MAT CEOs, COOs, and CFOs at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall to discuss different strategies for scaling sustainably. Our speakers will share practical advice (based on their own experiences as CEOs) on how best to scale central team processes, governance, reporting, culture and more – to help you plan for the growth of your own trust. 

 

We currently have 6 speakers confirmed, with more to be announced soon:

 

Speaker 1: Lauren Thorpe

Job title: Head of Data & Systems Strategy at Ark

MAT: Ark Schools 

 

  • Lauren has spent almost a decade working in schools and is the Head of Data & Systems Strategy at Ark. Prior to joining Ark, Lauren was most recently the Principal of a secondary free school in central London. 
  • Before this, Lauren was the Research and Corporate Partnership Director of Reform, a Westminster think tank, where she led on research and policy ideas covering the education sector, business environment and infrastructure. 
  • Lauren holds a master’s degree in ‘ICT in Education’ from UCL’s Institute of Education, and a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from the University of Durham.
  • On top of her responsibilities at Ark, she also sits on a number of advisory boards for organisations supporting technology and innovation, and was a member of the DfE Workload Advisory Group that published the report, ‘Making Data Work’.

 

Lauren will speak about: How Ark manages the spread of data managers across its schools

 

Speaker 2: Ian Hunt

Job title: Director of Education Standards & Effectiveness

MAT: St Barts Multi Academy Trust

 

  • Ian is the Director of School Effectiveness for the St. Bart’s Academy Trust. Ian has an MBA in Education Management and has worked in Education for over 26 years in 6 different schools, encompassing international, inner city and leafy borough environments. 
  • As well as his current position at St. Bart’s, Ian is also Deputy Director of BTSA, leading on School to School Support.
  • Ian has been an executive, substantive and acting headteacher in four different schools and has taught pupils from ages 3 through to 13. He has recently qualified as a Pupil Premium Reviewer, and is also a member of the St. Bart’s Academy Trust Executive Management Board.
  • In his spare time, Ian is a Derby County season ticket holder and a keen diver. He is married with one son and lives in Derbyshire.

 

Ian will speak about: Scaling reporting to a MAT board

 

Speaker 3: Richard Sherrif

Job title: CEO

MAT: Red Kite Learning Trust

 

  • Richard started his teaching career in Leicester before moving to Leeds as a Head of Department. Having worked as a Deputy Headteacher in a Bradford school he took up his first Headship in Leeds in 2001, before joining Harrogate Grammar School as Headteacher in 2006. Richard is a National Leader of Education and until recently an Ofsted inspector. He is now CEO of Red Kite Learning Trust. 

 

Richard will speak about: Communicating change to your schools

 

Speaker 4: Tom Banham

Job title: CEO

MAT: Hoyland Common Academy Trust

 

  • Tom is an experienced NLE and provides school-to-school support to schools in a variety of different contexts. He is a lead facilitator on the NPQH Programme and is the Chair of the South Yorkshire Teaching School Hub and represents South Yorkshire Teaching Schools at the EMSYH Regional Summit and Local Area SRIB. 
  • Alongside this he is also a member of the Barnsley Alliance Board that facilitates the strategic sector led school improvement of Barnsley Schools. He also is a representative of the Barnsley Formula Funding review Group for the Local Authority. 
  • This network of support enables him to access an array of specialist knowledge and expertise from a diverse pool of system leaders ranging from NLES, LLES, Consultant Heads, SLES and other field experts across the whole of the Education Sector and beyond.

 

Tom will speak about: How to make sure each of your schools remain sensitive to their local context

 

Speaker 5: Debbie Clinton

Job title: CEO

MAT: Academies Transformation Trust

 

  • Debbie is the CEO of the Academy Transformation Trust (ATT). Prior to this, she was the Deputy CEO and Acting CEO at the Diverse Academies Learning Partnership (DALP), based in the East Midlands.
  • Debbie is a former HMI and Principal of Nunthorpe Academy in Middlesbrough – a high performing 11-19 converter academy judged outstanding by Ofsted in all S5 aspects. 
  • She’s been a qualified teacher for over 31 years, working in a range of schools and organisations across a number of local authorities.  She has wide regional and national experience in leadership development and school to school improvement, and has supported national projects and conferences for the DfE, the Institute of Education (London) and Roehampton.
  • Finally, Debbie is a former recent board member of FASNA – the Freedom and Autonomy for Schools National Association. In this capacity, she has worked with DfE teams in various guises including developing National Funding Formula and SEN/High Needs Funding for schools.

 

Debbie will speak about: TBC

 

We’ll be confirming our final 3 speakers and the topics of their presentations soon! In addition to our main speakers, there will also be an open roundtable discussion between MAT COOs, free breakfast & lunch, and plenty of networking breaks during which we’ll match you up with similar sized MATs to help you learn from each other and exchange best practice.

 

Click here to sign up for your free place for you and a member of your SLT: scaling-your-mat-sustainably-19.eventbrite.com

 

Hope to see you there! 

 

Want to move your schools to a cloud-based MIS? Click here to learn more about how Arbor’s Group MIS could help to transform the way you work with your schools

 

Rebecca Watkins - 10 October, 2019

Category : Blog

KS1 & Phonics data released on Arbor Insight!

We’re very pleased to announce that we have now updated your Arbor Insight reports and dashboards with your 2019 KS1 & Phonics data!  As an accredited supplier of ASP data, you can get early access to your school’s performance data in your free Arbor Insight portal, where we have done the work for you in

We’re very pleased to announce that we have now updated your Arbor Insight reports and dashboards with your 2019 KS1 & Phonics data! 

As an accredited supplier of ASP data, you can get early access to your school’s performance data in your free Arbor Insight portal, where we have done the work for you in analysing your performance data! Now you can view your Phonics, KS1 and KS2 (including disadvantaged) data in your Arbor Insight portal.

We’ve used your data to build free interactive dashboards and 7 premium performance reports, which show your attainment & progress over time, identify gaps between different student groups and explain your performance in the context of your school’s unique demographic intake. Over 10,000 schools are now using Arbor Insight to benchmark their performance, so if you’re thinking of signing up, you’ll be in good company!

Just sign up here to your free portal: https://login.arbor.sc/auth/register

Or if you already have an account, log in here: https://login.arbor.sc/auth/login

You will find your latest KS1 data in our popular premium reports:

Fig 1.: Screenshots of Arbor’s popular premium reports

NEW Understanding Your School report

Our new report is designed to help you analyse your outcomes in the context of your school’s unique demographic intake. It benchmarks you against similar schools, the top quintile & the national average, and helps you explore patterns between the socio-economic makeup of your local area, deprivation and attainment. Use this report to help inform your school improvement strategy. 

Closing the Gap Reports x5

Focus on:

  • SEN
  • Gender
  • Ethnicity
  • Disadvantaged
  • Prior Attainment

The Gap reports are a set of 5 reports showing attainment & attendance gaps between different student groups at your school. The government wants schools to focus, not only on overall attainment, but on narrowing these achievement gaps between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupils. There does not appear to be a direct relationship between increased school funding and increased pupil attainment – what matters most is how schools can effectively and efficiently use the resources they have (both financial and human) for maximum impact. You first need to see where these gaps appear in your school in order to focus your attention and resources – and these reports do the job for you!

Attainment & Progress Report

The Attainment & Progress reports analyse the attainment and progress of different demographic groups at your school. Use them to help identify where you could be making more progress. We benchmark each subject against the performance of all other subjects combined and against the national average of each subject and all other subjects combined. 

You will also find your KS1 & Phonics data in your FREE performance dashboards -find them on the left hand side of your portal and start analysing your performance data now! 

Don’t forget, you’re invited to free Insight Training sessions this Autumn! Learn how you can use your Arbor Insight reports and dashboards to dig deeper into the trends behind your benchmarking data, understand how to determine whether your results are typical, quickly identify your school’s strengths & weaknesses and take part in workshops about how you can write specific, measurable objectives for your School Improvement Plan. 

Spaces are limited, so click here to reserve your free spot at a training session near you!

Get in touch if you have any questions or would like help signing up, using your dashboards, purchasing reports or anything else! We’re always here to help. Just email insight@arbor-education.com or call us on 0207 043 1830.

Arbor Insight is a free tool we offer alongside our simple, smart, cloud-based MIS. If you’re interested in learning more about how our MIS could help to transform the way you work, book a free demo here or call our MIS Demo Team on 0208 050 1028. 

Beth Mokrini - 25 September, 2019

Category : Blog

3 Reasons SIMS Support Units are teaming up with Arbor

This blog was written by Beth Mokrini, Partner Manager at Arbor Education. Click here to discover Beth’s Top 10 must-have cloud systems for your school.    Two years ago, my job didn’t exist.  That’s because two years ago, most schools used on-premise SIMS as their Management Information System, supported by a local IT support desk known

This blog was written by Beth Mokrini, Partner Manager at Arbor Education. Click here to discover Beth’s Top 10 must-have cloud systems for your school. 

 

Two years ago, my job didn’t exist. 

That’s because two years ago, most schools used on-premise SIMS as their Management Information System, supported by a local IT support desk known as a SIMS Support Unit (SSU). Meanwhile, the growing number of schools using Arbor MIS came to us directly for support and training. Although we sometimes collaborated to help a school switch, in general, there wasn’t much opportunity for SSUs to team up with Arbor. 

Fast forward to September 2019, and Arbor is now closely partnered with 19 SSUs of various shapes and sizes, based everywhere from Oldham to Cornwall. I have the exciting full-time job of managing Arbor’s partner program, which means leading on the development of new partnerships, helping SSUs earn their Arbor accreditation, and spreading the word to schools!

 

Image 1: A collection of just some of Arbor’s partners 

 

We’re not the only ones making moves in this direction – most cloud based MIS providers now offer a partner program, though the costs and benefits vary widely. Like us, they’re responding to demand from support units who’ve been working with SIMS for decades, but who are now keen to diversify. Everyone is adapting to the new reality of the school MIS market: SIMS has lost 7% market share since 2016, while alternative MIS vendors have picked up over 5000 schools and continue to grow.

 

Image 2: A graph showing how school cloud MIS usage is increasing over time

 

Schools now have a wider choice of MIS provider and (quite rightly) they want a wider choice of support options too. Many SSUs are taking the opportunity to form new partnerships, develop new skills and ride the wave of schools moving to the cloud (rather than being swept away!). 

We asked our three biggest support partners what they thought was behind this significant shift, and they gave three key reasons: 

 

1.  “We’re listening to our schools.”

A quarter of all primary schools and 1 in 14 secondaries have now moved to a cloud-based MIS. The pace of switching is accelerating year on year, as more schools realise the benefits of a cloud-based MIS in terms of saving time, reducing costs and enabling more flexible working. 

Just because schools want to switch MIS, doesn’t mean they want to switch their support too. Many SSUs have been working with their schools for 15+ years and they’ve built up a strong relationship, which neither party wants to lose. But the challenge that’s emerging for schools is that when their support provider only works with Capita SIMS, moving to the cloud means they’ve no choice but to leave them behind. 

This may put some off switching MIS for a year or two – but eventually the benefits of the cloud become too hard to ignore. This is especially true for MATs, who are faced with the challenge of aggregating and analysing data from multiple schools on a regular basis. Too often with on-premise SIMS, this means physically driving from school to school to download reports, then manually combining them in excel. For academy trusts, moving to a cloud MIS puts data at their fingertips so they can concentrate on improving outcomes for students. In fact, over half of the largest MATs have already moved to a cloud based MIS, according to a recent blog on MIS market stats by the director of the analytics platform Assembly Education. 

School leaders too, previously cautious about leaving SIMS, are now more likely than ever to know another school that’s already done it. As the school market dares to become excited about the alternatives to SIMS, SSUs are listening and welcoming partnerships with  cloud-based MIS providers. 

 

2. “We don’t know when ‘SIMS8’ will be ready.” 

We posted a year ago about the delays to Capita’s new cloud based product ‘SIMS8’, and not much has changed since then. It’s still live in fewer than 50 schools, only suitable for primaries and behind in the development of complex areas like reporting and integrations. 

Meanwhile, there’s no sign of schools & MATs waiting around for Capita to release their cloud-based offering. Around 1,200 schools are thought to have switched MIS in the last academic year, including many Local Authority maintained schools. Although academies have so far been switching from SIMS in greater numbers, maintained schools are increasingly challenging the assumption that they should all use Capita software – especially when doing so prevents them from taking advantage of user-friendly, cost effective systems.  

Unfortunately, until SIMS can meet schools’ demand for a smarter, cloud-based MIS, neither can SIMS Support Units. That’s why, to fill the gap left by SIMS8, many SSUs have differentiated their provision and developed partnerships with existing cloud MIS providers instead. This in turn is stoking up a measure of healthy competition between the leading cloud-based MIS providers, all of whom want to be chosen as the SSU’s preferred alternative to SIMS.

 

3. “Arbor is the leading alternative to SIMS.”

Arbor is now the 4th biggest MIS provider in England by school numbers, having grown by over 100% this academic year. We cater to all phases – primaries, secondaries, special schools and MATs. Of all the schools who left SIMS in the last year, more switched to Arbor than to any other provider. 

We’ve also invested in our partner program to make sure we’re not only the leading alternative for schools, but for SSUs too. Our Partner program is completely free – there’s no cost for training & support, no fee for our accreditation test and no annual charge to remain on the program. We believe schools should have the widest possible choice of support as well as MIS, so we’ve removed the barriers to becoming an Arbor partner.

We also offer a referral scheme, so instead of losing money when a school moves to the cloud, Arbor support partners receive a bonus! This has helped the SSUs we work with to see their partnership with Arbor as a growth opportunity, rather than simply a way of minimising disruption to their business. Schools can switch to the MIS of their choice without losing their trusted local support provider, and SSUs can continue to provide outstanding support, but now to a wider customer base. 

It’s fair to say a lot has changed in the last two years at Arbor (and not just in my job). We look forward to seeing what the next two will bring! 

 

If you’re a SIMS Support Unit and interested in becoming a partner, I’d love to have a chat – please email me to set up a phone call.

If you’re a school and would like to know more about our MIS or our support partners, contact us today. 

For a list of our current support partners, click here

Hannah McGreevy - 23 September, 2019

Category : Blog

The Understanding Your School Report is here!

As I’m sure you’ve read, the new Ofsted Inspection Framework has now come into effect. Central to the new framework is the idea that there isn’t a “correct” way for schools to do things – whereas the old framework encouraged inspectors to look at your school’s results and use data for accountability purposes, the new

As I’m sure you’ve read, the new Ofsted Inspection Framework has now come into effect. Central to the new framework is the idea that there isn’t a “correct” way for schools to do things – whereas the old framework encouraged inspectors to look at your school’s results and use data for accountability purposes, the new one focuses on the context of your school and the ways in which this has shaped your curriculum and the “quality of education” available (you can see a summary of the other changes in our blog here).

After reviewing the new framework with our partner LKMCo, we decided that we wanted to help schools make the most of this less prescriptive approach from Ofsted. So we’re excited to announce that we’ve upgraded and enhanced our old Ofsted Readiness Report, converting it into a report which is focused on helping schools to plan around and respond to their specific context, rather than on whether things are being done in a particular way. The old name didn’t make much sense any more, so we’ve renamed it the Understanding Your School Report

The Understanding Your School Report combines your latest DfE performance data (ASP) with ONS area classifications, families of schools, and top quintile benchmarks to give you the most complete picture of your outcomes in the context of your school’s unique demographic intake. Our aim is to bring a range of data sources together to give you a balanced and nuanced picture of your school to help inform your school improvement approach. We’ve summarised some of the new report’s features below.

 

What can I do with the new Understanding Your School Report? 

The main data source in the report is still Analyse School Performance (ASP). Whilst ASP is helpful for getting a basic overview of your performance, it’s often hard to use, so we wanted our new report to be a useful companion to the DfE’s service as well as a helpful tool in its own right:

 

1. Understand your school’s performance & outcomes in the context of its demographics

Exam results can be disproportionately affected by social and geographical context, but it’s time-consuming to bring these data sets together. Services like ASP don’t show any contextual data alongside your performance out-of-the-box. 

To help you see how the area your school is in has impacted outcomes, the Understanding Your School Report features our new Area Type Comparison graph, which uniquely brings ONS area classification data together with your ASP attainment data for the first time. The ONS has classified every LA in the country into 8 “supergroups” which share characteristics, based on socio-economic and demographic data from the national census. Our graph explains which supergroup (or area type) your school is in, and shows how your performance compares to schools in areas with similar socio-economic characteristics, helping you to examine patterns between your student intake and attainment.

Image 1: A screenshot of the Area Type Comparison graph from Arbor’s Understanding Your School Report 

 

2. Get meaningful benchmarks beyond just comparing to the national average

ASP only benchmarks your school against the national average. Whilst this is helpful, the national average isn’t always the most meaningful benchmark (for example, as a small rural primary school you might feel it’s not relevant to compare yourself to large primary schools based in a city because their intake will be so different). The Understanding Your School Report still shows how you’ve performed compared to the national average, but it also introduces 2 new benchmarks as well.

Our new schools “Like You” benchmark uses EEF “Families of Schools” methodology to compare your performance to similar schools based on four factors:

  • Prior Attainment
  • % FSM
  • % EAL
  • IDACI

This benchmark helps you to compare your performance with other schools with similar pupil characteristics, in similar contexts. 

The Understanding Your School also gives you a “Top Quintile” benchmark, which compares you to the top 20% of schools for each measure – this provides your school with a useful stretch target to work towards. 

Image 2: A screenshot showing the different benchmarks available in The Understanding Your School Report 

 

3. Understand how consistent your performance has been over time

It can be hard to visualise progress over time using the tables and bar charts provided in ASP. Our new Understanding Your School Report helps you see how your performance has changed over time by presenting Trend over Time line graphs, and showing 3 year rolling averages next to key headline figures. This gives you a broader picture of your performance, meaning you can quickly spot any inconsistencies and identify anomalies (for example, is this cohort’s performance consistent with your school, or is it atypical? If so, why?).

Image 3: A screenshot of the Trend over Time line graph in The Understanding Your School Report 

 

4. Easily visualise gaps and work out where to target interventions

Whilst ASP breaks down your performance by pupil characteristics, it does this in tables – which means it can be time consuming to spot gaps, making it very hard to tell at a glance how well different groups are performing. 

The Understanding Your School Report has a dedicated Closing the Gap section which helps you to benchmark different school groups such as SEN or Pupil Premium against each other. We express gaps as numbers of pupils rather than % to help make your SIP more meaningful.  

Meanwhile, the new Curriculum Summary section for secondary schools helps leaders see how different student groups have chosen to take exams, so that they can identify whether there are issues with access to different areas of learning between groups of pupils. 

 

5. View meaningful analysis of your data presented in easy-to-understand charts 

With its clear, visual designs, simple bar charts and callouts in plain English, the Understanding Your School Report does all your performance analysis for you. Instantly see headline measures on the Key Findings page, as well as key areas to work on. This means you can get on with using your data to drive school improvement instead of wading through tables in ASP.

Image 4: A screenshot of the Key Findings page in The Understanding Your School Report 

 

We hope that the Understanding Your School Report becomes an essential part of your school improvement cycle. If you’re interested in hearing more about the report, as well as about what our other Insight reports can do for you, why not come along to one of our free Insight Training Sessions this Autumn? 

 

Sign up to Arbor Insight here to purchase your own Understanding Your School Report, and to view other popular reports that we offer. For more information about Arbor Insight, email insight@arbor-education.com or call 02070431830.

Daniel Giardiello - 21 September, 2019

Category : Blog

How Arbor can help you to proactively identify and help students at risk of exclusion

In May, the DfE published the findings from the much anticipated Timpson Review, which recommends that schools be supported to reduce the number of exclusions they make by focussing in on early intervention and quality Alternative Provision. In this blog, I will explore the implications of this on schools and discuss how Arbor MIS can

In May, the DfE published the findings from the much anticipated Timpson Review, which recommends that schools be supported to reduce the number of exclusions they make by focussing in on early intervention and quality Alternative Provision. In this blog, I will explore the implications of this on schools and discuss how Arbor MIS can help schools to use data to intervene proactively with students and better understand their holistic needs, before they reach the point of being an exclusion risk.

 

Are current intervention strategies timely enough?

Prior to working with Arbor, my 13 years as a teacher and senior leader were spent both in Mainstream Secondary and in Specialist Education for Behaviourally Challenging students, so I have seen both the before and after stories of mainstream exclusions. 

When a child comes into a full time AP or SEMH school, it’s often the case that they have been excluded, not just once but many times, and are trapped in an ongoing, negative spiral of:

Image 1: A diagram showing a child’s negative behaviour cycle 

Trying to re-instill a sense of self-worth and value for learning into individuals who seem almost broken by this experience is very difficult at the post-exclusion stage. We succeeded with many, but not with all. 

For those with whom we didn’t, I often wonder… Could it have been a different story if during their more formative stages in education, greater focus had been placed on developing their necessary dispositions for learning, rather than hammering home a nearly entirely academic curriculum? For students who are more resilient and better at regulating their emotions , this is ok; but for those who aren’t, early subjection to repeat experiences of failure will trigger innate safety behaviours such as escape and avoidance, which in the classroom context will display as refusal to work and disruption to lessons.

This opens up a broader debate about the appropriateness of the curriculum we deliver and whether we are assessing the right things for these individuals – something I discussed in my previous blog which focussed on SEN Assessment. Whilst there will never be a silver bullet answer to the “what to do?” question for all children (this will differ depending on context), my overriding feeling regarding “when to do it?” is that, in nearly all cases, it could have been earlier in the story and not at the point where behaviour had already become unmanageable. But how do we know when is best to take a different approach? That’s where the effective use of data comes in! 

 

Data driven intervention

During my time in schools, I have seen and implemented a fair share of behavioural initiatives and policies, some of which were successful and others less so, but in every instance their success was dependent on the quality of information that fed into them. Data-wise, the two most important questions to ask are:

  • Is the data gathered in a timely enough way for the actions it informs to actually have an impact?
  • Is the data telling us something we don’t already know?

Unfortunately, the answer to these questions isn’t always “yes”. In many schools, it’s hard to act on data in a timely way, as there’s usually a heavy reliance on the manual collation and analysis of it in order to find meaning. Therefore, intervention is often carried out at the point where behaviour is so severe or prevalent that you don’t even need data to tell you there’s something to do. So, you become a reactive culture. 

Negative behaviour doesn’t occur in isolation; it’s often linked to other factors, such as home-life, literacy, attendance and pastoral issues. But due to the siloed nature of data in schools (as illustrated in the systems diagram below) it is also difficult to combine different measures into simple, quick analysis, or to easily know what’s been going on with a child. 

Image 2: A diagram showing the siloed nature of data in schools  

Arbor MIS makes it easy to input and analyse all your core data in one system. With all student data brought together on simple profile pages, it’s easy for staff to get the holistic overview of a student that’s needed in order to plan more specifically for their needs. This is something that’s crucial to Liam Dowling, and the staff of Hinderton School, an Outstanding Cheshire SEN school who specialise in supporting students with Autistic Spectrum Conditions (ASC) and social communication difficulties from a young age. 

Image 3: A diagram showing the way school data can be brought together  

Hinderton’s short inspection letter from June 2017 praised the school on the interconnectedness of it’s systems, meaning that all stakeholders have easy access to the data they need:

“Your online systems, which work seamlessly together, make sure that senior leaders, staff and parents all have the information they need at their fingertips. As a result, you have streamlined and improved all aspects of information relating to pupils.”

Hinderton’s short inspection letter – OFSTED June 2017

Hinderton are one of nearly 800 schools who benefit from Arbor MIS’ ability to:

Give staff easy access to the full story of a child to enable better understanding of needs

Image 4: A demonstration of how Arbor MIS gives you the full story of a child

With appropriate permissions, all information ranging from communications with parents, attendance, behaviour and SEN history is visible in one place. Understanding what has gone on with a disaffected child is crucial to knowing how best to work with them and Arbor makes finding this information as easy as possible.

 

Automate behaviour action and analysis

Image 5: A demonstration of how you can automate behaviour action in Arbor MIS

Arbor’s automatic workflows within the behaviour module ensure that students who exhibit persistent low level behaviour across multiple lessons are always identified and action is taken without an administrative burden to staff. This helps schools to ensure that negative behaviour is appropriately challenged in all instances and isn’t allowed to snowball to the point of being unmanageable. 

 

Link Interventions to Data

Image 6: A demonstration of how you can plan interventions with Arbor MIS

Arbor allows you to create interventions with Participant and Outcome criteria that pull data in from anywhere in the MIS. Therefore, students could be recommended for a Behaviour for Learning intervention following a slight change in behavioural patterns at an earlier point in time than when it becomes prevalent and significantly disruptive to others.

 

Customise Assessment frameworks to target specific needs

Image 7: An example of how to customise assessment frameworks in Arbor MIS

The Springwell Special Academy are an Outstanding SEMH school who make full use of Arbor’s flexible Assessment system to host specific frameworks that fit their students’ needs. This enables them to focus on social and emotional development, resilience and student wellbeing as well as tracking academic progress. The image above shows the input page of a framework they have developed called the SEMH tracker. 

In conclusion, the Timpson review has brought about a greater emphasis on schools to develop strategies to help students whom they may otherwise exclude. The four tools above are just a few examples of how Arbor could help schools in collecting more specifically focussed data to use in a more timely and targeted way in order to help improve the holistic outcomes of these vulnerable students. We recognise that the challenge isn’t easy and the “what to do” expertise lies with the people who know the students best – a piece of software isn’t going to be the solution but could play a significant part in the data strategy that drives the change! 

 

If you’d like to find out more about how our simple, smart cloud-based MIS could help you transform the way your school uses interventions, contact us. You can also book a demo by calling 0207 043 0470 or email tellmemore@arbor-education.com.

 

 

Cosima Baring - 19 September, 2019

Category : Blog

Why have 5,000+ schools moved their MIS to the cloud?

Last year, over 1,000 schools moved their MIS to the cloud –  the highest number of schools ever to have moved in the space of a year! That means 1 in 4 schools have now left SIMS in favour of easier-to-use cloud-based systems like Arbor. We’re really excited that more and more schools are realising

Last year, over 1,000 schools moved their MIS to the cloud –  the highest number of schools ever to have moved in the space of a year! That means 1 in 4 schools have now left SIMS in favour of easier-to-use cloud-based systems like Arbor. We’re really excited that more and more schools are realising the benefits of the cloud; after all, we’ve been talking about it since we were first founded!

We’ve spoken to lots of Headteachers and SLT recently who want to move MIS, but who are nervous about the pain of switching out-weighing the gain of a new system. With that in mind, we’ve to put together a helpful guide on moving your MIS to the cloud (scroll to the bottom of this page to read), which we’ve written based on our experience of helping over 800 schools make the switch. 

We’ve answered some of the most common questions we get asked, including how secure the cloud really is, how much it costs, and how cloud-based systems differ to SIMS. You’ll also find some first-hand switching stories from schools & MATs who use Arbor – we hope it helps make switching MIS seem a little less stressful than it might feel right now.

Moving their MIS to the cloud hasn’t just helped the 600 primary schools, 77 secondary schools and 101 special schools using Arbor save time and money – it’s also helped them transform the way they run their school. Arbor MIS acts as the central system at your school to help you get work done, replacing any clunky, third-party apps that don’t speak to each other. Teachers and SLT can now follow up with absent students, write report cards and prepare for census in just a few clicks – meaning they no longer have to switch between paper, spreadsheets and different systems to get the information they need about their students! 

If you’re planning your own move to the cloud, have a read of our guide on Moving to the Cloud by clicking on the link below: 

Why have 5,000+ schools moved to a cloud-based MIS? ~ powered by Arbor

Hope you find it helpful!

If you’d like to learn more about how Arbor could help you transform the way your school operates, get in touch at tellmemore@arbor-education, or give us a quick call on 020 8 050 1028

Chris Taylor - 17 September, 2019

Category : Blog

Education and modern technology: is a change of attitude needed?

Being born in the early 90’s and receiving my first computer as a gift in December of 1999 turned out to be not only a brilliant idea (thanks mum & dad!), but for many reasons, also quite profound in the way that this beige PC tower ended up shaping not just my life, but also

Being born in the early 90’s and receiving my first computer as a gift in December of 1999 turned out to be not only a brilliant idea (thanks mum & dad!), but for many reasons, also quite profound in the way that this beige PC tower ended up shaping not just my life, but also the lives of an entire generation. 

It’s almost impossible to imagine today’s world without the advent of the technology that has shaped our lives so dramatically. Even as a young boy, while I would spend countless hours playing around with this marvellous box of tricks (Windows 98 seems so archaic by today’s standards), I was amazed by what it could do and saw no limit to what was possible. 

Suddenly, I could (willingly) do my homework on-screen and at the press of a button it would be spat out by the enormous printer to the left of the big-back monitor. I’m sure you can imagine my utter delight when I figured out how to access the internet through dial-up (and my hopeless despair when I’d spent 10 minutes trying to download an image, only for the phone to ring half way through and kill my connection). 

Picture 1: A comparison of a computer from 1984 and a computer from 2019

Fast forward 20 years and I still find myself astounded with all the technological advancements of the modern world. My smartphone can do everything and more that my first computer could and all the time we’re finding new and clever ways to apply all of this technology to a variety of different situations, problems and sectors to make our lives easier.

However, this isn’t always the case. When I think about how we use technology to supplement educational outcomes and improve the effectiveness of our schools in general, I have mixed feelings. In some cases schools are embracing tech with great results (putting iPads in the classroom being an example) but in other areas, schools are being left behind. 

 

The (not so) looming crisis

In 2019, schools are under scrutiny and pressure like never before. The education system is ever evolving and adapting to address its own challenges whilst trying to find new ways to teach the next generation so they’re set up for life in an ever more competitive and challenging world. Despite this, it’s failing to adequately address an ever progressing crisis: teachers leaving the profession at an unprecedented rate.

Among others, one of the most commonly cited reasons for the staffing crisis in the UK is the increasing demand and workload placed upon school staff as a whole, not just teachers. When I meet with school leaders in the North of England this is a question which is raised almost every single time – ‘how can I improve the efficiency and outcomes of my school whilst also reducing my staff’s workload?’ and my answer is always the same: try to see technology as an assistant and a driver for positive change and not a means to an end. It should help, not hinder you. 

In most elements of our lives we embrace the latest and greatest in tech and no longer do we settle for the sub-standard; take mobile phones as an example. On average, most people change their smartphone every 2-3 years and sometimes even more frequently. If the device doesn’t do what we want or expect it to, or even if we just find it a bit difficult to use, what do we do? We replace it without hesitation and try another brand entirely. 

I really like this attitude to tech; it serves to ensure that vendors are always striving to find new and innovative ways to make our lives easier, always one step ahead of us and improving on things that we never even thought were a problem, until we’re handed the solution. Of course, we know what happens when they don’t move with the times. More so, it stops vendors becoming complacent. 

Having seen the internals of education and technology for myself, I firmly believe schools should think of their systems like most of us do a mobile phone; a really useful tool to help us out on a day to day basis, but something we can easily swap and move away from if it no longer serves its purpose. It’s for this reason that we encourage schools we meet with to do a systems audit, which helps determine if the technology they’re paying for has become outdated or no longer fits with the day-to-day running of the school.

Picture 2: An example of mobile phones from the 1980s and a mobile phone in 2019

In a school, the MIS is one of the key pieces of tech which has the capacity to vastly reduce staff workload, increase the efficiency of the school and improve pupil outcomes at large. Despite this, many schools across the country are still using clunky, out-of-date systems that are time consuming and difficult to use, yet some appear to accept this because they’re perhaps unaware just how much of a difference a modern MIS could make to their work, and their school as a whole.

If I could give one piece of advice to anyone who’s not happy with the technology that’s supposed to assist them and make their life easier, it would be to explore alternatives and try and find a system that fits the ethos of your school, and that enhances the livelihoods of its staff and the outcomes of its pupils. 

Sometimes, we’re unaware that there are better ways to do things until we’re presented with a new idea. Try to look for a solution to your problems in a proactive manner – technology is there to help you and when it no longer does, it effectively becomes surplus to requirements. 

If you’re unhappy with your MIS and school systems in general, it could be that they’re no longer fit for purpose and you should start exploring alternatives. It’s your duty to ensure your school has the best outcomes and your staff are as happy as they can be.

Remember, a change of attitude is all that’s necessary. 

 

 

 

 

Hannah McGreevy - 15 September, 2019

Category : Blog

2019 KS2 Data is now available in Arbor Insight!

We’re thrilled to announce that we’ve just added 2019 KS2 data to Arbor Insight. We’ve crunched your data ahead of the DfE to give you a head start analysing your latest SATs results, making Arbor one of the first places you can see your latest data! We’ve been busy updating your dashboards, readying your reports

We’re thrilled to announce that we’ve just added 2019 KS2 data to Arbor Insight. We’ve crunched your data ahead of the DfE to give you a head start analysing your latest SATs results, making Arbor one of the first places you can see your latest data!

We’ve been busy updating your dashboards, readying your reports (and even adding a whole new report!) to analyse your performance data for you so you can get on with using it to plan your school improvement approach. Keep reading to find out more about Arbor Insight, what’s changed and how our reports can help.

What is Arbor Insight? 

Arbor Insight is a free performance analysis tool for schools & MATs to help you analyse your latest Analyse School Performance (ASP) and finance data. We automatically analyse your latest school performance data and present it back to you in easy-to-understand PDF reports and interactive dashboards, so you don’t have to spend hours analysing the raw data yourself. It’s free to sign up for your school’s interactive dashboards and portal, and we charge a small amount for our premium, in-depth reports (as they take a bit more work to build).

Can I use Arbor Insight alongside the DfE’s ASP service?

Yes! Arbor is an accredited supplier of ASP data, which means we receive secure, early access to all your school performance data from the DfE as soon as it’s released. So far over 10,000 schools have signed up to use us. Lots of schools use us instead of the DfE’s ASP service, but you can also use our reports and dashboards as a companion to the DfE’s analysis.

How do you present my KS2 data? 

Your school’s Arbor Insight portal contains free interactive dashboards benchmarking your performance against the national average, as well as against schools “Like You” and “Top Quintile” schools. Click on any measure to drill down and see which demographic groups are driving over or underperformance.

 

Image 1: A screenshot of one of Arbor’s free interactive dashboards

 

You can also dig deeper into your KS2 data with our popular paid-for PDF reports:

  • Attainment & Progress Report: Analyse the attainment and progress of different demographic groups at your school over the last 3 years. Use this report to identify where you could be making more progress
  • Gap Reports: See the gaps between different student groups across attendance and attainment. Get individual reports on Prior Attainment, Ethnicity, Disadvantage, Gender and SEN. Use them to identify which areas in your school to focus on and why

What’s the new report you mentioned?

This year we’ve released our brand new Understanding Your School Report, which helps you understand your performance in the context of your school’s unique demographic intake. See your performance benchmarked against similar, top 20% & national averages, and explore patterns between the socio-economic makeup of your local area, deprivation and attainment.

Image 2: A screenshot of Arbor’s new Understanding Your School Report

 

How do I sign up?

Click here to sign up to your school’s free Arbor Insight portal: https://login.arbor.sc/auth/register 

When will you add KS1 & KS4 data to my portal?

We expect to receive your 2018/2019 KS1 data in October and your KS4 data in November – so watch this space! If you’re already signed up, we’ll email you automatically to let you know when this happens.

Do you offer training on using my school’s Arbor Insight portal?

Yes! We run a free Arbor Insight Roadshow each Autumn Term to help you get the most out of your school’s dashboards and reports. Click here to sign up for your slot

You haven’t answered my questions! Can I contact you for help?

Absolutely. You can reach our Arbor Insight Team on insight@arbor-education.com or by calling 0207 043 1830.

 

Arbor Insight is a free tool we offer alongside our simple, smart, cloud-based MIS. If you’re interested in learning more about how our MIS could help to transform the way you work, book a free demo here or call our MIS Demo Team on 0208 050 1028. 

Nataliia Semenenko - 21 August, 2019

Category : Blog

What are Strong Customer Authentication regulations and how will they impact school payments?

School payments happen every day: parents pay for school lunches, clubs and trips all the time. Studies have shown that the number of cashless transactions is constantly increasing, with  more and more of these parents choosing to use online payments to purchase goods and services from schools.  It’s not a secret that online payments are

School payments happen every day: parents pay for school lunches, clubs and trips all the time. Studies have shown that the number of cashless transactions is constantly increasing, with  more and more of these parents choosing to use online payments to purchase goods and services from schools. 

It’s not a secret that online payments are susceptible to fraud (we’ve all heard stories about stolen credit cards and phishing sites that steal your details), so making online payments as safe as possible is a challenge for organisations all around the globe. As they became more aware of these risks, governments and financial authorities decided to take action by making payments more secure and protecting consumers when they pay online. They introduced the Payment Services Directive (PSD) in 2007 to regulate online payments in the EU and EEA, and in 2015 the updated directive –  second Payment Services Directive (PSD2) – was released. This introduced even more regulations, including Strong Customer Authentication.

What are Strong Customer Authentication regulations?

It was initially put forward that on 14th September 2019, new requirements for authenticating online payments will be introduced in Europe as part of PSD2. When you make an online payment, SCA requires you to use at least two of the following 3 elements:

  • Something the payer knows (e.g. password or PIN)
  • Something the payer has (e.g. mobile phone or hardware token)
  • Something the payer is (e.g. fingerprint or face recognition)

Update: UK Finance are now recommending an 18-month delay to the introduction of Secure Customer Authentication rules in the UK to give companies more time to prepare. While this might mean that SCA regulations are postponed, there is no guarantee, which is why we have made sure we are compliant. Arbor is set up for all eventualities so that your school won’t face any problems now, or in the future. Our updates to your system also means that school payments will be protected from fraudulent transactions, which is an added bonus!

From when SCA comes into action, banks will decline payments that require SCA and that don’t meet this authentication criteria (if you would like to read the original SCA requirements, they’re set out in this Regulatory Technical Standards document). These regulations will apply to British banks as well, as they are not dependant on any Brexit decisions. 

Authentication is typically added in as an extra step after checkout, where the cardholder is prompted by their bank to provide additional information to complete a payment (this could be a code sent to their phone or fingerprint authentication through their mobile banking app).

Under this new regulation, specific types of low-risk payments may be exempt from Strong Customer Authentication. Payment providers will be able to request these exemptions when processing a payment. The cardholder’s bank will then receive the request, assess the risk level of the transaction, and ultimately decide whether to approve the exemption or whether authentication is still necessary. Usually, transactions lower that £30 will be considered as low-risk and, in most cases, will not require any authentication.

How will this impact school payments?

SCA regulations will introduce small changes to the way people make card payments to school:

  • Initiating the payment: when the payer decides what they want to pay for (e.g. a school trip) and starts making the payment, they will be prompted to fill in their card details and to then initiate the payment.

Image 1: A screenshot showing you how to enter your card details into Arbor

  • Triggering dynamic authentication: it will be automatically detected whether authentication is needed for the payment to take place. If required, the payer will be prompted to authenticate the payment using an SMS code, bank mobile app or other element, depending on what their bank supports.

 

  • Completing the payment: Once the payer’s identity is successfully confirmed, the payment will be completed and their card will be charged. 

Image e: A screenshot showing a successful payment in Arbor

At Arbor, we’ve introduced changes to the way we process card payments to become 100% compliant with the new regulations, which means your school won’t face any problems when Strong Customer Authentication comes into practice. You also won’t need to make any changes if you use the card payment functionality in Arbor – we’ve taken care of all that for you already! 

 

If you’d like to find out more about how our simple, smart cloud-based MIS could help you transform the way your school handles payments, contact us. You can also book a demo by calling 0207 043 0470 or email tellmemore@arbor-education.com.

 

Rebecca Watkins - 15 July, 2019

Category : Blog

Arbor Insight Training Roadshow is back – sign up for free now!

At Arbor, we don’t just provide free ASP and finance data benchmarking tools for every school in the country; we also want to make sure that each one is analysing their data effectively, and knows how best to use that analysis to drive their school improvement plan. That’s why, for the last 3 years, we’ve

At Arbor, we don’t just provide free ASP and finance data benchmarking tools for every school in the country; we also want to make sure that each one is analysing their data effectively, and knows how best to use that analysis to drive their school improvement plan. That’s why, for the last 3 years, we’ve been running free Insight Training sessions throughout the UK, with new and improved content each year! 

