Management Information System (MIS) for schools
Expert ideas for a better working life at your school or trust
Case Studies | Popular
Category : Blog
As part of our continual work to improve and expand Arbor MIS, we work hand-in-hand with our secondary schools to understand the features we should develop that will best support staff in their everyday roles. We spoke to Rebecca Pickles, Deputy Headteacher at Beacon Academy, about the successes they’ve experienced since moving to Arbor remotely
As part of our continual work to improve and expand Arbor MIS, we work hand-in-hand with our secondary schools to understand the features we should develop that will best support staff in their everyday roles.
We spoke to Rebecca Pickles, Deputy Headteacher at Beacon Academy, about the successes they’ve experienced since moving to Arbor remotely during the pandemic. Rebecca talks about how Arbor has supported their goals to work more efficiently as a school by giving staff the data they need so they’re not reliant on others. Rebecca says she was surprised how straightforward it was to switch systems remotely, and encourages other schools to be open to changing the ways they’ve been used to doing things in order to improve their working culture.
We were already partly cloud-based with our previous MIS, but the hosted model was fraught with issues when trying to use it quickly and efficiently. The hosted platform often failed during work and it was slow. Moving to a fully cloud-based MIS means that we can access all the functionality wherever we choose to work that has an internet connection.
Cloud-based data storage assures us that we’re not dependent on hardware in school, backups don’t have to be assured and we can work with Arbor to ensure that we’re securely meeting all legal and security requirements in law. It’s a cleaner system and much easier to manage for all users.
There were no concerns that weren’t easy to address. The only major stumbling block is for those high-level MIS users having to ‘get used to’ a new system. This was something that took some time to work through but concerns around this were easily dealt with and supported by our team at Arbor (a level of support we hadn’t experienced when migrating to our previous MIS!).
Arbor provided a wealth of information and the migration process was well planned to ensure we were all ready when our site went live. Because the MIS is so easy to navigate, it didn’t take long for people to realise what we’d missed for so long; something intuitive that just does what we want it to do!
We were encouraged to try Arbor when we joined our trust (Wellspring Academy Trust). We understood the benefits of being in a group of schools who could support us on our journey and there were lots of very experienced people that could can help us out.
That being said, Arbor for us was also a journey into working with a company whose ethos and approaches to school support aligned with our working model. From the first meeting we realised that the MIS and the development behind it was invested in improving the functionality and making school data management as efficient and user-friendly as possible. The MIS seemed intuitive, built for school use everyday and was built for power and simplicity!
Irrespective of whether the trust was part of the system already, the move was motivated primarily by making our day-to-day MIS lives more efficient, paperless and usable by all. Our previous MIS was clunky, difficult to navigate, and setting up day-to-day functions for efficient processes required many hours of work and was not easy to access by all users in the Academy. We needed a change!
The process of implementing Arbor remotely was actually a lot easier than I’d anticipated. I actually think that remote working was a better method as it allowed more people to join in, we could keep recordings for training purposes and it allowed things to happen more quickly i.e. we didn’t have to arrange meetings, rooms, people being on site together etc. I would highly recommend it as a way of going into the migration process.
There are a number of benefits that we have seen in the short time we’ve been on board:
Arbor has been particularly useful for us in the following ways:
The objective for Beacon Academy was to automate and create efficiency. It was to reduce our environmental impact (particularly around the use of paper communications) and be able to share the system with wider stakeholders to allow for transparency and support in our day-to-day business. This has been evident in its infancy as our new MIS and I’m constantly impressed with different developments and features that I believe will contribute to our overall goals.
We hope that in the long term the power of Arbor for our school will continue to amaze as it has so far. We’ve never looked back and are always surprised and pleased with new product developments and the Arbor Product Roadmap. A real MIS gift that keeps on giving!
Discover how Arbor could transform the way you work with a free online demo for your school. Get in touch here, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interview with Sir Peter Birkett, Founder of Highgate Hill House School With more and more special schools moving to cloud-based systems to transform the ways they work, we spoke to Highgate Hill House School, an independent co-educational special school in Devon, to hear about the role that digital technology plays in their strategy. Founder and
With more and more special schools moving to cloud-based systems to transform the ways they work, we spoke to Highgate Hill House School, an independent co-educational special school in Devon, to hear about the role that digital technology plays in their strategy.
Founder and ambassador of the school, Sir Peter Birkett, shares how the school is using SENDit and Arbor MIS to record and monitor their students’ progress throughout school, and to further their school improvement initiatives. Sir Peter also has some great advice for fellow schools in how to get staff onboard with new technology.
In January 2016 I founded Highgate Hill House School in Devon – since that point the school has grown, developed significantly and is currently flourishing. This is largely due to our team working approach and commitment to providing personalized learning programmes for every child in our school. My internal role is to ensure this happens by encouraging innovation, creativity and activities that excites the children and allows them to work at a pace that best suits them.
My role as an ambassador includes raising the profile of the school through national awards, inspections, securing quality standards award (e.g., IIP) speaking at events, press releases, blogs, networking events and the usual social media activities.
Highgate Hill House is in the process of refining its ICT strategy with a company called Academia. Our strategy will focus our meeting our Vision, Mission, Values and Strategic objectives – we will adopt wherever possible technology that is proven to work including virtual reality, simulators and drones.
We see the use of IT as crucial in enhancing and accelerating learning and building on our blended learning approach that has advanced more rapidly because of the pandemic.
As we are a school for vulnerable children with special educational needs, we have remained open throughout all periods of lockdown.
A challenge for us like any other school was planning online delivery almost overnight. Not only the infrastructure, equipment, staffing and parental/carer support but also creating a system that the children would enjoy and quickly get used to.
For those attending school, we had all the social distancing and change of habit challenges to overcome health and safety issues as well associated with the use of IT equipment.
We have learned much from the pandemic and will now have certain aspects of the school curriculum delivered via online home learning.
Technology supports our school by making learning interesting. We tailor each child/young person’s learning to their individual interests and technology means that we can access resources that inspire them.
Technology used intelligently will not only excite and motivate many students it will also support, enhance and accelerate the learning process.
Technology during the pandemic has also been used for staff development and team building that also included sharing of new learning and teaching material produced.
We chose these companies because they share our passion towards educational excellence, they have the technology that will enable us to record and monitor a child’s progress throughout their time in the school. This will provide the school, the child, parents/carers, inspectors and other key stakeholders with individualised pupil information that will enable us to provide personalised learning and intervention strategies for every child in the school.
It is still early days but we are delighted with the progress seen to date – we are already seeing the points raised above being met.
Very well, we are pleased with the ongoing support from both companies.
Identify a champion, engage all staff by developing a shared plan with phased timeframes and review dates, allow staff time to experience the benefits of the learning platform or portal. Some find it straightforward while others find it daunting, however, once they feel confident their creativity and ideas begin to flow.
To meet our vision and, in partnership with both SENDit and Arbor, build on the work already undertaken. Our aim is to use the technology available intelligently so that we can create a recording, monitoring and learning approach that ensures all children are “happy, successful and able to reach their full potential”.
If you’d like to find out more about how Arbor’s cloud-based MIS could transform the way your school works, join a free webinar or arrange a personalised demo here. Alternatively, get in touch with us on email@example.com or 0208 050 1028.
Case Studies | IT Support
Interview with Paula Harris, Business Manager at Lacewood Primary School, Barnsley At Arbor, we think schools should be able to choose the support that works for them. That’s why we’ve built a network of over 50 support partners across the country. In this interview, I spoke to Paula Harris, the School Business Manager at Lacewood
At Arbor, we think schools should be able to choose the support that works for them. That’s why we’ve built a network of over 50 support partners across the country. In this interview, I spoke to Paula Harris, the School Business Manager at Lacewood Primary School in Barnsley, about how they recently moved to Arbor with the support of our accredited Support Partner AdEPT Education.
Find out what motivated Lacewood Primary’s move to the cloud, their relationship with AdEPT Education, and how they’re transforming the way they work for the better – from sharing visibility of data to all staff (not just the Business Manager), to engaging parents in more cost-effective ways.