 

Each session lasts between 90 – 120 minutes, and will cover:

 

1. Benchmarking Reports & Dashboards: 

We’ll demonstrate how to use Arbor’s reports and dashboards to quickly identify strengths & weaknesses and make effective interventions to improve outcomes in your school. Digging deeper into the trends behind your benchmarking data, we’ll investigate whether this year’s results are typical for your school, or specific to one cohort. 

Plus, you’ll get the first training on our new ‘Understanding your School’ report, released this Autumn! This Report combines your latest DfE performance data with ONS area classifications, families of schools, and top quintile benchmarks to give you the most complete picture of your outcomes in the context of your school’s unique demographic intake. 

 

2. School Improvement Workshop: 

See how your performance data can feed into planning & writing specific, measurable objectives for your School Improvement Plan. You will work through practical scenarios with colleagues and take home solutions, tools and top tips, to apply in your own school.

 

3. Arbor Management Information System:

If you would like to stay for an extra 15 minutes at the end, you can watch a demo of Arbor’s smart, simple, cloud-based MIS. 

 

This year, we’re teaming up with some of our valued partners to deliver content that’s tailored to the schools in specific areas of the country. Just click the link below to book your free place!

Click here to sign up for a free training session near you: https://arbor-insight-training-2019.eventbrite.com

 

Everyone is welcome at these sessions, and if you’re not yet using your Insight portal – don’t worry! It only takes a minute to sign up for free, but you can attend these sessions without having used your Insight portal before.

 

Can’t see a session near you? Just get in touch to let us know you want the Insight Training Roadshow to come to you! Give us a call on 0207 043 1830, or drop us an email at insight@arbor-education.com.

Stephen Higgins - 13 July, 2019

Category : Blog

Preparing for Exams Results Day

A-Level and GCSE results days are amongst the busiest days in any school’s calendar. We’ve compiled this guide and checklist to help the day go as smoothly as possible.  1. Import results files Results files can either be downloaded from the awarding organisation’s online portal or automatically received using the A2C transport application. Once you

A-Level and GCSE results days are amongst the busiest days in any school’s calendar. We’ve compiled this guide and checklist to help the day go as smoothly as possible. 

1. Import results files

Results files can either be downloaded from the awarding organisation’s online portal or automatically received using the A2C transport application. Once you have received your results files, it’s then a case of importing them into your MIS. 

Arbor’s MIS makes this process very easy by automatically identifying any problems when you upload your results files. Don’t worry about importing QN (Qualification Number) files, creating grade sets, or entering discount codes; because Arbor MIS is in the cloud, this is all done for you. 

Image 1: A screenshot showing how results files are imported onto Arbor MIS

2. Set embargo date/times

The JCQ stipulates that only the school’s Exams Officer, Senior Leadership and other selected members of staff can have access to results before the official publication date. To ensure that this happens, it is essential that an “embargo date” is set in your MIS. The embargo date ensures that results can only be viewed by other members of staff, students and parents the day after results are published. 

Setting an embargo is straightforward in Arbor. When you upload results files, you’ll be asked to enter an embargo date. Arbor automatically assumes that the Examinations Officer and Head Teacher will have access to results files before the embargo date, but it’s really simple to add more staff members as “pre-embargo” viewers if you’d like. 

Image 2: A screenshot showing how to set an embargo date in Arbor MIS

3. Manually enter the results for any non-EDI qualifications

In the case of qualifications that don’t support EDI results files, results need to be manually added into your MIS. Non-EDI results can be viewed and downloaded from the awarding organisation’s secure portal. 

Arbor’s Exams module supports all Ofqual recognised qualifications. Non-EDI qualifications can be easily added to your centre’s qualification offering. Arbor manges all the information for non-EDI qualifications centrally, so there’s no need to manually add information such as award and/or learning unit names and combinations.

Image 3: A screenshot showing where to enter non-EDI qualifications in Arbor MIS

4. Export results to a data analysis application

There are a number of excellent and intuitive third party data analysis tools available to schools (some schools have their own Excel templates, or prefer to use an analysis tool such as SISRA, 4Matrix or ALPS Connect for this purpose). After all the candidates’ results have been loaded into your MIS, the next step is to export them for analysis. To get the most out of your exams day data analysis, you should have exported assessment data at selected periods (“data drops”) throughout the year; this will allow your school’s Data Manager and Heads of Department to analyse student’s progress throughout the year.

Importing data into a third party data analysis tool can either be done from within the application itself, or by creating a marksheet with the relevant student and exam result that can be re-imported into the application. 

We know that creating marksheets to export exam data is incredibly time-consuming – that’s why Arbor’s Exams module has multiple, powerful out-of-the-box reporting tools that allow you to export candidates’ results in a few clicks. If you want more flexibility to create your own reports, you can also use Arbor’s Custom Report Writer which lets you quickly and easily compile custom marksheets that contain any data point from your MIS.   

Image 4: A screenshot showing how export candidate results from Arbor MIS

5. Print candidate’s Statement of Results

After you have completed your results analysis, it’s advisable to print out paper copies of candidates’ Statement of Results. Remember, only the relevant members of staff should be able to see these results before the release date. This means that all printed content should only be handled by theses members of staff. When the Statement of Results have been printed, they must be stored in a safe and secure place until the following day. 

Image 5: A screenshot of how candidates’ Statement of Results appear in Arbor

6. Electronically share results with parents and guardians

The nervous thrill of opening your exam result is something that none of us ever forget. Opening the envelope is usually followed by a phone call home to tell loved ones. Students will be making plans for college, university and the rest of their lives; teachers will be on hand to offer congratulations, advice and support. 

It’s not always possible for parents, guardians and students to be in school on results day, and amidst all the excitement, it’s not uncommon for Statements of Results to get spoilt or lost! With this in mind, it’s wise to share students’ exam results with their parents and guardians electronically too. Your MIS provider should give you the option to do this.

If your school is using the Arbor App, parents will be able to see their child’s exam results by selecting ‘Examinations’ in the menu. Parents can view a list of their child’s exam results or download a printable PDF. If you don’t want to share students’ exam results with parents via the Arbor App, or you would like to wait until after results day, all of this can be managed in Arbor MIS.

Image 6: A screenshot of how examination results appear in the Arbor App

Using Arbor MIS? Need help on Results Day? 

We have a comprehensive online help guide that addresses all the questions that you may have. Still stuck? Our customer team will be on hand to help you! 

If you’d like to find out more about how our simple, smart cloud-based MIS could help you transform the way your secondary school works, contact us. You can also book a demo by calling 0207 043 0470 or email tellmemore@arbor-education.com.

Beth Mokrini - 12 July, 2019

Category : Blog

Top 10 must-have cloud systems for your school

Thousands of schools have now joined the cashless and paperless revolution, from the cosiest rural primary to the biggest inner-city sixth form college. This has led to an explosion in the Edtech sector, with hundreds of useful apps and dashboards now available to manage your school or MAT more efficiently. This is great news for

Thousands of schools have now joined the cashless and paperless revolution, from the cosiest rural primary to the biggest inner-city sixth form college. This has led to an explosion in the Edtech sector, with hundreds of useful apps and dashboards now available to manage your school or MAT more efficiently. This is great news for schools, but the choice can be bewildering. 

 

To combat the flow of paper slips, cash and cheques that once flooded the office, many schools have now armed themselves with an array of new technologies. This can lead to soaring IT budgets and “login fatigue” (a feeling of exhaustion caused by typing in multiple usernames and passwords to complete one simple task!).  

 

That’s why we thought we’d help you narrow down the field, by compiling our top 10 cloud systems to help schools work more efficiently. These systems are all best-of-breed in their own right, and what’s more, they integrate smoothly with Arbor’s smart, simple, cloud based MIS! 

CPOMS: Safeguarding and Child Protection Software for Schools | CPOMS

 

Banishing paper logbooks and filing cabinets from schools all over the country, CPOMS is an intuitive app for monitoring child protection, safeguarding and pastoral issues. It cuts down paperwork for staff, while ensuring incidents are properly reported, details are shared securely and students are kept safe. 

Basic student and staff data already syncs from Arbor to CPOMS, allowing our customers to operate seamlessly between the two systems. We’re now working together on a deeper integration, which we hope will allow teachers to get a single clear picture of their student’s pastoral and education data. 

Related image | G Suite for Education 

 

Google offers its much-loved set of apps (including Gmail, Drive, Calendar and Hangouts) to schools for free, including extra features to make for smooth collaboration between students and staff. You can link Arbor MIS to Google so that you only have to set up accounts for your staff and students once, and your timetables in Arbor will automatically show in your Google Calendar, keeping your MIS as the single source of truth. 

| InVentry

 

InVentry’s popular Sign In tools help schools securely monitor staff, students and visitors, while speeding up the sign in process. They also provide a user-friendly Audit & Compliance app, to simplify the management of assets. InVentry has set up read/write integrations with Arbor and other leading MIS providers, so you can relax knowing your crucial attendance and security data is accurate to the minute.

 

Image result for sisra | SISRA and 4Matrix  |

Although SISRA have recently branched out into lesson observations and CPD with their new product, SISRA Observe, they’re probably best known for their outstanding secondary data analysis tool, SISRA Analytics. Highlights include bespoke grading so you can use your own scales and language, and out-of-the-box performance reports to save you time on exam results day. 

Similarly, 4Matrix is well loved by secondary schools for its management of school performance data. The app produces quick, in-depth reports on exam results day, meaning you won’t need to sift through spreadsheets to show progress for different student groups. 4Matrix also supports the design and assessment of a curriculum “without levels” for KS3. 

Both systems help you create neat, visual representations of your key performance data. You can easily sync achievement and contextual data from Arbor marksheets to either 4Matrix or SISRA, meaning there’s no need for dual entry, and your MIS remains the single source of truth.

RS Assessment from Hodder Education | RS Assessments

 

RS Assessment’s standardised tests PIRA and PUMA are a key component of many primary school improvement strategies, helping Senior Leaders track in-year pupil progress and benchmark against age-related expectations. What’s more, you can use the tests in conjunction with MARK (My Assessment and Reporting Kit) online, to get time-saving analysis of test results. 

Arbor has partnered with RS Assessments to feed test results from PIRA and PUMA into our smart, simple MIS, so there’s no need for dual data entry. For MAT Leaders, the same data will aggregate up to your MAT MIS to give you a single overview of your schools. Read more about this integration here! 

Image result for parentpay logo | ParentPay

 

ParentPay is an easy-to-use online payments service used by over 9,000 schools in the UK. It allows cashless income collection and financial reporting for everything from clubs and trips, to dinners and uniforms. ParentPay comes with in-built email and SMS functionality too, so you can manage payments and communicate with parents in the same place. Arbor MIS includes a built-in payment and communications service, but we also integrate directly with ParentPay, giving schools the flexibility to choose the best solution for them. 

 

Assembly logo | Assembly

 

Assembly offers school data integration and Multi Academy Trust analytics. You can use their innovative dashboards to connect your MIS to a wide range of third-party applications, and also to populate Assembly Analytics (Assembly’s MAT Analytics tool) with a live feed of you school’s data. Arbor is one of six leading MIS providers to integrate with Assembly, so it’s a great option for MATs who aren’t ready to move all their schools onto the same MIS. 

For MATs looking to find economies of scale by centralising MIS across their schools, Arbor’s MIS for Groups and MATs allows you to transform the way you work, by reporting and taking action centrally.

 

Image result for wonde | Wonde and Groupcall  | Image result for groupcall

 

Wonde and Groupcall are two of the UK’s most popular “data providers” for Education, which means they can connect your MIS with hundreds more apps and make it easy to control data sharing. You can share data from your MIS with 3rd party apps through their platform, with user friendly dashboards to help you see what data is shared with whom. Arbor MIS (along with many other cloud based providers) integrates with both Wonde and Groupcall, meaning any of the apps on their platforms are open to Arbor schools. 

So there you have it: our pick of the top 10 apps for schools and MATs looking to go cashless and paperless. Powerful on their own, they all integrate with Arbor’s cloud-based MIS to help you save even more time and get deeper insight into your data. We’re not stopping there though – our API team is constantly expanding the range of integrations available to our customers. We’re currently working on a deeper sync with the market-leading Cunninghams Catering app, so watch this space! 

 

Andrew Mackereth - 10 July, 2019

Category : Blog

Is your curriculum planning improving outcomes for your students?

I used to marvel at the mystery and complexity that always seemed to surround the world of the Curriculum Deputy. When I eventually became one, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the enormous privilege but enormous responsibility I had to create the perfect curriculum model – taking into account the latest thinking on curriculum design and

I used to marvel at the mystery and complexity that always seemed to surround the world of the Curriculum Deputy. When I eventually became one, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the enormous privilege but enormous responsibility I had to create the perfect curriculum model – taking into account the latest thinking on curriculum design and implementation. As I became more experienced, I began to make increasingly bold moves to build the curriculum around the needs of learners and not just the constraints of the budget.

My first mentor was a retired (and fabulously wise) Curriculum Deputy who stressed that planning the curriculum was a whole-year job. When I became a Headteacher, I continued working and planning in this way and valued the support of some really creative thinkers on my leadership teams. It was a special day indeed when Ofsted visited one such school and judged leadership, management and the curriculum as outstanding.Sadly, that framework and financial climate are a thing of the past now!

In more recent times, the Leadership Team started to consider in depth the outcomes for pupils after each set of summer results and would use this to interrogate the merits of our curriculum plan. Once or twice we did withdraw a course in September if student numbers didn’t justify it, or a staffing crisis necessitated it, but generally,  once a commitment had been made to students that a course would run, we honoured it for the full two years.

Whatever our staff/student profile looked like, our first priority  was to ensure that students had access to a broad, balanced, relevant curriculum. Our most recent challenges included:

  • Pressure to increase curriculum time for maths and English
  • Pressure to create additional time for science in KS4 to cope with the demands of the new syllabus
  • Our wish to make explicit provision for wellness and mental health first aid within the curriculum

Working to a timetable of 30 periods a week meant an inevitable squeeze on option choices, reducing the number of subjects students could choose from four to three in one case, and removing PSHCE/RE as subjects and mapping the provision across the curriculum. None of these decisions were easy to make or sat particularly well with me, but as the saying goes; something’s got to give.

My mentor, Bob, helped me plan my staffing requirements and showed me how many staff periods I needed to cover my commitments. Not only did this give me the opportunity to examine my current staffing needs, I could also begin to plan ahead – particularly if it meant recruiting a double specialist like a French/Spanish teacher or an RM/Textiles teacher. This was hugely helpful in feeding into the budget planning cycle and supporting my requests for additional funding for staffing.

We rarely carried any slack in our curriculum model. This inevitably meant that SLT members would also have to pick up subjects outside of their discipline and teachers that didn’t have a full timetable of classes were used as additional support with key groups and interventions. In reality, our staffing model would have to change incrementally throughout the year if the staffing profile suddenly changed, or if it was clear from our in-year tracking that students were not making sufficient progress. 

One strength of our curriculum was that we could plan our interventions so well that we could provide extra lessons and tailor the curriculum for individuals and groups. We would do this by taking them out of some lessons where they were performing well to give them additional support in subjects where they were performing less well. We were blessed with a dedicated team of teachers and TA’s, some of whom would run sessions before and after school, others during registration and others during gained time or non-contact time.

If, like we did, you believe the curriculum is the dominant driver for boosting student outcomes and life chances, you will face constant budgetary pressures with very few variables to play with. We explored:

  •   Increasing teacher contact ratios
  •   Increasing class sizes
  •   Imposing strict enrolment quotas (that placed Arts subjects and languages in particular jeopardy)
  •   Increasing the classroom contact time of SLT
  •   Doubling-up or co-teaching Y12/13 classes in minority subjects
  •   Considering some subjects as extra-curricular offerings only

As a direct consequence, we found ourselves increasingly offering shorter contracts, reducing the size of the SLT and going without certain associate staff roles like a PA – just to balance the books. After all, it’s about delivering the most effective curriculum possible with your current staff and budget!

We used an approach we called “active vacancy management” that ensured that each time a post became vacant we didn’t simply fill it. First of all, we decided if we needed to replace the post, assessed whether it would be a like-for-like replacement or in some reduced capacity and analysed current staff deployments in detail, before considering placing an advert.

Increasingly, we looked beyond our own staff and worked closely with neighbouring schools to share teachers and other support roles. This is not without its complications, but it makes the process of appointing one full-time English teacher that works on two sites marginally easier than appointing two.

I am heartened by news of courageous schools and Trusts that break the mould and shape their curricula around the needs of their students by considering the skills, knowledge and understanding they need to be happy, resilient and independent learners.

Maintaining the intent and moral purpose of the curriculum is challenging, but the rewards for young people make it worth every minute.

“When we’re talking about intent, we’re talking about how ambitious, coherently planned and sequenced, how broad and balanced and inclusive the curriculum is.”

Heather Fearn – Ofsted

Hannah McGreevy - 5 July, 2019

Category : Blog

How to reduce data entry at your school

Data entry is a daunting prospect for most teachers. With the amount of data they are expected to record, it can often take up a large portion of their daily workload, and workload is listed as one of the most common reasons for leaving the profession. The good news is it doesn’t have to be

Data entry is a daunting prospect for most teachers. With the amount of data they are expected to record, it can often take up a large portion of their daily workload, and workload is listed as one of the most common reasons for leaving the profession. The good news is it doesn’t have to be this way – keep reading to see how you can transform the way your school deals with data entry. 

Making data work

In November 2018, the Teacher Workload Advisory Group released a report called “Making Data Work”. The report reveals that teachers consider unnecessary tasks around recording, monitoring and analysing data to be notably time-consuming, with data entry highlighted as the biggest problem. The Teacher Workload Advisory Group set out a number of suggestions for the DfE to consider. These included:

  • Making sure schools are using cloud-based products which help to minimise workload by allowing teachers to access the MIS from anywhere at any time – the same isn’t possible from a desktop computer 
  • Promoting the use of education technology to “improve the collection, monitoring and analysis of attainment data” 
  • Encouraging parental engagement through the use of technology – for example, the Arbor App keeps parents up to date with school trips and parents evenings, meaning teachers spend less time chasing up on emails 

So what’s the best way to reduce data entry at your school? Try following these simple steps:

Part 1: Streamline your systems

Before you do anything else, you need to ask yourself if all the third-party systems you’re currently using still work for your school. Are they up to date? Do you need all of them? Do staff engage with them regularly? 

Find out by running a systems audit. It’s easy to do – just follow the instructions in our blog on how to audit your school or MAT’s IT systems. By running a systems audit, you can reduce the number of places you have to enter data. Goodbye, multiple logins! Your staff will have fewer systems and apps to keep track of, which will considerably reduce their administrative workload. 

An IT systems audit

Image 1: How we encourage schools to approach an IT systems audit

Part 2: Make sure any extra systems you’re using are integrated with your MIS

Over the years, your school has probably invested in lots of different systems that were useful at the time, but which don’t integrate with your current MIS. This can make everyday tasks like following up with detentions and creating meal plans much more complicated and time-consuming than they need to be, as you have to visit external apps in order to properly record all of the data. Using systems that integrate with your MIS can make admin a lot simpler. For example, Arbor’s integrations with apps like CPOMS and Inventry means that you only have to enter student data once and it will update automatically in these apps. 

The “Making Data Work” report also advises that schools should “minimise or eliminate the number of pieces of information teachers are expected to compile.” Ensuring your systems integrate with your MIS will mean that you can access all your data in one place, which means you won’t have to spend time transferring it from one system to another. 

Image 2: How parents can view all payments and invoices from Arbor’s Parent Portal 

Part 3: Set up a system to suit your school

It’s important to think about how your MIS can best serve your school. For example, the report advises that schools should have simple systems that allow behaviour incidents to be logged during lesson time, rather than at break or lunch. In Arbor, you can set up incident workflows that track negative and positive behaviour (e.g. a Level 2 incident could automatically create a lunchtime detention). Automating workflows in this way means that teachers don’t have to add this information manually, which will save them a significant amount of time. 

Your MIS can also help to reduce data with quick group selection. For example, in Arbor you can select absentees from your register and instantly send emails to their primary guardians with the help of our mail merge tool. You can even use a pre-made message template so you won’t have to type a single word! 

Image 3: How you can follow up on students registered absent in Arbor

Not only will reducing data entry help to improve workloads, it will make your staff happier too. So – streamline your systems, make sure they integrate with your MIS, and set it all up to suit your school. If you’d like to hear more about how Arbor could help you reduce data entry at your school, why not drop us a message here?

Paul West - 24 June, 2019

Category : Blog

The strategy behind a successful MAT merger

At our most recent MAT conference, Paul West, Chief Executive Officer at Spencer Academies Trust, shared his experience of the trust’s recent merger with Trent Academies Group, and how other trusts considering a similar move can make sure they’re doing it right. Check out his presentation below to see how Spencer Academies Trust navigated this

At our most recent MAT conference, Paul West, Chief Executive Officer at Spencer Academies Trust, shared his experience of the trust’s recent merger with Trent Academies Group, and how other trusts considering a similar move can make sure they’re doing it right. Check out his presentation below to see how Spencer Academies Trust navigated this important process:

Fig. 1: Click on the the arrows to flip through Paul’s presentation

Paul James - 20 June, 2019

Category : Blog

Navigating the complexities of centralised and school-led leadership in a MAT

At our latest MAT conference in London, Paul James, Chief Executive of River Learning Trust, talked to us about the importance of “working together to achieve excellence in education”. His presentation, which you can view below, explores different approaches to leadership and emphasises the necessity of teamwork.  Fig. 1: Click on the the arrows to

At our latest MAT conference in London, Paul James, Chief Executive of River Learning Trust, talked to us about the importance of “working together to achieve excellence in education”. His presentation, which you can view below, explores different approaches to leadership and emphasises the necessity of teamwork. 

Fig. 1: Click on the the arrows to flick through Paul’s slides from the day

Will Smith - 19 June, 2019

Category : Blog

How Greenshaw Learning Trust uses the lighthouse model when working with schools

At our recent MAT conference in London, Will Smith, Chief Executive Officer at Greenshaw Learning Trust, spoke about the importance of defining your Trust and how building strong foundations and principals is key to running a successful organisation. We’ve transcribed the beginning of his presentation below. What do we mean by “Trust”? A couple of

At our recent MAT conference in London, Will Smith, Chief Executive Officer at Greenshaw Learning Trust, spoke about the importance of defining your Trust and how building strong foundations and principals is key to running a successful organisation. We’ve transcribed the beginning of his presentation below.

What do we mean by “Trust”? A couple of years ago, as I walked around schools and spoke to my relatively small central team, I would hear things like “the Trust are coming in; the Trust have asked for this information.” We seemed to exist in some ivory tower headed up by me in some sort of draconian dark suit wielding some sceptre of power that was “the Trust”. We needed to bust that myth.

We moved away from the notion of “the Trust is coming in”. I went round and made it our number 1 performance managing objective to get it clear to local governing bodies and head teachers that “The Trust” is everyone. We challenge people when they refer to the Trust central team as “The Trust”. They are included in that Trust. 

This has created an understanding of who we are as an organisation and has allowed me to develop true school-to-school collaboration, because we are all in one Trust and that’s been a massive thing for us. That’s why I focus very much on defining that Trust.

Click on the slides below to learn about Greenshaw Learning Trust’s strategy in more detail:

Martin Holyoak - 18 June, 2019

Category : Blog

The benefits of scaling your MAT with the help of technology

At our latest MAT Conference in London, Martin Holyoak, Education Product Specialist at PS Financials, spoke about the benefits of standardising systems across your MAT as you scale. Read what he had to say below. Let’s talk about using technology to strengthen your position when centralising. When we read into the whole centralising process, there’s a

At our latest MAT Conference in London, Martin Holyoak, Education Product Specialist at PS Financials, spoke about the benefits of standardising systems across your MAT as you scale. Read what he had to say below.

Let’s talk about using technology to strengthen your position when centralising. When we read into the whole centralising process, there’s a lot to consider. One of the first considerations should be the technology we use. What you should try to do is to use 1 product across all the schools in your Trust. When some schools first join the Trust, they try to take their systems with them. They can use anything up to 15 different systems – just for the basics. It’s actually more cost-effective when you start breaking contracts and just using one system.

Fig. 1: Click on the the arrows to flick through Martin’s slides from the day

Looking at accounting, HR, procurement, communications – whatever it may be; if you have multiple sets of software that don’t work with each other, it’s not helpful. If you just use these spreadsheets and systems, making an error could mean that hundreds of messages could be lost. You’re not going to see the full picture with these spreadsheets – and it’s a lot of work as well! So, if you can have 1 of everything, that will strengthen your Trust’s position and help you with scaling up as new schools join.

Where do you sit?

This brings me to your centralisation journey, wherever you are on it: 

1. Autonomy: we work autonomously at first, holding only ourselves accountable and hiring who we want 

2. Standardisation: when I look at the information in my Trust, I see differences without seeing lots of processes – standardisation is the next step

3. Centralisation: once everyone is doing step 2, it’s easier to put everything into a central site

But with centralisation, there are quite a lot of issues. I have seen schools in Trusts for years that are still autonomous; they all do their own payrolls, hire who they want, run their own bank accounts. I’ve seen a lot of centralising as well, but you do have 2 separate directions to choose from. Ours is more controlled. By controlled, I mean we have a core team of specialists. Every MAT central team should have a core that covers finance, Hr, IT – to name just a few. They work together, not across business units, but across all schools. This way, you are getting efficiency and uniformity, which will help you to scale up when new schools join the Trust.

What are the positives of going central?

It’s very, very efficient. Let’s look at an individual business unit like the finance function, for example. When running a 10-school trust, that’s 10 banknotes, 10 payment runs – it all takes time. Or we could just have 1 of everything. That seems a lot easier, doesn’t it? Improving financial reporting also really needs core specialists. We get what we can out of the system and all the schools in the Trust get included.

And that’s just in finance. Let’s look at HR: people are always the most expensive part of your budget and that will never change. It’s also the place with the least visibility in all the schools I’ve been to. We’ve introduced our core specialists to HR to control and harmonise processes across our schools. We can onboard people quickly and capture their data.

If we’re going to scale up, it comes down to 3 things and the main thing is people. Getting the right technology is also really important, but it’s about process as well. You can have the most sophisticated software in the land – but if you use it incorrectly, what’s the point?

How does GAG Pooling fit in?

I will bring up GAG pooling, although I have no opinion on the matter. With many Trusts, even centralised Trusts, their schools manage their own premises, IT, administration and much more. The Trust then covers a small margin that handles things like legal, overheads and whatever else. The idea of GAG pooling is that the opposite would happen – the Trust would manage the majority of these school operations. All the ethical stuff, contracts and the like would be taken care of by a core team of specialists. This leaves the school to come back to their main focus: education. That’s something you can do with the right technology.

Is it right for your audience?

One of the concerns you have with centralising is your audience. We all crave reports. I know you’ve got governor reports, trustees, SLT and everything else. There’s lots of reports to produce. With the right technology in the hands of the right people, you can turn great looking things into something tangible. Fantastic work, but is it right for your audience? Again, the right people in the right positions in the central team working together can produce information that is going to make a difference moving forward.

Gwyn Mabo - 17 June, 2019

Category : Blog

5 ways to boost parental engagement at your school

As a former Maths teacher at an Alternative Provision in Leeds, I’ve encountered more than my fair share of students and parents reluctant to get involved in school life. Here are the top five methods I found worked to encourage active engagement between your school and parents. Focus on the Positives At a school where

As a former Maths teacher at an Alternative Provision in Leeds, I’ve encountered more than my fair share of students and parents reluctant to get involved in school life. Here are the top five methods I found worked to encourage active engagement between your school and parents.

Focus on the Positives

At a school where most students had already been excluded, parents were used to receiving nothing but negative news. But effective parental engagement doesn’t mean only speaking when things go wrong. Tell parents about positive events too, with greater frequency. At the Alternative Provision, we’d send a quick text for positive events. If a student had a really good day, we’d use a phone call. Track what’s been said by keeping a communications log.

Set Regular Reviews

Parents Evenings aren’t just for telling parents about their child’s grades. They can also be an opportunity to talk about their social development, friendships, career goals, attitude and behaviour, and agree an action plan of how to support the child at home and at school. To increase the number of parents who attend, stop relying on sending kids home with sign-up sheets and use an online booking system, letting parents book slots whenever they want. 

Image 1: A screenshot of the Arbor MIS Guardian Consultations feature 

Get parents and students to work together

Education has changed so much since parents were in school, they may have no idea what their children are studying. Keep parents engaged by assigning homework that they can help their children complete. For primary school students, try giving tasks to read aloud. For secondary schools, let parents know what assignments their child has to complete and if it’s been submitted on time using a student or guardian portal.

Be open to feedback

Parents are most likely to get involved if they feel like they can make a real difference. Whenever parents visit or contact you, be willing to listen to their responses, answer their questions, and make them feel their contribution is welcomed. Make sure parents feel they can come to you if they have questions about how your school works, and let them know which person they should contact about certain issues.

Give them what they want

Despite your best efforts, there will always be some parents who won’t respond to a text, email or letter. You also can’t rely on students to pass on information. Maybe they’ll forget to mention something, or they simply don’t have a good relationship. To overcome this, give parents all the information they need in the palm of their hand by using an App. Not only does this notify parents instantly, but they can also refer back to it later if they forget.

      

Image 2: A screenshot of Arbor’s new in-app messaging feature 

At Arbor, we’re always trying to improve how we can support schools to take parental engagement to the next level. We’ve recently introduced an in-app messaging feature that allows fast, free communication between schools and parents – take a look at this article to see how else you can use our new Arbor App!

Hannah McGreevy - 6 June, 2019

Category : Blog

The Arbor App is here

What’s the best way for your school to engage with parents? Far too often we’ve seen schools struggle with a mixture of asking parents to check letters, forms, payment systems, booking systems, and report cards. This causes too much manual work for schools, and makes it hard for parents to keep on top of everything.

What’s the best way for your school to engage with parents? Far too often we’ve seen schools struggle with a mixture of asking parents to check letters, forms, payment systems, booking systems, and report cards. This causes too much manual work for schools, and makes it hard for parents to keep on top of everything.

That’s why today we’re thrilled to launch the new Arbor App for iOS & Android. Say goodbye to paper slips and emails – our new App lets parents register their child for a club or trip, book parents evening slots, and manage payments all from their phone. Parents can also use the App to check in on their child’s attendance, behaviour and progress.

What’s more, the App will let you communicate with parents for free using our new In-App Messaging feature.

Image 1: Arbor have launched a simple, smart app for parents and guardians

How will parents benefit?

  • Check on your child from anywhere: With the Arbor App, you can check in on your children from anywhere – all you need is a phone
  • Access important information about your child in one place: See your child’s attendance, behaviour and progress this week as well as for the year so far. You can also see upcoming homework and download report cards for your child
  • Get updates from school via push notifications: Get notified when your school sends out a new message via the App
  • Make payments on the goManage tasks like making payments and booking trips or parents’ evenings 

How will your school benefit?

  • Quick communication: Get in touch instantly with busy parents on the move
  • Less paperwork: Eliminate the need for paper communication with In-App Messaging and Live Updates – helping to improve security & reduce the administrative burden
  • Easy engagement: Track parental engagement with the App & remind parents to log in, sign up for activities or parents’ evenings, and make payments

How to get set up

The Arbor App is for parents at schools who already use the Arbor MIS. To get your school set up, contact your Account Manager or email myteam@arbor-education.com.  

Not using Arbor yet? If you’re interested in finding out more about how Arbor MIS and the new Arbor App could transform the way your school works, get in touch! You can request a free demo and a chat with your local Partnership Manager anytime through the contact form on our website, by emailing tellmemore@arbor-education.com or calling 0208 050 1028.

Sue Northend - 3 June, 2019

Category : Blog

How REAch2 use touchstones to unite their organisation

Today I will share with you the principles that keep REAch2 together. We call them our touchstones. These are the things that are common and that are important for us as an organisation. We call them touchstones because a touchstone 500 years ago was a measure of quality. It’s a standard by which we are judged.

Today I will share with you the principles that keep REAch2 together. We call them our touchstones. These are the things that are common and that are important for us as an organisation. We call them touchstones because a touchstone 500 years ago was a measure of quality. It’s a standard by which we are judged. Hence, their importance can be felt across our organisation.

They’re also a barometer of how we’re doing. As a director of HR, I can assure you: when we have challenging conversations, this is what we come back to. As I’ve said before, REAch2 isn’t a Starbucks where every coffee shop is the same. We’re the equivalent of a bespoke coffee shop, where quality is absolutely paramount. No teacher is the same; no two schools are the same, but we share these guiding principles.

So what does this mean in practice?

Let me give you some good examples:

  • The head teacher of one demanding school with some serious challenges decided, rather than excluding pupils, to convert the old caretaker’s house into a centre with specialised provision for children who needed it. Pupils don’t leave school; they stay in the grounds and they’re still part of the community.
  • In an East Anglia school, our staff came in during the summer holidays to provide lunch to children who probably wouldn’t get 3 meals a day otherwise.

We make time to meet. If you take everything else away, apart from aligning with your culture and your purpose, this is paramount. It’s the easiest thing to disappear out of your calendars. We enjoy working together. We are vibrant when we work together.

We don’t have head office, so we’re all in lots of different locations. We’ve gotten really good at Zoom or Skype calls and work hard at making it feel like we’re all in one room. Making time together is really important. That’s the senior leadership team, head teachers and teachers.

You’ll see on the website that we talk about the REAch2 family. That may sound corny to some, but we mean it. Being a family means that we actually hold each other to account. We have a chart that reminds us of who’s responsible for what: how central team is going to work with schools, what support they’re going to get. We challenge each other when things aren’t going so well.

One of the things we remind our headteachers and SLT about is “raise extra purpose”. We have to ensure that everyone understands why we do what we do. If you go onto our website, then you’ll see our 5 year strategy document, which outlines that REAch2 stands for ‘reaching educational attainment’. Under that, we’ve got 3 headings:

  • Truly exceptional performance: this isn’t just about Ofsted, but other things that our schools achieve.
  • Distinctive contribution: what makes our education different and purposeful for every pupil?
  • Enjoying impact: this includes pupils, parents, and governors alike.  

Image 1: REAch2 uses touchstones to stay focused on their guiding principles when on-boarding new schools to the MAT

Another key element: people. When I first joined REAch 2, I was clearly the executive. My focus would be leadership, leadership, leadership coupled with location, location, location. You can imagine that, having 60 schools, we’re not looking for the same head teacher for every single one. Our smallest school in East Anglia has 75 pupils, while our largest in London has over 1000. We’ve appointed every single one of our head teachers apart from 3. It’s not a ruthless statistic: it’s the results of painstaking clarity in what we’re about and what works.

When you think about it, it’s not difficult. Know what you’re looking for when you interview. Our first questions are about the ‘REAch2 fit’, not about experience. Our on-boarding plan for every single person on the central team is 6 months. It’s very specific, it’s very clear and the line manager takes ownership of it. We have an induction event, which is not just for head teachers, but for any of their SLT whom they wish to bring along. We have 3 regional teaching conferences a year, and we have one larger headteacher conference where everybody comes together.

It’s important to get people together to reinforce messages. When it comes to leadership and culture:

  • You are strategic, not operational. Doing what we’ve always done will get us nowhere apart from where we are today. Take time to think. Have clarity of vision – at trust level and at school level. Communicate the route for others.
  • Leadership is a moral activity. You do the right thing because you know that it’s the right thing to do, regardless of whether anyone’s looking or not.
  • REAch2 is about transformational improvement. We’re not scared of doing things differently. We all make mistakes, but fundamental change doesn’t happen overnight. We’ve just embarked on a structural reshuffle of our whole organisation. 
  • Personal learning is very important. Be a role model to others. Learn from your network. Don’t stand still.
  • It’s not all about you. A leader in REAch2 seeks to develop the collective capacity of their team.
  • Relationships. They require investment both in and out of the organisation.
  • The touchstones. Live them so you can believe them. Set standards and welcome the bar being raised. Seek to work with others and be prepared to have challenging conversations.

Practice is important. If our touchstones are non-negotiable and we’re clear about our mission, then actually it takes practice. Communicating something via a poster or on a website and doing it once won’t accomplish anything. It’s about reinforcing it on a daily basis. Over the last 6 months we’ve been looking at our own growth to make sure we maintain our purpose and principles when we add more schools. We’re not standing still.

One of the reasons why REAch2 is really keen to be at Arbor’s conference today is because our sector is still relatively new. This is a good reason to support each other. Don’t forget that whilst we’re all working on our own individual culture, people outside our sector will be looking at us. They will say: ‘what’s it like working there?’ So, your culture (our culture) is important. It will define us as a good place to work: a sector for a career and a sector which means business.

Sue Northend - 28 May, 2019

Category : Blog

How REAch2 use the wisdom of Dr Seuss to introduce new schools to the trust

Today I’m going to talk about how to scale culture across your MAT whilst giving schools individual identity. I’m Sue Northend, Head of HR at REAch2, and I wanted to start by telling you a little bit about the trust and the journey we’ve been on so far. REAch2 is the largest primary academy trust

Today I’m going to talk about how to scale culture across your MAT whilst giving schools individual identity. I’m Sue Northend, Head of HR at REAch2, and I wanted to start by telling you a little bit about the trust and the journey we’ve been on so far.

REAch2 is the largest primary academy trust in England, and we have 60 schools scattered across 200 miles of geography. Our schools tend to fall into one of two specific categories; they’re either rural and coastal, which has its own set of challenges, or they’re in central towns and cities. Part of REAch2’s DNA is taking on schools that are in particular situations where there is a lot of social deprivation.

82% of our academies were sponsored when they came to us with severe issues of performance. We’ve got 20,000 children and 4,000 staff, and of the 60 schools we’ve got today, 17% of them were in special measures when they came to the trust. I’m really delighted to be able to say that 6 years later, 82% of our schools are now rated “Good” or above. There’s no doubt that it’s a journey, and part of the culture that we embed in our schools is to make sure that they know that we’re not looking for results over a 12-month period, because we want those results to be sustainable.

My background is in finance, so coming into education was a learning curve for me! Despite this, I think I bought some fresh thinking to REAch2 when I arrived. Really, any organization in the commercial sector that is growing in the way REAch2 has done (which is about 50% in three years!) would think it was utter madness. But what we’ve learnt along the way is that we don’t get it right all the time, and I think we as a central team have had to accept that it is a learning journey. What I want to share with you today is a bit about where we are, what our culture looks like, and how we reinforce it.

First of all, let’s take a look at what it takes to create and organise a culture.

One of our first steps when taking on a new school is to do what we call “facilitating a path”. When a MAT is small, alignment is easy – after a few conversations by the water cooler, a decision is made, steps are agreed, and we’re on the same page. As the MAT grows, that gets more difficult. It becomes all the more important to be clear and consistent, and to communicate what it is we do & what we’re about on a daily basis. So when a school joins the trust, we clear the path for the REAch2 culture, and some of this is really practical, as you might expect. We look at things like structure, accountability, and whether the school has the right talent (although we don’t sack the headteacher!). We have conversations with all the teachers about what REAch2 is about, and our CEO, Deputy CEO, COO & Leadership team make time to go out and spend time in the school so that the teachers can ask us questions and can see that we really care about the path that we’re clearing.

There are a lot of CEOs, COOs and CFOs here today, and make no mistake – culture is your responsibility. It has to start at the top. When we clear the path, we focus on supporting the school leadership by balancing what’s core and consistent across all our schools, with what’s individual to that specific school. I think that’s one of the attractions of REAch2 to all the primary schools that join us – we don’t insist that all schools have the same vision. We don’t impose a curriculum or a uniform – headteachers are headteachers because they enjoy the leadership, the ownership and the success that they bring to their own schools. We understand that.

So we’re very careful about what is core and what’s not. We’re not the Starbucks of the education world, and not every latte, frappuccino or mocha is the same. We see the trust and central team as being the enabler and the empowerer, facilitating and supporting change or improvement.

In order that we can understand what needs to change, we hold inductions. And during that induction, we introduce our Headteachers to “Oh, the places you will go”, by Dr Seuss (one of my favourite philosophers!). It’s a simple book, but it’s got some fantastic philosophy in there. When you first join the trust, it feels like this line in the book:

“You’ll be on your way up. You’ll be seeing great sights. You’ll join the high flyers who soar at great heights.”

However, we’re really clear about this to the Headteachers in our senior leadership team – for all of us there will be times when, as Dr Seuss says:

When you’re alone, there’s a good chance you’ll meet some things that scare you right out of your pants. There are some down the road between hither and yon, that will scare you so much you won’t want to go on.

Image 1: REAch2 use The Places You’ll Go by Dr Seuss to onboard new schools joining the MAT

For me, part of the culture of REAch2 is making sure that all of our schools know that we are there when things are going well and when the chips are down. And, let’s be realistic – that can be a daily occurrence.

Before I talk more specifically about REAch2’s culture, I’m going to talk a little bit about what the word culture actually means. We tend to our schools in the same way that a farmer might tend to a field, or a parent might tend to a child. We’re there through the good weather and the bad weather, thick and thin, and no matter what the time is; I’ve been supporting teachers with cases over the weekend and during the evening. It’s important that they know we are there. Every school is individual – not only because of the location – but because no two pupils are the same. So why would our schools be the same? The DNA may be alike, but they’re more like siblings, not clones. Most importantly, the culture spans across all aspects of the organisation, from our trustees to our governors, our headteachers to our pupils, and we share our vision with parents. We tend to our staff through CPD, and coaching is available to all leaders, without restriction. For pupils, our Eleven Before Eleven programme means that children from disadvantaged backgrounds get to cook a meal together, sleep out under the stars, or travel on the train – things they’ve never had the chance to do before.

These are the kind of things that excite us. These are the kind of things that mean the curriculum is not core – it’s differentiated for school to school. So before I talk specifically about REAch2, I’m going to ask you a really easy question. Grab a pen and paper off the table, and I want you to score yourself in answer to these two questions (top marks is 10, and 1 is really low):

  • Could you personally describe the culture of your organisation?
  • Could you describe the purpose of your organisation?

You should have found those questions easy to answer. Now I’m going to move onto a harder question.

  • If you were sitting around a table today with your leadership team today, and you had to write down the purpose of the organisation, would you all write the same thing?

My guess is probably not (unless you’ve just done a session on this exact topic). But this is the work that you need to do, because those words will affect the way you’re behaving. No matter if your senior leadership team is 3 of you, 10 or 15 of you – if your behaviour is reinforcing different cultures, different words and a different purpose, you can imagine how your sphere of influence will dissipate as the organisation grows.

Cosima Baring - 3 May, 2019

Category : Blog

How and why Ofsted created MAT Summary Evalutations

On Thursday 2nd May, we bought together 68 MATs for our third sold out MAT Conference in London. Matthew Haynes, SHMI and the designer of MAT summary evaluations, was among our speakers, and took to the stage to talk us through what Ofsted hope to achieve through the new approach to inspecting multi-academy trusts. You can

On Thursday 2nd May, we bought together 68 MATs for our third sold out MAT Conference in London. Matthew Haynes, SHMI and the designer of MAT summary evaluations, was among our speakers, and took to the stage to talk us through what Ofsted hope to achieve through the new approach to inspecting multi-academy trusts. You can flick through his informative slides below:

We’ll be posting the rest of the presentations from our MAT conference in the coming weeks, so keep an eye on the blog for more updates!

Nataliia Semenenko - 11 April, 2019

Category : Blog

Are you using the best payment method for your school?

People buy and sell every day, and schools are no exception. As a product manager developing payment systems, the main ‘use cases’ I consider when thinking about school payments include school meals, paid clubs, and field trips. There are a lot of other use cases depending on what kind of additional services the school provides,

People buy and sell every day, and schools are no exception. As a product manager developing payment systems, the main ‘use cases’ I consider when thinking about school payments include school meals, paid clubs, and field trips. There are a lot of other use cases depending on what kind of additional services the school provides, such as selling snacks, school uniform, items in the school shop, books, tickets for school events, and more.

The most popular ways to process payments from parents and guardians are:

  • Cash
  • Cheque
  • Bank transfer
  • Credit or debit card

Let’s discuss the pros and cons of each of these methods!

Cash payments

On the school’s side, cash has the major benefit of no processing or transaction fees. Parents at many schools may also prefer to use cash to pay for activities and meals – this is generally a question of demographics, as lower income families are less likely to use cheques or have credit/debit cards as their main form of payment. 

Cash does have it’s downsides though, from the stress of counting bags of coins and banknotes, to the security required to safely store them in school and take them to a bank at least several times per week (hello, staff time and safety).

Cheque payments

Cheques are another way of accepting payments that mostly have similar pros and cons to cash. The specific downsides of cheques, however, are that there is a longer lag time between the parent making the payment and the school being able to cash it. This can cause problems with, for instance, having the money you need for a trip in time for every child to go, or even with cheques bouncing altogether.

It’s probably fair to say that in a lot of places this way of accepting payments is slowly dying out because of its inefficiency, and the long time needed to process money. A lot of people these days simply don’t use cheques, or even own a chequebook.

Bank transfers

This payment method doesn’t involve dealing with banknotes and papers, everything is in one place on the screen, and the accounting is so much easier. However, this payment method is not as popular at schools because it tends to be very time-inefficient when it comes to making frequent, smaller payments of different sizes – like you do with school meals. The time that it costs to make a bank transfer is worth more than the £2.40 you’re actually sending.

Card payments

Research shows that most people prefer using card payments when they can. From the parents’ point of view, card payments provide several incentives to pay reliably and on time: its fast and easy, refunds are simple, and they can track their payments in their account or on their phone.

Schools must always consider the fee that comes with each payment and understand whether this is feasible for them to use (remember, that lots of providers don’t use a flat fee and usually charge some percentage plus a couple of pence, which become super expensive for micro-payments that are most common in schools). However, sometimes it’s better to lose a small percentage on a transaction fee, rather than losing 100% of a payment when a parent says that they don’t have enough cash with them!

All these considerations are why we take a holistic approach to school payments, and have given our MIS the ability to log cash, cheque, bank transfer, and online card payments. Arbor provides a sophisticated solution for managing school payments via the MIS and our Parent Portal. Together with taking payments for school meals, trips and clubs, it gives flexible possibilities for setting up and accepting payments for bespoke accounts, such as for books or uniforms. You can also use Arbor to audit and report on all these transactions and accounts.

So, what’s the best method for your school?

This is up to you, but on balance out of all four options, it’s no secret that going cashless is the current trend in today’s world. The United Kingdom had the highest revenue rate in cashless payments among all EU countries in 2017 – more than 100 trillion pounds. More and more schools are joining this trend and deciding to go cashless (or mostly cashless), for simple reasons:

  • It is not particularly safe for kids to bring money to school
  • It is also not very safe to keep money in school
  • It involves either school staff time spent to take money to the bank, or spending money on services that would bank money for you
  • Going cashless eases accounting workloads

A card payments system like Arbor will help you go cashless in a format designed for schools and integrated with all your other MIS modules.

Image 1: A screenshot of the Arbor App 

The benefits of card payments in Arbor:

  • A flat transaction fee of 1.275% (cheaper than most providers). Schools that often process micropayments (for instance for school meals) don’t have to worry about a high add-on price, since Arbor takes only a flat fee with no hidden costs or additional service charges per payment.
  • Everything is in one place – in Arbor – so there is no need for schools to maintain different systems to run the MIS and accept card payments. It’s easier and time efficient for school staff. And it’s great and easy for parents as well – they log in once to their Parent Portal in which they can not only see their kids results and information, but pay for their meals, clubs, trips etc.
  • Arbor supports paying out money to different bank accounts (for instance, when there is a need to pay out collected money to a caterer to a different bank account). You can also find the detailed breakdown of each payout per transaction basis.
  • All reports, VAT invoices etc. are accessible in Arbor MIS, saving time otherwise used on maintaining and using more than one system.

We are at the beginning of a fascinating journey for different ways of accepting payments, and the future may bring even more developments, from mobile and biometric payments, to things like cryptocurrencies. If your school trip funds are still tied up in a lockbox in reception though, a decent card payments system may just be the best place to start.

If you’re an Arbor customer, you can talk to your Account Manager about getting started on Arbor Payments and Parent Portal in your MIS. If you’re not yet an Arbor school, and would like to find out more, get in touch via our contact form or on 0207 043 0470.

Jem Jones - 11 April, 2019

Category : Blog

How to set S.M.A.R.T staff objectives

We recently talked about the importance of an aligned staff development framework in your school or Trust, and our first point was to make sure your objectives are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. SMART objectives are a common project management tool, and can be set for an individual staff member, for a

We recently talked about the importance of an aligned staff development framework in your school or Trust, and our first point was to make sure your objectives are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. SMART objectives are a common project management tool, and can be set for an individual staff member, for a department, a school, or even as a vision for an entire Trust. So, what are the benefits of SMART objectives for staff management, and how do you make sure you’re getting them?

(You can also click here to read & download a handy PDF checklist for SMART objectives)

Specific

Specificity is important because it means your staff will always have a clear sense of direction. Wanting to improve attendance may be your overarching goal, but your staff will be listless and their attempts to do so may rub up against one another if they each have that as their own personal objective. A more specific school objective would be “improve on last year’s attendance across the board in every year group”. Then, your Heads of Year would have even more specific attendance objectives such as “meet with the parents of every persistent absentee in Year 5, to create personal attendance strategies“.

In this way, your staff all know how they’re contributing to your targets. This will give their daily tasks a sense of genuine purpose, and help them prioritise their time. To check if your staff objectives are specific enough, ask yourself; is this objective focused on this one person’s role in the school? Am I confident this objective won’t be misconstrued?

Measurable

Measurability is important to consider for practical reasons. You need to know if your efforts are effective so that you can build on them next term or next year, and you can’t know that unless you’re somehow measuring them. When you set a staff member’s objective, consider how it will be reviewed in three months time. Try not to set objectives that will require a significant admin burden to measure – it’s best to use metrics which are already recorded by the tools at your disposal. For instance, the Head of Year target above, to meet with the parents of every persistent absentee in Year 5, would be very difficult if you didn’t already have a way of reporting on persistent absentees by year group and easily making their meeting records.

Remember that ‘measurable’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘measured by hard data’. A classroom teacher, for instance, might have a target of achieving positive feedback in every lesson observation that year. If you decide how you’re going to measure your targets up front, you remove any disputes and headaches from the performance review process, and ensure that staff members always know how well they’re doing.

Attainable

It’s important to make sure your objectives are challenging, yet realistic. Give your staff members something aim for, but make sure the target is within range. Getting to a 97% attendance average this term is a very specific and measurable goal for your school, but could end up being pretty demoralising if your current attendance is 85%. If a goal is overwhelmingly optimistic, it’s harder to work out where to start, and stressful to invest energy into any one approach.

Individual staff abilities should also be considered – do they have enough training in their role to complete this objective? Will they need any help? Do they feel confident that they can succeed, and if not then how can you as a manager instill that confidence in them?

Relevant

Making sure your objectives are relevant has obvious surface level benefits – there’s no point telling your staff to do something that has nothing to do with the school or its students. Relevance has a more refined meaning though; individual staff objectives should be relevant to their team’s current objective, which should be relevant to the school’s current overarching objectives, and so on. At the top level, creating a very clear improvement plan will help all of your school or Trust’s line managers to set relevant individual goals for their staff.

If staff goals are all very relevant, the right person will always be completing the right task. Relevant objectives also help staff improve their skills in their chosen career. To test whether an objective is relevant enough, ask yourself if it’s contributing both to the goals of the school and the purpose of that individual’s job role.

Timely

Every objective should be time bound, both to make sure there’s a defined end or review date, and to make sure your staff member is performing tasks at a relevant time in relation to their context. In a school or Trust context, this generally means binding objectives to the academic year. You should be able to decide whether an objective is a short term goal which should be finished by the end of term, such as to support students in achieving their mock exam target marks, or whether an objective is a longer term project that could take all academic year with termly check ins, such as to improve homework submission rates across a department.

The benefit of this is that your staff member will have the time they need to achieve their objective and will be achieving them in time to contribute to your broader goals for the school. To check if an objective is timely, ask yourself; is this the right time of year to attempt this objective? Have I provided enough time to succeed? Will it be complete in time to fit in with our overall improvement plan?

However you track your staff performance, whether through Arbor MIS or any other system, SMART is a useful framework to keep in mind. The best performance objectives will instill a sense of purpose, make task prioritisation easy, and give your staff a clear direction for the year ahead. Download a PDF checklist of this advice here, or read more advice on improving school and Trust operations here.

Cosima Baring - 1 April, 2019

Category : Blog

7 things to see at the Schools & Academies Show 2019

Fig. 1: The ExCel Centre, where the Schools & Academies Show will be held this year  With just a couple of days to go until the Schools & Academies Show 2019, we’ve rounded up 7 things we’ll be going to see at this year’s show. 3rd April 2019: Day 1 What: Ministerial Keynote Address When

Fig. 1: The ExCel Centre, where the Schools & Academies Show will be held this year 

With just a couple of days to go until the Schools & Academies Show 2019, we’ve rounded up 7 things we’ll be going to see at this year’s show.

3rd April 2019: Day 1

What: Ministerial Keynote Address

When & where: Main Stage, 9:40-9:50am

Who: The Rt Hon. Damian Hinds MP, Secretary of State for Education

Interesting for: Everyone! This is a great chance to learn what the DfE’s been up to & hear about future plans from the Secretary of State for Education himself. In this short slot, he’ll no doubt discuss the DfE’s recent push to reduce teacher workload (including more details about the Early Career Framework), as well as how they plan to help schools reduce cost pressures and free up resources to reinvest back into the classroom.

What: Is Your Trust Board Future Proof?

Where & when: MAT Summit, 9:55-10:25am

Who: Leora Cruddas (CEO, Confederation of School Trusts)

Interesting for: MATs that are growing. A former director of education at two London local authorities and now CEO of Confederation of School Trusts, Leora will draw on her experience of working with MATs & their boards to evaluate what constitutes effective, accountable and ethical governance. She’ll also talk about the importance of “Horizon gazing” and keeping agile for young, growing MATs.

What: Launching a Digital Revolution in Schools

Who: Nancy Wilkinson (Programme Manager, Education, Nesta)

When & where: Technology & Educational Resources, 2:00-2:20pm

Interesting for: School IT Managers, Data Managers & CIOs. Nancy Wilkinson, Education Programme Manager for innovation charity Nesta, will talk about how to overcome barriers to the adoption of technology in schools, including how to create a digital strategy, build the necessary infrastructure and ensure that all staff have adequate training. She’ll also discuss how technology should be used to support teaching and learning, not replace it.

What: Case Study Session: Academy Conversion – from the Perspective of a MAT

When & where: Main Stage, 2:10-2:30pm

Who: Adrian Ball, COO, Inspiration Trust

Interesting for: Any schools that are considering becoming an academy and/or joining a MAT. In this session, Adrian will explain the challenges of converting and what schools should expect once they’ve converted, as well as the technicalities of becoming an academy (e.g. changes to staffing, financial & procurement processes within your school). He’ll also cover the key things to consider when joining (or starting) a MAT. This is a good chance to hear from an experienced COO who’s ‘been there, done that’ – don’t miss it!

4th April 2019: Day 2

What: Case Study: ATT: You Have to be Strategic, You Have to be Bold, You Have to be Brave – Can it Work?

When & where: School Improvement Summit, 9:00-9:45am

Who: Debbie Clinton (CEO, Academy Transformation Trust) & Amy Bills (Executive Principal, Caldmore Primary and North Walsall Primary Academies)

Interesting for: MAT CEOs & Senior Leaders (or anyone thinking of starting their own MAT). During this session, Debbie and Amy will talk through how ATT (a 21 school mixed-phase MAT) has succeeded in delivering effective school improvement across 10 LA areas since it was founded in 2012. They will also discuss the importance of the back office, and what’s it like to be a Principal in a large, national MAT.

What: Keynote Address: Summary Evaluations of MATs

When & where: MAT Summit, 11:50-12:20pm

Who: Neil Redmond-King (Principal Officer, Schools, Ofsted) & Matthew Purves (Deputy Director for Schools, Ofsted)

Interesting for: MAT CEOs & Senior Leaders. As MAT summary evaluations are something that we still know relatively little about, this talk is a great chance to hear an overview from the experts about what they’ll mean for MATs and what their findings have demonstrated to date. There will be an open Q&A session at the end of this talk, so it’s also a good opportunity to ask any questions you may have about the process and where Ofsted plans to take it in the future – make sure you come prepared with some questions!

Both days:

What: Arbor at stand 709!

Who: The Arbor team

When & where: All day on 3rd & 4th April

Don’t forget to come and visit the Arbor stand (stand 709) over the two days to learn more about how our simple, smart, cloud-based MIS could transform the way your school or MAT operates. We’ll be giving one-to-one demos throughout the day that we can personalise to the exact needs of your school or MAT, and our team will be at the stand to answer any questions you have about the process of moving MIS. To quote longtime Arbor user Julie Rush, PA to the Headteacher at Parkroyal Community School; “it’s good to look round and see what there is, but before you launch into buying a particular product or a system that you think you might need for your school, I’d recommend talking to Arbor first because the system can probably do it!”

Look forward to seeing you there!

Tim Ward - 28 March, 2019

Category : Blog

Why you should be using standardised assessments at your school or MAT

A number of factors are making schools and MATs look again at the data they gather and use around pupil attainment and progress. These include, but are not limited to: Reducing teacher workload The proposed new, less data reliant, Ofsted Framework The challenge of standardising teacher assessments Balancing the autonomy that schools require to meet

A number of factors are making schools and MATs look again at the data they gather and use around pupil attainment and progress. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Reducing teacher workload
  • The proposed new, less data reliant, Ofsted Framework
  • The challenge of standardising teacher assessments
  • Balancing the autonomy that schools require to meet the needs of their unique context vs. the MAT’s need for reliable performance data

The traditional model in schools has, for some time, been a combination of formative assessment and summative teacher assessment.

Tracking formative assessment takes many forms, from simple notes against lesson plans to more formal ‘rubrics’ where banks of statements are ‘ticked off’. Whatever level of recording is used by schools, this is the main vehicle for improvement in student achievement as it’s ongoing and informs future provision.

Since the removal of ‘levels’, there’s been a huge amount of time spent by schools coming up with alternative summative assessment models. A lot of these ended up looking very much like the levels they were supposed to replace!

Whatever the summative model, the greatest challenges of a teacher-determined summative judgement have remained the same; ensuring consistency and validity of these judgements, and managing the workload caused by creating, moderating and collating judgements (let alone analysing the outcomes!)

There is also clear pressure from Ofsted to stop using flight paths to judge whether pupils’ progress is as desired. Only this weekend, Sean Harford (HMI and Ofsted’s National Director for Education) made it clear that this approach to target setting is, in his opinion, potentially demotivating. Flight paths are intrinsically linked to the use of summative teacher assessment scales – each implies the other is a valid approach.

In summary; schools and MATs face a real challenge. It’s essential for leaders to know the success, or otherwise, of their provision. This is particularly difficult for MATs as they scale and begin to cover a wider geographical area (and manage ever higher pupil and school numbers). Without attainment data then desktop surveys of the success, or otherwise, of schools and teachers is not possible.

What is needed is a method of providing the data required whilst reducing teacher workload, ensuring consistency of judgement and, depending on your approach, moving away from flight-paths.

This is where commercial standardised testing comes in. It solves many of the problems associated with summative teacher judgement:

  • It’s time efficient – teachers don’t need to keep excessive records or sit through long moderation meetings. Results are available for review more quickly than if moderation is necessary – giving more time for planning better provision.
  • Consistency is determined through the mark scheme for the test and developed and refined by the results from a very large sample of the pupil population nationally (much larger than most schools and all but the biggest MATs can provide).
  • Tests designed to give a ‘point in time’ measurement reduce the reliance on the flight path model through a focus on outcomes relative to the academic year.

The final piece of the jigsaw in getting standardised testing to work in your school or MAT is making sure you have analytics that are informative and easily aggregated.

Some MIS systems should be able to do this for you. For example, Arbor’s integration with RS Assessments’ PiRA and PUMA testing aggregates all of your test outcome data into the school and MAT MIS, with no extra data downloads and uploads, for easy and insightful analytics. Teachers can use the strand level analysis provided by RS Assessments to more accurately plan future curriculum content to meet the needs of the pupils. Senior leaders at schools and MATs can also use Arbor MIS to take action on their results – for example, by setting up intervention groups, or by building custom reports combining data from their PiRA and PUMA test results and Arbor MIS. If you don’t have access to this kind of analysis, many standardised test providers will offer their own dashboards or reporting services.

Fig 1.: Using Arbor’s integration with PiRA & PUMA tests in Arbor MIS

By adopting standardised assessments in place of teacher determined summative judgements, the time saved can be put back into planning and delivering great learning experiences for pupils whilst ensuring school and MAT leaders can still evaluate the outcomes achieved.

Get in touch to book a free demo to find out how Arbor MIS and RS Assessments from Hodder Education could transform your school or MAT, call us on 0208 050 1028  or email us at tellmemore@arbor-education.com.

For current customers: contact your Arbor Customer Success Manager or Account Manager to get this integration set up!

Carly McCulloch - 25 March, 2019

Category : Blog

How to use Arbor to track homework in your school

Over the past few months we’ve been giving our Assignments a fresh lick of paint, so that what used to be a minor feature on the lesson dashboard is now a full blown module schools can use as an electronic homework solution. Teachers have always been able to set students work directly from the lesson

Over the past few months we’ve been giving our Assignments a fresh lick of paint, so that what used to be a minor feature on the lesson dashboard is now a full blown module schools can use as an electronic homework solution. Teachers have always been able to set students work directly from the lesson dashboard, which will appear in their Student Portal so they can submit their work online, but we’ve made some big improvements to what you can then do with the data this generates. School leaders can now analyse how much work is being set in each subject, which teachers are setting the most work, and more!

We asked Carly McCulloch, Arbor Product Manager, to go over some of these features for you in a bit more detail:

We’ve made some improvements to the workflows for creating assignments, and tracking the submissions of assignments within Arbor for you and your teaching staff. These new additions to the assignment module have been developed based on feedback from school senior leadership, who wanted a way to see the submission statistics for assignments in their school, and check the quantity and quality of homework set by teaching staff. We take suggestions from schools very seriously, so please keep them coming!

Improvements to homework tracking include:

  • In the “Overview by Courses” section, you can see the number of assignments created and the submission statistics for each course in your school by month, term or academic year. Based on what you want to look at in more detail, or if there are any areas you want to follow up on, you can drill down to see the number of assignments created and the submissions statistics for each year group and each class within that year group. You can also see the assignment submissions for specific students in a class and across all their classes with the grades and/or comments for each assignment they submitted.

Fig. 1 – The Overview by Courses page showing automatically calculated stats for the number of assignments set and their submission rates

  • In the “Overview by Staff” section, you can see the number of assignments created by each member of staff per month, term and academic year. You can easily drill down from this view to see the assignment details as well as the submission rates in the markbook. This gives you a clear view of the amount of homework being set according to your schools’ homework policy, and gives you a deeper insight into the quality of assignments your teaching staff are creating for students.

We’ve also not forgotten about our company mission to save teachers time. A lot of the new features should help teachers set and mark Assignments more easily, incentivising use of the system and streamlining workflows in your school:

  • You now have the ability to create an assignment for multiple classes, saving you the hassle of re-creating the assignment for each class you need to assign it to. This is particularly helpful for members of your team who may need to create an assignment like a coursework deadline for all classes across a department or faculty.
  • You can create an assignment that doesn’t need to be marked by selecting ‘No mark’, giving you and your teaching staff more flexibility to track the submission of every kind of work. You can track submissions for assignments that do require marking by selecting ‘Grade’, ‘Number’, ‘Percentage’, or ‘Comment only’. Alternatively, you can simply input a grade and/or a comment into the markbook, which will automatically update the submission status.

Fig. 2 – A Student Marks Chart automatically generated for a marked assignment in Arbor MIS – the colour splits the marks down the median, the blue line shows the mean, and hovering over each bar shows further student level information

  • You can track the submission of all assignments, whether they are submitted via Arbor through the Student Portal or physically in school. Teachers can update the status to ‘Submitted’, ‘Not submitted’, ‘Submitted late’, and ‘Waiting for a student to submit’. If students submit work via their Student Portal, it will automatically show as ‘Submitted’ and will be ready to mark.

Fig. 3 – A teacher marking a grade-based English assignment, submitted by students online

We hope this module can help you to track assignment submissions, make them easier for students and teachers to manage, and ultimately improve the effectiveness of assignments in your school.

If you’re interested in finding out more about how Arbor’s simple, smart, cloud-based MIS system could transform the way your school or MAT works, save your staff time and improve student outcomes, get in touch via the contact form on our website

Fiona Rose - 20 March, 2019

Category : Blog

A data manager’s guide to analysing your Key Stage 4 data

The educational landscape is constantly changing, not least the way in which student and school performance is measured. While working in my previous role as a secondary school data manager we still had Levels, GCSEs graded A* to G and RAISEonline. Now we have Progress 8 and Attainment 8 as the headline measures used to

The educational landscape is constantly changing, not least the way in which student and school performance is measured.

While working in my previous role as a secondary school data manager we still had Levels, GCSEs graded A* to G and RAISEonline. Now we have Progress 8 and Attainment 8 as the headline measures used to measure school performance, along with the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) average point score, and the proportion of pupils attaining English and Maths at a grade 5 or above.

Fig 1.: Your free Arbor Insight dashboards analyse trends over the past three years and benchmark you against local, national and “Schools like you” measures

Arbor Insight is all you need to analyse past performance and view trends, but how can you estimate your accountability measures for your current Year 11 cohort?

First, some quick definitions:

Attainment 8 for each student is simply the sum of values of the highest GCSEs within four “buckets”: Maths, English, EBAcc and Open (other subjects). Maths is double-weighted. The highest of English Language and English Literature is placed in the English bucket and is also double-weighted, provided that the student takes both. Some non-GCSE qualifications can count towards the ‘Open’ slots.

Progress 8 for each student is one tenth of the difference between the student’s predicted Attainment 8, and the expected Attainment 8 score, based on their KS2 Prior Attainment. Both measures are calculated after the Key Stage 4 results are released each year, because they’re based on the actual average results achieved by students.

The first and easiest way to analyse your Key Stage 4 performance is to check the features available in your MIS or assessments system. Your MIS may provide estimates for Progress 8 and Attainment 8. Arbor does this within the Progress 8 Analysis dashboard. This automatically uses the complex DfE methodology and will give you a useful overview of your estimated measures. The estimates for each student can be downloaded or sent to a live feed:

Fig. 2.: Arbor uses DfE methodology to calculate estimates for Progress 8 & Attainment 8

What can you do if your MIS doesn’t provide this analysis?

You can calculate your Progress 8 measures within a spreadsheet. You’ll need to start by calculating the KS2 prior attainment for each student. For details of how the DfE calculate the KS2 Prior Attainment you should refer to the Secondary accountability measures document published by the Department for Education. It’s currently the rounded average of the fine scores for Reading and Maths. Below is an example of how the fine scores can be calculated within a spreadsheet – feel free to copy my work!

You can use lookups on the test marks to find the fine score for each student. Then average the two marks and round to one decimal place:

You then need to download the grades for English, Maths, Ebacc and Open from your MIS. To calculate the Attainment 8 convert these grades to values and sum, doubling the value for Maths and English (providing students are taking both English Literature and English Language).

The Secondary accountability measures document provides Attainment 8 and “bucket” averages from the previous year. These can be copied into your spreadsheet.

Use this data to calculate the expected Attainment 8 score and marks for each student. The KS2 Prior Attainment for the student is used to lookup the average marks for Attainment 8 and for the English, Maths, EBacc and Open subjects. The average marks for Maths and English need to be divided by 2 to give the expected marks for these subjects; the EBacc and Open marks need to be divided by 3.

The Progress 8 for each student can be found by subtracting the expected Attainment 8 score from the predicted Attainment 8 score for each student and dividing by 10:

To calculate the overall school Progress 8, find the average of all the students’ Progress 8:

Finally, you can refer to columns from the different sheets and use conditional formatting to analyse your data further:

I hope these tips have been useful for new data managers, as well as those who still aren’t quite comfortable with the new system. If you’d like to find out how you can perform your Progress 8 or Attainment 8 analysis in Arbor instead, do get in touch here!

 

Rebecca Watkins - 14 March, 2019

Category : Blog

KS1 & KS2 disadvantaged data is now available in Arbor Insight!

We’ve just updated our KS1 and KS2 free dashboards and premium Insight reports with the latest ASP disadvantaged data! This means that our Ofsted Readiness, Attainment & Progress and Closing the Gap reports all now include validated & disadvantaged KS2 data and disadvantaged data & phonics KS1 results. With the release of this new disadvantaged

We’ve just updated our KS1 and KS2 free dashboards and premium Insight reports with the latest ASP disadvantaged data!

This means that our Ofsted Readiness, Attainment & Progress and Closing the Gap reports all now include validated & disadvantaged KS2 data and disadvantaged data & phonics KS1 results.

With the release of this new disadvantaged data, the Department for Education has published new analysis about the disadvantage gap in UK schools. Looking at provisional phonics data from 2018, 70% of pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) met the expected standard in phonics in year 1, compared to 84% of all other pupils. The gap between pupils eligible for FSM and all other pupils is 14 percentage points, and remains the same compared to 2017.

The gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged KS2 pupils (measured using the disadvantage gap index) has decreased in each of the last seven years, narrowing by 3% in the latest year and 13.2% since 2011.

If you’d like to know how your disadvantaged pupils have performed relative to national averages and other pupils within your school, you can find all the information you need in your Insight reports, which are available to view in your Arbor Insight portal. If you’ve already got an account, you can click here to log in, or click here to create an account for your school or MAT.

A closer look at what’s new in our Insight reports:

Since we imported this new data, we’ve made a few changes to your Arbor Insight reports. We’ve outlined the most important changes below.

1. Ofsted Readiness report

In the KS1 section of this report, we’ve added disadvantage cohort benchmarks to the Working at Expected Standard measures for Reading, Writing and Maths. For KS2, this added benchmark can be found in Averaged Scaled Score and Overall Progress Score for Reading, Writing and Maths.

Fig. 1: The bar graphs above show your school’s average as a benchmark against each demographic group, helping you to quickly see which cohorts are under-performing or exceeding the school average

Fig. 2: A screenshot of our Ofsted Readiness report

You may have also noticed changes in the condensed Closing the Gap section in our Ofsted Readiness report for both KS1 and KS2 data (see above image). For KS1, Working at the Expected Standard for Reading, Writing and Maths now has added disadvantaged measures. For KS2, this measure has been added under Averaged Scale Score in Reading and Maths. The text callout for these measures contain useful calculations which explain your data in plain english & calculate the percentage by which the gap for each measure has widened or narrowed in your school.

2. Attainment & Progress report:

The KS1 & KS2 Attainment and Progress reports also now contain disadvantaged benchmarks and cohort data for 2017/18, allowing you to benchmark this cohort against all other demographic groupings in your school. For KS1, this chart can be found in measures, Achieving Expected Standard: Y1 Phonics, Achieving Expected Standard and Working at Greater Depth within the Expected Standard for Reading, Writing and Maths. For KS2, this graph appears in Overall Progress Score for Reading, Writing and Maths.

Fig. 3: A screenshot of our Attainment & Progress report

3. Closing the Gap report: Focus on Disadvantage

This particular report is part of a series of 5 reports which help to identify the gaps between student groups, showing which groups are under or over performing relative to the school, group and national averages.

At the beginning of this report there is a star chart which shows the gaps between disadvantaged and EAL pupils compared to the rest of the school. For KS1, the measures shown in this graph are attendance and attainment, and for KS2 they are attendance, attainment and progress measures. This star chart is colour coded to help you identify any areas that need your attention (or indeed any areas that should be shouted about because there is no gap!); for example, a green star indicates there is no gap between the group and the school average, whilst an orange star indicates the group has performed below the school and national averages. A yellow star indicates the group has performed between them.

Fig. 4: A screenshot of the star chart at the beginning of the Closing the Gap report

Your reports clearly display the cohort size for each measure, so you know how much statistical significance each outcome has. This can help you know which areas you should be prioritising.

Finally, KS4 validated and disadvantaged data will be released in the next few weeks. Once it’s released, Arbor Insight portals & reports will be automatically updated.

As one of only a few accredited suppliers, we receive all of our data for Arbor Insight reports and dashboards directly from the DfE. Over 10,000 schools are now using Arbor Insight to benchmark their performance, so if you’re thinking of signing up, you’ll be in good company!

 

 

Cosima Baring - 12 March, 2019

Category : Blog

Scaling your MAT sustainably: How, when & if to centralise

We’re excited to announce that on 2nd May 2019, Arbor & PS Financials are bringing together MAT CEOs and senior leaders from across the country for the third installment of our MAT conference series! The conference will build on the success of our MAT conferences in London and Manchester last year, attended by over 200

We’re excited to announce that on 2nd May 2019, Arbor & PS Financials are bringing together MAT CEOs and senior leaders from across the country for the third installment of our MAT conference series! The conference will build on the success of our MAT conferences in London and Manchester last year, attended by over 200 Executive Leaders representing 150 MATs nationally.

Image 1: Kings Place, Kings Cross, where this year’s conference will take place

Entitled Scaling sustainably: How, when and if to centralise, the conference will cover various different strategies for achieving sustainable growth. Delegates will hear from established MAT CEOs & Senior Leaders about how they’ve scaled their strategy, operations, central team process, systems, reporting, governance & culture. You can read about some of of our speakers below:

Cathie Paine, Deputy CEO, REAch2:
Appointed in 1998 to her first headship in a large and socially deprived school in “special measures”, Cathie was at the time the youngest headteacher in England and led the school to become “Good” in just four terms. Cathie’s headship career went on to span 15 years across three key stages and schools in a variety of challenging circumstances across the 3-11 age range. As Deputy CEO of REAch2, the largest primary MAT in the country, her vision is the belief that school leadership at its heart is about transforming lives. Cathie will share her advice on how to scale culture across a MAT whilst giving schools individual identity.

Will Smith, CEO, Greenshaw Learning Trust:
Will is judged by Ofsted to be an outstanding and inspirational school leader. He has worked as a senior school leader for over 15 years and was a national leader in education as leader of the PiXL network, supporting half of the secondary schools in England and Wales. Will was headteacher at Greenshaw High School for five years where he oversaw improvement in outcomes at GCSE and A level. His talk will draw on his experience of scaling from 1-13 schools in 3 years, and will include practical and implementable tips for MATS at a similar stage of growth.

Claire-Marie Cuthbert, CEO, The Evolve Trust:
Claire-Maire has over 15 years of leadership experience in some of the country’s most challenging schools including both primary and secondary contexts. Awarded Advanced Skills Teacher status in 2002, from there Claire-Marie became a trouble shooter for failing schools and departments across the region and also advised the DfE and QCDA on innovative curriculum models and personalised pathways for students. She has been recognised nationally by TES Teaching Awards for her outstanding contribution to challenging urban education, and has recently been awarded the prestigious EMWA award for outstanding contribution to public life and exceptional leadership. During her presentation, Claire-Marie will talk about how to improve collaboration within your MAT and across school phases.

Paul West, CEO, Spencer Academies Trust:
Paul West is a teacher, school leader and National Leader of Education with twenty-five years of experience in schools, and a ten-year record of outstanding leadership in first tier education trusts and corporates. Paul has worked across maintained and independent schools and has led at both primary and secondary level, and his leadership has been judged as outstanding in successive Ofsted inspections. He has practical experience of developing rapid school improvement strategy, opening start-up Academies, establishing Free Schools, Additional Provision Schools, and managing significant change, and will draw on this experience to talk about what to do right and what to avoid when merging MATs.

Paul James, CEO, River Learning Trust:
Paul James is a qualified teacher with over 20 years of experience in schools, including in senior leadership roles in a range of secondary education settings, and as a primary school governor and IEB member. Until recently he was a Headteacher of a comprehensive school of over 1800 students, which is a National Teaching School. He is currently a National Leader of Education alongside being Chief Executive of the River Learning Trust.  Paul will discuss how to define non-negotiables across your trust whilst building in agency for your headteachers.

 

In addition to the speakers and talks listed above, there will also be an open, round-table discussion between MAT COOs about how they’re scaling different sized MATs, including any challenges they’ve come up against in the process and anything that’s worked particularly well. You’ll leave with lots of ideas and tips to take back to your MAT to help you as you scale.

Similarly to our previous conferences, we’ve scheduled various breaks throughout the day, during which we encourage delegates to network, exchange stories about scaling, and share good practice with one another. There will also be breakfast pastries on arrival, free lunch served, and tea & coffee throughout the day. Hope to see you there!

Click here to sign up for your free ticket to Arbor’s MAT Conference: https://scaling-your-MAT-sustainably-2019.eventbrite.com

To get an idea of the sorts of topics we’ll be covering on the day, why not have a look back at the presentations from previous MAT conferences that we posted on our blog? Click here to read them

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.

 

Jem Jones - 5 March, 2019

Category : Blog

How to buy Arbor for your school or Trust

More and more schools and MATs are choosing to move MIS, with 1,000+ schools and MATs predicted to switch this year, and we’ve definitely noticed interest in our own products and services increasing. We now work with over 600 schools spread across hundreds of MATs and Local Authorities, driven by a desire to transform the

More and more schools and MATs are choosing to move MIS, with 1,000+ schools and MATs predicted to switch this year, and we’ve definitely noticed interest in our own products and services increasing. We now work with over 600 schools spread across hundreds of MATs and Local Authorities, driven by a desire to transform the way they work, save teachers time, and improve outcomes. However, while it seems ever clearer why you might want to move to simpler, smarter, cloud based systems, we still often hear from schools wondering exactly how they buy something as complex as a Management Information System.

Arbor's leaflets at our BETT 2019 stand

Get in touch! 

This is always the first step! Email tellmemore@arbor-education.com or call us on 0208 050 1028 and we’ll connect you with your local Arbor Partnership Manager. Your Partnership Manager will come and visit you to learn more about your requirements and give you a demo of our MIS. They’ll also answer any of your questions while you decide when you’ll switch, including a written proposal so you can feel confident in your decision and share it among other stakeholders.

When you’ve had time to evaluate your options and decide which package suits you best, they’ll send your contract and introduce you to your dedicated Customer Success Manager, who will personally walk you through your kick-off plan and data migration. This is definitely the simplest way to get started on Arbor MIS, and is perfect for customers from individual schools to smaller and medium sized trusts.

Buy through a framework

You can also buy Arbor through several trusted frameworks, giving you the peace of mind that due diligence checks have already been made on our product and company. Arbor is a member of the government’s G-Cloud 10 framework for approved cloud suppliers, and the ThinkIT framework.

To use a public framework, check their website carefully as the rules for each are different. Generally you’ll be able to send us your requirements and have a demo, before signing using the framework’s contract template.

For example, for G-Cloud 10, a standard process would be:

  • Internally confirm your requirements for an MIS
  • Keyword search in G-Cloud 10 with a relevant term that will turn up results specific to you, such as ‘Primary MIS’, ‘Secondary MIS’, or ‘MAT MIS’, to find the list of relevant suppliers (download this list for your audit trail)
  • Read each supplier’s product and pricing information
  • Send any clarification questions to these suppliers or host a demo day to confirm which supplier best meets your needs
  • Award your contract using the G-Cloud contract template

Both of these frameworks are suitable for customers of all sizes, and allow you to buy direct without running your own process, though they do provide you with a little less flexibility than coming to us directly (see above), or going to tender (see below).

A search for Primary MIS in G-Cloud's Cloud Software framework

Go to tender

If you’re a medium/large MAT or a larger school with more complex needs, you might want to take the time to write a tender outlining your requirements. We can still give you a demo whilst you work out your requirements, and once you go to tender we’ll respond to all your questions and outline the contract we think will be right for your school or Trust.