We started looking at Arbor in April and went live in September, so we had a few things to do over the summer holidays to get it set-up but it wasn’t too much work. There are always a few teething issues with new systems but it was quite straightforward really, the staff were surprised how easy it was!
We’d been thinking about switching for a while, but it was a bit tricky to get some members of staff to change because they were so used to the old system. Some people were quite apprehensive but I was quite excited about using a more modern system. Our previous MIS was quite old and the look of it hadn’t been updated in a long time. Reporting was quite complicated and our support team had to help us generate any additional reports that we wanted. It wasn’t very user-friendly and it wasn’t easy to interact with parents either, because they didn’t have visibility of their children’s data. The final straw was when we moved to a new support provider, which meant we had to buy our MIS license directly rather than from our LA, and the cost shot up to over £10k.
I’m part of a local School Business Managers’ forum, so I asked questions there about what other MIS other people were using and there was a lot of interest in Arbor. It gave me confidence that others were already using it and recommending it, so I thought “why not?”
Arbor is much more user-friendly. When you go to a student profile, it’s a lot clearer and all the information you need is there, rather than having to scroll through. You can also pin things to the top of the child’s record so you can access it more easily.
2. Sharing the burden of census
The most recent workforce census was the easiest census I have ever done. The data quality dashboard in Arbor allows you to look at anything that’s been duplicated, so you can deal with things as and when on a day-to-day basis, rather than waiting for the census dry run. On census day it’s always down to the Business Manager to complete everything, but if you’ve got the data quality dashboard, you can involve the admin team too and give them little bits to look at and fix. Obviously that shares out the workload, but it also means the office staff understand what the census is about and why it’s so important that children’s data is correct. Everyone can take responsibility for the data rather than just the Business Manager.
3. Engaging parents
Parents can log in to the Parent Portal to see their children’s details and request that we amend them, whereas with the previous system they couldn’t do that. It’s much more interactive for them and we’re also using the free in-app messaging system so we save money on texting.
4. Bringing systems together
We also use the payments functionality in Arbor, so it’s meant we have been able to bring a lot of systems into one – we used to use a separate communication tool and a separate payments provider, but now everything’s come together in Arbor so it’s cost effective and much easier to manage. Payments are really easy to reconcile in Arbor too, much more straightforward than the system we used to use.
Teachers have said it’s easier now because the dinner register is on the same system as the attendance register, so they don’t have to open another screen. We’re looking at the assessment side of things now on Arbor too and we’re going to have a demo in the New Year.
During the implementation, you have a dedicated person at Arbor who you can contact at all times and they ring every week to check how you’re progressing. They send you lots of links to training webinars and resources too, which I used and shared with the admin team, so by the time we migrated over, we were all ready!
The support from AdEPT is really good. It’s been a learning curve for both of us as AdEPT are fairly new to providing support for Arbor’s MIS, but that’s meant we’ve had a really close relationship with them as we’ve been getting to grips with Arbor. We’ve found it really easy working with Mandy and the team.
It definitely makes a difference working with a team that’s local and that I already have a relationship with. They know what I’m like – I’m not technical! For me to be able to get on with a new system, it had to be well supported and easy for me to understand.
I’d advise them to come and have a look! Visit a school that’s already up-and-running to see how easy it is to use. One of our office staff had been at the school for 27 years and was quite apprehensive, but even she adapted really quickly and was pleasantly surprised with how easy it was. When she retired recently, we had a new Attendance Officer join the school and she was up-and-running with Arbor within a day. So my advice would be, just come and visit!
Are you considering moving your school to the cloud?
Join a free webinar to see how Arbor’s cloud-based MIS could transform the way you work. From tailored sessions for secondary, primary, special schools and MATs, find out what’s on and sign up today. Alternatively, book a 1:1 demo here.
Are you an IT support team?
If you want to find out more about partnering with us, we’d love to hear from you. Get in touch here. Find out more about how we work with specialist providers here.