When writing your requirements, it can help to think about what you need your system to do, rather than just listing specific technical features you like the look of, as different MIS providers may have different solutions to the same problem. So long as you follow this rule of thumb, functions over features, tendering doesn’t have to be intimidating – you know what your school or Trust needs, and it’s up to suppliers to prove how they can provide that for you. You can find lots of great procurement advice online from the Crown Commercial Service, including a list of MIS functions you might want to ask about in your tender. Click here to see their list of suggested areas to consider.

If you think your MIS lifetime contract value will go over £181,302 you’ll need to run a formal public tender, which comes with its own set of rules and guidelines – tender expert John Leonard has written a blog that thoroughly outlines this process. Otherwise, just make sure your questions are clear, that you’ve outlined how you’ll be scoring products and pricing, and that you’ve given a reasonable amount of time for suppliers to respond to you. Don’t forget to give yourself enough time to properly evaluate the systems, as well – it’s better to tender sooner rather than later.

 

All this is especially important to consider at this point in the financial year, as some of your contracts may be coming up for extension. The DfE has confirmed in recent advice that moving to a cloud based product should be considered enough of a contract change to run a new procurement exercise, even if the new product is with the same provider. If you’d like to see what else is out there and look into Arbor MIS or Group MIS for your school or Trust, you can fill out our contact form, email tellmemore@arbor-education.com, or call us on 0208 050 1028 to get in touch!

Jem Jones - 28 February, 2019

Category : Blog

Could the right behaviour climate improve outcomes at your school?

Every teacher knows that good behaviour in the classroom is fundamental to learning. This isn’t just anecdotal; we’ve had the data to back this up since 2009, when the University of Nottingham surveyed hundreds of head teachers in school improvement groups whose schools had sustained improvement over three years. One of the most highly rated

Every teacher knows that good behaviour in the classroom is fundamental to learning. This isn’t just anecdotal; we’ve had the data to back this up since 2009, when the University of Nottingham surveyed hundreds of head teachers in school improvement groups whose schools had sustained improvement over three years. One of the most highly rated factors in their improved outcomes was an ‘improved behaviour climate’, an effect felt through all phases but most strongly in Primary schools (see below). Critically, the lower a school’s performance was at the start of the improvement process, the higher the impact they were likely to report behaviour climate having.

Graph: the impact of improved behaviour on Primary outcomes

Fig. 1 – The number of schools in each improvement group and the impact Head Teachers stated behaviour climate had on that improvement

So what ‘behaviour climate’ is best for your school?

The obvious question then, is what does an ‘improved behaviour climate’ mean? And how can you create one in your school? In the home, the generally accepted theory for how adult attitudes can affect children’s behaviour are Baumrind’s ‘four styles of parenting’:

Infographic: Baumrind's four parenting styles

  • ‘Neglectful’ (considered least effective) – structured rules are not provided for the child and their needs are treated with indifference.
  • ‘Permissive’ – rules and structure are still not enforced, but children’s needs are tended to, actions are supported, and desires are indulged.
  • ‘Authoritarian’ – rules and structure are heavily enforced, with the expectation of blind obedience, and without consideration for the child’s perspective or developmental stage.
  • ‘Authoritative’ (considered most effective) – rules are clear, reasoned, and enforced, and expectations are high, but the parent still responds to the child’s needs and supports them in becoming independent.

An authoritative style can also be adopted in the school. Creating an authoritative behaviour climate requires both structure and responsiveness.

For structure, behaviour policies must be clear and understood by all staff and students for them to be effective. When a student misbehaves, they should know in advance exactly what the consequences will be, and they should see these consequences being consistently applied. If discipline is capricious and random, or depends on which teachers are around and what their personal policies are, both staff and students can never feel certain that they are doing the right thing at any given moment.

For responsiveness, there should still be some room in your policy for mitigating case by case circumstances, and considered communication between students and staff. Listening to students to find out their side of the story, or letting them know when their voices will be heard regarding the matter, can be a key part of developing their understanding of what went wrong. If students feel unfairly treated, ignored, and confused about why a rule even exists, they are unlikely to follow the rule again next time – they’ll just try slightly harder not to get caught.

Choose systems which will keep your policies in line for you

One of the most important factors in authoritative parenting, or authoritative school operations, is having a consistently applied policy. There are plenty of ways to encourage consistency in your school. Posters of your behaviour policy in classrooms, introductory assemblies for new students and parents, and one on one explanations of rules when students have questions are all great ways to get your policy across. We also suggest using an electronic system to log your behaviour incidents, which will allow you to analyse behaviour across the school over time and improve your policies to target any problem areas.

Trying to remember by heart a complete, in depth set of behaviour policies can increase both staff workloads and inconsistency, achieving the opposite of your aim. If you have a clear, user-friendly behaviour system, ideally one that can automate repetitive admin work for you, you can make sure everyone who needs to be is kept in the loop. Using modern technology, it is possible to create a central repository for all your policies and information, so disciplinary action can only be applied with the proper incident or reasoning behind it.

Infographic: a behaviour workflow in Arbor MIS

Fig 3 – The automatic behaviour workflows in our MIS can be customised to trigger any communication or escalation based on your policy – e.g. issuing an after school detention that will appear in the relevant staff and student calendars, and emailing primary guardians, if a serious incident is recorded.

With ‘behaviour and attitudes’ staying a key part of the proposed new Ofsted framework, it could be time to review your behaviour systems and processes to create an ‘authoritative’ structured & responsive style. Overall, the exact policies that will be best for your school depend heavily on your specific situation and challenges, but making sure those policies are highly consistent and make sense to students and staff alike is one of the key ways to improve behaviour climates, and ultimately student outcomes.

Click here to read more of our blogs about preparing for the judgements in the new Ofsted framework

Maggie Fidler - 27 February, 2019

Category : Blog

How to take the stress out of organising cover

During the winter, we had some lovely crisp mornings and could enjoy the heating coming on in the classrooms. We’re also inevitably faced with colds, flu, sickness bugs and travel delays! For the person responsible for arranging cover, this can be an incredibly stressful time of year (trust me, as cover co-ordinator and examinations manager

During the winter, we had some lovely crisp mornings and could enjoy the heating coming on in the classrooms. We’re also inevitably faced with colds, flu, sickness bugs and travel delays!

For the person responsible for arranging cover, this can be an incredibly stressful time of year (trust me, as cover co-ordinator and examinations manager for 18 months in a 15 year teaching career, I’ve been there!). For me, arranging cover was never just about getting a body into the room for supervision – I always wanted to allocate the most appropriate person for that particular lesson. In a secondary school, I needed to know the teachers that normally taught each subject, in order to avoid things like a French teacher covering a Maths lesson whilst a Maths teacher covered a Language lesson. I wanted the best people in front of the kids to reduce the impact on learning and minimise the workload stress on the staff. As the timetabler, this knowledge was ingrained in my mind, but for anyone stepping in to make cover arrangements in my absence, the task became almost impossible.

To mitigate against situations like this, in Arbor, we show not just available staff, but who is also a teacher of the same subject to actively support you in minimising the impact staff absence has on learning.

Image 1: Arranging cover in Arbor

Not only can you see which teacher is available that teaches the same subject, you can also request their agreement if you want to (this is always a useful feature when senior staff may have meetings booked!). You can, of course, still bulk select all of the lessons from a staff member to allocate as in house cover supervisor or supply in one go – meaning no more clicking into each lesson instance to add the same arrangements.

The first task of the day for any timetabler is to take a deep breath and open the schools’ emails whilst listening to the answer machine messages for staff absence. Within Arbor, you can mark multiple staff as absent either one at a time or all in one go, and you can also differentiate between a full day of sickness absence, or a 1 hour off-site meeting.

Image 2: Entering the details of a staff absence

Arbor’s ability to add attachments to staff absences (e.g. medical documents or a screenshot of a sick note) without separately logging into the HR module would have saved some of my finance colleagues from premature greyness!

Whilst teachers love the sight of a supply teacher (as they are then less likely to be needed for cover), this was one of my biggest nightmares. I could happily allocate them to the classes and print off cover slips, but then came the dreaded registers (I’ve sat at my desk for hours clicking into each individual class in order to print a register!). There was also the issue of wanting two copies: one to return to the office and one for the supply teacher to keep in class for reference. This either required a trip to the photocopier, or the time-consuming task of having to press print twice because no matter what settings I’d select, the MIS just would not let me have two copies.

In between this joyous process of printing and copying, another person would inevitably call in sick or have an emergency to tend to. I would then have to go back to my computer and close the screen I was using in order to start the process again for the newly absent person. Because Arbor is a cloud-based system, it can be open in more than one window (just like when you’re browsing the internet looking for information and open another ‘tab’ to look for something else), which saves you from repeating the same process time and time again.

In Arbor, it takes just a few seconds to download all of the registers you’ve selected, and then all you need to do is to hit the print button, choosing as many copies as you require. For a wet Wednesday during flu season and a full moon (we’ve all had those days!), I’d have saved hours if I’d been using Arbor instead of the other MIS I was using.

Image 3: An overview of staff absence, which lessons are being covered that day and by which teacher

With all the information you need in one place, Arbor gives you an overview of what’s going on in school that day, helping you to stay on top of what who’s covering what lesson and when. The green ‘cover slips’ button in the screenshot above allows you to print you a concise summary of cover staff for the staffroom notice board, as well as personalised slips for each teacher (with page breaks, so you haven’t got to get to the guillotine or scissors!).

So, if you were rushing around arranging cover for hours on end this winter, maybe it’s time to investigate a smarter, time-saving option. Get in touch with us via the contact form on our website to find out more about how Arbor’s simple, smart, cloud-based MIS could transform the way you operate your school!

Phoebe McLaughlin - 25 February, 2019

Category : Blog

How to audit your school or MAT’s IT systems

Why run a systems audit in the first place? Over the years, many schools accumulate a variety of IT systems or software. These systems were initially installed to help make things run more smoothly across the school but, over time, they’ve inevitably become outdated and no longer fit with the day-to-day running of the school.

Why run a systems audit in the first place?

Over the years, many schools accumulate a variety of IT systems or software. These systems were initially installed to help make things run more smoothly across the school but, over time, they’ve inevitably become outdated and no longer fit with the day-to-day running of the school. In many cases, school leaders can forget to question whether a piece of software is continuing to help improve the school, or whether it’s there simply because it worked in the past.

The Audit Theory

When a school or trust tells us about all the third party products they use, we always like to ask why they chose that particular system:

  • What does it do that no one else can?
  • What about it specifically do they like and not like?
  • Is staff engagement with that system high and if not, why?

For example, a school may have been using a behaviour tracking software outside of their MIS for many years and are happy with how it charts points over time, but they don’t use any of the other features that the software offers. In cases like this, and with many other systems that are an added cost, it’s worth questioning if there are alternative ways of working within one system to consolidate both time and funds.

We encourage schools to create a side-by-side price comparison of the cost of each third party product to prompt an internal conversation about the practicalities and usefulness of each system, and whether it can be replaced by a new system altogether. This practice promotes the importance of an audit in deciding if there are added benefits to keeping a specific system, or if it’s time to part ways.

An IT systems audit

Image 1: How we encourage schools to approach an IT systems audit

This is how we would recommend running an IT systems audit:

1. Ask members of staff from all areas of the school when running your audit – don’t assume that one person will know everything that everyone is using!

2. Start by listing out all the systems people use for the core functions in your school, like attendance, assessment, behaviour and communications, and how much you pay for them annually

3. Move on to listing the rest of your systems and costs – if you don’t have to pay for something annually and you already have it, you can mark the cost as £0

4. Make sure to list separate software products from the same company as being separate – one might be more useful than the other

5. Then go back down your list and note each software’s functionality – not just what you’re currently using it for, but what it could do if you used every module and feature in it

6. You’ll probably have come across several overlaps by now. This is the tricky part: for everything that overlaps, consider which really has the greater value, and which you can think about cutting down

This value judgement can’t entirely be based on price, although that is important – you also have to question why you had several systems in the first place. Is one of them more user friendly? Is it quick to train new staff on? Does it save your teachers a lot of time? Will you really get the best deal just by picking between these two programs, or if you’re switching anyway should you choose an entirely new system altogether?

The Outcome

It’s quite possible that with a change in mindset, cutting down your third party systems may open more doors than it closes, and create opportunities to improve how you work.

We understand that this takes time, but we’ve also seen first hand how many schools love the fact that Arbor can bring all of their data and systems into one central system, meaning that the number of logins (and passwords!) for staff can be cut down. This results in increased productivity as it ultimately saves staff hours of time manually transferring data between systems – because everything you need is all in one place!

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.

Tim Gray - 6 February, 2019

Category : Blog

How you can track pupil progress in Arbor MIS

As I’m sure you’ve heard, School Pupil Tracker Online (SPTO) will be closing down at the end of this year. If you currently use SPTO, you’ll be looking for something to replace it with the same (if not better!) level of functionality and analysis, so this is a great opportunity to look at how you’re

As I’m sure you’ve heard, School Pupil Tracker Online (SPTO) will be closing down at the end of this year. If you currently use SPTO, you’ll be looking for something to replace it with the same (if not better!) level of functionality and analysis, so this is a great opportunity to look at how you’re using your current MIS system as a whole. To help you, we’ve written this a short blog explaining how schools & MATs use the integrated assessments module of Arbor’s simple, smart, cloud-based MIS to track, analyse and report on pupil progress.

Let’s start with the basics. Like SPTO, Arbor’s assessments module covers the following:

1. Formative Tracking: In Arbor, teachers can enter marks against curriculum statements and view formative analysis. This helps inform lesson planning and differentiate learning based on students’ understanding of the curriculum. You can either use preset or imported curriculum frameworks, or create your own custom curriculum framework in the system:

 

Image 1: A teacher marking a formative reading assessment

2. Summative Tracking: You can also access marksheets, enter marks for summative & ad hoc assessments, and view and export analysis for summative, ad hoc and 3rd party standardised assessments (such as PiRA and PUMA tests from RS Assessments by Hodder Education)


Image 2: Grade distribution dashboard analysing a summative assessment

Arbor also has some more in-depth, out-of-the-box analysis tools to help you dig deeper into your assessment data:

3a. Attainment over Time allows you to see how many students are achieving each grade during different assessment periods. The date chosen provides a breakdown of the available grades at that given point in time:


Image 3: Measuring Attainment Over Time

You can also choose to group students by demographic, in order to compare grades. For example, you can compare girls to boys and identify that girls currently require more support in this subject:


Image 4: Comparing students by demographic

3b. Below, At or Above: The Below, At or Above page allows schools to see the percentage of children who are below/at/above their targets for each assessment period:

Image 5: Tracking pupil progress using Below, At or Above, and clicking on a record to retrieve a slideover of students

3c. Analysis at MAT level: Some assessments, like PiRA & PUMA, even push up to Arbor’s Group MIS for dashboard analysis across schools:

Image 6: A screenshot of aggregated data in Arbor’s Group MIS

Image 7: A plain-text callout explaining your data

4. Most importantly though, the biggest benefit of using assessments in Arbor MIS is that it’s a fully-integrated module that syncs up with all the other data in your MIS system. This means:

  • Teachers only have one login to perform all their assessment marking, run their classes, take registers, and perform their other daily tasks
  • Our powerful bulk actions can be performed from any table of assessment data, for instance to send a mail merge email directly to your top performing students to congratulate them, or to directly enrol a set of underperforming students in an intervention
  • Assessment trends can easily be compared with trends in behaviour, attendance, and other modules both for groups and for individual students, to create a holistic picture of their progress in all areas through the school

Interested in finding out more about how Arbor’s simple, smart, cloud-based MIS could transform the way your school works? Get in touch with us via the contact form on our website or give us a call on 0208 050 1028

 

Stephen Higgins - 5 February, 2019

Category : Blog

3 stories about how Arbor transforms the way schools operate

At BETT this year, former school leaders Tim Ward & Stephen Higgins took to the stage at the Solutions Den to demonstrate how using Arbor’s simple, smart, cloud-base MIS could transform the way your school operates by putting essential data at the fingertips of your senior leaders, teachers & office staff, and by automating and

At BETT this year, former school leaders Tim Ward & Stephen Higgins took to the stage at the Solutions Den to demonstrate how using Arbor’s simple, smart, cloud-base MIS could transform the way your school operates by putting essential data at the fingertips of your senior leaders, teachers & office staff, and by automating and simplifying administrative tasks to reduce staff workload. For those of you who missed it, we’ve posted the presentation that they gave below!

A little bit about Arbor

We help schools transform the way they work to save teachers time and improve student outcomes

We’re an education company whose core aim is to improve student outcomes – I imagine that’s the same as your aim! At Arbor, we help you learn from your data, turning it into something that informs you and saving you and all the staff at your school hours of time per week. If we can help you do those two things, we’ll empower you to improve outcomes for your children.

We’re also funded by social investors, which allows us to act differently to other companies in several ways:

  • We limit the amount of profit we make and invest in developing our product instead
  • We offer all our products at an accessible price to save schools money
  • We offer some of our products and training for free – like today’s session!
  • We continually monitor our impact by asking our customers whether we’re saving them time and helping them learn from their data

To give you some context, we’re going to tell you a story of how Arbor’s MIS can transform the way that 3 people in a school work:

The date: January 2019

The location: Sunnyville Through School

The characters:

  • Miss Quill (Headteacher)
  • Mr Gray (Head of Maths and Year 11)
  • Anthony (Year 11 student)

Let’s start with Miss Quill. Miss Quill wants to find out what story the following data is telling her about her pupils at Sunnyville:

  • Attainment
  • Attendance
  • Behaviour

How can she do this? Using her Arbor dashboard, she can quickly review all of these areas in detail to uncover trends and take action (and she doesn’t need to ask anyone to create reports for her!). Watch the video below to see how:

Similarly, Mr Gray, who is Head of Maths, wants to know how can Arbor can help him to create a plan for his students. The questions he wants to answer are as follows:

  • Who are my borderline students?
  • How can I intervene with these students?
  • What was behaviour like in Maths this year?

In this video, watch how Mr Gray is able to quickly select underperforming students and add them to an intervention. He is then able to easily monitor the intervention in order to see which students have met the desired outcomes and which haven’t:

Finally, we have Anthony, who is a Year 11 student. Anthony’s parents have come into school, and want to speak to the pastoral lead about his progress so far this year. In order to have a meeting with Anthony’s parents, his teachers need to know the following:

  • How do we tell Anthony’s story?
  • How can having the “whole picture” of a student lead to a happy ending?

Watch the following video to see how Anthony’s teachers can access all the information they need about him from his student profile, including drilling down into his behaviour to spot trends & comparing his attendance to all students in the school, all students in Year 11 and all students in his form:

To conclude, how have we helped this school find a happy ending?

  • Miss Quill has all the information she needs at her fingertips, saving her and her staff time and reducing workload for all teachers
  • Mr Gray can use Arbor to understand his department and year as a whole and create effective strategies to improve student outcomes
  • With all of his information in one place, Anthony can now be effectively supported by his teachers and parents, who can communicate productively about his progress using the information logged in his student profile on Arbor

To find out more about how Arbor’s simple, smart, cloud-based MIS could reduce workload, save time and improve outcomes at your school, get in touch with us via the contact form of the website, or email tellmemore@arbor-education.com to book a free, personalised demo!

 

Jess Windle - 31 January, 2019

Category : Blog

How to align staff development plans within your multi-academy trust

It may seem like a challenging task, but aligning your multi-academy trust’s staff development processes and policies should be high on your agenda – especially with the DfE’s new teacher retention strategy shining a light on how schools and trusts support their staff. We’re all aware of how effective performance management and staff development can

It may seem like a challenging task, but aligning your multi-academy trust’s staff development processes and policies should be high on your agenda – especially with the DfE’s new teacher retention strategy shining a light on how schools and trusts support their staff. We’re all aware of how effective performance management and staff development can be in not only recognising but encouraging high performance among staff, but also in improving quality of education in the schools across your MAT.

So why does having an aligned policy with set processes in place across your trust matter? You’ll probably be asked why you want to change things which are already working for your individual schools’ current performance/development plans. However, having alignment and a centralised policy is important for a number of reasons:

  • It ensures that all your schools and staff are working towards the same overarching goals
  • It makes it easier for MAT staff to review and compare staff performance at different schools if all processes are on the same page
  • You can share best management and teaching practice between schools

A trust that puts staff development at the heart of what it does should see improvements in teaching and learning as well. In order to do this, you’ll need a reliable system to carry out staff development activities and appraisals, which can help to easily highlight development needs and track performance & growth across staff (and see the impact this is having on student outcomes).

So, what are the first steps to aligning your trusts processes?

1) Make sure all staff have SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant & timely) objectives that are clear and are explicit in what needs to be done to achieve them. Understanding across the trust how objectives should be created, and ensuring that they are SMART, means each staff member’s individual targets will be consistent with the trust’s wider improvement plans or overall trust/school objectives.

Fig. 1 – Setting a staff member’s development objectives in Arbor MIS

2) Set up a regular cycle across the trust that completes the appraisal policy. You should make sure that it is clear:

  • Who can appraise each staff member
  • How each staff member’s objectives will be weighted when they are appraised
  • What evidence should be required in an appraisal
  • How feedback should be dealt with
  • The frequency at which these performance reviews should be happening.

This helps to set the basic foundations of a good appraisal policy and ensures that all staff across the trust always know what they are going to be measured on, and how long they have to achieve their goals.

Fig. 2 – A staff member’s Appraisal page in Arbor MIS

3) Finally, it’s important when aligning your trust’s development processes that you share best practice throughout each school. If staff at one school seem happier with their professional development, find out why and see if you can use that expertise to help you improve the process across all your schools. Running an effective development structure should be an iterative process, and it’s a great chance to learn what works best for your trust and your schools.

If you’d like to find out more about how Arbor’s simple, smart cloud-based MIS could transform the way you run your MAT, get in touch via the contact form on our website, email us at tellmemore@arbor-education or give us a call on 0208 050 1028.

 

Rebecca Watkins - 29 January, 2019

Category : Blog

Plan your next budget with Arbor’s Schools Financial Benchmarking Report

We’ve just released our 2017/18 Schools Financial Benchmarking report for all schools in England! Like all Arbor Insight reports, Arbor’s Financial Benchmarking report uses colour coding, call-outs written in plain English, and specific benchmarks to give you a clear picture of your spend & income, even for those not used to working with data. Thousands

We’ve just released our 2017/18 Schools Financial Benchmarking report for all schools in England!

Like all Arbor Insight reports, Arbor’s Financial Benchmarking report uses colour coding, call-outs written in plain English, and specific benchmarks to give you a clear picture of your spend & income, even for those not used to working with data. Thousands of schools up and down the country use our Financial Benchmarking report to help plan next year’s budget, and explain their spending to SLT & governors.

The report is broken down into clear sections, with a diagram per measure on spend and income. Trends show how income and spend has changed over time, helping you to plan next year’s budget informed by your school’s data.

As well as showing spend and income as an exact figure, as a percentage of total funds allocated and per pupil, we’ve built specific benchmarks for this report to give your financial data additional context. Along with benchmarking you against the national average, the Financial Benchmarking report also benchmarks each measure against schools in your LA and schools that are ‘like you’.    

How we derived LA and National averages:

Arbor benchmarks your school against a variety of measures, helping you to analyse your budget in a wider context. We’ve only compared your school to the averages for other primary, secondary, or special schools (depending on your school type), to make the comparisons in the report more meaningful. After all, a primary school’s spend is different to that of a secondary school, which will also be different to that of a special school. An average that included all three wouldn’t be accurate!

How we created the ‘schools like you’ benchmark:

We created the ‘schools like you’ measure to give you the most meaningful comparison for your school. First, we filtered by schools of your type (primary, secondary, or special) for the reasons mentioned above. Then, we filtered by schools who were inside/outside London, as this changes your cost structure. Next we filtered by size, ensuring that your school is compared to schools with a similar number of pupils. Finally we took your FSM, SEN and EAL data, weighted them based on the size of the attainment gaps at KS2, and combined them into a baseline score to find schools with similar demographic intakes to your school.

For example, if you’re a large rural secondary school with a lot of FSM students, your spending in each area will be benchmarked against other large rural secondary schools with a lot of FSM students. The schools ‘like you’ measure helps you account for your specific circumstances and understand why your spending might be above or below average.

Image 1: Example page, graphing overall spend

On this page the simple, digestible call outs explain how the school compares to schools like them and the national average on each section of spend at the school.

Image 2: Example Spend page, focusing in on maintenance and improvement

Bar graphs show the spend of each section as a percentage of total spend, while the line graph depicts not only the exact spend figure but how it has changed over 3 years compared with schools like you, schools in your LA and the national average. The grey arrows show the overall calculation of how much this figure has changed.

Image 3: Example Funding page – Grant Funding: Targeted Grants

Funding pages have the same layout as spend pages. Again, colour coding for trends and bar graphs makes your data easy to understand. You can quickly see if your level of funding is in line with what it should be, and if there are any areas of concern that need to be addressed when planning next year’s budget.

If you’re a current user, you can log in to view your updated dashboards and purchase your reports immediately here: https://login.arbor.sc/auth/login

If you don’t already use Arbor Insight, click here to sign up & view your performance dashboards and purchase your Financial & ASP reports: https://login.arbor.sc/auth/register

Jem Jones - 28 January, 2019

Category : Blog

3 key aims from the Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy

With the new Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy now published, we’ve boiled down its many new ideas and policies into 3 of the core goals the DfE want to accomplish. Improve early career support Attracting people to the profession in the first place is a big part of increasing teacher numbers, and to this end

With the new Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy now published, we’ve boiled down its many new ideas and policies into 3 of the core goals the DfE want to accomplish.

Improve early career support

Attracting people to the profession in the first place is a big part of increasing teacher numbers, and to this end a ‘one stop system’ for teacher training is being piloted to make the process simpler. For increased recruitment to benefit student outcomes on a long term basis, these new teachers also need better career support to make sure they have time to develop, instead of becoming overwhelmed and dropping out of the sector.

The ‘Early Career Framework’, a two year training package for new teachers, will support this aim, as will additional bursaries and financial incentives for performance. The Early Career Framework has £130 million already earmarked for its funding, in addition to £42 million from the Teacher Development Premium. The biggest change schools should initially experience is that new teachers in this framework will have a reduced teaching timetable. The idea is that their extra time will be spent in their ECF teacher training, meaning their career has a more gradual buildup of workload in line with the buildup of their expertise.

Promote flexible and part-time working options

This aim could fundamentally change how a lot of teachers progress in their career and how a lot of schools think about staffing. A ‘job-share’ service is set to be launched to both help schools share staff with specific skills between them, and to help people remain in their professions while working part-time. To make sure this new level of flexibility doesn’t just move workloads from teachers to school administrators, free timetabling tools will be released by the DfE to help schools manage the new process.

It’s likely that this will benefit a lot of smaller schools who no longer have the budget for a dedicated staff member in every area, as well as MATs who are already starting to centralise job roles so specialist staff can work across several schools. Specialist NQTs will encourage teachers to focus in on their areas of interest and provide new avenues of career progression beyond the traditional steps up into school management.

Flexible working should also benefit the teachers themselves. The concept includes not only part time schedules, but also ideas like working from home when not needed in the school, that a lot of employees now expect in other sectors. Using cloud-based software could become key to offering these options, as it allows your staff to work securely from anywhere.

Reduce teacher workloads

This is an issue very near and dear to our hearts, as saving teachers time has been a core tenet of Arbor’s social mission since the beginning. As our culture has become more data-driven, the time teachers spend on non-teaching tasks has increased. We’ve known this since 2010 – the results of the DfE’s last teacher workload survey are below.

Source: Teacher Workload Diary Survey 2010 (DfE)

That’s why Arbor focuses a lot of our product development on simplifying and automating administrative tasks for teachers, so they have more time to spend interacting with students to improve their outcomes. A key concept in the reduction of teacher workload includes making sure they have only one point of data entry (i.e. if you have more than one application doing essentially the same job twice, or you don’t have any integration between your MIS and your other providers, you may need to rethink your systems).

The strategy will apparently involve “working with Ofsted to ensure staff workload is considered as part of a school’s inspection judgement”, so this aim will be key for schools to consider alongside the new Ofsted framework, to make sure their improvement plan doesn’t rely on unrealistic expectations for teachers.

There are plenty of other specific plans and policies, from simplifying school accountability to developing housing near schools, that you can read about in the full strategy here. Overall, the strategy aims to make the day to day lives of teachers, as well as their overarching career progression, more manageable and more fulfilling – so talented teachers stay in the profession longer and perform better while they’re there.

You can find out more about how Arbor MIS saves teachers time to help them improve student outcomes by getting in touch here.

Cosima Baring - 15 January, 2019

Category : Blog

Life at Parkroyal since they switched to Arbor

With BETT just around the corner, we caught up with Julie Smith, PA to the Headteacher at Parkroyal Community School, who’ll be joining us at our School Leaders Lounge at Tapa Tapa restaurant at this year’s show. We asked her some questions about how life at Parkroyal has improved since they adopted Arbor in 2015.

With BETT just around the corner, we caught up with Julie Smith, PA to the Headteacher at Parkroyal Community School, who’ll be joining us at our School Leaders Lounge at Tapa Tapa restaurant at this year’s show. We asked her some questions about how life at Parkroyal has improved since they adopted Arbor in 2015.

What was your first impression of Arbor & what did you like the most about it when you switched?

The first word that comes to mind is ‘simplicity’. It’s easy to grasp, and new users can quickly work their way around the system’s functions – you don’t feel like you need hours of training, as you do with other systems.

Something I love about Arbor is the fact that it’s multi-functional across the school. By that I mean that most areas of the school use Arbor, whereas with our previous MIS provider, we found that it was only really the School Office staff that were using it – classroom teachers were using it to take the register in their classes, but that was about it! Now everyone in school knows how to use it. Arbor is a school-wide tool, not an office-based MIS system.  

Can you think of a particular part of Arbor that saves you time on a day to day basis?

Attendance, definitely! Being able to identify who’s absent and chasing them up in a few clicks saves us hours. Having spoken to other schools that don’t use Arbor, I know that it takes one lady nearly all morning to do attendance, whilst it takes our admin team about half an hour.

We also use Arbor for our First Aid. We log all incidents in Arbor which is a real timesaver because we don’t have so many paper copies of forms floating about that we have to then manually enter into the system. Our midday assistants know how to use Arbor and they’re able to log any incidents that happen at breaktime in Arbor independently, and we can then use this data to identify trends to see if the same pupils are involved in incidents at a particular time of day & then tackle the issue.

Our catering team also use Arbor. This is fantastic because we never need to tell them how many pupils are in that day as they can see it for themselves in the system. As a result, they know exactly how much to cook & this means that we almost never have any food wastage!

Can you think of an instance where Arbor has helped you spot a trend you would otherwise have missed?

On the attendance side of things, it’s really important for us to be able to spot trends in absences and we can do that really easily with tools like Arbor’s sibling correlation function. Being able to look back at past attendance and compare it against other pupils so that we can see if certain students have been absent at similar times is a real help. We can also use Arbor to spot if there’s a pattern of a child being absent on particular days of the week. It’s very easy to create detailed reports about this, and that makes my life a lot easier!

I’ve also set up custom reports for student attendance to be sent out to class teachers on a weekly basis. This is obviously automated, so I don’t have to prepare them or send them out myself – Arbor does it for me. As a result, our classroom teachers are more in the loop with what’s going on in their classes and don’t have to keep asking us for reports all the time.

How would you describe your favourite feature of Arbor to someone who’s never used it before?

I like the fact that it’s very visual. The colour coding side of things is brilliant – it helps you spot areas of concern instantly, especially with assessments & behaviour. I like the fact that you can dig deeper into analysing your data without too much effort – it’s there at your fingertips.

As a company, Arbor understands what data is the most important and you break it down into the right areas & present it well. You have an understanding of what actually happens in a school, partly because many of the people that work for Arbor have worked in schools in the past.

You understand the fact that teachers often need data quite quickly & don’t have the time to spend hours looking for it. I can find the majority of what I need just by clicking a few buttons i.e. breakdown of demographics, that sort of thing.

We’ve been using Arbor for 5 years but when we were with our previous MIS provider reporting was very time consuming. We had to make a report, create a report, run a report, and if you wanted to change something, you had to do it all over again! The fact that the teachers can now do their own reports has been brilliant – they used to come and ask us for all sorts of reports, but now they can do all of that themselves because they know exactly what to do.

Do your classroom teachers find Arbor easy to use?

They do, and they have a good grasp of the system. We had a couple of NQTs join us last year and one this year, so I sat down with them for 10 minutes and they knew what they were doing after that. You need a bit more training if you want to be able to have a deeper understanding, or set up something new, but for day to day stuff and getting information our classroom teachers generally find it very intuitive. The last NQT I sat down with said to me “I’ve played around on it, it’s just really easy to use”. She’d worked it out herself. I’m the Arbor champion at Parkroyal who’s responsible for training our staff on the system, so this is a great bonus for me!

Besides of course coming to see us at our School Leaders Lounge, do you have any tips for people visiting BETT this year?

There’s a load of people trying to sell lots of different products! I personally think it’s good to look round and see what there is, but before you launch into buying a particular product or a system that you think you might need for your school, I’d recommend talking to Arbor first because the system can probably do it. Or if it can’t do it, it probably integrates with a product that can.

If you’d like to speak to Julie in person or have any questions you’d like to ask her, you can meet her at our School Leaders Lounge at BETT this year. Why not come and join us for lunch and a glass of wine on us? Click here to see our full programme of events & book your free ticket: https://arbor-BETT-2019.eventbrite.com/

Cosima Baring - 15 January, 2019

Category : Blog

Transform your school with Arbor at the Solutions Den @ BETT 2019!

If you’re heading to BETT this year, come and listen to former school leaders Tim & Stephen speaking at the Solutions Den about how Arbor could transform the way you run your school If you visit BETT every year, you’ll know that there’s a lot going on, and a lot to pack in in a

If you’re heading to BETT this year, come and listen to former school leaders Tim & Stephen speaking at the Solutions Den about how Arbor could transform the way you run your school

If you visit BETT every year, you’ll know that there’s a lot going on, and a lot to pack in in a relatively short amount of time. This year, we’ve decided to expand our offering with two 20 minute speaking slots at the Solutions Den, making it easier for those of you who want to meet us & learn more about our simple, smart, cloud-based MIS system for schools & MATs to do just that.

The first of our 2 talks is on Wednesday 23rd January from 11:40 – 12:00. During this slot, former school leaders Tim & Stephen will show you how you can change the way you work by putting essential data at the fingertips of your senior leaders, teachers & office staff, and by automating and simplifying administrative tasks to reduce staff workload.

In particular, Tim & Stephen will show you how the core functions of Arbor work. They’ll be covering all areas of the system, including how to manage attendance, behaviour, assessments, interventions & communications all in one place. If switching MIS systems is on your school’s to-do list for 2019, this is a great chance to see a free demo of Arbor to help you decide if it’s the right fit for your school. In case you’ve still got any questions about Arbor at the end of the talk, there’ll also be a Q&A slot at the end of the session.

If you’re in a MAT (or thinking about joining one), Tim & Stephen will also be demoing our group MIS for MATs. As your MAT grows, relying on a mixture of legacy, server-based systems & Excel to manage your schools and understand how they’re doing becomes increasingly difficult. Arbor’s solution is to centralise your data reporting, streamline school workflows & operations, let you follow up with any issue centrally, and help you to manage your schools remotely, all from just one system.

Come along to the Solutions Den on Thursday 24th January from 12:20 to 12:40 to see how our our Group MIS helps your central team trace the “real story” from an aggregated, MAT-level view all the way down to an individual student or staff level, and then take action to help improve outcomes across your Trust.

If you can’t make it to either of our talks at the Solutions Den, don’t worry! We’re also inviting schools & MATs to join us for tea & coffee, lunch or a glass of wine at our School Leaders Lounge at Tapa Tapa restaurant this year. Click here to sign up for your free place: https://arbor-BETT-2019.eventbrite.com/. Look forward to seeing you at BETT!

 

Rebecca Watkins - 9 January, 2019

Category : Blog

KS2 Performance Summary is now available in your Arbor Insight Portal!

We’ve just released our free annual KS2 Performance Summary! This report gives schools and academies an overview of their latest ASP data. Trends in your performance are clearly plotted over the last three years, and benchmarked against the national average, schools in the local authority and schools similar to you. We use Analyse School Performance

We’ve just released our free annual KS2 Performance Summary! This report gives schools and academies an overview of their latest ASP data. Trends in your performance are clearly plotted over the last three years, and benchmarked against the national average, schools in the local authority and schools similar to you.

We use Analyse School Performance data from the Department for Education to build this report. ASP data is not suppressed, so the cohort sizes are more accurate and representative, giving a more in-depth overview of your school’s performance.

Your Performance Summary Report covers school context, overall attainment, attainment, averaged scaled score and progress by subject, with a brief Closing the Gap section which focuses on prior attainment and gender. For a deeper dive into any of the measures present in this report, take a look at our premium reports that can be purchased from all school Insight portals.

Image 1: Attainment by subject: working at a higher standard

You can easily see trends from the last couple of years by looking at the arrows below this year’s outcome. These arrows are colour-coded so you can check if improvements in this measure are consistent with an established trend, or whether they’re a more recent development. Seeing your data presented in this easy-to-understand format can help expedite the questioning of your data. You can ask why 5 times and use socratic questioning to understand why and how your school reached the outcomes it did this year (we’ve written a blog about this – click here to read it!).

Image 2: Closing the gap: focus on gender page

For a more in-depth report focusing on each demographic in your school, you should use our Closing the Gap report bundle that contains 5 reports, each with an individual focus: disadvantaged pupils, SEN pupils, gender, ethnicity and prior attainment. These reports can help you narrow important attainment gaps within your school, as they show you in detail exactly where interventions need to be made.

FAQs:

How did you derive my LA and National averages?

We’ve benchmarked your school on a variety of measures to allow you to analyse your performance in a wider context. We only compared your School to the averages for other primary, secondary, or special schools (depending on your school type),  to make the comparisons in the report more meaningful.

What is a school ‘like me’?

We created the schools ‘like you’ measure to give you the most meaningful comparison for your School. First, we filtered by schools of your type (primary, secondary, or special) for the reasons mentioned above. Next we filtered by size, ensuring that your school is compared to schools with a similar number of students. Finally we took your FSM, SEN and EAL data, weighted them based on the size of the attainment gaps at KS2, and combined them into a baseline score to find schools with similar demographic intakes to your School.

For example, if you’re a large rural secondary school with a lot of FSM students, your performance in each area will be benchmarked against other large rural secondary schools with a lot of FSM students. The schools ‘like you’ measure helps you account for your specific circumstances and understand why your performance might be above or below average.  

If you’re a current user, you can log in to view your updated dashboards and reports immediately here: https://login.arbor.sc/auth/login

If you don’t already use Arbor Insight, click here to sign up for your free portal & view your performance dashboards & KS2 reports: https://login.arbor.sc/auth/register

Cosima Baring - 8 January, 2019

Category : Blog

Join us for lunch and a glass of wine at our BETT School Leaders’ Lounge!

We’re very excited to announce that we’re hosting our 5th annual Arbor lounge for school & MAT leaders at BETT this year! We’ll be at Tapa Tapa restaurant (next to the Customs House entrance to the ExCel Centre) all day from Wednesday 23rd to Friday 25th, where we’ll be welcoming schools & MATs for free

We’re very excited to announce that we’re hosting our 5th annual Arbor lounge for school & MAT leaders at BETT this year!

We’ll be at Tapa Tapa restaurant (next to the Customs House entrance to the ExCel Centre) all day from Wednesday 23rd to Friday 25th, where we’ll be welcoming schools & MATs for free tea & coffee in the morning or a free lunch and a glass of wine in the afternoon. It’s a great opportunity to take a break from the busy main arena, as well as to talk to us in an informal, relaxed environment about how Arbor could transform the way your school works.

You can click here to see the full agenda for the week & sign up for your free ticket!

Like last year, we’ll be joined by primary, secondary, special school, and MAT guests who currently use Arbor as their MIS. If you’re considering switching systems to one that’s a better fit, they’d be more than happy to talk to you about how moving to Arbor has made a positive difference at their schools.

We’ll also be hosting a series of user groups (open to everyone!) which will walk you through how to use certain features of Arbor to streamline processes & save your staff time. If you don’t currently use Arbor but are thinking about switching, this is a great chance to see how the system works whilst talking to other schools & MATs that are already with us. For those of you already using Arbor, come along to brush up on your knowledge of the system!

On Thursday 25th, we’re hosting a special user group in partnership with Hodder. We’ll be demoing our new integration and doing a deep dive on managing assessments in Arbor & RS Assessments. We’re really excited about this latest integration, so we’d recommend coming along if you’re interested in learning how it works.

If you’re coming to BETT but can’t make it to the restaurant, don’t worry! We’ll also be at stand C65 in the main BETT arena. If you’d like to book a meeting with one of us, you can do so via Connect@BETT, the show’s networking platform. Just click here to choose a time. If you’ve got any questions about what’s going on at BETT this year, feel free to give us a call on 0208 050 1028 or drop us a line via the contact form on our website.

See you there!

Arbor - 4 January, 2019

Category : Blog

How the Co-Op Academies Trust established its culture

At our Manchester MAT conference on 5th December 2018, Frank Norris, Director of the Trust at Co-Op Academies Trust, spoke about the highs and the lows of trust’s journey so far, focusing on how they’ve created a shared culture and endeavoured to make sure schools are fully onboard with that culture. He began by drawing

At our Manchester MAT conference on 5th December 2018, Frank Norris, Director of the Trust at Co-Op Academies Trust, spoke about the highs and the lows of trust’s journey so far, focusing on how they’ve created a shared culture and endeavoured to make sure schools are fully onboard with that culture. He began by drawing a series of thought-provoking comparisons between the structures of the big banks that went down in the 2008 financial crisis, and the structures of multi-academy trusts today. We’ve transcribed the first half of his presentation below.

Image 1: Frank Norris addresses the delegates at our 2018 Manchester MAT Conference

Introduction

The Co-Op Academies Trust have a row of desks on the eighth floor of this building. There are no private offices. The CEO of the company was here this morning at the coffee shop, queuing up with everyone else. We had a chat, and he wanted to know what I was doing this morning, so I told him I was going down to speak at Arbor’s MAT conference. It’s a very open environment.

As a trust, we have become immersed in the Co-Op, and what I want to do today is tell you a little bit about the journey that we’ve been on in order to get where we are now. I won’t pretend there haven’t been pitfalls – it’s not been easy, and there have been some really bad things that have happened within Co-Op that have had an impact on us – but there have been some great moments, too. This idea of a journey is something I want to focus on.

We are the largest business-sponsored academy trust in the country, and we have 18 schools at the moment. The Co-Op have invested £3.6 million into our trust at a time when they’ve taken £100 million pounds out of the business, so they’ve made a big commitment. The CEO of Co-Op, Steve Murrells, was on BBC Radio 5 yesterday morning, explaining why they made the decision to sponsor us (you can listen here). We’re hoping that this will be a model that other ethically-minded businesses (of which there are some!) may want to follow.

The Inside Job

James has invited me today to share a little bit about our culture here at the Co-Op, but I want to start by talking about the financial crisis of 2008. When the crisis came about, I was fascinated in finding out why banks like Northern Rock, Lehman Brothers, RBS, Britannia Building Society & the Co-Op bank all fell over during the financial crash, and the reasons why no-one’s been sent to jail for this.

And so I’d like us to watch the trailer for the film “The Inside Job”. Now, none of you are going to be earning the sorts of salaries that you’re going to see in the clip below, and I’m not suggesting that any of you are, but there is a reason for watching it, which I’ll explain in a second:

I would urge you to watch this film in full, because it highlights the reasons why things went wrong. I came across a bit of research by someone called Marianne Jennings, who is professor at Arizona State University, who also looked at the reasons why those major companies went down (bear in mind the Co-Op Bank was one that nearly went down!). Her research showed that actually, you only needed a combination of the following factors for your business to go down, and I think we can relate this to the MAT world, too:

1. Pressure to maintain numbers:

There is always a pressure to maintain numbers. In MAT terms, that could be GCSE results, KS2 results, or how many schools you’re going to get to by the end of the year.

2. Fear & silence

Some boards are completely scared of the trust’s CEO. I can safely say that if this is the case, no effective decisions are ever going to be made.

3. Young ‘uns, and a bigger-than-life CEO

Young people in the business world often think they have the silver bullet. I’ve seen young CEOs with a larger-than-life character that could railroad the entire business forward, but this then sets up a problem for the board who are unable to confront that person. It’s dangerous territory.

4. A weak board

If your board isn’t pushing back on you as a CEO at least 3 times in a meeting, they’re not doing their job. So think about the last trust board meeting you had. How many times was your CEO challenged about an issue? We’ve got a trust board meeting tomorrow, and trust me, it’s a tough day!

5. Conflicts (of interest)

We don’t buy any products or services from the Co-Op, and there are no third-party transactions between us and the Co-Op. It would be easy and we’d probably be able to save quite a lot of money, but we don’t do that because we can see the difficulties that would emerge over time. It’s a cultural thing.

6. Innovation “like no other”

Lots of people think that they have the answer, because they’ve innovated somewhere else and it worked. 9 times out of 10, they’re wrong.

7. Goodness in some areas atoning for evil in others

People have been willing to overlook bad behaviour in lieu of other good qualities. This can’t be allowed to happen.

To sum up, you only need 2 or 3 of the issues above on your board, according to Jennings, and you are looking at a big problem. Those are the reasons why the banks went down. The chairman of the Co-Op Bank was a methodist minister, who knew nothing about finance, but nobody on the board said anything. They were scared, and they were under pressure to get the numbers.

The moral of the story here is that if you don’t get the culture of your board right, your trust won’t survive. In the Co-Op Trusts’ case, the strength of our Trust is down to the quality of the people that we have on our board.

For more tips on creating your experience and skills criteria for MAT board members, you can read Sarah Pittam’s speech from our last MAT conference. To find out more about the demographics and performance of your Trust, log into your free ASP Group Insight dashboard here

Jem Jones - 3 January, 2019

Category : Blog

How to add value to your extra-curricular program

In light of the new Ofsted framework placing weight on personal development through extra-curricular activities, we spoke to Alistair Endersby, a former national debating coach who’s twice brought teams to the World Schools Debating Championships and currently organises the Sixth Form enrichment programme at Bishop Wordsworth’s School in Salisbury. 1. Make it clear activities are

In light of the new Ofsted framework placing weight on personal development through extra-curricular activities, we spoke to Alistair Endersby, a former national debating coach who’s twice brought teams to the World Schools Debating Championships and currently organises the Sixth Form enrichment programme at Bishop Wordsworth’s School in Salisbury.

1. Make it clear activities are open to everyone

Whilst some endeavours such as the school play or a Duke of Edinburgh award will require students to be committed from start to finish, most clubs benefit from an open door policy. If you set up a regular, publicised schedule, then students can drop in whenever they’re free. A successful club such as the politics and debating societies Alistair runs should, in his words, “be open to all comers each time, even if some keen students also take part in extra coaching to prepare them for competitions. The club’s committee are the fixed point of organisation, but the membership should be fluid.”

“If you can also open up your activity to a wider range of year groups then you should.” This allows younger students to develop a sense of responsibility organically by seeing the example of older students, rather than developing didactically under a set of stringent membership rules. “It’s good for the younger kids to see the older years engaging with interesting and serious things outside of the classroom, and you can form vertical links throughout your school by getting the older students in the club to coach the younger students. […] It has to be voluntary, too, to change the way it’s seen and add value to the experience.”

This open, inter-year culture is particularly helpful in secondary schools, allowing younger students to think about where they want to be in their activity and their learning by the time they reach their peers’ age; do they need to start taking music theory to progress in their orchestra? Should they do a sports leadership award if they want to be captain of the football team? Should they arrange work experience in their chosen area?

“It almost allows ‘gifted and talented’ to be self-selecting rather than a set program – what you’re rewarding is interest.”

2. Provide opportunities for leadership

“An atmosphere of mentorship has practical benefits as well, of course, in that it can free up staff time.” Once you’ve established a committee and a regular activity schedule across a range of disciplines, staff focus should be placed on developing their student committees and leading their activity to self-sustainability.

The everyday logistics of a club can be taken on by trustworthy student committee members, not only developing their general organisational skills but also their professionalism and confidence when speaking to adults. This can mean everything from asking the head of PE whether they can use the gym for practice to asking universities and speakers to visit the school. “Students asking can be more persuasive than teachers asking – especially if the university thinks of you as a target school”.

In the case of Bishop Wordsworth’s; “At the end of assembly when the head asks for notices, there’s no distinction made between student and staff announcements. The committee members have to put their hand up, stand up, and talk, or their club won’t get publicised. Trusting students to make announcements is potentially quite daunting, but very valuable”. It’s all about building up value, until your students are invested enough in the activity to reduce the burden on their teachers.

“Gaining confidence in their abilities is beneficial academically and beyond the curriculum, in terms of their wider confidence and what they can bring to university and the world. Teamwork, leadership, logistics, organisation, persuading people to help you, and negotiating with adults will all leave them more prepared for the future. It’s the kind of thing employers say schools don’t do.”

3. Enter your students in competitions

Having enabled the students themselves to coordinate internal activities, staff will have more time to organise higher level plans for their clubs and societies, that give your students goals to work towards.

“Although inter-school competition sounds like a luxury, it makes the activity bigger and higher status than just your school, and invests time in a few students who are then likely to take on roles running the activity within the school, and passing it on to others.”

“At Bishops the Year 12s who are now entering national contests run the internal Year 10 debating contest, which will make them better equipped to run the whole society once they hit Year 13, because they’ve improved by judging other people’s work. In turn, the Year 10s run a smaller scale public speaking contest for Year 8s.”

Competitions shouldn’t only be thought of as something for the students to put in their CV or Personal Statement, but as something that will actively challenge students, improving confidence, teamwork, and outcomes. If you usually only run casual internal competitions, these can justify the cost of entering regional or national contests by acting as a basis for who is entered. In turn, the prize of being taken to a more prestigious event can increase the popularity of internal activities to both enter and spectate.

“For instance, just a debate workshop would have a pretty low turnout, but showcasing your contest entrants and trialling them openly appeals to the spectating students’ competitive spirits, and trains the viewers at the same time by letting them watch the best the school has to offer”.

If your committee has been able to take on internal responsibilities, the inter-school competition can then be the focus of staff time put into the club. “You can give your contest entrants a bit of elite experience, stretch them beyond the training they would just have within the school, and add status to the activity to in turn inspire younger students”.

To sum up

The last thing we asked Alistair was what he would say to a teacher or school leader who doesn’t believe they have the time to fully develop their extra-curricular program.

“One of my core beliefs and values in teaching lies in what you do outside the classroom. It’s worth the school committing to and investing in, for both their students and their teachers. It’s possible to build in a way that it becomes self-sustaining. That’s not necessarily a job to give a brand new teacher, but if one in their second or third year, gaining in professional confidence, can be given the time to properly set up over the course of a year, then the students that get involved in that activity will feel invested in by their school.”

If you want to read more about the new Ofsted judgements and ideas for how you can prepare for them, click here.

Rebecca Watkins - 20 December, 2018

Category : Blog

Free Arbor Insight Academies Financial Benchmarking reports available now!

We’ve just released our Arbor Insight 2016/17 Academies Financial Benchmarking report. All schools that academised before September 2016 will now be able to log in to their free Insight portal and download their newest Financial Benchmarking report! You can use your Financial Benchmarking report in governors meetings, financial planning meetings and to improve next year’s

We’ve just released our Arbor Insight 2016/17 Academies Financial Benchmarking report. All schools that academised before September 2016 will now be able to log in to their free Insight portal and download their newest Financial Benchmarking report!

You can use your Financial Benchmarking report in governors meetings, financial planning meetings and to improve next year’s school budget. We calculate specific benchmarks in your Financial Benchmarking report to give your data context and enable your budget plans to be effective and realistic. Your report benchmarks your school against schools ‘like you’, ‘Schools in your LA’ and the ‘national average’.

(Image 1: AFB report page on the breakdown spend of an example school)

 

Frequently Asked Questions about our Financial Benchmarking reports:

 

How did you derive my LA and National averages?

We’ve benchmarked your school on a variety of measures to allow you to analyse your budget in a wider context. We only compared your School to the averages for other primary, secondary, or special schools (depending on your school type),  to make the comparisons in the report more meaningful. After all, a primary academy’s spend is different from a secondary academy’s, which is different from a special academy. An average that included all three would be misleading.

What is a school ‘like me’?

We created the schools ‘like you’ measure to give you the most meaningful comparison for your School. First, we filtered by schools of your type (primary, secondary, or special) for the reasons mentioned above. Then, we filtered by schools who were inside/outside London as this changes your cost structure. Next we filtered by size, ensuring that your school is compared to schools with a similar number of students. Finally we took your FSM, SEN and EAL data, weighted them based on the size of the attainment gaps at KS2, and combined them into a baseline score to find schools with similar demographic intakes to your School.

For example, if you’re a large rural secondary school with a lot of FSM students, your spending in each area will be benchmarked against other large rural secondary schools with a lot of FSM students. The schools ‘like you’ measure helps you account for your specific circumstances and understand why your spending might be above or below average.  

(Image 2: AFB report page showing staff expenditure)

For each spend and income measure, your Arbor Insight Academies Financial Benchmarking report will show how much you spent as a whole, as a percent of your total spend and per pupil. We add detailed analysis to all of your graphs so you can quickly see the headlines for each measure.

(Image 3: AFB report page showing three year trends and easy-to-understand text callouts)

Our 2017/18 Schools Financial Benchmarking report will be released early next term. If you have pre-ordered this report you will receive an email from us as soon it is released, and you can then download it from your portal.

 

If you’re a current user, you can log in to view your updated dashboards and reports immediately here: https://login.arbor.sc/auth/login

If you don’t already use Arbor Insight, click here to sign up for your free portal & view your performance dashboards & KS4 reports: https://login.arbor.sc/auth/register

Arbor - 13 December, 2018

Category : Blog , Uncategorized

How Dixons Academies Trust took tips from Silicon Valley on structuring their MAT

At our MAT CEO conference on 5th December, Luke Sparkes, Executive Principal of Dixons Academies Trust, gave a thought-provoking presentation that challenged traditional thinking about the structure of MATs. He spoke about how DAT has looked to looked to entertainment giants Spotify and Netflix to develop a model that moves away from a “no-interference” approach to

At our MAT CEO conference on 5th December, Luke Sparkes, Executive Principal of Dixons Academies Trust, gave a thought-provoking presentation that challenged traditional thinking about the structure of MATs. He spoke about how DAT has looked to looked to entertainment giants Spotify and Netflix to develop a model that moves away from a “no-interference” approach to its high-performing schools. We’ve transcribed his presentation below!

 

Leading through aligned autonomy: Introduction

I’ve been asked to share our thinking on the concept of ‘aligned autonomy’ – the optimal balance between consistency and self-determination that can empower agility.

I must start by stressing that aligned autonomy is a process, not a destination, and, as a Trust, we are very much at the start of the process.  This is only the second time we have talked about our ideas externally; we aren’t sure how they will be received, but we hope to disrupt thinking.  

Core principles

At Dixons we have 6 core principles:

    • Values Driven
    • High Expectations
    • Choice and Commitment
    • Highly Professional Staff
    • Relentless Focus on Learning
    • Empowered to Lead

The most important is that we are values-driven.  Every decision we make, every conversation we have, every lesson we plan is absolutely rooted in our values.  

In the last 12 months, we have started to organise our Trust around the concept of aligned autonomy.

A different MAT model

As a growing Trust, we are constantly grappling with our organisational development. The received wisdom from other Trusts includes:

  • School improvement driven by central capacity
  • A model that is clearly defined
  • Around 80% Trust standardisation and 20% open to local innovation
  • Leadership focused on command and control
  • Deployment as directed

At Dixons, our model had developed differently. In particular, as Principals, we’d grown used to having a lot of autonomy.  As a Trust, we talked about the concept of earned autonomy – if a school is performing strongly it should have freedom and the Trust shouldn’t interfere.

However, we started to realise that we were storing up problems for the future, because the Trust had almost become a holding body for a series of largely autonomous units.  

Of course, the strengths and identity of academies should be respected, but the whole point of a Trust is to enable schools to ever more deeply engage with, learn from and support each other. We knew we’d reached a point in our growth that we had to think and act differently.  We needed to develop a different Trust model.

I think Dixons has always had a reputation for being fairly cutting-edge (in some circles) and has learnt quite a bit from industry over the years (not least from Dixons electricals in the early years). When shaping our new model, we looked at how leading organisations across the world (in a range of industries) are managing their growth.  A series of slides from a Netflix presentation – which has described as Silicon Valley’s most important document – really resonated with us:

According to Netflix:

  • Most companies curtail freedom as they get bigger
  • So, why do most companies curtail freedom and become bureaucratic as they grow?
  • The desire for bigger positive impact creates growth
  • But, growth increases complexity
  • And growth also often shrinks talent density
  • As a result, chaos emerges – the business has become too complex to run informally with this talent level
  • Then, process emerges to stop the chaos – no one loves process, but feels good compared to pain of chaos.  “Time to grow up” becomes the mantra
  • But, process-focus drives more talent out

Process brings seductively strong near-term outcomes – a highly successful company or Trust:

  • Leading share in its market
  • Minimal thinking; few mistakes; very efficient; few mavericks; optimised
  • Efficiency trumps flexibility

But then the market shifts, due to technology or competitors; or, in a MAT’s case, due to curriculum or accountability changes. The organisation is unable to adapt quickly and can grind into irrelevance.

And so it seems like there are 3 bad options:

  • Stay creative by staying small, but therefore have less impact
  • Avoid rules as you grow, and suffer chaos
  • Use process as you grow to drive efficient execution of current model, but cripple creativity, flexibility, and ability to thrive when things change

But, there is a fourth option.

We believe that the agile organisation is dawning as the new dominant organisation paradigm. Organisations will no longer be ‘machines’ with top-down hierarchy, but ‘organisms’ with agile leadership.

Dixons Structure

Freedom from hierarchy doesn’t exist anywhere in nature (not least in schools), but no one would argue that all hierarchies are good. With that in mind, we’re trying to design our flatter, less hierarchical organisation as a distributed, interdependent, continually evolving system.

Leadership shows direction and enables action, but “boxes and lines” are less important. An agile organisational culture puts people at the centre, which engages and empowers everyone in the organisation. They can then create value quickly, collaboratively and effectively. Leadership in agile organisations serves the people in the organisation, empowering and developing them. They create space for teams to discover new opportunities and effectively respond to change.

Agile way of working

Agile is not a methodology; it’s a way of behaving, it’s a culture, a mindset. Autonomy of agile teams is a must but it’s not sufficient, as teams also need alignment. This grid is a useful way to explain the relationship between autonomy and alignment:

At one end of the spectrum you have low autonomy and low alignment. This results in a micromanaging organisation and an indifferent culture – there is no higher level purpose, and schools are told to “shut up and follow orders”.

On the other hand, there’s low autonomy and high alignment. This creates an authoritative organisation and a conformist culture, where employees are told which problems need to be solved, but also how to solve them. Arguably, a number of Trusts are taking this approach, but, as those companies are finding, we believe this approach will stifle innovation and drive talent out.

High autonomy and low alignment can result in an entrepreneurial organisation, but leads to a chaotic culture.

The Dixons Story

As a Trust, we were heading towards chaos.  We were starting to see divisions – rather than working for Dixons, staff increasingly talked about working for City, Kings, Trinity or Marchbank. We were autonomous, but starting to sub-optimise, with each school only working for its own success and keeping things to themselves. As a relatively small Trust with some exceptional Principals (who were quick to respond to curriculum changes), we were securing great educational outcomes, but there was confusion, we had limited turnaround support and our central systems were inefficient (some still are).

We realised that to scale agile, we must continue to enable autonomy for our teams, but ensure alignment with the organisation.

Why Aligned (at Dixons)

  • We share the same mission
  • All staff should benefit from our best
  • We all benefit from the brand
  • Staff can be more easily deployed
  • Central services become simpler and more efficient
  • Growth can be better managed
  • No divisions; we don’t sub-optimise

Why Autonomy (at Dixons)

  • Personal accountability is founded on ownership and self-direction
  • If there is no variation, there will be no opportunity for us to learn from different practices
  • Conformity kills innovation
  • Standardisation fails to respond to changing needs
  • Micromanagement breeds indifference
  • Autonomy is the foundation of our success so far

Aligned autonomy will deliver a more agile and less hierarchical organisation:

  • Respect at every level
  • Rules focused on clarity rather than control
  • Needed roles that make sense
  • Pushing power down

Strong backbone vertebrae

A core element of an agile organisation is a fixed and stable backbone that evolves slowly. In order to minimise workload and maximise impact, elements of the backbone must be as efficient and spare as possible. This also allows room for further elaboration and development in response to a leader’s own drivers and context.

Again, I must stress that aligned autonomy is a process, not a destination. A component of the backbone one year may be dropped in another because it outlives its usefulness, or because it is a time for further innovation and testing.

For each element, we have started to create clarity by stating which aspects are aligned across the organisation and which aspects teams have autonomy over:

And so, this fourth option, this new MAT model, is focused on avoiding chaos as you grow with ever more high performaning people – not with rules.

The key to this is to increase talent density faster than complexity grows. And with the right people, instead of a culture of process adherence, you can cultivate a culture of creativity and self-discipline, freedom and responsibility. Leadership is about context, not control. Agility means building a structure that allows people to react in real time. In our current age of urgency, we have to take the principles behind agile and use them a little differently. Let’s call them the three “insteads”:

  • Instead of making a decision when you have 90% of the information, make it when you have 70%
  • Instead of imposing decisions from top down, encourage real-time decisions across the organisation decoupled from title or rank
  • Instead of relying on charismatic leaders who get results by force, recognise that leadership can come from anyone, and is earned not appointed

Scaling agile at Dixons

The following models help to show how we have started to scale agile at Dixons:

Each academy (or what agile organisations in industry would describe as a tribe) is made up of squads or departments that are built around end-to-end accountability and share the same long term mission. The Principal is the Academy Lead and is responsible for setting the context and providing the right environment.  The Principal is supported by an EP who acts as an Agile Coach. Together they provide leadership that shows direction and enables action. Senior and middle leadership groups (described as chapters in industry) promote collaboration and cross pollination of ideas across departments.  They are also responsible for developing people.

Finally, we have started to develop cross-cutting teams that act like guilds. These are groups of people from across the organisation who want to share knowledge and practices, innovate and develop new ideas (in all areas – curriculum, support, and operations). Each cross-cutting team has a coordinator and teams can form, dissolve and reform as resources shift and priorities change.  They can also be used to secure alignment. A people-first organisation relies on true work of small, cross cutting teams:

Scaling agile in this way through squads, chapters and guilds will help us to create a talent-driven organisation. At Dixons, we believe talent is king. Talent, even more than strategy, is what creates value. Hierarchy can isolate and bury talent. Flattening the organisation and pushing power down will stimulate personal growth and create speed. Leading a talent-first organisation requires agility. It requires enough ego to be comfortable with making the hardest decisions and enough humility to defer to the brilliance of other people.

It means living with the idea that the talent will determine the direction and strategy of the organisation.

These are the 3 critical moves to unleash talent:

1. Most vital people must be in roles where they can create significant value

2. They must be free from bureaucratic structure

3. They must be afforded the training and opportunities to expand their skills

Conclusion

We believe that the agile organisation is dawning as the new dominant organisational paradigm. Agile groups can thrive in an unpredictable, rapidly changing environment.  They are both stable and dynamic. They focus on customers (or in our case, students), fluidly adapt to environmental changes, and are open, inclusive, and less hierarchical; they evolve continually and embrace uncertainty. An agile organisational culture puts people at the centre. And all of this is only possible through high autonomy – that is a must – but also high alignment. We must continue to enable autonomy for our teams, but ensure alignment with the organisation.

 

Cosima Baring - 12 December, 2018

Category : Blog

7 highlights from Arbor’s MAT CEO conference in Manchester

On 5th December, we held our second MAT CEO conference in Manchester at the Co-Op Academies Trust HQ, organised in partnership with PS Financials. With over 70 MAT leaders in attendance, our speakers delivered a series of thought-provoking talks throughout the day, drawing on their experience of growing their respective trusts sustainably. Image 1: James

On 5th December, we held our second MAT CEO conference in Manchester at the Co-Op Academies Trust HQ, organised in partnership with PS Financials. With over 70 MAT leaders in attendance, our speakers delivered a series of thought-provoking talks throughout the day, drawing on their experience of growing their respective trusts sustainably.

Image 1: James Weatherill giving the opening address at the conference

Arbor’s CEO and a trustee of the Langley Park Trust, James Weatherill, was first on the agenda and began by talking about the importance of MATs in today’s education system & their potential to transform it. He went on to discuss 4 different strategies for centralisation, concluding that the general trend is definitely towards more MAT alignment & standardisation. Click here to see his slides.

Frank Norris, Director of the Co-Op Academies Trust was next with a speech about the Co-Op’s values and the importance of embedding a shared culture into everything you do as a trust. He spoke about the challenges of making sure that every joining school is fully onboard with your values and principles. Frank was joined on stage by Jo Farnworth, Co-Op Co-ordinator at Co-Op Academy Failsworth, who gave some great examples of some of the ways that the Co-Op’s collaborative culture manifests itself in everyday school life. You can read their joint presentation here.

Image 2: Frank Norris discussing the Co-Op’s culture & values

Next on stage was Ofsted’s Regional Director for the North West, Andrew Cook, who delivered one of the first public addresses about the new inspection framework. He highlighted its stronger focus on the importance of curriculum, and Ofsted’s desire to reduce the burden on teacher workloads that inspections have caused in the past. He also explained plans to change the way Ofsted inspects MATs, and described how focused reviews of MATs will now become ‘summary evaluations’. Click here to read the slides from his presentation.

Will Jordan, Education Sector Manager at PS Financials, spoke about how to achieve greater efficiency and control within your MAT back office team, the benefits of financial alignment (see his slides here). He was followed by Chris Kirk, whose presentation entitled “The MAT growth journey: steps and mis-steps”, took the audience through the typical growth phases of a MAT and the potential crises that accompany them. Chris ended by discussing the most common barriers that prevent MATs from making change, including funding, capacity, and resistance from the people within in your trust. You can see his slides here.

The final presentation of the day was delivered by Luke Sparkes, Executive Principal at Dixons Academies Trust. Luke shared DAT’s thinking on the concept of “aligned autonomy”, and how they looked to entertainment giants Spotify and Netflix to develop a model that moves away from a “no-interference” approach to its high-performing schools. Echoing Frank Norris’ earlier talk about culture, Luke stressed the importance of rooting everything you do as a trust in your values. Click here to read his thought-provoking presentation in full.

The last item on the agenda was a frank roundtable discussion between Karen Burns (Victorious Academies Trust), Alex Thomas (Herts for Learning) and Phil Crompton (Trent Academies Group), 3 MAT CEOs of different sized trusts, who gave honest, relatable answers to Chris Kirk’s questions about the barriers they’ve faced as they’ve grown. The discussion created some great debate from members of the audience, so we’ll definitely be repeating this format at our next MAT conference!

Image 3: Chris Kirk chairs our MAT CEO roundtable discussion between Alex Thomas, Karen Burns and Phil Crompton

We’ll be posting transcriptions of our all our speakers’ presentations in full on the blog over the coming weeks, so keep an eye out for updates. Stay tuned for more announcements about our upcoming MAT CEO conferences in the new year – if you’re interested in hosting or speaking at the next one, get in touch at hello@arbor-education.com.

Rebecca Watkins - 11 December, 2018

Category : Blog

Questions you should be asking about your school improvement plan

This Autumn term, we organised 54 Insight Training sessions that were attended by teachers and members of Senior Leadership Teams from schools across the country. As well as looking at how Arbor’s Insight reports can help you to benchmark your schools results and streamline your operations, the sessions also demonstrated how you can use your

This Autumn term, we organised 54 Insight Training sessions that were attended by teachers and members of Senior Leadership Teams from schools across the country. As well as looking at how Arbor’s Insight reports can help you to benchmark your schools results and streamline your operations, the sessions also demonstrated how you can use your performance data and Arbor Insight portal to support and inform your annual school improvement cycle.

Each year, before you make any decisions based purely on your headline measures, you should be asking more questions about your data. This is to make sure that your decisions are not based on any bias or previous assumptions that you might not have even realised were affecting your improvement strategies. Your Arbor Insight reports help you do this by telling you:

  • What happened last year, and in the last 3 years in your school
  • Whether it was typical for your school
  • What happened in schools in the UK, your LA and schools like you, and whether this was typical

But you still might not know:

  • Why it happened
  • Why it’s typical of your school
  • How to address the problems and consolidate the successes

Until you’ve answered those two why questions, you can’t figure out how to improve. We have two approaches to share to help with this.

The first is the Socratic approach. This approach requires you to think about your data from various angles to uncover any hidden assumptions you might have before taking action. You should ask:

Questions that clarify

“Do boys underperform in reading in all year groups?”

Questions that probe assumptions

“Do our pupils really enter school with low attainment?”

Questions that probe reasons and evidence

“Is there a reason to doubt the evidence?”

Questions about viewpoints and perspectives

“Should we look for another reason for this?”

Questions that probe implications and consequences

“How does this affect SEN pupils?”

Questions about questions

“Why do you think I asked this question?”

Categorising them like this encourages you to ask a wider range of questions and uncover the specific problem.

The second approach is asking“why” 5 times:

As those of you who teach or have younger children will know, one of their favourite, and sometimes most frustrating, games to play is the constant asking of “why?”. In fact, this single, repetitive question is a really useful way to dig deeper into the context behind your results and again, challenge your assumptions.

As a rule of thumb, 5 “why”s will usually get you to a root cause:

“Only 70% percent of children are working at the expected standard in writing”

WHY?

“Too many girls don’t make the expected standard”

WHY?

“Progress for girls is slow across KS2”

WHY?

“They start off poorly, with slower progress in lower KS2 than upper KS2”

WHY?

“Expectations are too low in lower KS2”

WHY?

“Poor teacher knowledge of what could be achieved”

In this case, “poor teacher knowledge of what could be achieved” is the root cause. You’ll know when you get to the root cause because it’s usually something specific and tangible. Unlike vague statements like “progress is slow” or “expectations are low”, it’s something you can actually address.

To log in and see your free ASP dashboard and reports for Phonics, KS1, KS2, and KS4, click here. Our Insight training sessions are over for the year, but if you’d like to host one for your area or find out how else Arbor can help your school or MAT, you can get in touch here.

Arbor - 10 December, 2018

Category : Blog

Ofsted’s new framework & focused reviews of MATs

Last week, we brought together over 70 MAT leaders at Arbor’s second MAT CEO conference in Manchester to discuss strategies for scaling your trust sustainably. Andrew Cook, Ofsted’s Regional Director for the North West, delivered one of the first public announcements about Ofsted’s new inspection framework, and talked in detail about its stronger focus on

Last week, we brought together over 70 MAT leaders at Arbor’s second MAT CEO conference in Manchester to discuss strategies for scaling your trust sustainably.

Andrew Cook, Ofsted’s Regional Director for the North West, delivered one of the first public announcements about Ofsted’s new inspection framework, and talked in detail about its stronger focus on the importance of curriculum. He also explained how Ofsted plans to change the way it inspects MATs, and described how focused reviews of MATs will now become ‘summary evaluations’. You can flick through the slides below to read his full presentation, or click here to view in it a separate window.

 

We’ll be posting all the presentations from the conference on our blog over the coming weeks, so keep an eye out for more updates!

James Weatherill - 5 December, 2018

Category : Blog

4 practical ways to centralise school data & back office ops

— I recently spoke at our Manchester MAT Conference on how culture beats strategy when MATs start thinking about centralising data, operations and people. At Arbor we talk about 4 (broad) types of MAT cultures, and how the degree of MAT alignment vs school autonomy dictates how you approach scaling systems, processes and people. What

I recently spoke at our Manchester MAT Conference on how culture beats strategy when MATs start thinking about centralising data, operations and people.

At Arbor we talk about 4 (broad) types of MAT cultures, and how the degree of MAT alignment vs school autonomy dictates how you approach scaling systems, processes and people. What we see more and more from the 57 MATs who we provide MIS systems to, and the 100s more we are speaking to is that centralisation of school back office functions such as data, HR, finance and operations is the general direction of travel for all MATs. The debate is centred around the degree, style and pace at which this happens.

We’ve gathered feedback about the 4 different ways MATs go about scaling decision making, curriculum & assessment, systems & processes and their central team in the presentation below. See what you think and whether you fit into 1 or more of the categories I describe.

Chris Kirk - 4 December, 2018

Category : Blog

Phase 3 of MAT growth: Creating an Agile MAT (15+ Academies)

This is the final blog in our series offering a new vision for MATs.  With a clear vision, based on 6 powerful principles and the development of 6 core competencies, and MAT-wide systems and cultures already put in place, the main focus should be on the systematic development of collaboration. Management style: collaboration Overview MATs

This is the final blog in our series offering a new vision for MATs.  With a clear vision, based on 6 powerful principles and the development of 6 core competencies, and MAT-wide systems and cultures already put in place, the main focus should be on the systematic development of collaboration.

Management style: collaboration

Overview

MATs which have achieved the integration above quickly realise that “you can’t mandate greatness”.  Alignment and standardisation risk killing innovation and engagement. Arbor Education refers to this next phase as an ‘Assistant MAT’, Dixons Academies uses the term ‘Agile’ with ‘High autonomy, high alignment’

MATs at this stage are also well placed to collaborate beyond the MAT itself, contributing to a self-improving Academy system which is led from the middle.

If the work of Stage 2 has already been done, then the underpinning capabilities of Support, Learn, Assess and Communicate are also in place, and will be refined and improved through collaboration.

The emphasis now is on building systems, processes and policies to support purposeful collaboration.  This supports the growth of teams which are focused on improvement, allowing experiments to be tried out, collaboration to grow.  Management must support individuals and teams to be highly aligned to the vision, and then encourage groups which will self-identify and form to tackle a problem.  

David Ross Education Trust operate a ‘Team around the school’ where supporting functions meet with the Principal to fix issues and plan for the future.  

The Inspiration Trust employ Subject Specialist Leaders’ whose role is to develop Subject Communities, which variously focus on Assessment, Materials and Curriculum resources.

Dixons adopt the ‘Agile’ approach used by Spotify, of ‘Squads’ (a group of people who have decided to work together on a common challenge, e.g. learning and teaching of a particular subject and phase),‘Tribes’ (a group of ‘squads’ working on adjacent challenges who can benefit from sharing), Chapters (functional experts who bring different competencies to the squad), Product Leads (the owner of the particular challenge), and ‘Agile Coaches’ (senior leadership whose role is not to direct, but to coach the teams to help them achieve).  In this model, Squads will form and finish based on the need to tackle a particular challenge.

By this stage I assume a strong IT platform is in place to act as infrastructure for effective collaboration.  In particular a strong IT platform will allow sufficient bandwidth and flexibility for anytime/ anywhere collaboration to be supported.  

Benefits

The benefits of moving from Growth Stage 1 to 2 are well-documented and relate to traditional measures such as:

1. Economy – getting more for your money by planning ahead

2. Efficiency – the avoidance of wasted time and cash, the ability to buy at scale, reduced complexity; and

3. Effectiveness – improved systems and structures which allow people to do their job better, and retain staff as a result of less stress.

The important benefit of growth stage 3 is to foster…

Engagement.  Empowered teams, aligned by systems, processes and vision, but free to develop their own groups and solutions, have the potential to be at the heart of taking the Academy system forwards.

It is  tempting to jump from Stage 1 of MAT growth to Stage 3, missing out the detailed and difficult work of Stage 2.  I believe this would be a mistake, as without a strong underpinning, it is difficult for a large group of Academies to collaborate effectively.  I encourage you to stick with it as the benefits of getting this right are significant:

  • Releasing Principals to refocus on T&L through improved operations
  • Curriculum and assessment improvements through collaborative research & cross MAT roles
  • Teaching and learning improvements through improved use of data, CPD, shared subject appointments
  • Workforce improvements in terms of recruitment, retention, leadership support & career progression
  • Principals experience strategic challenge, clearer direction of travel, purposeful accountability
  • MAT to MAT support, provide the engine for a self-improving system, which is led from the middle and on a journey from ‘Good to Great’.
Harriet Cheng - 4 December, 2018

Category : Blog

4 ways a cloud-based MIS will change the way you work at school

We’ve written before about the fact that more schools than ever are choosing to switch to a cloud-based MIS – in fact, we predict that over 1,000 schools will move in 2019 alone! It’s not just potential cost savings which are compelling schools to move (primary schools save £3,000 on average by switching, and secondary

We’ve written before about the fact that more schools than ever are choosing to switch to a cloud-based MIS – in fact, we predict that over 1,000 schools will move in 2019 alone!

It’s not just potential cost savings which are compelling schools to move (primary schools save £3,000 on average by switching, and secondary schools could save around £6,000) – increasingly schools are realising that moving to the cloud offers a real opportunity to transform the way they work. We explore the 4 key ways your MIS could do this below.

1. Your school can go paperless

Put an end to paper registers, incident forms, and classroom context sheets! A cloud-based MIS will let you record all this information quickly & easily via a browser so you never have to worry about printing or losing a sheet of paper again. Not only is this better for data protection, compliance & safeguarding (contrary to popular belief, the cloud is a lot more secure than using a server-based system or arch lever files), it also means you’ll eliminate unnecessary data duplication (never again will you have to transfer information from paper to screen!).

2. Let your MIS do non-teaching tasks for you

The second benefit to putting key information about attendance and behaviour in a cloud-based MIS is that you can start to set up smart workflows which mean your MIS ends up doing a lot of admin for you. For example, you could tell your MIS that everytime a “Level 3” incident is recorded, the Head of Year should be automatically informed by email and the student should automatically be registered for the next detention. This helps to cut out a lot of manual chasing & scheduling – and also helps your school to maintain a consistent behaviour policy.

3. Stop your staff being tied to their desks

When you use a server-based system, staff can only access your school MIS from specific stations (normally the desktop in their classroom). This limits the usefulness of the information inside it, since it can’t be viewed, discussed or put to use outside of that one room. With a cloud MIS, your staff automatically have the flexibility to work on the move around school and bring up important information quickly & easily in key meetings.

4. Reduce your “data workload”

Far too often, schools end up using a patchwork of different systems for different school areas (such as attendance, behaviour, parent communication, interventions, and so on). This normally means that in order to look at patterns between different areas, add demographic data into assessment results, or follow up with parents about absence, staff have to manually download and compare different spreadsheets, find contact details in one place to use in another, and juggle multiple logins. All of this means leads to lots of manual work to make data any use. By contrast, most cloud-based MIS systems replace your patchwork of systems with just one – making your data instantly accessible, comparable and useful.

With so many schools moving to the cloud, we’ve found the question has become when and not if the decision is right for your school. We’d be more than happy to discuss how you currently use your MIS and explain how our simple, smart cloud-based system could help you transform the way you work. Just get in touch here, call 0208 050 1028 or email tellmemore@arbor-education.com.

Rebecca Watkins - 3 December, 2018

Category : Blog

KS4 & new GCSE grades: How your Arbor Insight reports are changing

A couple of weeks ago we added 2018 KS4 Analyse School Performance (ASP) data to our award-winning Insight dashboards and reports. Arbor Insight is a free benchmarking portal that we’ve created for every school and MAT in the country, and our premium performance reports provide in-depth analysis of your data to help you spot trends

A couple of weeks ago we added 2018 KS4 Analyse School Performance (ASP) data to our award-winning Insight dashboards and reports. Arbor Insight is a free benchmarking portal that we’ve created for every school and MAT in the country, and our premium performance reports provide in-depth analysis of your data to help you spot trends you might have otherwise missed, understand strengths & weaknesses, and make interventions.

This is the first year that all 5 core English Baccalaureate subjects (English, Maths, Science, Language and Humanities) have been graded 9-1 under the new grading scale, so we’ve updated your KS4 Insight reports in light of the reform, to make sure you’re still getting accurate insight into your school’s performance data.