Arbor Community | Case Studies | IT Support
Local Authority IT teams have been working with schools in new ways over the last few years. Joining forces with cloud-based MIS suppliers, many are now able to give their schools more choice of systems, whilst still providing the local support and advice that schools value. At Arbor, we work with a wide range of
Local Authority IT teams have been working with schools in new ways over the last few years. Joining forces with cloud-based MIS suppliers, many are now able to give their schools more choice of systems, whilst still providing the local support and advice that schools value.
At Arbor, we work with a wide range of local IT support teams and Local Authorities in all regions of the country. We run an established accreditation programme to certify our Partners to provide schools with training and support with Arbor MIS.
Hertfordshire (Herts for Learning) and The City of Bradford (E-ICT Team) are Local Authorities that we work especially closely with. Both teams are Arbor Accredited Partners and support a growing number of schools in their local areas. We recently spoke to them about their experience of working with us – check out their case studies below.
Whether you’re a Local Authority looking to provide more MIS options to your schools, or you’re a school who’d like to move to a cloud-based MIS with the continued support from your local IT team, these case studies will give you a feel for what a support partnership with Arbor looks like.
Why did you choose to partner with Arbor?
We have been aware for some time that the MIS market is beginning to fragment, as competition increases and more schools begin to look at moving to the cloud, not only for MIS but teaching and learning too. A few Hertfordshire schools had been using Arbor for some time and Herts for Learning weren’t able to support them at the time they migrated. As more schools started to approach us about providing them with support for a cloud MIS, it made sense to invest our resources into accreditation with Arbor as we had an established customer base and it meant that we could provide schools that want to retain HfL support with more choice. It helped that the Arbor ethos is a good fit with HfL.
How did the accreditation process go?
It was straightforward; we took the decision to start with a small, focused project team, given that we had a limited number of schools to support at the time. Since then, we have rolled out the training to the whole HfL support team, so that customers don’t see any difference in the high level of support for Arbor that they’ve come to expect from us.
The support from Arbor during the accreditation process was good, I think both sides learned a lot from it. We were able to feed back to the Arbor team about what worked and didn’t work for us, and that was taken on board.
How have you found working with Arbor so far?
The relationship we have developed with Arbor is really positive, we’re all working to the same goal ultimately – to improve outcomes for schools. Collaborative working and effective communication has been really key in getting the support we need, in order to be able to provide a great level of service for our schools.
How have your schools that use Arbor found it so far?
The positive feedback from our Arbor schools has been great. As a local support team, we have been able to provide the added value that Arbor are not able to – we provide some very specific guidance that reflects what the local authority requires from schools in Hertfordshire, which schools and the authority really value, as it saves every school re-inventing the wheel in their MIS.
We have also produced tools in Arbor, so that schools can continue to use HfL’s Easy Tracker assessment, part of our PA Plus subscription service which supports schools and academies analyse pupils’ attainment and progress from Early Years to Key Stage 2.
How do you hope to develop your relationship with Arbor in the future?
Working with partner organisations is a key part of HfL’s success and we sincerely hope to continue working closely and collaboratively for the benefit of the schools we support, both now and in the future.
Schools are now looking at moving to cloud-based systems and Arbor seems to be one of the preferred options with good feedback from schools already using it. From the demonstrations by other cloud-based systems, the majority of schools fed back that Arbor was the one that impressed them the most.
It was not rushed and easy to access all the information needed. It was a new way of learning for us as we’re used to a more classroom-based environment but all the information was there.
Very approachable and forward thinking. Arbor makes adjustments that are relevant and on time to make school life easier – they give prior notice with training, and documentation is available early enough to be able to advise schools when needed. We’ve had no problems at all in contacting Arbor for help when needed.
The fortnightly Product Update meetings are very useful and keep us abreast of any changes coming along. We are very impressed with the speed that changes are made to the system. The Team is helpful, friendly and professional.
It is particularly helpful that we have Dominique who works with Bradford so we have someone to contact directly. When we requested a training session on a particular area of Arbor recently, as we weren’t sure which route to go through with our schools, this was set-up very quickly and Dominique answered all our questions.