How have my reports changed?

Schools and MATs will notice a few changes in their KS4 ASP performance reports and dashboards since last year:  

  • All ASP reports have been updated with new graphs
  • Two extra graphs have been introduced to show the percentage of pupils achieving each the two new pass grades (9-5 and 9-4)
  • A new graph shows the % of pupils achieving 9-1 in the EBacc so you can see if any pupils failed the EBacc
  • A*-C is now used as a proxy data in our trends, as a benchmark for the years before the new 9-1 grade scale was introduced in subjects. This should give you as good an idea of your performance trend over time as possible, although we know it’s an imperfect comparison!
    • Science, Humanities and Languages has proxy trend data for the last two years (2015/16 & 2016/17)
    • English (literature & language) and Maths has one year of proxy trend data (2015/16)
  • The prediction algorithm for your next Ofsted grade has been improved

Ofsted Readiness report

As well as highlighting your strengths and weaknesses in performance measures, our Ofsted Readiness report has 6 graphs for each core subject. These include how many pupils in your school or MAT achieved a Strong or Standard Pass, benchmarked against schools graded Good and Outstanding at their last Ofsted inspection.

Image: an example from an Ofsted Readiness report: Maths Attainment page

Image: an example from an Ofsted Readiness report: Achieving a Strong Pass in English & Maths – showing three year trend data and your school benchmarked against outstanding schools in the country

Attainment & Progress report

In this report, we show you the percentage of pupils achieving a Strong Pass, so you can understand where you need to improve to help all pupils achieve this goal. You can see how your pupils performed in the core subjects (English, Maths and Sciences) how the core average compares, and compare these to national averages.

Closing the Gap reports (x5)

Each report, in this set of five, focuses on a different attainment gap that is prevalent in England. You can see how wide or narrow this gap is in your school, and compare it  with the national average. For example, you can see what percentage of boys in your school are achieving a Standard Pass (4+) in EBacc Maths Pillar, and compare that rate against your girls. You can find this information in the Closing the Gap report: Focus on Gender.

If you don’t already use Arbor Insight, click here to sign up for your free portal & view your performance dashboards & KS4 reports: https://login.arbor.sc/auth/register

If you’re a current user, you can log in to view your updated dashboards and reports immediately here: https://login.arbor.sc/auth/login

 

Chris Kirk - 29 November, 2018

Category : Blog

Phase 2 of MAT growth: Creating an integrated MAT (5-15 schools)

This blog, the fourth in our series offering a new vision for MATs, describes the second growth phase of MATs.  At this pivotal stage, a large number of changes are often needed to capabilities and systems across the MAT in order to create an “integrated MAT”. Management style: Growth through Direction Overview As the MAT

This blog, the fourth in our series offering a new vision for MATs, describes the second growth phase of MATs.  At this pivotal stage, a large number of changes are often needed to capabilities and systems across the MAT in order to create an “integrated MAT”.

Management style: Growth through Direction

Overview

As the MAT grows larger, there is a need for more integration between Academies, to improve educational impact, and start to achieve efficiencies.  Common systems, processes and policies need to be put in place. This is a big strain on the central team, requiring discussion, collaboration and expertise.  

In a MAT which has grown primarily through Convertor Academies, supporting services will typically be standardised more readily than education activities.  In a Sponsored MAT, the opposite may be true, with a strong set of educational practices and non-negotiables in place before supporting systems are centralised.  Most MATs will create commonality around formative and/ or summative assessment, but with a variety of models to achieve this. Some will run central/ regional School Improvement teams, with intervention where required.  Others will set up Subject Leadership roles, or working groups/ communities for other types of improvement.

Capabilities

Support

Most MATs of above 4 Academies will create a central team with professional leadership of Finance, HR, and Operations (typically covering ICT, Estates and Governance).  These leaders are responsible for working with Principals to put in place the central systems, policies and processes below. In many MATs, these leaders have dotted rather than direct line management responsibility for Academy teams who are implementing the policies (e.g. the local finance staff, caretakers, ICT Technicians).  Some MATs are comfortable to stay in this arrangement. Others find that the cost of running a central team as well as Academy teams is unsustainable, and that the Academy teams start to become confused about whether to take ultimate direction from their Principal, or Head Office, and move to end-to-end functional management of support staff.  This allows much more scope to redesign roles, processes and systems.

These organisational arrangements need to be supported with strong systems, which could incude:  Cashless catering, Asset management, IT system User Authentication, Biometrics, Digital signage, Parent Payments, Building Management System, Applicant tracking system, Management Information System.

Standardised and centralised processes should be put in place for Finance, ICT, Estates (Health and Safety, Premises Management), Workforce policies (including Abuse, Fraud, Pay& Reward, Capability, Disciplinary, Equality, Flexi time, expenses, hospitality, performance management, redundancy, Code of Conduct, Teacher Training, Recruitment and Induction), and governance (MAT and Academy standard Governance policies, Schemes of Delegation).  

There should also be centralisation of Procurement & Contract Management of ICT infrastructure, software, broadband/ telephony, insurance energy, break fix, construction, Agency supply, catering, photocopying, legal services, audit, hard and soft Facilities Management.  This will include consideration of Cloud-based systems, supporting Academies to have the right devices to achieve the educational vision, and delivery affordably, whether through a shared service within the MAT, or an outsourced contract.

Learn

Shared systems to support learning will be a priority for many MATs at this stage, although some will chose to leave some of the below to Academy level decision making.

Shared learning systems include:  Admissions; Attendance management and reporting; Behaviour management and reporting; SEN planning; Learning management system/ VLE; Interventions tracking; Library/ resource management; Classroom management; Timetable generation; Seat planning.

A number of shared process should also be considered, including: development of curriculum resources/ Lesson planning and preparation/ SoW; Research to understand practices and theories within and outside the MAT; behaviour management and reporting.

Some MATs will provide support for the improvement of physical learning spaces to support educational philosophy (e.g. lighting, audio, availability of charging for ICT, wireless networks), although others will find this difficult to impossible depending on available funds and existing estates conditions.

Shared policies at this point should typically include Admissions, Attendance , Student Behaviour/ Pastoral support, Inclusion/ Special Educational Needs.  There will be legitimate exceptions due to context.

Assess

A Mat of this size should consider shared systems for Formative/ summative Assessment, Progress tracking, Data analysis, Examinations Results Analysis.  There may also be shared systems for marking, and an alignment of Primary Assessment models/ Exam Boards. Alongside this, MATs should convene teacher led groups to investgate shared policies for marking (or not marking!).

Communicate

MAT-wide systems can be put in place for communicating with parents and students, Parents evening booking, Homework setting, Reporting to parents and Visitor management.  There could also be alignment or centralisation of some communication processes, allowing for efficiencies and improvements to quality. Home school agreement policies can also be aligned.

Develop

Shared development systems can include staff CPD/ lesson observation, and staff performance management.  By aligning on a system, more time and energy can be spent on the more value-adding activity of refining which types of approach to development and support hae the most positive impact.

Collaborate

A number of systems can support, or get in the way of, collaboration for a MAT of this size.  MATs should consider standardising Office productivity applications, Email, storage, and Collaboration tools (student-student/ student-adult/ Adult-adult)

In terms of processes, at this point a MAT will need to have formal roles or groups to support collaboration and alignment.  These roles may be distributed amongst Academy Principals, middles leaders, teacher or other staff, or held centrally/ regionally.

Click here to read the final instalment of Chris’ blog series on how to create an agile MAT

Harriet Cheng - 28 November, 2018

Category : Blog

Our new partnership with RS Assessment from Hodder Education

We’re delighted to announce our new partnership with assessment experts RS Assessment from Hodder Education on a new integration between Arbor’s MIS for schools & MATs and RS Assessment’s standardised tests for primary schools. RS Assessment’s standardised tests PIRA and PUMA are a key component of many primary school improvement strategies, helping Senior Leaders track

We’re delighted to announce our new partnership with assessment experts RS Assessment from Hodder Education on a new integration between Arbor’s MIS for schools & MATs and RS Assessment’s standardised tests for primary schools.

RS Assessment’s standardised tests PIRA and PUMA are a key component of many primary school improvement strategies, helping Senior Leaders track pupils’ in-year progress and benchmark against age related expectations. They’ve become even more crucial for MATs recently, as central teams at growing MATs need the ability to monitor and support school improvement across multiple schools and get an overview of whole Trust performance. RS Assessment’s MARK (My Assessment and Reporting Kit) online service is pivotal to providing time-saving analysis of test results.

Arbor’s cloud-based MIS helps to transform the way schools & MATs work by putting essential data at the fingertips of senior leaders, teachers & office staff, and by automating and simplifying administrative tasks to reduce staff workload. At a MAT level, Arbor MIS centralises not just data reporting, but operations and communications too – helping MATs to manage & support their schools all from just one system.

Our partnership with RS Assessment brings the power of Arbor’s simple, smart cloud-based MIS and the results of PIRA and PUMA tests together for schools and MATs for the first time. Later this year, schools and MATs using Arbor and tracking PIRA and PUMA test results in MARK will be able to:

  • Automatically sync pupil data directly from Arbor MIS to MARK with no need for data downloads and uploads
  • Automatically sync results from PIRA and PUMA tests back to Arbor MIS for MATs so central teams can get an aggregated view of results across all their schools
  • Allow senior leaders at schools and MATs to use Arbor MIS to take action on their results – for example by setting up intervention groups, or by building custom reports combining data from their PIRA and PUMA test results and Arbor MIS

We’ve worked on this partnership with RS Assessment in collaboration with REAch2 Multi-Academy Trust to ensure it works just as seamlessly for MAT leaders as it does for individual primary schools. To learn more about how we can support your school or MAT, contact us on 0208 050 1028 or email tellmemore@arbor-education.com.

You can also learn more about our integration with Hodder at our specialist User Group at BETT this year! It’s a great opportunity to learn how the integration works, meet other schools & MATs using both products, and catch up with our teams. Click here to sign up for your free place.

Stephen Higgins - 27 November, 2018

Category : Blog

How to get ahead of Ofsted’s new inspection framework

As I’m sure you’ve seen, Ofsted recently announced plans to change the way it inspects schools, colleges, further education institutions and early years settings from September 2019. To help you understand how the new framework will impact the way you operate your school, we’ve rounded up the most important changes you need to know about.

As I’m sure you’ve seen, Ofsted recently announced plans to change the way it inspects schools, colleges, further education institutions and early years settings from September 2019. To help you understand how the new framework will impact the way you operate your school, we’ve rounded up the most important changes you need to know about.

What’s changing?

“Quality of education” to replace current judgements

Firstly, Ofsted will introduce a new judgement for ‘quality of education’, which will replace the current ‘outcomes for pupils’ and ‘teaching, learning and assessment’ judgements with a single, broader judgement.

This new judgement will mean that Ofsted can recognise primary schools that, for example, prioritise phonics and the transition into early reading, and which encourage older pupils to read widely and deeply. It will also make it easier for secondary schools to offer children a broad range of subjects and encourage the take up of core EBacc subjects at GCSE, like humanities subjects and languages, alongside the arts and creative subjects. This is a move away from Ofsted’s previous focus on exam results.

Image 1: Arbor’s Assignments module

In many cases, your MIS system can help provide evidence to inspectors that you’ve incorporated these new guidelines into the way you run your school. Arbor’s Assignments module allows school leadership to check in on the quality of homework set by teachers and returned by students, and teachers can upload lesson resources to assignments and lesson dashboards, which can be reviewed by leadership or inspectors.

 

Other new inspection judgements

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, also announced the 3 other inspection judgements that Ofsted will consult on. These are:

    • Personal development
    • Behaviour and attitudes
    • Leadership and Management

These changes recognise the difference between behaviour & discipline in schools, pupils’ wider personal development, and their opportunities to grow as “active, healthy and engaged citizens.” ‘Extra-curricular activities’ should be incorporated into the curriculum, and schools will be required to prove that they offer a range of these activities.

Image 2: Arbor’s Clubs & Trips module

Ofsted inspectors will want to know that each student has the opportunity to engage in extracurricular activities (especially Pupil Premium students). In Arbor, the Clubs & Trips modules can be used to report on which students are accessing extra-curricular activities, and, perhaps more importantly, allows teachers to identify students that have never taken part in an extracurricular activity and invite them or their parents to sign up, so that you can proudly say: “all our students have taken part in extracurricular activities this year.”  

So what will Ofsted inspectors be looking for with the new framework?

Schools need to be clear answering the following 3 key questions:

  • What are you trying to achieve through your curriculum? (Intent)
  • How is your curriculum being delivered? (Implementation)
  • What difference is your curriculum making? (Impact)

What can schools do?  

  • Dedicate substantial timetable slots beyond the ‘core’ subjects, wherever possible
  • Consider how your curriculum caters for disadvantaged groups. Ensure these pupils are not ‘shut out’ of pursuing subjects they want to study because of too sharp a focus on exam results
  • Show you are making curriculum development and design a priority. Survey your staff on how confident they feel in these skills
  • Offer a range of “extra-curricular” activities
  • For primary schools: evaluate the regularity of SATs preparation, such as mock tests and booster classes. Consider introducing additional reading sessions and encouraging reading for pleasure for a counter-balance

Overview

The new framework places less emphasis on schools’ headline data, with inspectors focusing instead on how schools are achieving their results, and if they’re offering their students a curriculum that is broad, rich and deep. The changes will look in more detail at the substance of education, and actively discourage unnecessary data collection (a key contributor to increased workload in many schools). Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, Amber Spielman, said that the changes would move inspection more towards being “a conversation about what actually happens in schools”.

 

If you’re interested in hearing about how Arbor’s simple, smart, cloud-based MIS can help transform the way your school or Trust operates, you can get in touch via the contact form on our website, or give us a call any time on 0208 050 1028

Chris Kirk - 21 November, 2018

Category : Blog

Phase 1 of MAT growth: Putting the basics in place (2-4 schools)

In the previous 2 blogs in this series I described the need for MATs to sharpen their strategies, and set out 6 principles and core capabilities that should underpin this.  In the next 3 blogs I describe how these can be developed during each of the main growth phases of MATs, stating with “putting the

In the previous 2 blogs in this series I described the need for MATs to sharpen their strategies, and set out 6 principles and core capabilities that should underpin this.  In the next 3 blogs I describe how these can be developed during each of the main growth phases of MATs, stating with “putting the basic in place”.

Management style: Growth through creativity

The initial focus is on agreeing a common vision and values, alongside basic common systems and processes.  These typically focus on school improvement for a Sponsor MAT, or on Supporting Functions (also called ‘Operations’ or ‘Back Office’), for a Convertor MAT.  

Capabilities

Support

Common systems and policies for Finance (core finance and budgeting), HR (services and Payroll), safeguarding and child protection is a priority.  Many will also put in place a common MIS system. As well as the system, most MATs will want to align finance processes quickly, e.g. a common Chart of Accounts and budgeting cycle.  Aligned support policies will often include GDPR, FOI, Data Protection, Equal Opportunities and Recruitment.

Learn

In a Convertor MAT, learning and teaching is largely decided at a school level.  In a Sponsored MAT, there may be a strong SIP function, or Executive Headship. In curriculum-driven MATs, e.g. those focused on a knowledge curriculum, this will be a much earlier priority.  This means processes for collaborative alignment will be required at an earlier stage as well.

Assess

Assessment may be undertaken differently in each school, but there are likely to be a termly or more frequent sharing of data.  Discussions commence about where and how to align elements of data. As above, if there is an early focus on a core curriculum then assessment will also be standardised at an earlier point.

Communicate

Communications from the Central MAT team are typically few; individual schools continue as the main point of contact with parents/ students.

Develop

Some light touch shared development may take place, especially for middle and senior leaders.  There may also be a shared approach to ITT and induction, especially if there is a Teaching School Alliance within the MAT.

Collaborate

Collaboration is vital, but at this stage may be informal, light on systems, and through personal interactions connections between Principals and senior support staff leaders/ managers.  More formal systems will be needed if MATs need to make ealier progress on the capabilities below.

Click here to read the next blog in Chris’ series about the benefits of creating an integrated MAT

Cosima Baring - 19 November, 2018

Category : Blog

5 things to see at the Academies Show

With just a few days to go until the Academies Show Birmingham, we’ve done a quick round-up of 5 of the most informative talks you should go and see whilst you’re there. Image 1: The Schools & Academies Show 2018 will be held at the NEC in Birmingham 1. Panel Discussion: Now we really need

With just a few days to go until the Academies Show Birmingham, we’ve done a quick round-up of 5 of the most informative talks you should go and see whilst you’re there.


Image 1: The Schools & Academies Show 2018 will be held at the NEC in Birmingham

1. Panel Discussion: Now we really need to talk about Funding

Speakers: Stephen Morales, Chief Executive of Institute of School Business Leadership (ISBL), Tom Goldman, Deputy Director of Funding Policy Unit at the DfE, and Debbie Clinton, CEO of the Academy Transformation Trust

When: 10:00 – 10:40

Where: Main Stage

What: If you’re unsure of exactly what the National Funding Formula will mean for your school & schools across the country, this is a great chance to hear from the experts. Panelists will discuss concerns surrounding the formula’s implementation, including whether pupil premium should be ring-fenced, what effect the proposed 3% limit on annual funding increases will have, and the continuing role of Local Authorities in directing additional funding. Speakers are a mix of business professionals, education experts & practitioners, so this should be an interesting and informative debate!

Chaired by: Tom Clark CBE, GovNet Education Advisory Board

 

2. Presentation: The Importance of MATs            

 Speaker: Dominic Herrington, Interim National Schools Commissioner

When: 13:45 – 14:00

Where: Main stage

What: In one of his first speaking engagements in his new role, Dominic Herrington, Interim National Schools Commissioner, will be talking on the main stage about the importance of MATs in delivering school improvement. Drawing on his experience as Regional Schools Commissioner for South-East England and South London since 2014, he’ll discuss how the DfE plans to raise school standards in England through academy sponsorship & better provision for MATs. Whether you’re already in a MAT, thinking about joining one, or have yet to make up your mind on them, this is a great chance to hear from a highly-placed decision-maker about future plans for MATs in England.

 

3. Presentation: Transforming Schools through the MAT System

  Speaker: Wayne Norrie, CEO, Greenwood Academies Trust

When: 15:40 – 16:10

Where: MAT Summit

What: Wayne Norrie was appointed the CEO of the Greenwood Academies Trust (GAT) in 2016. GAT currently has 34 academies (23 primary, 8 secondary & 3 special), all located in areas of the East Midlands with the highest levels of social deprivation. With over 10 years of experience supporting schools in challenging circumstances, Wayne will discuss how joining a MAT can provide academies with additional support and how incorporating failing schools into a successful MAT can help improve pupil outcomes.

 

4. Presentation: The MAT Landscape – State of Play

  Speaker: Leora Cruddas, CEO of Confederation of Schools Trust (CST)

Where: MAT Summit

When: 13:10 – 13:40

What: Leora Cruddas has over 15 years experience in the Education sector. Currently CEO of Confederation of School Trusts (CST), she has previously held positions in two London Local Authorities as Director of Education, as well as Director of Policy and Public Relations for the Association of School and College Leaders. Leora will share her take on the current MAT narrative in England, as well as how she believes we can change that narrative through ‘Factfulness’.

 

5. The Arbor Stand!

When: All day

Where: Stand D52

What: Don’t forget to visit us at stand D52 in the Exhibitor Zone between talks! If you’ve got any questions about moving to Arbor’s simple, smart, cloud-based MIS and how it could transform the way your school or MAT operates, this is your chance to come and chat to us. Feel free to stop by to watch one of our live demos throughout the day, or just drop by and pick up a free brochure to have a flick through on your way home. If you can’t make it, don’t worry – there’ll be plenty more chances to come and meet us over the course of this year. Keep an eye on our blog for updates on events that we’ll be attending.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to book your ticket to our free MAT Conference next month on strategies for sustainably scaling your MAT! Click here to see the full agenda and reserve your free place

Chris Kirk - 14 November, 2018

Category : Blog

Six powerful principles to include in any MAT strategy

In the first blog in this series I shared research which indicates MATs need to be clearer about their vision, even though different MATs will rightly have different visions.  I would suggest that the following principles are likely to underpin the vision for many MATs as they grow and mature: Six powerful principles to include

In the first blog in this series I shared research which indicates MATs need to be clearer about their vision, even though different MATs will rightly have different visions.  I would suggest that the following principles are likely to underpin the vision for many MATs as they grow and mature:

Six powerful principles to include in any MAT strategy:

1. An inquisitive approach to curriculum and pedagogy, framed from the top and led from the middle

2. Consistent and regular performance data which is;

a) standardised (between Academies),
b) balanced (measuring what we value, rather than valuing only what we can easily measure),
c) integrated (the data is generated through activity which would be useful to the teacher, not just to create reports),
d) layered (different people can use it for different purposes without recreating burdensome collection),
e) benchmarked (we know how it compares to others)
f) formative and summative and well understood by all

3. High quality governance which is clear about authority and delegation

4. Leadership and management which is focused on outcomes, which inspires, and which aims for “subsidiarity”, with decisions being made where they are most effective

5. A culture of personal development and learning for staff as much as students

6. A clear growth strategy which balances economy with capacity, geographic focus, due diligence and a clear ‘deal’ for new joining schools.

These principles are a good start but a MAT needs a clear view about the capabilities which will deliver them.

Six core capabilities for MATs*


*Capability: a combination of people, systems and processes

The importance of systems to enable collaboration is often overlooked

It is traditional to think of MAT capabilities in terms of the first five of the list above.  However, I believe that there is a significant additional capability which can be built systematically: purposeful collaboration can bridge the gap between chaotic innovation, and stifling standardisation.

Technology can help scale collaboration between stakeholders

Paul Shoesmith, ICT lead for CJK Associates says that  “technologies can help to support collaboration between students, and between teachers and students.  Setting up, configuring and managing such systems can be challenging at an individual school level, but by sharing best practice across schools the investment in time which is often required to get those systems working effectively the benefits can be realised more quickly and at a lower cost, in time as well as financially.”

The way each MAT approaches the six principles and core capabilities will reflect size, context, and level of maturity.  In the next three blogs I will set out a possible pathway, considering the management style, organisation, systems, processes and policies that are likely to be put in place over time.

Click here to read the next instalment of Chris’ blog on managing MAT growth

Chris Kirk - 8 November, 2018

Category : Blog

Why MATs need to sharpen their strategy

A vision for Multi Academy Trusts: a 5-part blog series written for Arbor by Chris Kirk, Ex-Partner for Education at PWC and formerly GEMS/DfE.  The launch of the Confederation of School Trusts on Thursday 11 October 2018 is a huge step forwards for those of us who believe it is essential that we create a school

A vision for Multi Academy Trusts: a 5-part blog series written for Arbor by Chris Kirk, Ex-Partner for Education at PWC and formerly GEMS/DfE. 

The launch of the Confederation of School Trusts on Thursday 11 October 2018 is a huge step forwards for those of us who believe it is essential that we create a school system which is led from the middle.  For this to be a reality, we need to increase the pace of development of MATs as highly effective networks of schools, collaborating not only within, but between Trusts.

This five part blog sets out a framework for sharpening MAT strategy with powerful principles and core capabilities, followed by three stages of growth:

  • Putting the basics in place;
  • Creating an integrated MAT;
  • Systematic collaboration.

Why MATs need to sharpen their strategy

Strategy varies between MATs, which is a good thing

When asked about the focus of their strategy, MATs give a wide range of responses.  Most MATs seek to preserve school identity whilst improving back office efficiency – often by centralising systems and staff – with a collaborative approach to standardisation. But there are much wider ranges of views when it comes to scaling tried and tested school improvement models, creating consistent pedagogy, boosting local governance, or MAT-wide enrichment programmes.  

However, sometimes strategy varies within a MAT, which points to lack of clarity

This variation in MAT strategy is in my view a good thing, as there is certainly not one right way to work: context is very important, and very different between MATs.  What is more surprising is that our research indicates that there is just as much variation of view of strategy within many MATs.  This is less welcome.  The most effective leaders have the ability to develop a vision which is strongly influenced by their followers’ needs, creating a climate of collective aspirations.  Within a MAT, this must surely mean a clear vision focused on the difference made for students, schools, communities and the system, supported by a realistic and shared strategy which is honest about capacity and has high expectations for all.

It follows then that a significant task for MAT leaders is to build a common vision and view of strategy within their MAT.  In the second blog in this series I will set out 6 principles and 6 core competencies that I believe should underpin every MAT vision.

Click here to read part 2 of Chris’ blog series about the 6 principles that MATs should always include in their strategy

Arbor - 4 November, 2018

Category : Blog

Is your MAT governance structure scalable?

This blog is a transcript of a talk from our 2018 MAT Conference given by Sarah Pittam, Director at SLG Consulting. Sarah explains how different governance structures and processes can scale effectively as your MAT grows. We’ve transcribed her presentation below.   We’ve talked about a number of stages of the MAT growth scale today.

This blog is a transcript of a talk from our 2018 MAT Conference given by Sarah Pittam, Director at SLG Consulting. Sarah explains how different governance structures and processes can scale effectively as your MAT grows. We’ve transcribed her presentation below.

 

We’ve talked about a number of stages of the MAT growth scale today. I’m going to focus on the governance aspect of that growth scale.

1. The type of governance required depends on the size of your trust

In the early phases, you’re likely to have a board that is dominated by legacy membership. You will have inherited the boards of your founding schools, and there will be many people who will assume that they should automatically graduate to the MAT board. This is a problem, as these people simply may not have the skills that your Trust board requires.

As you grow, you must create financial stability, steady state governance, and effectively evolve the quality of your governance.  Quality of governance is about three main things:

  • The quality of processes
  • The quality of structures
  • The most important thing is the behaviours and skills that the individuals on your board are going to bringStructures and processes aren’t that hard. It’s the people and how they behave and equip themselves in the role that really makes the difference between good, bad and outstanding governance.

    Once you reach regional trust size/stage, you need to ensure that your governance model works at scale. You need to have future-proofed it with the right people, the right processes, the right subcommittees, the right board-paper format, with a collection of people on your board who have the right skills, who are strategic thinkers, who work well together, and who all sit as front-benchers.

2. It’s a totally different ball game from LA maintained governance

This is quite difficult sometimes to make others realise, but it is something that you have to communicate to your members. There will always be an initial perception gap between you and your legacy members. After all, they’ve been on the board for 5 years and from their point of view, everything is going well. You need to try and explain to them that they were at the wheel of a ford fiesta, and now you’re driving a Ferrari. It’s a difficult question, but you need to find a way to have that conversation.

The lack of independence that comes when people graduate from a governing body/LGB straight to the Trust’s board is a problem. People often think that they are representing the interests of their school, but that’s just incorrect. The same applies to parents – I’d really advise against having parents on the Trust’s board. It is rare, and it’s rare for a good reason.

There will always be a culture challenge. People will say, ‘we’ve always done it like this, why do we have to do something else? The Local Authority used to do it all for us!’. What they don’t realise is that the LA-maintained context is so different from the MAT context because the reporting compliance requirements are so much greater.

3. Recruiting the Chair & your board

Recruiting the Chair is really difficult in any size MAT, whether it’s a 2, 5, 10, 20, or a 50 school MAT. Don’t underestimate this! It’s particularly hard if you’ve got turnaround challenges, because much more time is required, and very difficult if you’re in a high growth phase. The Chair really is in the hot seat. He or she is not paid, and they might be spending a day a week or even more on this. It is difficult to find a top quality Chair, but hang in there; don’t just hope for the best. You should be very picky!

So what should you look for in a Chair? You need someone with a social mission. The vast majority of governors & trustees do and it’s an absolute prerequisite. It’s a necessary but not sufficient condition however; they must also bring something to the party. It should be an identifiable, generic and transferable skill set – e.g. if you’re looking for a growth manager, you must look for someone who has experience in managing growth in an organisation moving from £10 to £20 million turnover (if those are the sort of numbers you’re talking about).

You should populate your board with people who understand the form and the function of governance. Ask the basic question: what are the objectives of this board? Fewer than 50% of people know what the answer to that question is. Try to find people who have had internal governance experience previously, as they’re more likely to understand the form, function and objectives of governance. It is not just something to put on your CV. It’s to support and challenge, to hold to account, to form strategy, and to act as a custodian of public funds and public policy. These are responsibilities that need to be taken seriously

A board structure that scales is the easy part…it’s working out the right scheme of delegation for your trust that is much more difficult. Read what Sarah had to say in the second half of her presentation here!

Arbor - 4 November, 2018

Category : Blog

Hugh Greenway, The Elliot Foundation: My guide to running a successful MAT (part 2)

Hugh Greenway, CEO of the Elliot Foundation, recently spoke at our MAT conference Scaling Sustainably: Centralisation vs. School Autonomy. This blog is the second part of a two-part blog series on his presentation – in part 1, Hugh spoke about the challenge of scaling a MAT without adequate funding. Here, he goes on to say

Hugh Greenway, CEO of the Elliot Foundation, recently spoke at our MAT conference Scaling Sustainably: Centralisation vs. School Autonomy. This blog is the second part of a two-part blog series on his presentation – in part 1, Hugh spoke about the challenge of scaling a MAT without adequate funding. Here, he goes on to say that creating trust among the people in your MAT is crucial to running a successful operation. We’ve transcribed part two of his presentation below.

Creating something from nothing

In order to successfully create a school-led system, we must ask ourselves two questions:

Question 1: Am I doing everything I can to improve outcomes for as many children as possible with the resources available to me today?

Question 2: Are the outcomes good enough?

The difficulty with Q1 is that it can make it difficult to get out of bed some mornings. Therefore, you have to find different ways and different people to help you ask the question in different ways. This is my latest version:

The questions that need to be asked are as follows: Are all children safe? Where do they learn? What do they learn? How do they learn? Who do they learn from? Can we pay for it? Does it work? Is it compliant?

Each of these questions relates back to a relevant operational part of the MAT, about which we can ask various questions to see if we are creating the best learning environment for our children using what we have available to us.  

Think about your finances, for example. If you think that you’ve saved money on photocopiers and/or stationery, you probably haven’t. You just think you have. I can tell you that by implementing print management and switching off colour printing, you can save up to 50% on your print costs now. Schools don’t actually need to print in colour. But here’s the thing: your photocopy costs will be less than 1% of total costs, so even saving you 50% will only deliver a 0.33 of 1% point saving – which might not be worth the uproar you will face from teachers!

The benefits of good governance

The real savings come from building trust with your people. At the beginning of the previous blog, I said that there were no volume discounts on teachers. Well, you can save money on them by treating them better.

This in turn leads to systems which transcend individual schools. If you think about your trust as a tent that needs to be kept upright against any inclement weather, then you need guy ropes. Each guy rope represents a golden thread that runs through the organisation.

In order to be sure that things are as good as they can be you need to check the tension on the guy rope. The inputs and the outputs.

How do we know that all children are safe or that the provision of education is improving? What evidence do we have? And what do we then do with that evidence? Which employee is responsible? Which trustee and which committee has oversight and what does good look like?

For example:

  • The inputs to ‘educationally improving’ are simple: OFSTED reports, phonics, KS1 & KS2 results, RSC letters etc.
  • The outputs are academy improvement plans linked to budgets, TATA reports, and trust/school improvement priorities. The employee responsible for this is me. The Committee is “Standards” and the Trustee is the Chair of Standards. But stakeholders engaged with a sense of agency is more nuanced

Obviously there needs to be a limit to the number of guy ropes, because otherwise you’d spend all your time running round and never get to sleep in your tent.

For those who find that analogy a bit fluffy, here is a slightly harder nosed way of looking at the current way I look at our system:

In brief, the Trust board is accountable to the DfE, which in turn is accountable to the children and the community. Within the the MAT, the staff are accountable to the principal, who reports to regional directors, who report to the CEO. There is then a web of support and representation that links the finance committee, LGBs, the audit committee and the standards committee, as well as NUC unions, an ops group and the principals’ council. A feedback loop runs through the MAT, connecting children to staff, staff to principals and principals to the CEO & trust board.

No roadblocks or concentrations of power.

But, at the end of the day it comes down to trust, and that is where we turn our greatest weakness into our greatest strength. Because if we can deploy our values in such a way that they generate value, then we all have a chance.

Arbor - 4 November, 2018

Category : Blog

Hugh Greenway, The Elliot Foundation: My guide to running a successful MAT

At our MAT conference, Scaling Sustainably: Centralisation vs. School Autonomy, Hugh Greenway, CEO of the Elliot Foundation spoke about the challenge of keeping the “big picture” in view when managing operations across a trust, arguing that this is the biggest challenge to scaling a MAT. We’ve transcribed part 1 of his presentation below. Introduction: The

At our MAT conference, Scaling Sustainably: Centralisation vs. School Autonomy, Hugh Greenway, CEO of the Elliot Foundation spoke about the challenge of keeping the “big picture” in view when managing operations across a trust, arguing that this is the biggest challenge to scaling a MAT. We’ve transcribed part 1 of his presentation below.

Introduction: The job of a MAT CEO

I was at a DfE meeting recently where the job of being a MAT CEO was explained as being, “to find what works and make it scalable”.  But education has always been and always will be mostly unscalable. You don’t get volume discounts on teachers (which are between 65-85% of your costs). The 1,000th teacher costs the same as the first one. What economies of scale you can achieve on your other costs are generally lost to the costs of running the system.

I set up the Elliot Foundation with my friend Caroline Whalley. She was the visionary, I was builder. But what did we set out to do?

The idea behind the Elliot Foundation was to build a safe place for primary schools and to try to protect them from the unintended consequences of academy reforms. We could see that the fragmentation of the system was likely to lead to hundreds, if not thousands of orphaned primary schools, with no one able or prepared to help them.

We set out to build this with three core ideas:

  1. To bring an end to the deficit model
  2. To create a genuine school-to-school model where expertise, decision making and money was kept as close to children as possible
  3. To build a primary voice

So – how’s it going?

The Elliot Foundation currently has 27 schools – that’s around 10,000 children (growing to 30,000). Two thirds of these schools are sponsored and 4 out of 8 converters were RI jumpers.

We’ve had 19 inspections so far, with 7 schools being awarded Oustanding, 10 awarded Good, and 2 Requiring Improvement. Out of the 6 Outstanding sponsored primaries in the West Midlands, 3 of those belong to the Elliot Foundation. But Age Related Expectations are not good enough. They’re probably at about 55% (validated). There are Pupil Premium and EAL gaps in East Anglia.

You can see from the numbers below that our schools are in the most deprived quartile:

Whilst you were reading the statistics, did you notice anything odd about the diagram above? Anything… gorilla-shaped? This idea is based on a famous 1990s psychology experiment that you can find on YouTube (but I’m afraid I’m now about to ruin for you). The difficulty is that nearly all MAT CEOs are former Headteachers, and they view the world through the lens of their experience. They see children, teachers and schools.

But they don’t see the gorilla. Do you see it now?

Unlike the academics at the DfE, I believe that our job as MAT CEOs is to create and maintain systems that keep schools, safe, solvent, structurally sound, legally compliant and educationally improving.

How do you scale without the money to scale?

Back in 2001 our system costs were handsomely funded – LAs used to retain around 16%. When the academy project was expanded by the coalition government in 2010, this had fallen to 12%, and academies had to make do with 8%. When the LACSEG was replaced by the ESG, it had fallen to £160 per pupil (around 3.5%). Today, each of us is personally accountable and potentially criminally liable for maintaining these systems. Yet we are given…nothing. Not even the most frugal of SME would run its head office on less than 5% of total. And in the UK, charities average closer to around 10%.

And yet, we have accepted this bargain by taking our system costs out of individual schools’ funding – and more often than not, by not taking enough, because we don’t want to. In doing so, we have tacitly accepted that our schools were over-funded. So, next time you sign your VfM declaration, you can point out that you have achieved VfM, even if you have only maintained standards (because you are doing so for much less than we used to get paid!).

The real pinch is that we cannot opt out of the law of the land (although that doesn’t stop the ESFA and the National College trying). Indeed, academy legislation is the first time in UK legal history that a government has used primary legislation to alter the terms of contract. By prioritising children we have simply put ourselves in the firing line. Asbestos compliance trumps school improvement. The Equalities Act is more important than SATs. GDPR (so help me) will be more important than SEND.

We all know that this is not true or fair. And this is the gorilla that we cannot see.

Moral purpose is the gorilla that killed Kids Company. And we will be victims of our vocation if we do not get a little more open and honest about how difficult this is.

The only way we can afford to have a moral purpose is to get a whole lot better at creating something from nothing. Fortunately, that’s what Primary schools are really good at.

Click here to read part two of Hugh’s presentation.

Stephen Higgins - 2 November, 2018

Category : Blog

6 steps to create an effective interventions strategy

As a former Secondary school middle leader, I know how effective a well planned, and well executed intervention can be. That said, I also understand what a detrimental effect a poorly planned, badly-executed one can have! Interventions are incredibly expensive in terms of material cost, staff and student time, and it’s often very hard to

As a former Secondary school middle leader, I know how effective a well planned, and well executed intervention can be. That said, I also understand what a detrimental effect a poorly planned, badly-executed one can have! Interventions are incredibly expensive in terms of material cost, staff and student time, and it’s often very hard to find out what works and what doesn’t, particularly when you’re dealing with larger groups of students. In this blog, I’ll share a strategy that I developed during my time as a teacher, and talk about how Arbor can help alleviate the administrative burden of planning, managing, and monitoring interventions.

Step 1: Define the outcome

The first thing you need to do when planning an intervention is to think about its outcome, or, in other words, what you want your students to achieve by the end of the intervention. The outcome of an intervention should be SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Timely

For example, students may reach their Phonics targets by the end of that term, or a student could have 100% attendance over the 4 week intervention period.  

Step 2: Carefully plan your intervention

For an intervention to succeed, planning is essential! Your intervention will need to be planned differently depending on the scale, scope and target students. Once you’ve successfully devised an effective, well-planned intervention, it can be used time and time again.

Ask yourself the following questions when planning your intervention:

  • Which students/groups of students will the intervention target?
  • What do I want the students to have achieved by the end of the intervention?
  • What resources will I need?
  • What individual strategies an we put into action?

Image 1: Our MIS helps you plan the dates, participant criteria and outcomes of your interventions, and schedule intervention reviews

Step 3: Start small

I’ve always found that starting small, or using a ‘control group’ of students is a great way to test out your intervention and to learn what does & doesn’t work. It’s much easier to plan your next steps and measure progress when you’re dealing with a small, manageable group of young people, and it’s also a much better way to get feedback from the students themselves. Share the intervention’s outcomes with them and ask them if they think they’re making progress; after all, they are the key stakeholders!

I’ve spoken to schools that have conducted blanket after-school interventions across large sections of the student body, especially during key points of the year like SATs, or GCSEs. This approach is incredibly costly in terms of staff time and financial resource, and often doesn’t yield good results. Start your test groups at the start of the year, learn from them first, then build up to whole school initiatives.

Step 4: Scale up your intervention

Once you’ve got something that works, you’ll need to scale it up. When doing so, it’s always wise to keep the following in mind:  

  • How will I manage staff time?
  • How will this affect students’ learning time?
  • How can I manage costs?
  • How do I keep parents and other members of staff informed about the progress of the intervention?
  • How can I best manage resources? (e.g. room allocation)
  • How do I make sure students attend my interventions?
  • What’s the best way to continually monitor impact?

Image 2: How to measure & track intervention costs in Arbor’s MIS

You should have an answer for all these questions before you begin scaling up your intervention, otherwise you might find yourself in a difficult situation.

Step 5: Make sure you’re monitoring progress

It’s easy to start an intervention initiative and expect it to “just work”. I made this mistake early on in my career: if students are leaving my lesson to work with a Teaching Assistant on their literacy, surely that will help them to improve? Ultimately, every child is unique; what works for one student may not work for another. Continually monitoring each student’s progress towards the intervention’s desired outcome is essential. Remember, the outcome must be measurable.

With all of the above, you should be able to lean on your MIS system to do some of this work for you. Arbor’s built-in Interventions module makes planning, monitoring and reporting on interventions easy, and saves you hours a week on repetitive data entry & admin tasks. You can quickly target students and measure the success of an intervention by defining your desired outcome based on student data points in the MIS, and track student’s progress in real time as they progress through the intervention. You can also easily manage intervention costs, timetable interventions and provision maps.