If you’re a school who’s thinking about switching MIS but would like to continue to work with your Local Authority for support, we’d love to speak to you. Get in touch with us on firstname.lastname@example.org
Similarly, if you work for a Local Authority and would like to find out more about the benefits of supporting your schools with Arbor MIS, get in touch on email@example.com
Case Studies | School Operations
We spoke to two Senior Leaders in a primary and secondary school about the biggest challenges they’re facing this term, and how they’re feeling about potential Ofsted inspections. To find out some of the questions Ofsted have been asking this term and how Arbor MIS can help you prepare, check out our blog. Martyn Essery,
We spoke to two Senior Leaders in a primary and secondary school about the biggest challenges they’re facing this term, and how they’re feeling about potential Ofsted inspections.
To find out some of the questions Ofsted have been asking this term and how Arbor MIS can help you prepare, check out our blog.
1. What are some of the biggest challenges your staff are facing this term?
The changes to the “zoning” of students has required a change of perspective for some Teachers who have cultivated their own classrooms over the years, but the biggest challenge now is keeping on top of staff and student absence, and seeking to offer the best remote learning experience for those who are not in school.
2. What are your strategies for getting your students “back on track” after lockdown?
We have deliberately avoided using language around “catching up” and “filling gaps” in order to get students back to school. Instead we reconnected with the physical space and daily social interactions without causing unnecessary mental burdens in relation to the time missed between March and July. We are making use of the excellent guidance from the Education Endowment Foundation – we are in the fortunate position that much of the back-to-school guidance chimes with initiatives we already had in place, such as targeted academic support.
3. Are you concerned at all about Ofsted inspections?
No, but I hope they are being carried out as a means to fact-find and share best practice around how schools are approaching this unique challenge.
4. How will you be preparing for an inspection?
We do not implement processes or add requirements specifically in relation to a planned or unplanned inspection, so we will continue to ensure that our systems are working effectively – supporting our students to learn and enjoy their learning, and giving us the data we require to analyse and intervene where required.
5. How has Arbor helped you prepare for inspections in the past?
The quick access to a wide variety of data in relation to students, staff, attendance and behaviour has meant that drawing up overviews and headlines has been very straightforward. But, as mentioned above, rather than it being useful specifically for an inspection, it is the way in which we have been able to integrate Arbor into all of the day-to-day routines which makes it so useful in relation to feeling prepared and on top of what is going on in school.
The close tracking of behaviour, with clear workflows and follow-ups in order to ensure nothing slips through the gaps, has contributed to behaviour in our school being both high quality and consistently managed.
With custom reports and Live Feeds, individuals can create bespoke reports which monitor the data relevant to them – this has been utilised in relation to absence and punctuality in recent weeks.
Finally, we have been able to manage a changing landscape related to timetables and when students are required to be at school thanks to the way the programmes are set up in Arbor.
At the moment, it feels like we’re dancing on the tightest of tightropes. I’ve never known Teachers to work such long hours, and students are now having to make seven steps rather than five just to meet expectations.
This next six months will be the most complicated stage of the current crisis. In some ways, last term’s lockdown was quite straightforward – we had 10-15% of our students in school and the rest we provided remote support to. But the current period is a sort of “halfway house” – we’re not fully open nor closed. The Government’s covid-related illness codes give the false impression that there is a high attendance nationally, whereas in reality the codes mark students as present. One of our schools is currently struggling to reach 90% attendance when Covid-19 registration codes are taken into consideration.
However, I’m pleased to say that behaviour so far has been very good – you can sense students feel the joy of being back to school.
Since the beginning of term, we’ve taken the opportunity to reset. Everything we are doing has been adapted to the Covid-19 situation. This has often meant we’ve had to re-evaluate what we do and why we do it. For example, we’ve re-launched our school curriculum which has gone down well.
It’s uncertain when and what the visits will look like. Under the current framework, core subject leadership is the most challenging area. Until recently, it was only senior leadership who were judged, but for the last five years Subject Leads are being judged more and more. In the 90’s, each Local Authority would have their own Subject Leads, who could upskill staff in schools. But now schools do not have such support. Many MATs and federations are developing dedicated subject leadership strategies. Our approach has been to develop a subject leadership handbook between our two schools. This handbook sets out our vision, expectations and timelines for Subject Leaders. It’s been designed to get new leaders up to speed as quickly as possible, and for experienced leaders it’s a useful touchstone. New leaders have also buddied up with experienced Subject Leaders, often across schools.