Image 3: Easily monitor how students are getting on via Arbor’s Student Profile as they progress through an intervention

Step 6: Share best practice!

Finally, running effective interventions is a brilliant learning process, not only for your students, but also for you and the other teachers at your school. Sharing best practice with colleagues not only helps others to learn from your successes and failures, but also provides you with valuable feedback from other professionals.

If you’d like to find out more about how Arbor’s simple, smart cloud-based MIS could help you manage interventions at your school, send us a message or call us on 0208 050 1028.

Cosima Baring - 30 October, 2018

Category : Blog

Scaling your MAT sustainably: Different ways to centralise to achieve economies of scale

Last April, we held the first in our series of free MAT CEO conferences. Over 100 Executive Leaders representing 72 MATs nationally came to London to network, exchange best practice advice, and listen to our speakers discuss strategies for achieving sustainable growth. We had such a positive response from attendees that we’ve decided to hold

Last April, we held the first in our series of free MAT CEO conferences. Over 100 Executive Leaders representing 72 MATs nationally came to London to network, exchange best practice advice, and listen to our speakers discuss strategies for achieving sustainable growth. We had such a positive response from attendees that we’ve decided to hold a second – this time at the Co-Op Academies HQ in Manchester!

The landscape for MATs in England is constantly evolving, and the debate continues around the best ways for trusts to successfully manage growth, including questions over how much autonomy MATs should afford their schools. Whilst a number of studies have been published by the DfE and other research bodies in an effort to guide new and existing MATs as they grow (including this Expectations for Growth Report from 2016), exchanging and learning from good practice remains an effective way for MATs to navigate this landscape.

With that in mind, the next instalment of Arbor’s free MAT conference series will bring together Executive Leaders from across the country in Manchester to hear other MAT CEO & Senior Leaders from different-sized MATs tell their stories about scaling. Speakers including Luke Sparkes (Dixons Academies Trust), Claire-Marie Cuthbert (The Evolve Trust), Mark Williams (The Co-Op Academies Trust) & Karen Burns (Victorious Academies Trust) will discuss scaling everything from their strategy, operations, central team process & systems to their reporting, governance and culture. Also on the program is a presentation from Ofsted’s Regional Director for the North West, Andrew Cook, who’ll talk about what Ofsted looks for in a MAT’s ability to provide school improvement. We’ll finish with a open, roundtable discussion between Northern MAT CEOs about what has and hasn’t worked for them on their journeys so far.

Click here to see the full agenda and sign up for your FREE ticket!

With over 100 delegates from MATs across the country expected to attend, we’ve left plenty of time between talks (and organised a free buffet lunch!) to allow for networking and conversation between delegates. Guests will leave with a series of relevant, practical and implementable steps to take back to their MATs and help them grow sustainably, as well as new MAT contacts to keep in touch with.

Finally, if you can’t make it, don’t worry! We’ll be publishing all the presentations from the conference on our blog, so keep an eye out and keep checking our Twitter & LinkedIn for updates. In the meantime, why not have a read of the presentation given at our last conference by Dominic Norrish, Group Director of Technology at United Learning, about how and when to scale systems within your MAT?

 

Full programme for the day:

 

09:45 – 10:00: 4 different ways of centralising data & ops across your MAT

James Weatherill, CEO, Arbor Education

 

10:00 – 10:30: How to scale culture across your schools

Mark Williams, Director of Education at Co-op Academies Trust

 

10:30 – 11:00: Ofsted’s new framework & MAT’s capacity for school improvement

Andrew Cook, Regional Director for the North West, Ofsted

 

11:00 – 11:30 : Networking break

 

11:35 – 12:05: How to centralise your back office to help scale

Will Jordan, Education Sector Manager, PS Financials

 

12:10 – 12:40: Improve collaboration within your MAT and across school phases

Claire-Marie Cuthbert, CEO at The Evolve Trust

 

12:40 – 13:40: Lunch

 

13:40 – 14:10: A new model to make your MAT structures more agile & responsive

Luke Sparkes, Executive Principal at Dixons Academies Trust

 

14:10 – 14:50: Roundtable

Phil Crompton, Former CEO at Trent Academies Group

Karen Burns, CEO at Victorious Academies Trust

Chris Kirk, Ex-Partner for Education at PwC, formerly GEMS DfE & Director at CJK Associates

 

14:50 – 15:20: MAT Mergers: what to do right and what to avoid!

Speaker TBC

 

15:20 – 16:00: Networking break

 

Arbor - 17 October, 2018

Category : Blog

The DfE’s ASP service helps you ask the important questions – Arbor can help you answer them

Our take on Analyse School Performance (ASP) The DfE launched its new, slimmed down service called Analyse School Performance (ASP) to replace RAISEonline in April last year. ASP is intended to be a sister service to Compare School Performance (which helps you benchmark your school’s performance), and was designed to be a simpler and more straightforward service than RAISEonline.

Our take on Analyse School Performance (ASP)

The DfE launched its new, slimmed down service called Analyse School Performance (ASP) to replace RAISEonline in April last year. ASP is intended to be a sister service to Compare School Performance (which helps you benchmark your school’s performance), and was designed to be a simpler and more straightforward service than RAISEonline. In theory, this sounds great – but what’s it actually like using ASP for meaningful performance analysis?

At first glance, ASP does seem easier to use and more useful than RAISEonline. It’s not flashy – but to get a quick overview of your data, ASP works well. The charts are clearer to read than in the old RAISEonline, and some less frequently used data (like confidence intervals) have been dropped, which makes it easier to digest your data at a high level.

But what about if you want to dig deeper into your performance? Below we show you how ASP can help your Senior Leadership team get an overview to ask the right questions – but how you’ll need to use other performance analysis tools like Arbor Insight to go one level deeper and help you answer them.

Using Arbor alongside ASP

As in the old RAISEonline, ASP shows users an overview of headline and key measures for your school. The problem is, seeing your performance at such a high level doesn’t help you truly understand why your school performed as it did.

Analysing Progress 8 in ASP

For example, after seeing this chart on Attainment 8 in ASP, schools might wonder:

  • The school is below the National average, but is it moving in the right direction? What’s the trend?
  • Does this school have a particularly challenging intake? How does the Attainment 8 data compare with similar schools?

Analysing Progress 8 in Arbor

Services like Arbor can help you answer these questions. Our reports (like the example shown above) use trend data to help you see how your performance has changed over time, and we benchmark your school not just nationally and locally, but against similar schools and Outstanding schools too.

The DfE has also introduced scatter graphs in ASP. These graphs are helpful in that they allow schools to see individual students’ attainment on a key metric, and identify whether there are any trends with other measures. For example, the scatter graph below shows the correlation between KS2 prior attainment and KS4 Progress 8 score.

An example scatter graph in ASP

Again, whilst this graph is good at giving an overview, schools might need to look elsewhere to answer key questions this graph raises such as:​

  • Progress in English GCSE is correlated with prior attainment for this school. How significant is this? Should it be the main priority for the school?
  • Non disadvantaged pupils are getting higher Progress 8 scores than disadvantaged pupils at this school. Are the non disadvantaged pupils doing as well as non disadvantaged pupils nationally? What about locally?

Benchmarking different groups in Arbor

In Arbor we help schools answer these questions by using plain text call outs to explain how significant a trend is. We also benchmark different groups within your school against each other, and against national and local averages to help you see your performance in a more holistic context.

Use Arbor to give you the edge in discussions with Ofsted, and to provide context to your governors

Using Arbor Insight reports, like the ones shown above, can give you an extra advantage when an inspector calls. Our reports can help you show things like:

  • “We’re doing as well as the average Good or Outstanding school”
  • “We’re doing better than schools with similar intakes to ours”
  • “We’ve made clear progress towards closing our attainment and progress gaps”

Arbor Insight reports help you present the real story behind your data – sometimes this isn’t clear just from looking at your average headline measures for the current year. Once you understand the real picture you can have much more constructive conversations with stakeholders like Ofsted and your Governors to help you focus on your priority areas for the year ahead.

Want to find out more? Read our blog about how Arbor Insight can help your governors get to grips with data here

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

James Weatherill - 8 October, 2018

Category : Blog

6 steps to reduce teachers’ data workload

Reducing time spent on data and assessment is the key to reducing additional teacher 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

Reducing time spent on data and assessment is the key to reducing additional teacher 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 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.

6 steps to reduce teachers’ data workload

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

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.

 

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% – we expect over 1,000 schools to switch this year alone! 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

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!

James Weatherill - 5 September, 2018

Category : Blog , Uncategorized

Questions you should ask your MIS about GDPR

Questions you should ask your MIS about GDPR As you’ve no-doubt seen from the relentless marketing by third-parties – GDPR came into force in schools in May 2018! The below is our take on the questions you should ask your suppliers, including your MIS to ensure you’re GDPR ready. Just copy and paste! Why should

Questions you should ask your MIS about GDPR

As you’ve no-doubt seen from the relentless marketing by third-parties – GDPR came into force in schools in May 2018! The below is our take on the questions you should ask your suppliers, including your MIS to ensure you’re GDPR ready. Just copy and paste!

Why should schools & MATs care about GDPR?

GDPR introduced significant new compliance obligations for schools and new requirements for the processing of children’s data, notably increased governance requirements and much higher fines if schools & MATs fail to comply (upto the greater of €20m or 4% turnover). Ensuring compliance is unfortunately a good deal of work, but you can lean on your systems providers to do a lot of the heavy lifting for you.

Questions to ask your MIS

Your MIS is the key source of student and staff information you have in your school, including most of what GDPR would constitute ‘personal data.’ It’s important when preparing for GDPR that you ensure that your MIS is compliant, then you can switch attention to other suppliers and systems that feed off the data in your MIS.

What GDPR Introduces Why should schools & MATs care? Questions for your MIS
Extends the definition of personal data Increased data protection processes and procedures to document What is your current MIS’ Information Security Management System (ISMS)?

Does your MIS have any current data protection and cyber qualifications (e.g. ISO 27001, Cyber Essentials Plus)

Higher penalties for breaches and non-notification (upto the greater of €20m or 4% turnover) Schools need to audit their systems and suppliers to check compliance

Increased risk, especially for MATs who are data controllers for multiple schools

Do your data protection terms flow down to sub-processors so you’re covered?

Is your MIS liable for any act or omission by these sub-vendors?

Extends the rights of individuals to their data Parents and students can request a greater amount of information from schools, and schools need to be able to give it to them easily Can your MIS export a full list of fields for student and guardian data?
New breach reporting requirements Appointment of a Data Protection Officer who is up-to-date on legislation and can respond appropriately

If you as a MAT pool your data centrally in a dashboard or central schoolview, does that meet GDPR requirements around permissioning and data pooling?

Has your Data Protection Officer audited your MIS to ensure compliance and assess risk using the questions above?

Does your MAT central data meet GDPR requirements ensuring that data is permissioned and each school’s sensitive data is kept separate?

Additional governance requirements

What should your schools be doing now?

There’s a lot of scaremongering by third parties, but Iain Bradley (Head of Data Modernisation) at the DfE has written what I think is a very useful blog that discusses the steps schools should be taking now.

  1. Think where personal data is captured during school life – this is likely to include admissions, parental forms, assessment, school trips etc
  2. Think about where that data is used – generally it’s for contacting people, for tracking education, or for maintaining regular school facilities and activities like libraries and canteens.  Several, but not all of your systems, may interconnect with the core management information system (MIS)
  3. Think who you share that data with – for schools this commonly includes local authorities, multi-academy trusts, the DfE and beyond.
  4. Start to ask questions to your system providers – you can use our list above for MIS.

The above steps are often best captured in a data mapping exercise which we’ve done at Arbor, and which Iain from the DfE has done at the primary school where he’s a governor. A copy of the picture is below.

How Arbor can help

Arbor exceeds current data security recommendations. We’re ISO 27001 compliant (the standard in data protection certification), on the government’s G-Cloud framework and accredited to hold sensitive data. We also stress test our processes and procedures by getting tested by third parties and holding cyber qualifications.

We’ve put a presentation together that sums up these points which you can read by clicking here. All in all, GDPR is something that schools should consider seriously, but you should lean on your providers to help alleviate the burden.

 

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 last 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.

Daniel Giardiello - 25 June, 2018

Category : Blog

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

Five years have passed since the 2013 review of the National Curriculum first gave schools the chance to Assess Without Levels (AWOL).

In this blog, I’ll talk about the initial interpretations of these reforms, the challenges that they created for schools and just how this opportunity can be used to meet the needs of learners more effectively. With over 13 years of teaching under my belt, this blog is informed by my own personal experience, and I’d welcome any stories that you may have about ‘going AWOL’ with assessments in the last few years!

Into the unknown

In 2013 I was appointed Deputy Head of a special school for children with Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) needs. Assessment reforms had just been announced, so it was a tricky time to venture into leadership as I had to really challenge my own position on assessments (at the same time as getting to grips with being a Senior Leader). I became involved in local focus groups, during which we would collectively try to make sense of what the changes meant for our schools (having been given very little official guidance on the matter!). We spent a lot of time going over our options before ultimately reverting back to a ‘safety in numbers’ approach, deciding to assess using statistically driven systems. In many ways, this wasn’t so different from levels…!

On reflection, this sudden autonomy to assess any way we liked was, whilst being a step in the right direction, perhaps too big a change for many teachers. The majority of qualified teachers practicing in England who were tasked with carrying out AWOL reforms came into the profession after 1989 (levels were introduced at the same time as the National Curriculum to schools in England & Wales under the Education Reform Act 1988). Therefore, most people involved in school level decision making, myself included, had very little experience of assessing in a way that wasn’t primarily focussed on national benchmarking and age-related expectations.

1. Why do we assess? For the school or for the child?
The research driving the 2013 assessment reforms discovered that in higher performing jurisdictions around the world, children master fewer concepts but in greater depth. Educators make sure key concepts are mastered before moving students on, rather than pushing them all through curriculum content at a uniform pace. These core AWOL principles have received a wide consensus of support, but haven’t been easily implemented in an educational system where a culture of performance comparison is arguably the primary driver for most decision making.

Knowing that your results are constantly being compared against the school down the road, and that you’ll need to be ready to make a case for your school on an accountability framework at the drop of a hat does create a need for schools to seek external assurances that what they are doing is right. A whole marketplace of curriculum tracking software has therefore opened up to help these schools get this. Numerous standardised assessment frameworks are available to give schools an idea of how their internal tracking fares against other schools also using the system. Whilst this is helpful to schools for the purposes of self-evaluation against national criteria, it’s worth noting that the concepts assessed using these methods are established by externally standardised practice only and are not informed by the contextual needs of the students in the school.

In the pressure cooker environment of school leadership where you are constantly balancing operational demands with strategic decisions, it is completely understandable that opting for standardised approaches is more manageable, and will help you to know if you’re “Good” or not. There is certainly a place for this kind of assessment. However, to improve on this, the context of your learners should also play a large part in determining what else you measure as being appropriate progress for them. This is especially the case for SEN pupils, and in my experience SEMH pupils, where provisioning for individual need is hard work – but undeniably more meaningful and rewarding!

2. The opportunities for AFL in the SEN context
Before AWOL, my experience of assessment for SEMH students was that of measuring a specific range of knowledge and skill variables against a national framework and periodically confirming that they were underperforming. I would feed back to them about the ways in which they could improve in these areas but didn’t stop to question the appropriateness of the process itself or the prioritisation of content for them as individuals.

3. When it came to looking at their progress in the purely academic context, they were indeed not making very much. By narrowly focussing on just the academic elements of learning, I was not giving them enough opportunity to build up the cultural capital they would need in order to overcome their difficulties and succeed. It was the learning dispositions such as emotional literacy, self-regulation and conflict resolution that were influencing their lives and decision-making abilities the most, and were also the root cause of academic underperformance in the first place. To be true to the principles of AFL, I needed to incorporate collaborative assessment where pupils became more aware of these metacognitive aspects of learning as well as subject related knowledge and skills.

Aspects of learning such as self-confidence, self-awareness, managing feelings and making relationships receive a lot of attention in the EYFS framework used in early years provision but are broadly left behind in favour of more academic curricula when students reach school age. For many students with SEMH though, these still need to remain at the forefront of their schooling as pushing for academic success can only really be achieved when building from the right social and emotional starting point.

Click here to read the next instalment of my blog, which goes on to talk about how schools can opt for flexible assessments without having to deal with the administrative burden

James Weatherill - 21 June, 2018

Category : Blog

3 ways of centralising data for schools, MATs and LAs

Why bother centralising your data? Schools, Trusts and LAs increasingly ask us how they can centralise their data, but they sometimes don’t know where to start and what their broad options are. Most share the common need of wanting to bring their data together to gain deeper, faster insight into their staff and students, save

Why bother centralising your data?

Schools, Trusts and LAs increasingly ask us how they can centralise their data, but they sometimes don’t know where to start and what their broad options are. Most share the common need of wanting to bring their data together to gain deeper, faster insight into their staff and students, save teachers time endlessly copying and pasting data from multiple systems (and reduce mistakes whilst doing so), whilst saving money by reducing the number of systems they have in the school.

3 ways for centralising your data, and when to do it

From our work with schools, MATs, LAs and governments we’ve seen a lot of different ways of centralising data, but they generally fall into 3 categories.

1. Using Excel/manual exports [best for small schools; MATs with less than 5 schools]

When small, it’s best to keep things simple. Whilst not ideal, excel is the quickest, cheapest and easiest tool to get to do your heavy lifting. Most schools will organise data drops at set times in the year, using permissioned worksheets and data validation to minimise errors, and producing graphs and reports that can act as simple dashboards. New versions of excel can even link live to your systems (we do this in Arbor) so that can be pulled automatically from your MIS, meaning no more data drops and data errors! That said, excel comes with hidden costs, it can involve staff double entering data, takes time to fill in, is prone to errors, and doesn’t scale as your school or MAT grows (in fact it gets harder to administer as you grow).

2. Standardising systems [best for large schools; MATs with more than 5 schools; LAs]

Once a Trust grows to about 5 schools (depending on the complexity of the Trust) the person in charge of collecting and analysing all of the data can often become overwhelmed by the manual process, and as we’ve written about before, this is the time most Trusts look at standardising some core systems to start to automate the process of data collection. It’s worth noting that this step is typically beneficial for all school types; the key is not to leave it too late, as you then end up unpicking all of the manual process within each school.

Once the core systems have been standardised and rationalised into as few systems as practical (e.g. finance, assessment, MIS), then the school, Trust or LA can integrate these systems, ensuring data is only entered once, and use the tools’ internal ability to aggregate their core data and reports. The disadvantage of this approach is the upfront setup time and cost, however if chosen sensibly, these system should be able to payback this in time/money savings within a year or two, lowering overhead, improving reporting capability, allowing the Trust to centralise workflows and communication and ultimately enabling the group to scale.

3. Analytics layer [best for very large schools; MATs with more than 15 schools; LAs]

Without a degree of standardisation in your core systems and data, as described above, achieving an analytics layer can take a lot of time and patience. Custom field names, non-standardisation across schools of assessment, and people simply choosing to record things in different ways at different times lead to increasing complexity. Many systems (like Arbor) integrate with analytics layers such as Microsoft’s PowerBI (which many Trusts are using) out of the box, so once you’ve standardised your MIS, you can spin up an analytics layer in little to no time. This allows you to create custom graphs and charts with the reassurance that the underlying data is accurate – else bad data can lead to bad decisions!

How Arbor can help [click here for slides]

1. Integrate live with Excel/Google: Every table and report in Arbor can be live linked to Excel or Google sheets [slide 18], meaning no more data drops. Schools and Trusts can collect data instantly from several schools, and generate their own simple dashboards, combining MIS, national, HR and external data to create a holistic view of performance

2. Standardising systems: we’ve talked about what systems to standardise and when before. Once standardised, Arbor’s Group dashboards and reports instantly aggregate student and staff data across schools, allowing MATs and LAs the ability to centralise data and take action by logging into systems remotely and performing workflows (e.g. attendance follow-ups)

3. Analytics layer: Arbor integrates with PowerBI out of the box via the excel integration, allowing groups to build their own simple Analytics layers. Our free and open API can also be used for deeper integration with Business Intelligence tools.

Arbor - 6 June, 2018

Category : Blog

5 ways to make sure your MAT governance structure works at scale

This blog is a transcript of the second half of the presentation given by Sarah Pittam at our MAT conference. Drawing on her experience in both top-tier consulting and the education sector, Sarah spoke about MAT governance structures and how to make sure your model works at scale. In this part of her presentation, she

This blog is a transcript of the second half of the presentation given by Sarah Pittam at our MAT conference. Drawing on her experience in both top-tier consulting and the education sector, Sarah spoke about MAT governance structures and how to make sure your model works at scale. In this part of her presentation, she goes on to discuss schemes of delegation, the importance of board papers, and how to make sure LGBs have a meaningful role. Read what she had to say below:

When thinking about your scheme of delegation, you must make sure that:

    • You have proper board papers – that they’re fit for purpose and are answering the right questions
    • The dashboard information is properly presented
    • The non-execs are asking the right questions
    • They’re reading the papers
    • The minutes are reliable
    • There are the right subcommittee structures
  • The other thing that is very important is your scheme of delegation. There are all sorts of templates out there, but you’ll have your own version. It’s an evolving document. Think really carefully about this. This will be driven by your culture and history as a Trust, the nature of the relationship the schools have had before they joined the Trust, and, most critically, how the headteachers feel about the Trust. This is important

How headteachers feel about the loss of autonomy is something that hampers Trust growth all the time. They don’t feel comfortable handing over their autonomy to someone who could potentially undermine the potential of their school, the chances of their children, their school’s next Ofsted judgement, and frankly, their career

  • It’s important to work on evolving this document, getting buy-in from everybody and thinking about:
    • Who gets to make the final decision
    • Who has the right of veto
    • Who has the right of consultation
  • It’s long and it’s tedious, but it’s very important. It may evolve, but try not to be held to ransom by joining schools. In discussions with new school prospects, make sure that both parties share a common understanding, and be as pragmatic as you can

Don’t disempower your LGBs

When things start going well, it’s tempting to want to centralise the power at the center of the MAT. That is a big mistake: if you become too centralised and have all the decision-making power concentrated within the Trust board, you will disempower your Local Governing Bodies and they will feel marginalised. As a result, you’ll lose the best people on your LGB when they spot that all action is happening at the trust board.

You need good people at the LGB level to get into the detail of the academic performance, to codify that information, hold the executive to account on standards and on outcomes at the local level. Try to find a happy medium. Generally speaking, I’ve found that the three big things LGBs feel strongly that they should be involved in are:

    • Setting and approving budgets
    • Appointment of headteachers
    • Performance and management of headteachers

If you can find a way for LGBs to have a meaningful role in the three elements above, give them a reason for being & make them feel empowered, you’ll find it easier to recruit quality people at the LGB level.

If you are a brilliant board, you should be able to answer these questions comprehensively:

  • What is the trust’s strategy?
  • How is the trust going to deliver on that strategy? Is it evidence-based, do you have the people to delivery the strategy?
  • What does the trust need in both governance structures and governance personnel in order to drive that strategy?
  • Where do you and your fellow directors fit into your overall structure and are you and they clear on the roles and responsibilities of the Board, LGBs and Headteachers?
  • How well are you supplied with expertise in the following areas: Finance, HR, Estates and Property, Remuneration, Legals, Change Management/Due Diligence and General Management?
  • How would you assess your performance as a board over the last year?
  • What do you believe you need to do in terms of recruitment to improve the performance of your board?
  • How well do you hold the CEO and his/her senior team to account?

Five final points to leave you with:

To conclude, I’ve rounded up the 5 most important points that you should take away from what I’ve talked about today.

1. Firstly, you must define and drive the strategic direction of the Trust and hold the executive to account. These are the most important objectives of the board

2. Give plenty of consideration to your Scheme of Delegation

3. Don’t allow the board of your growing Trust to be dominated by legacy membership. This can be achieved by having a backbone (by that I mean having the difficult conversations early!)

4. Diversity on your board should be about diversity of thought, analysis & professional experience

5. Finally, be ambitious in terms of calibre of people on your board, even if yours is a smaller trust. Look for senior level experience in medium to large organisations

Harriet Cheng - 4 June, 2018

Category : Blog

Why schools & MATs are moving to Arbor

REAch2 is the latest MAT to move its schools to Arbor’s simple, smart cloud-based MIS In a recent blog, we wrote a Q&A about why 4,000 schools have moved their MIS away from legacy, server-based MIS systems to the cloud (mostly away from SIMS and CMIS). We highlighted the trend emerging across schools & MATs

REAch2 is the latest MAT to move its schools to Arbor’s simple, smart cloud-based MIS

In a recent blog, we wrote a Q&A about why 4,000 schools have moved their MIS away from legacy, server-based MIS systems to the cloud (mostly away from SIMS and CMIS). We highlighted the trend emerging across schools & MATs in England who are increasingly choosing cloud-based systems to help save money, reduce the number of systems they need, help centralise their data & operations, and work in a more flexible, mobile way. Dominic Norrish, Group Director of Technology at United Learning, also spoke about the benefits of moving specific systems to the cloud at our recent MAT Conference (see a summary of his talk here).

We’re delighted that REAch2, the largest primary-only academy trust in the country, has just chosen Arbor as the MIS for its 55 primary academies. They join 50 other MATs who have deployed Arbor to get a single overview of their schools’ performance, drill down to identify issues, and centralise operations by logging into each school’s MIS directly and taking action – all from one single Group MIS. They include Ventrus Multi-Academy Trust (12 primary schools), Bridge Schools Trust (24 primary schools), and Wellspring Academy Trust (14 special & mainstream schools) as well as others (see below).  

We now work with 600+ schools, including 485 primary schools, 60 secondary schools, and 67 special schools, and over 40% of our schools are in MATs (including 7 schools in United Learning). You can read a little more about why schools & MATs have chosen Arbor in this booklet, or click here to read a case study showing how our Group MIS has helped improve outcomes at Bridge Schools Trust.

Interested to see how Arbor could help save time and improve outcomes across your school or MAT? We’d be more than happy to chat by phone or meet you in-person at your school – just call us on 0208 050 1028 or email tellmemore@arbor-education.com.

 

James Weatherill - 1 June, 2018

Category : Blog

8 steps to help manage change in schools

The pace of change is increasing The pace of change in education is increasing fast, with new structures, policies, funding formulae and technologies announced seemingly every month. This is particularly hard to cope with in schools who often have highly embedded, overlapping and complex processes which have been in place for years and never questioned.

The pace of change is increasing

The pace of change in education is increasing fast, with new structures, policies, funding formulae and technologies announced seemingly every month. This is particularly hard to cope with in schools who often have highly embedded, overlapping and complex processes which have been in place for years and never questioned. Top that off with a highly time-pressured environment and it makes change hard. “If you want to make enemies, try to change something,”  as the saying goes.

Change is tough but if done right can be transformational

However change is a reality that has to be faced if you want to improve, and rather than ignore it and try to batten down the hatches, Senior Leaders should take the time to learn about how to manage it. If change is well managed, and staggered so as not to overwhelm staff, it can improve outcomes for all stakeholders.

We thought we’d publish our guide for how to manage change (which we use for MIS implementation) so that Senior and Middle Leaders can borrow and adapt it for use inside your school or institution. It’s not meant to be a proscriptive series of steps to be followed, but rather a general guide to help you think through the process and tailor to your own school.

1. Establish a need for change (your “burning platform”)
Identify a compelling need for change with a sense of urgency to maintain momentum throughout the project. If you don’t make the need for change compelling or urgent enough, people won’t see the point.

2. Build up champions to drive through change
Identify champions who have the capability, capacity and positive attitude to help drive through change. It may start with you (it often does!), but it always helps to roll out within a school, department or team you know will have the best chance of success. Remember you can’t do everything alone!

3. Create a compelling vision outlining benefits for all
To get buy in you’ll need a compelling vision. Articulate what success looks like and the benefits this will have for each stakeholder (how much time they’ll get back, how their job will be easier etc). Ideally identify some metrics of measuring success (e.g. number of users logged in, amount of time/money saved, staff satisfaction).

4. Communicate the vision to stakeholders to get buy-in
Communicate the vision publicly to get buy in from your staff for the change and to help support the champions you identified. You’ll never win everyone over, that’s fine, but you’ve at least called out the issue and given it support. Change comes from the top, so you need to be seen to champion it.

5. Empower others to act on the vision
All too often we see projects fail in schools as change is not staggered so it combines with the pressures of daily school life to overwhelm staff. Instead try to phase in change, identify the right time of year for it, and try to get others to be seen to be successful. Staff will then feel empowered, not threatened or overwhelmed.

6. Create and celebrate short-term wins
Try to create quick, meaningful wins to demonstrate success and encourage buy-in. These should be publicised as success stories to galvanise support and overcome inertia. Keep a steady drip of success stories coming to maintain momentum and isolate the naysayers.

7. Measure success and embed change
Demonstrate success further by quantifying it against the success criteria you identified earlier, and publicising results. Use this credibility to change other more entrenched systems and processes.

8. Don’t let up!
Most change initiatives fail by assuming the job is done before change has taken root. Culture is a strong force that takes time to realign. To create and sustain change will require continued demonstration of success and ongoing dialogue with staff.

Evidence for Change Management Working
Arbor has gone through our Change Management process with our Group and Multi-Academy Trust clients. Our Impact Metrics and Net Promoter Scores show consistently high scores given by schools over time, showing that the Change Management Approach and system has helped to create a consistently positive impact, as shown below. That’s one way we measure success, but I’d be keen to hear how you measure yours!


Sample size for each survey  >=300

*positively indicates users respond “sometimes, often or frequently”

 

James Weatherill - 25 May, 2018

Category : Blog

Balancing MAT alignment vs. school autonomy

In this presentation about scaling your data & Trust which I emailed to every MAT CEO last term, I highlighted how central teams often struggle to decide on the right balance between a MAT’s need for central alignment and a school’s desire for autonomy. The argument typically goes that alignment makes MAT operations more streamlined, efficient, auditable

In this presentation about scaling your data & Trust which I emailed to every MAT CEO last term, I highlighted how central teams often struggle to decide on the right balance between a MAT’s need for central alignment and a school’s desire for autonomy. The argument typically goes that alignment makes MAT operations more streamlined, efficient, auditable and cost-effective but at the expense of a school’s individual autonomy, which has often been established over many years.

Some groups talk about ‘earned autonomy’ as a compromise, but this still assumes that a school needs to tow the MAT line until they can prove they ‘deserve’ autonomy. And once schools do ‘earn’ their autonomy under this model, they’ll most likely still be submitting data and using processes that the MAT have designed and embedded in the school.

MAT Alignment vs. School Autonomy

 

Alignment.png

 

I’d like to challenge the notion that MAT alignment and school autonomy are oppositional. In fact, alignment can enable autonomy if you have accountability and transparency in place.

Alignment Can Enable Autonomy, if there’s Transparency & Accountability

 

Matrix.png

 

The picture above shows how MAT alignment can enable autonomy, allowing for sustainable growth beyond 5+ schools. The Assistant MAT in the top right example sets clear performance goals, and because it has built the right infrastructure (including standardised systems, instant access to data and auditable processes) it doesn’t mind how the schools go about achieving those goals. If there’s an issue, the MAT will be instantly alerted and can step in to assist the school in fixing, or sit back and monitor how the situation is dealt with. Either way, the schools get autonomy from day 1, and don’t have to earn it, whilst the MAT has the benefit of alignment.

There are other examples shown where alignment does not enable authority. This is typically a conscious decision by the MAT. For example, more authoritative MATs (such as in the top left of the diagram) may choose to have very high degrees of standardisation in terms of systems and processes, leading to low school autonomy. This isn’t necessarily bad – for example, in turnaround schools there may be processes and systems that need complete overhaul.

Standardise systems and give autonomy to people to get the best of both worlds

The key is for MATs and schools to decide on what they want to align or standardise, and what they want to devolve autonomy to schools on. This will depend on your culture, but at Arbor we tend to be of the mind that to create a sustainable infrastructure you should standardise systems to allow for a degree of uniformity and give autonomy to people in how they use those systems. That way you get the best of both worlds. More on that in the next post…

Chris Kirk - 19 April, 2018

Category : Blog

Why you need an operating model for your MAT (and 6 steps to build one)!

Chris Kirk,  Ex-Partner for Education at PWC and formerly GEMS/DfE,  has written a blog for us which  looks at how using an ‘operating model approach’ can help MATs ensure they’re laser-focused on delivering their vision — The DfE’s 2016 Good Practice guide for MATs remains a useful document 18 months on. It was one of the first

Chris Kirk,  Ex-Partner for Education at PWC and formerly GEMS/DfE,  has written a blog for us which  looks at how using an ‘operating model approach’ can help MATs ensure they’re laser-focused on delivering their vision



The DfE’s 2016 Good Practice guide for MATs remains a useful document 18 months on. It was one of the first times when MATs were urged to consider their ‘operating model’ – advice which was also picked up recently in ASL’s study, ‘Building Trusts’.  However, MAT CEOs often ask me what is really meant by the term. In this blog I offer my take on what one is, why you need it, and how to review and develop it.

An operating model is a single overview of what your MAT does, and how it does it. The different elements, such as your approach to school improvement, are pieces of the jigsaw, and the operating model gives you the picture on the front of the box. In this way, it makes the vital link between your vision, mission and strategy, and the details of individual roles, policies and activities.  It also provides a connection from support services (such as HR or finance) to core educational services. By getting your operating model right, you make sure you spend your time and money on what really matters, aiming always towards better impact in the classroom.

An operating model approach can be applied to all of your capabilities, including:

Educational capabilities – such as the capability to improve schools, deliver quality in the classroom, provide an inclusive education, to engage communities, or to provide students with employability skills and careers guidance
Supporting or ‘back office’ capabilities – such as the capability to manage finances, to support your workforce, to provide technology, to manage your estates or to engage with your communities.

I use the word ‘capabilities’ rather than ‘functions’.  This is because a function implies decisions have been made about reporting lines, but a capability can exist across different parts of the MAT.  For example, the capability to improve schools is likely to be a mix of the quality of leadership, information about performance and how it is analysed for improvement, as well as – potentially – specific teams dedicated solely to school improvement.  Similarly, financial capability may not just be in a central finance team, it may also exist in schools. A capability lets you think about the whole picture, not just one team.

If you want to review and improve your operating model, I recommend the following steps:


1. Before you begin, make sure you are really clear about your strategy and growth plans, as this determines your operating model needs.  
2. Review and understand your ‘current state’, see what needs to change.  A useful exercise is to look at each capability you require and ask:
– What is this capability aiming to achieve?
– Where does it sit?
– What people, systems and processes do we need in order to deliver it?
– How is it managed and governed?  
– How do we know if it’s working well?
If you do this in an open and questioning way, you should be able to identify a number of issues for improvement.  You may find particular issues with one capability; equally you may find some recurring themes, for example that you don’t have the right systems in place across several capabilities, or that your organisational structure is not right.

3. Use a workshop approach to create your ‘Design principles’.  This is a good chance to agree what really matters, and resolves differences of view, e.g about standardization vs autonomy, the balance between efficiency and flexibility, the relative priorities for improvement, what your ‘spans of control’ should be, and what the ideal time distances should be between schools, hubs/ clusters and head office, what your pace and approach to growth will be
4. Identify your ‘Future state’ options, and any major costs of getting there, or of operating it (e.g. if you are centralising finance, what new roles are needed; what happens to current school roles; is a new Finance system required?)
5. Create a ‘Road Map’ for the change – what needs to be done first, what can follow later.  How will you support Principles and back office services as they make the change, and how do you make sure your education and other services don’t suffer while it happens?
6. Use strong change management approaches, as engagement will be the most important factor in getting things right.  Remember that the hardest part is actually implementing it!

People often ask me, how long should I expect such a review to take, and what might it cost.  For a small MAT of 2-5 schools (who are growing more fluidly) you should think in terms of weeks not months for a review; for a system leader MAT a full review might take 3-6 months.  Implementation will of course depend greatly on what is changing, as there could be HR, procurement and contract variations to consider.  A small MAT may be able to undertake this work internally; a larger one may want some external support from a suitable consultancy and potentially other professionals (e.g. legal, HR).  However, I have heard of MATs spending hundreds of thousands just to consider their back office, and personally I think this is a scandalous waste of taxpayer money – I believe any external consulting costs should be a fraction of this!  

If you can review and amend your operating model you should reap a number of rewards, in terms of efficiency, clarity of responsibility, time for innovation and improvement, and the ability to adapt to future change.  Most importantly you can achieve the benefits of collaboration without an ever-increasing cost in terms of staff time. Teacher recruitment and retention is a vital issue, and the right MAT operating model can help it to support excellent teaching whilst reducing unnecessary workload.

Arbor - 19 April, 2018

Category : Blog

How to procure effectively to achieve economies of scale

In April 2018, our conference on ‘Scaling Sustainably: Centralisation vs. School Autonomy’ in London bought together CEOs and Senior Leaders from over 70 MATs, as well as eight speakers with a mix of business and education backgrounds. John Leonard, independent consultant and tender expert spoke about the key things MATs should consider in order to

In April 2018, our conference on ‘Scaling Sustainably: Centralisation vs. School Autonomy’ in London bought together CEOs and Senior Leaders from over 70 MATs, as well as eight speakers with a mix of business and education backgrounds. John Leonard, independent consultant and tender expert spoke about the key things MATs should consider in order to get the most out of the procurement process, including knowing exactly what it is that you want to get from your new system before you set out to procure. Below we’ve transcribed the first part of John’s presentation!

In this blog, I’m going to show you why you should be streamlining your procurement to benefit from the massive economies of scale it can bring. A common theme in education is the 5 ’W’s (Who, What, When, Where, and Why) – and in procurement this is no different – but with one addition – how

Consider the following questions as a “toolkit” for gathering all the information you need to run an effective procurement exercise. If you spend the time understanding your requirements and what your expected outcomes are, procurement is substantially easier.

Procurement can be complex, but working through the questions and suggestions made here will help you be the best prepared you can be for effective procurement that gets you what you want, at a price you’re happy with, from a supplier who will work with you and understands you.

Let’s get started.

1. Why procure?

There are countless reasons why, but the most pressing one is to achieve economies of scale, while still getting the technology or platform that you want. By the way, your wants are defined as an objective exercise which we’ll cover in a moment.

Let’s start with an example. Assume you have 15 academies in your trust, and across these academies you have three groups of five – with each group using a different system or technology platform.

Each group has its own costs:

  • Implementation
  • Support
  • Training
  • Maintenance

And also consider the cost to you as a Trust to get consistent data from three platforms – whether that is specific reporting information, or simply an assessment of its effectiveness.

Staff moving between academies have to know more than one system, integration between systems either doesn’t work at all or requires another overhead – it can be very very expensive to manage this.

That’s not to say that you have to force each academy to accept a standard, cookie cutter system. You can achieve a balance between low cost/standard systems and high cost/customized systems – and that is achieved through effective engagement with your staff and potential suppliers (see ’Who’ for more detail on that).

Another “why” is the simple legalities of purchasing – in order to demonstrate fairness, every purchase that’s greater than £181,302 ex VAT (click here for the current threshold) over the lifetime of the product HAS to follow procurement guidelines as set out in the Public Contracts Regulations 2015. You may have your own procurement guidelines for procurements below that threshold – and will certainly be bound by the requirements for three quotes as a minimum – but above the threshold, EU procurement legislation as embodied in the Public Contracts Regulations takes effect.

2. What (do I want to procure)?

The exercise you will conduct in engaging your academies goes a long way to defining what it is that you want, and allowing you to get a clear picture of your expectations.

You’ll make the process even easier by defining your requirement in terms of outcomes:

  • What is it that you are wanting to get from the system?
  • What would you define as a success?

This is where it’s also important to consider the balance between simple/cheap and complex/expensive – neither extreme is advisable, but the right balance depends on the system you’re purchasing and the requirements you set as a Trust. Outcomes-based criteria ensure that you capture requirements from a more holistic perspective – and also ensures that you don’t get caught out later with a system that’s not fit for purpose.

While you can refine a specification to get the closest match to your requirements, if it doesn’t perform the way you want it to, then you’re in trouble. If you define the specification in terms of your outcomes, it makes subsequent management of the platform (and your suppliers) far easier.

Consider the following as a sample:

  • What common tasks do you want to perform?
  • How long should these take to run, given a suitably trained operator?
  • How long does training take?
  • What level of training do you expect to get?
  • How often is the system refreshed or updated?
  • What effort is required from you to keep the system functioning day to day?
  • How fast does support respond to questions?
  • Do you have a knowledge base of common problems you can solve yourself?
  • What’s the cost per student over a 1/3/5 year period?
  • Can you add/remove users easily?
  • Can you gradually move to a self support model if you need to?

Knowing what your expectations are here will enable you to build them into a the scoring criteria for the tender itself as a wholly objective series of scores – the Service Level Agreement (SLA) or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that allow you to measure the performance of your system and the supplier you’ve engaged.

Procuring a platform on this basis that subsequently doesn’t perform also gives you far better methods of redress later on.

3. Who needs to be involved in the procurement process?

Well, first consider who can benefit from the system you’re planning to procure. If it’s going to have a wide impact on a large number of stakeholders, then centralising the procurement exercise and making it applicable to all your academies can lower the overall cost, greatly simplify the process, make contract management easier, and get you far better contractual terms. Suppliers will obviously be more attracted to larger procurement exercises too!

You also need to consider who can participate in helping you define your specification. Careful engagement across your academies will make life a lot easier – as the definition of your specification and requirements needs input from your vocal champions – the ones who point out the good and the bad – and your quiet champions too – the ones who just get on and use the system. Being clear about what works for you at present and equally, what doesn’t, helps you get the most out of a procurement exercise – the clearer you can be about your requirements, the better off you’ll be.

If you’re not sure what you need, or need opinion from potential suppliers, this is the time to invite them in for market engagement. You’re perfectly entitled to invite a range of suppliers in to discuss your requirements; good suppliers will also know their market well enough that they will come up with suggestions you may not have thought of.

Once you’ve met a fair representation of suppliers, then it’s time to go back to your internal team, and refine the specification again, so you all agree on what is needed. (N.B. Aa fair number of suppliers is a representative sample of providers for the type of solution providers you’re looking for – one is not a fair number! I’d recommend you see at least three, and more if you can).

I can’t say this enough times – the more collaboration you engage in, the clearer your expectations will be, the specification will be easily understood by potential suppliers, and the procurement exercise will get you the system you want at a price you want to pay.

You can read the second part of John’s presentation here

Harriet Cheng - 19 April, 2018

Category : Blog

How to scale your MAT sustainably

For a while now, the government has been debating the best way to help MATs grow. On the one hand, Sir David Carter (the National Schools Commissioner) thinks 1,000 new multi-academy trusts will be needed by 2020, comprised of both new MATs forming and many smaller MATs expanding into double figures. On the other hand,

For a while now, the government has been debating the best way to help MATs grow. On the one hand, Sir David Carter (the National Schools Commissioner) thinks 1,000 new multi-academy trusts will be needed by 2020, comprised of both new MATs forming and many smaller MATs expanding into double figures. On the other hand, there are concerns that if MATs grow too quickly it can become harder for them to maintain consistent quality across not only school performance, but financial management, operations, and team processes (especially when they are spread over large regional areas).

This leaves MATs in a tricky place, with some being pressured to grow and take on more schools, whilst others are scaling back to focus on quality of provision. There have been various reports by the Department for Education (such as this one looking at the expansion & performance of MATs), and external bodies like the Education Policy Institute (such as this one on the economic benefits of growing a MAT) to help provide guidance, as well as DfE initiatives like the “Expanding your academy trust” toolkit and the new MAT health checks programme which is being piloted as a method to help MATs achieve “sustainable growth.”

Whilst the debate continues, one of the best ways for MATs to seek guidance remains sharing best practice, advice & guidance with other MAT CEOs and Senior Leaders. With this in mind, we are launching the first in a new series of free MAT conferences this week: “Scaling your MAT Sustainably: Centralisation vs. School Autonomy.”

Together with our partner PS Financials, we’re bringing together education, business and industry leaders to share their own stories about how they’ve scaled their strategy, operations, central team processes, systems, reporting & governance. Our aim is for everyone attending to leave with a series of relevant, practical and implementable steps to take back to their MAT to help them grow sustainably.

Speakers include leaders from the Elliot Foundation, United Learning, and the Mulberry Schools Trust, and there will be plenty of opportunities to network and meet like-minded MATs during the day too.

Click here to sign up for your free ticket: https://scaling-your-MAT.eventbrite.com

Can’t make it? Not to worry! We’ll be sharing recordings of the talks as well as presentations from the speakers on our blog after the conference, so check back here soon. You can also email us at tellmemore@arbor-education.com to let us know if you’d like to attend similar events in future.

Hope to see you there!

Full programme for the day:

Agenda

10.00-10.20: Introduction: How scaling strategies vary by degree of MAT centralisation vs school autonomy

James Weatherill (CEO at Arbor Education)

James will illustrate how scaling strategies vary by the size/complexity of your MAT, as well as the level of autonomy vs centralisation you desire for your schools

10.20-11.00: Strategies for scaling sustainably

Hugh Greenway (CEO at The Elliot Foundation)

Hugh will highlight the pressures and pitfalls to scaling, as well as different strategies to plan for and manage this growth

11.00-11.30: How and when to standardise systems

Dominic Norrish (Group Director of Technology at United Learning)

Dominic will speak about his experience in centralising systems, including when and why you need to standardise and how to manage school expectations

11.45-12.15: Refreshments (biscuits, tea and coffee)

12.15-12.45: Scaling culture and maintaining your sense of identity as you grow

Vanessa Ogden (CEO, Mulberry Schools Trust)

Vanessa Ogden will discuss ways you can maintain a cohesive set of values and identity for the MAT, whilst allowing schools to express their individuality

12.45-1.20: Building out your MAT operating model and central team functions

Chris Kirk (ex Partner for Education PwC, GEMS, DfE)

Chris will explore the 5 different stages of MAT growth, including how this affects your choice of management processes, central team structure and systems choice

1.20-2.10: Lunch

2.10-2.40: Utilisation of analytics and centralisation to drive financial health and efficiency

Will Jordan (Education Sector Manager at PS Financials)

Will demonstrates how you can centralise HR, finance and education reporting at scale, producing dashboards for your staff and board to make quicker, better decisions, without all the manual data drops

2.40-3.10: How to procure effectively to achieve economies of scale

John Leonard (Independent Consultant)

John will walk you through his guide and toolkit for how MATs can procure more effectively to achieve savings, whilst reducing the admin burden of big tenders

3.10-3.50: Governance structures that scale

Sarah Pittam (Consultant, Adviser and Project Manager in Education & Associate of Cambridge Education)

Sarah combines top-tier business consulting and education experience to show how different governance structures and processes can scale effectively as your MAT grows

3.50 – 4.00: Final refreshments

 

Chris Kirk - 19 April, 2018

Category : Blog

6 phases of MAT growth, (and the crises that follow!)

At a recent residential programme for MAT CEOs we were discussing different models for improving schools across a MAT, and how any chosen strategy needed to change and adapt at different points in a MAT’s growth.  I was reminded of the ‘Greiner Growth Model’, which I first used when I was a Strategy Partner at

At a recent residential programme for MAT CEOs we were discussing different models for improving schools across a MAT, and how any chosen strategy needed to change and adapt at different points in a MAT’s growth.  I was reminded of the ‘Greiner Growth Model’, which I first used when I was a Strategy Partner at PwC, and I’d like to share how this shows MAT leaders the 6 phases of growth they might go through, and some potential pitfalls that accompany them (which might sound familiar!)..

The 6 phases of growth (and the crises that accompany them!)

Professor Greiner observed that in fast growing organisations, the management practices that were ideal in one phase of growth may eventually bring on a crisis as the organisation outgrows them.  The resolution of this crisis creates a new model of management.

The Greiner Growth model has six phases :

How the growth model applies to MATs

If the pace with which fast growth leads to a crisis is, as Greiner said, a factor of speed of change in a sector, there can be few sectors that have seen such dramatic changes as Multi-Academy Trusts.  In contrast to schools, which have been with us for hundreds of years, MATs were only created in line with the sponsored academies programme 16 years ago, and the number of MATs has risen 88% in the past year alone. MATs are growing not just in number but size, with the number of MATs with over 10 schools growing by 68% in the same period.

MATs are put through rigorous stress tests by DFE before they can become sponsors, and at various stages of growth; but even if the management approaches were right at those points, the Greiner model predicts, and therefore helps us to manage, the points at which those practices are outgrown.  

The size of a MAT is only one factor to consider when choosing how to manage.  The appropriate management style will also relate to other aspects of complexity, such as the chosen approach to curriculum, pedagogy and school improvement, the geographical spread, the difference in context of different Academies, and whether the MAT covers a mix of Special schools and a range of phases of education, or just one phase.

Stage 1: 1-4 schools – a crisis of leadership

In a small and young MAT growth can be achieved through ‘creativity’.  In this phase, which might consist of a single Executive Head / CEO in charge of  up to 4 schools, there are few formal management activities at the MAT HQ level, and head office communications are frequent and informal.  The small senior leadership team are collectively driven by their belief in the MAT, and its mission for students.  However, as the MAT grows, it becomes too large for such informal ways of working: it cannot provide adequate reports to the Board on finances, and it needs to be able to take on new schools which were not part of the original discussions about mission.  The founding Headteacher-turned-CEO may or may not have the appetite for more formal management. Sadly I have come across many MATs that have allowed the early warning signs to develop into a full blown crisis of leadership before they have taken action.

Stage 2: 3-15 schools – a crisis of autonomy

The Greiner Growth model would suggest that a MAT of anywhere from 3-15 schools may be well served by growth through ‘direction’.  At this point the MAT puts in place functional structures, with specialised IT, HR, Finance and other roles.  Proper accounting systems, budgets, common work standards, and formal communications are needed. The Growth model suggests that it is possible for a MAT of this size to be led from the top, with Heads of School and Executive Heads focused on running individual schools.  Professional teaching communities, focused by subject and age range, would set standards and make sure they were being applied across the MAT.

However, with further growth, the MAT needs to create ‘clusters’ of schools which can work together, and potentially also Regional structures.  At this stage, the Growth Model predicts a growing tension between the clusters/ Regions and HQ, and the new directive approach may begin to fail.  Regional leaders of sizeable groups of schools may feel restricted by the central hierarchy, believing that they know their local context better than staff in HQ, but can’t take initiative.  The Greiner model predicts that a crisis of autonomy will follow.  To move forwards, a new model of delegation will be needed, but it may be hard for the leaders who rescued the organisation from its early chaotic struggles to give up their directive style, and equally hard for Regional/ hub leaders to take that responsibility off the CEO.

Stage 3: 7-70 schools – a crisis of control

This leads us to MATs with a mix of Regional and Hub structures, making use of increased levels of ‘delegation’.  These decentralised structures motivate Regional and hub leaders to respond to local needs, and work with middle leaders to push forward subject excellence and other solutions.  The role of the HQ is to manage by exception, using reports from the field. Communications to staff would more frequently be from the region/ hub than from HQ. The professional subject (and other) communities would continue to meet nationally as well as regionally, but the role of deciding how to implement the practices emerging from these communities would be devolved to the region, cluster or schools.

The very wide size band for this phase relates to earlier comments about the many other factors that affect complexity, although this tends to emerge from ~7 schools.  It is not certain to me that a large MAT necessarily needs to outgrow this phase, but this delegative management style will in turn face challenges. Sizeable Regions, hubs and schools enjoying greater autonomy will start to run their own shows, resisting HQ requirements for reporting or interventions.  A crisis of control may emerge, which if not addressed will lead to those regions breaking away from the MAT entirely.  Of course, this may be a reasonable outcome, but a pro-active HQ will at least want to be aware of the alternative options.  Whilst there may be a temptation for the MAT HQ to try to regain control and re-centralise management, this will usually fail due to the vast scope of operations involved at this stage of growth.  Instead, what is needed at this point is for the MAT to shift its management style to co-ordination.

Stage 4: 30-100 schools – a crisis of red tape

A very large MAT managing through ‘co-ordination’ would focus the HQ on leading formal planning procedures, and allocating budgets carefully based on clear business cases.  The MAT HQ would retain some technical functions, such as data processing.  Many other operations would be decentralised to ‘Territories’, that is groups of Regions.  Consider that by this stage, each region might be the size of many of today’s medium-sized MATs.  The HQ would still retain an oversight function, but would be unlikely to intervene directly, as by this point, individual Territories should have sufficient capacity.  As with Stage 3, it is unclear if a MAT would necessarily outgrow this phase, but the model suggests that the signs it is failing will be when the formal systems for planning and investment across HQ, Territories and Regions create a crisis of red tape, alongside growing mistrust between HQ , Territories, Regional leaders and local teams.

Stage 5: 50-150+ schools – a crisis of growth

A MAT which was so large that it outgrew co-ordination should focus on growth through ‘collaboration’, the preferred style of some of the world’s largest organisations.  The HQ would focus on setting behaviours, social role modelling, and interpersonal interaction, and would apply very few formal coordinating systems.  HQ would act through consultation, not direction. A matrix of Territories and professional functions would help to maximise the benefits of people with the same skills collaborating, whilst allowing for geographical responsiveness.  Simplified control systems would use real-time information about a few things that really matter, to inform daily decisions. Frequent conferences of senior leaders (territorial and functional) across the MAT would address problems, and CDP funded by HQ will focus on teamwork and conflict resolution (territories and regions would have devolved budgets for other forms of CPD such as subject specialisms).  Experimentation and innovation will be fostered and encouraged.

The main limit on MATs moving beyond this phase is likely to be a constraint on the number of Academies which find the MAT to be a good fit, leading to a crisis of growth.  In fact, this constraint may come up at any of the earlier stages, and lead to a final type of growth, through mergers and alliances.

Stage 6: Mergers and alliances (any size) – a crisis of alignment

MATs may find themselves considering mergers and alliances at any stage of growth.  There will be two main scenarios: either because a highly performing MAT is asked to take on all the Academies in a low performing MAT (for financial , educational, or both reasons) ; or because a MAT has identified a need to grow further, in order to access the benefits of greater size, but cannot do so through taking on individual schools – perhaps because there are none in a suitable location that fit the MAT’s values and focus.  At this stage, MATs will consider growth through mergers and alliances.  There have been relatively few examples of the second ‘voluntary’ scenario to date, due to the complexity of MAT Boards deciding to merge unless they are forced to.  It is likely that in this scenario, as well as full mergers, other models will emerge, such as groups of MATs sharing services, or ‘reversible’ decisions to create a merged MAT which continue to allow separation in future if this does not have the benefits they wanted.  

If the right steps are not taken before and after merger there can be a crisis of alignment.  There there will be particular challenges if one MAT is in a different phase of management style than the other. For example, a MAT growing through ‘Direction’ merging one growing through ‘Creativity’ would need to be clear about the tighter expectations.  A ‘Collaborative’ MAT merging with a ‘Directive’ one might find that the Directive MAT can continue to operate in a semi-autonomous fashion for a while; but there is a risk that it never feels fully part of the family. The act of merging may trigger a need to enter a new phase of growth with a different management style.  The MATs’ respective approaches to topics such as standardisation, and choice of curriculum, will be important factors.

Above all, it is vital that the new identity is shared and owned not only by staff, but by pupils and parents.

Arbor - 19 April, 2018

Category : Blog

How and when to scale systems within your MAT

In our blog “The common barriers to scaling a MAT”, we looked at some of the key areas of debate surrounding the biggest challenge to scaling faced by MATs today (this was also the theme of our first MAT conference in London in April this year). One of the biggest challenges MATs face is getting

In our blog “The common barriers to scaling a MAT”, we looked at some of the key areas of debate surrounding the biggest challenge to scaling faced by MATs today (this was also the theme of our first MAT conference in London in April this year).

One of the biggest challenges MATs face is getting the right infrastructure and systems in place to support growth. We invited Dominic Norrish, Group Director of Technology at United Learning, to speak about his experience of deciding how and when to scale systems within a MAT. We’ve summarised his presentation below.

How to decide when to scale systems within your MAT

Dominic talked about how the degree of MAT centralisation vs. school autonomy at your Trust is one of the biggest challenges to deciding how to scale systems. Exactly where your MAT sits on the scale of full autonomy vs. full centralisation, or at least where people perceive your MAT to be, is the product of your values and culture. The problem this sliding scale creates is to do with the locus of control (the perception of where authority to make a decision sits) between schools and the MAT central team. The locus of control will always be in tension, since both sides have limited views of the others’ reasoning and drivers. This is often what makes it hard to decide how to scale.

To help overcome this, Dominic suggested applying the principle of subsidiarity to all decisions about whether or not to centralise a system. The principle of subsidiarity dictates that if a decision can be taken at a local level, it should be. To determine whether this is true, Dominic suggested asking 3 questions when considering whether a system should be scaled across your MAT:

  • Where is the activity/decision most effectively carried out?
  • What is the educational benefit of a single approach?
  • Are there strong operational or financial benefits?

If the decision is not most effectively carried out by a central team or if there is no benefit to all schools in your MAT adopting the same approach, and if there are no operational benefits, the decision can be local. By contrast, United Learning decided to roll out a single assessment system (Hegarty Maths) across all its schools in 2016 because there was an educational benefit to using the same approach across all schools. Similarly, Dominic said that this principle would suggest that core operational systems, such as Finance, MIS & HR, should be scaled centrally.

When to scale systems within your MAT

When you decide to scale systems comes down to the size and age of your MAT. As the number of schools in your MAT increases, it goes through 4 stages: The Honeymoon Period, The Rubicon of Regret, The Difficult Middle Years, and Converging Needs & Attitudes.

The Honeymoon Period

This is the stage where your MAT has c.2-15+ schools. At this point, appetite for centralisation is high, and the cost/complexity of centralising is relatively low. This is what makes “The Honeymoon Period” a good time to centralise:

  • Your Identity Management solution (e.g. Microsoft 365, Google)
  • Your Management Information System
  • Standards for the classification, collection & storage of pupil data
  • Affordable yet scalable Finance & HR solutions

These are the fundamental systems that should be in place for any young MAT as it grows since the cost of changing them at any point in a MAT’s life is disproportionately high (which is why MATs often put off these changes until it’s too late). Making these requirements clear to schools considering joining the MAT.

The Rubicon of Regret

This is the stage where your MAT has 20-30 schools. “The Rubicon of Regret” as the point at which your MAT has not centralised many (or any!) systems, and now regrets that decision since the cost & complexity of centralisation at this stage is high (but not impossible). This in turn makes the appetite for centralisation low.

Before “crossing the Rubicon”, MATs should centralise:

  • Whole-Trust educational systems (e.g. assessment), because people tend to be really invested in current choices
  • Common solutions for IT hygiene factors, such as firewalls and Anti-Virus software
  • Procurement basics – your MAT should have a leasing partner and preferred suppliers
  • Back office processes – GDPR, SCR, school information

At any time in your MAT’s growth

From 30 schools upwards, the cost and complexity of centralising systems only continues to rise, but so too does the appetite for centralisation as MAT central teams see the value of doing so after the “Difficult Middle Years.”

However at any time in the life of your MAT there should be a really high barrier for prescribing the systems teachers use to teach. United Learning, for instance, have stopped doing this altogether. This is because the likelihood of consensus forming around a single product/approach is extremely low, whilst the cost of changing current products and practice rarely delivers ROI (rolling out the same smart whiteboards as an example – does it matter whether all your schools use the same one?). In this case, it would be far better to support schools in driving their own digital strategies.

Click here to see Dominic’s presentation in full

We’ve now added all the presentations from our conference on scaling culture, strategy, processes, procurement, and governance to the blog. Why not have a read here?

 

Arbor - 19 April, 2018

Category : Blog

6 ways remote leadership can help MATs scale

Dr Vanessa J Ogden, CEO of Mulberry Schools Trust, spoke at our MAT conference about scaling culture and maintaining your sense of identity across your MAT as you grow. During the first half of her talk she stressed the importance of creating a set of values that is shared by everyone in your MAT in order to maintain

Dr Vanessa J Ogden, CEO of Mulberry Schools Trust, spoke at our MAT conference about scaling culture and maintaining your sense of identity across your MAT as you grow. During the first half of her talk she stressed the importance of creating a set of values that is shared by everyone in your MAT in order to maintain your trust identity as you scale. In this blog, we’ve picked out the key pointers from the second half of her talk, which focused on the importance of ‘remote leadership’ when bringing about changes in culture in schools to align with the values and identity of your trust. Read part two below:

‘Remote leadership’ is a term used by Tim Brighouse to describe his approach to education leadership at scale. I think it is highly applicable to MAT leadership, and I have found it incredibly useful when thinking about the importance of the CEO as a leader of outstanding education provision.
It is important to note that culture and identity in MATs applies here. The Mulberry Schools Trust’s model is premised on the CEO being a leader of education expertise. Business acumen is important, but knowing how to create outstanding schools in contexts of challenge is the focus and so education leadership expertise – with it being the central business product, if you like – is what is needed in the CEO. There are other MAT models where business skills are at the forefront of the CEO’s leadership and education expertise is held in the roles of directors of education – and this can also be very effective – but for us, the view is that if you want universally outstanding schools, the top job is to know how to do it and what this looks like, providing you have skilled financial, legal, estates and HR leaders working closely to you that you can properly hold to account.

‘Remote leadership’ of school communities thus becomes very important for a CEO. How do you bring your practitioners with you? How do you ensure they buy in to the vision, values and culture of the work in hand?

Remote leadership for a MAT entails a number of things:

  • Understanding in depth the context and history of the schools that are coming into your MAT
  • Spending time talking to stakeholders of the school’s community: pupils, parents, staff and wider partners
  • Imagining the future for the school community and communicating it – painting that picture of success – a vision that moves people on from the past and making a brighter, more exciting future seem possible
  • Building a team of strong leaders that share the vision and values you have in your MAT
  • Having attention to detail, being able to anticipate and being reflexive and adaptable to your school system’s dynamics
  • Giving time to legitimate stakeholders who will help you in your work

Securing a strong and widely shared commitment to the MAT’s purpose and values across a large group of people requires close communication, despite being more remote, and commitment from practitioners to a vision. One of the lessons I have learned about education and the implementation of any initiative at any level is that those who have a fairly autonomous position e.g. as a classroom teacher – in that they are inpidually responsible for pupil outcomes and the quality of their practice – can destroy it by simply not doing it or doing it differently. To be a lastingly successful initiative, they must agree with its importance and find its implementation rewarding.

Getting that commitment means two things. First, if your leadership is more remote, the immediacy of your communication is less and so every contact is vital. The authenticity of such communications is important and so linking them to genuine passion and values is essential.

Second, understanding and using the power of story is a key aspect of remote leadership in the task of scaling up culture and retaining identity. Stories of success create energy and when bringing about change in culture in a school to align with the values and identity of your trust, the use of supportive, affirming and speculative language is helpful – as well as finding those with a can-do philosophy to help you yield the buy-in from the community that you need in school transformation to align with the MAT.
It needs to be recognized in scaling up culture that in this task perhaps more than any other you cannot enact your leadership alone. If successful change in this respect is going to take root for the long term, you need to develop a team around you that can replicate this work and a central infrastructure to enable faithful development. And so we are back to my first point about the structural things you need to do to enable your identity to go to scale.

I have seen this model of remote leadership enacted elsewhere in recent times in perse fields of business and government: once on a visit to the Dyson engineering plant in Malaysia last month and 2 years ago on a visit to meet Barack Obama’s administration team at the White House. The recruitment and staff development process that supports scaling up culture and identity was plain to see in both cases. After all, what could be more important than the work Obama did to address inequality and social justice in the US?

So, I conclude by going back to the photograph above, as it has become symbolic and powerful for us as a Trust. It both shows the context of our work and the social justice issues we need to address about inequality. A great education is the key to a better and more prosperous future. It is also the means of providing greater social harmony within communities and human enrichment where the obstacles prevent engagement with the resources around you. The rainbow, therefore, is the promise. It is our Trust’s promise and it is the vision you buy into when you join our schools.

There have been some very difficult moments along the way, and there are more to come I am sure, but it is an expression of what we believe to be possible – a vision of hope for continued improvement in outcomes not just amongst the pupils within our family of schools but, through partnership and school-to-school support, improvement across the system. It is not growth for growth’s sake but a considered and thoughtful response to educational change and the requirement for us to support – along with Challenge Partners – a great school-led system.

Arbor - 19 April, 2018

Category : Blog

The common barriers to scaling a MAT

We brought together 100 MAT leaders to discuss how to ‘scale sustainably’ In April this year we brought together 100 MAT leaders from over 70 organisations to discuss different strategies for scaling their MAT sustainably, with a focus on how these varied by the degree of centralisation vs. autonomy the MAT chooses to give to

We brought together 100 MAT leaders to discuss how to ‘scale sustainably’

In April this year we brought together 100 MAT leaders from over 70 organisations to discuss different strategies for scaling their MAT sustainably, with a focus on how these varied by the degree of centralisation vs. autonomy the MAT chooses to give to schools (click here for the agenda). This generated some great presentations from our speakers from Elliot Foundation, United Learning and others which we’ll write up on this blog over the coming weeks, as well as some lively debate about what challenges senior leaders are having with scaling. We held the conference to highlight emerging good practice beyond the highly centralised model of MAT operations that is highlighted in the press. It’s clear that a one-size-fits-all approach is overly-simplistic, and that strategies and barriers to scaling vary both between different MATs, and within a MAT as it goes through 6 phases of growth.

Scaling strategies vary by MAT culture, size and type of school

The first point that was noted was that a MAT’s scaling challenges varies by the culture and size of the MAT. We’ve written previously about how culture and the degree of MAT centralisation vs. school autonomy is a key driver of how a MAT scales systems, processes and people, and how different strategies may suit different school types. For example a MAT of outstanding schools will often have a different culture and degree of centralisation than a MAT of turnaround schools.

Being deliberate and setting clear early expectations about what you will centralise (systems, processes, roles) and what you will devolve autonomy to heads to decide was seen as essential in helping smooth the scaling process, and get ahead of problems that would be exponentially harder to solve retrospectively as the MAT grew. Most speakers agreed that despite it seeming easier to devolve decisions to schools at the outset, making bold decisions to centralise some aspects and capitalising on early enthusiasm would help in the long run.

Building the infrastructure to scale early on

The mean average number of schools per MAT in the conference was ~5, which as we’re previously written about is exactly the time that MATs should be looking to put in place the infrastructure to help scale, typically involving the centralisation of systems. Most MATs in the room had centralised their finance function early on, and were now looking to capitalise on early momentum to centralise their MIS, assessment and HR functions, as this helps to get a single view of MAT data, improve transparency and audit of process, and provide the foundation for scaling your central team. As we’ve mentioned previously, it’s at ~5 schools (depending on phase) where manual processes and systems cause your team to break. Try to tackle this before it becomes a problem.

Common barriers to scaling, including crossing the ‘catch 22 chasm’ of growth

We polled our audience of 100 about what their greatest barrier to scaling was, shown in the chart below. The biggest response by far was the ‘catch 22’ of scaling – needing funding to scale the central team/impact of the MAT, but requiring scale to access more funding. This was commonly reported by all MAT types and sizes, but most prominently in MATs of 4-15 schools who were struggling for financial viability. These MATs were often entering into a period of unsustainable growth, driven by the imperative to become financially viable – conversation was focused on what MATs could do at this stage to smooth what is always going to be one of the hardest phases of scaling. Recognising this early, and preparing the infrastructure and team was seen as vital, reflected by the fact that centralising roles and systems came in at number 2 and 3 on the list. Setting up clusters and changing operating models was commented on by larger MATs as a challenge (often linked to how to manage these), as well as finding suitable schools to join the MAT. Several MATs were changing their governance model, and debating how far to centralise committees and responsibilities. Perhaps most surprising was the fact that finding the right people came so low down the list of barriers. The pool of talented individuals with experience in scaling impact across schools isn’t vast, and perhaps MATs underestimate this challenge or overestimate their capabilities in this regard.

Barriers to scaling a MAT

 

We will be updating this blog over the coming weeks with presentations from our speakers covering how MATs can effectively scale their culture, strategy, systems, processes, procurement, and governance. For now, click here to see my presentation including some of the points above.

 

Arbor - 19 April, 2018

Category : Blog

5 ways to scale culture at your MAT using values-driven leadership

Dr Vanessa J Ogden, CEO of Mulberry Schools Trust, spoke at our MAT conference about how to scale culture and the importance of maintaining a strong sense of identity across your MAT as you grow. She highlighted the need to create a set of values that are shared by everyone when scaling, from your company members and directors

Dr Vanessa J Ogden, CEO of Mulberry Schools Trust, spoke at our MAT conference about how to scale culture and the importance of maintaining a strong sense of identity across your MAT as you grow. She highlighted the need to create a set of values that are shared by everyone when scaling, from your company members and directors through to your school principals, senior teams and Local Governing Bodies. Read on to learn the 5 key ways that you can scale culture at your MAT using values-driven leadership

This photo shows my ‘place’ – where I started my headship in 2006 and where, on 1st May 2017 (after a 7 year journey) the Mulberry Schools Trust was born. The end of the rainbow (with its mythical pot of gold) is right in the City of London. To the side is one of the tower blocks in Shadwell where pupils in my catchment area live – one of the many similar blocks with overcrowding and damp, where people have little personal space or privacy or money. Poverty is patchwork across our country in the same way and so all MATs encounter it in some way. I’ve seen this at close hand through my work chairing the board of the Somerset Challenge and the National Schools Forum for Teach First.

The point of stating all of this is that it means our work at Mulberry Schools Trust is heavily influenced by the need to counter the dynamics of ‘place’ – to counter the close nature of urban financial and social disadvantage shown in the photo, open up opportunity, deal with inequality, offer routes to prosperity, stability and security, and to work towards greater social harmony and human flourishing. As a result, the Trust’s culture is framed by a set of values that are quite specific to this task. In a way, we have chosen to ‘specialise’ as a MAT in this work at this point.

From my experience, I cannot stress enough the importance of values-driven leadership at all levels as you grow. Values frame the culture that is created in all organisations and are easily diluted as you scale up, so values shared by your company members and directors through to your school principals, senior teams and Local Governing Bodies are critical.

Our values at Mulberry Schools Trust

Scaling up your organisational culture and maintaining your identity requires senior leaders to place values and a deep understanding of the context of your schools at the heart of your work. There is a dynamic relationship between a school, its context, its culture and the values which frame that culture. Understanding that dynamic is very important when thinking about scale.

Context or ‘place’ affects education. A school both influences and is influenced by its community. Where a school is situated has a profound, multi-layered effect on its character and the challenges it faces. In turn, good schools enrich their communities and can have a regenerative effect.

Our values are absolutely aligned with carrying out this task. They hold that:

1)Education is a public good: The chance to be educated is a human right and state schools should provide a high quality education for every child regardless of the barriers. An education should provide rich intellectual and personal development for inpiduals and communities. It should equip young people for employment, making a contribution to the economy as well as enabling them to sustain themselves financially

2) The Trust’s work should make a further system-wide contribution to educational improvement beyond being a MAT: Hence being a significant part of Challenge Partners and standing shoulder to shoulder with other school leaders to work collectively for an outstanding school system

Scaling culture as you grow

A fundamental question for us is how we retain these values so strongly and protect our culture from erosion across a growing number of schools. Even within the relatively small 4 square mile patch that my MAT currently occupies, the ‘place’ in which each of the three secondary schools is located is quite distinctive and affects each school’s culture differently. If spread across a wider geographical area and sometimes amongst quite far-flung regions for some MATs the challenge is magnified. However, there are a number of things that have been important for us in going to scale:

Statement of identity, vision and values: having a very clear sense of identity and of the vision and values of the Trust that is written down and shared effectively with the whole MAT community has been fundamental to our work. Helpfully, there is a track record of success already to back its importance, and that success also provides authenticity for people. This is an essential ingredient in education leadership – both in inpidual schools and at scale
Governance: building a Trust board of committed trustees and company members that share our values has been very significant. There have been hard conversations and some very difficult moments connected with building the Board and holding true to our values – particularly when faced with issues of equality. Ensuring that our LGBs are similarly robust has been important too so establishing an appointments committee for the board, having board development, evaluation and training as well as a robust SOD and a handbook have been key to ensuring we retain our identity and culture across an expanding number of schools

Policies that reflect our values too: what becomes a central policy adopted fully by all and what becomes a statement of policy principles for all schools to follow is an interesting discussion. I am also well aware that what you do in a small MAT might be different to a larger one: take curriculum and approach to teaching and learning, where the values of an institution are also expressed. Having a ‘loose-tight’ approach works fine when as the CEO you have time to talk regularly with the principal and to review practice. When you have a larger MAT and take on schools in special measures, for example, a non-negotiable curriculum model that everyone follows is an easier way of quality assuring what is done. I’ll come back to this point at the end because there are more compromises to be made either way on this particular aspect of a MAT’s practice

School leadership: school principals are obviously critical to the retention of culture and identity when going to scale. Either you appoint like-minded leaders who already share the MAT’s culture, values and approaches (we have done this twice now) or you create a talent pipeline that brings people through internally – which we are also doing – but this takes longer to establish. Like others, we have a strong internal leadership development programme which draws upon the talent within our Trust and a headteacher in training / deputy headteacher in training programme which is bespoke and personalized as well as group programmes and courses. The way you interview to test ‘fit’ for a school is, as you know, a sensitive and complex process – but worth investing time into to get the right appointment. And not appointing if it’s not right is always a brave decision

Community: integral to school improvement is the relationship between a school, its context and its community. Investing in external relationships and finding the right ambassadors to enable you to build trust and confidence amongst wider stakeholders helps enormously. Schools in marginalized communities are the community glue and I continue to see the gulfs between groups of different heritage made visible by the events of recent time – such as Brexit, the Syrian conflict and terror attacks. Islamophobia is rife and suspicion between people is unhelpfully fueled by media and social networking sites. Our values around schools’ wider role in social cohesion are strongly held and so for us, work in this domain of scaling up is very important

The close attention of the CEO to these elements of a MAT’s work is essential in scaling up culture and retaining identity, and the work in it over three years to six years is considerable but worth the investment. Facilitating strong governance, nurturing senior teams, building relationships with school communities and having a keen eye on policy implementation are for us the key things that we have considered and continue to develop.

Arbor - 11 April, 2018

Category : Blog

The who, what, when, where, why & how of procurement

Independent educational consultant John Leonard recently wrote a blog for us about the most important things that MATs should consider before setting out to procure, including knowing exactly what it is that you want to get from your new system and how procurement can help you achieve economies of scale. Part 1 went over the

Independent educational consultant John Leonard recently wrote a blog for us about the most important things that MATs should consider before setting out to procure, including knowing exactly what it is that you want to get from your new system and how procurement can help you achieve economies of scale. Part 1 went over the reasons why MATs should procure and explained what you need to know beforehand. This second part of the blog will cover the timescale of implementing your new system (when), which sites will this system impact (where) and finally some helpful guidelines and government specifications (how). We’ve transcribed part two of his presentation below!

In my last blog, I spoke about how procurement is key to helping MATs achieve economies of scale, as well as the most important factors to consider for MATs setting out to procure. In this blog, I’ll go on to talk about the rest of the procurement toolbox, including the when, the where and the how of procurement.

Allowing sufficient time for a well run procurement exercise starts long before you start writing the tender document. A typical timeline looks something like this (your experience and the scope of the procurement will cause this to vary, of course):

1. Initial requirement definition: finding your champions, getting their opinion, turning that into a draft specification

2. Refine the requirement: get together as a group to review the draft and find out what you don’t know

3. Market testing: get suppliers to review your spec, present their solutions, and make suggestions

4. Re-refine the requirement: agree what your final spec will be now you have some market intelligence

5. Write your tender: concentrate on your requirements and the scoring criteria; the rest can be based on standard templates

6. Issue a contract notice: (guidance online will help you do this)

7. Issue your tender to interested suppliers

8. Allow 30 days for tender clarifications, etc.

9. Close your tender and evaluate results

10. Announce the successful supplier

11. Provide feedback to all bidders

12. Allow a 10 day standstill

13. Start contract negotiations

14. Commence pilot (if applicable)

15. Test with your pilot group

16. Larger scale rollout

That’s a lot to cover, but doing all of that will make sure you get the results you want. If you rush it, you’ll hate the results or something won’t work. As a rule of thumb, allocate about half your time to speccing the requirement, 25% to the procurement, and 25% to award negotiations.

Where will the system go?

You have a number of factors to consider here. First, and most obvious, how many sites/staff/students is this system going to impact? The larger the number of sites, the better your economies of scale, but the larger the number of opinions and input you’re going to need to get something that works for everybody. Also consider what other systems or methods of work this solution has an effect on. Does your solution integrate? What other systems must change to accommodate your preferred technology?

And while we mentioned “when” as a measure of the procurement timeline, also think about the future. Can this solution scale to add more academies, thousands more students and staff, and still do so at an effective cost? Your tender document will need to spell out the number of staff and students who will be expected to use your system, where they are, and what the likelihood is of additional users/sites joining the system later.

If you want to scope the tender to allow you to add further sites later on – or even create a mini framework to add other MATs later – your tender document is where you need to state this; it will make suppliers far more likely to be clear about their terms or be prepared to offer better ones for the chance at more business in the future.

How do I start?

This guide written by the government should be your starting point, as it gives a lot of information about current procurement guidance.

 This page in particular goes into a lot more detail about the specifics of EU compliant public procurement.

Remember, the threshold at present is £181,302 – that’s the ex VAT total contract value of the solution you’re procuring. Anything over that, and you will have to follow public contract regulations (PCR). Unless you’re substantially under that value, it helps to use the PCR as a guideline for procurement – that way you know you’re not going to be challenged (or at least the chances are minimal).

Take advice and guidance from procurement agents if you can. One I can recommend is 4C (https://www.4c.co.uk/) – they have a lot of experience and can do as much or as little of the procurement exercise as you need.

Last but not least – it bears repeating – please be sure that your requirements are clear, documented well, and explained where there is room for ambiguity. If a requirement is not clear, you’ll know straight away, as suppliers will bombard you with clarification requests. The less ambiguity you have, the easier it is to procure, score, and award contracts. Remember to base these on expected outcomes rather than being too specific. All of this removes the chance of nasty surprises later on.

In Summary

Effective procurement is about getting what you want, for the best price you can afford.

Having clear, agreed answers to the previous points will make your journey so much easier, and will reap rewards countless times over. Allowing yourself time to define the requirements and run the procurement in an orderly fashion will make a big difference when it comes to appointing a supplier, and using the scale of your MAT will also enable you to leverage benefits that can’t be matched by individual academies.

 

James Weatherill - 19 October, 2017

Category : Blog

7 staffing measures your MAT or school could be tracking

We’ve been gathering feedback from the dozens of different MATs we work with on what core measures they’ve been tracking to monitor success. Measuring staffing is clearly vital, as it typically accounts for 70%-80% of a school’s budget, but we find that the measures MATs and schools are currently using vary wildly. Some opt for financial measures that

We’ve been gathering feedback from the dozens of different MATs we work with on what core measures they’ve been tracking to monitor success. Measuring staffing is clearly vital, as it typically accounts for 70%-80% of a school’s budget, but we find that the measures MATs and schools are currently using vary wildly. Some opt for financial measures that focus on efficiency and cost, others look at Net Promoter Scores that focus on satisfaction, all depending on the culture of the MAT or school, which we’ve analysed in previous posts. Below are some that we’ve seen with their benefits and drawbacks:

1) Staff cost per pupil: split by % child facing vs. % non child-facing, % SLT vs % teachers (supply vs. FTE) vs. % back-office
A basic indicator but one that can reveal a lot if benchmarked and analysed correctly. Looking at the splits of % child-facing vs. non-child facing can reveal heavy management layers or inefficient back office process taking resource away from front-line teaching. The split between SLT, teachers (supply & FTE) and back office can help to drill down and identify where schools might be over or underspending.

2) Cos