The main thing Ofsted will want us to evidence in relation to the Covid-19 learning gap, is “How do you know what students don’t know?” Baseline assessment will support much of this but running alongside this will be an adjustment to our school vision – how does our vision for learning fit in this new climate? What adjustments do we need to make? What financial impacts will this lead to? These are typically long term questions that we are having to make decisions on rapidly in a very uncertain world.
Assessment is better understood. We’re in the process of using Puma and Pira assessments which import neatly into our Arbor MIS. This will show us how student groups are doing across key measures. Equally we’re using our Early Years assessments to gauge how far we have to go in order to meet minimum requirements. Early evidence is suggesting that younger children have a wider learning gap than older children. What we know is that younger children also tend to make more rapid progress than older children. At the moment we have set a challenge to address 18 months of learning in one year. This will have to be adjusted if we are called to close again, as the suspicion is that a second round of school closures could create an even greater learning gap than the first.
Ofsted are also likely to ask whether you’re just doing the “minimum” to get students back on track with their learning, or if you’re being adaptive and creative in order to enrich their learning. The fact that we can’t get out on trips (Transport for London has closed school trips) makes this difficult for us to do, especially for foundation subjects. So we’re working with what we can do locally and internally, for example our Head of School recently dressed up as the Queen (which managed to convince our Year 1’s!)
Arbor is where we can evidence core learning and the effectiveness of our policies around attendance, behaviour etc. We can get the data we need rapidly to show where we are, how things have changed over time, and which students are behind the trends, which is vital in Ofsted conversations.
Want to find out more about how Arbor MIS could transform the way your school works for the better? Book a free demo here or get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0208 050 1028.
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Case Studies | Popular | School Operations
Since most of us can remember, maintained schools have generally used the IT systems that their Local Authority recommends and supports. Until recently, there hasn’t really been any other option. But in the last few years, many Multi-Academy Trusts have been reviewing their schools’ tech and replacing their legacy, server-based systems with more efficient, cloud-based
Since most of us can remember, maintained schools have generally used the IT systems that their Local Authority recommends and supports. Until recently, there hasn’t really been any other option.
But in the last few years, many Multi-Academy Trusts have been reviewing their schools’ tech and replacing their legacy, server-based systems with more efficient, cloud-based solutions.
Many Local Authorities, too, have started to collaborate with suppliers like Arbor in order to support their schools to move to a cloud-based MIS. We’re working with a growing number of Local Authorities up and down the country, each of whom has gone through our rigorous accreditation and training so that they can support their schools with Arbor.
If your Local Authority hasn’t started to look at cloud-based options yet, don’t let it hold you back! Many schools have decided they can’t wait and are moving to the cloud by themselves, supported by Arbor’s simple migration process. In Hampshire alone, over 22 schools have moved to Arbor, spurred on by two early pioneers.
Find out below how two Hampshire schools broke away from their LA and moved to Arbor MIS – and they haven’t looked back.
1. What motivated your move to Arbor MIS?
We used to have a number of different systems that managed all the different operational aspects of a school (MIS, attendance, communication, assessment, medical, etc), and although individually these systems worked well, we found that you had to keep switching between them to get the full picture, i.e. linking attendance to progress, or emails home to confirm social media consent. This, coupled with the extraordinarily complex processes to get straightforward answers to simple questions (e.g. What is the absence trend of our PP children this term?) was becoming increasingly frustrating for us.
I had used Arbor Insight reports for a couple of years, and loved the clarity in which detailed information was presented. The charts and graphs were consistently user friendly, and I was able to get the data I needed swiftly. I did some investigating into Arbor MIS, and spoke to a couple of schools – who all spoke highly of the system. When we costed Arbor over a three year period and found that we would save just under £6k compared to the other systems we were using, the transition was a no brainer!
2. Did you have any concerns before moving?
There were a number of issues that I needed to be confident about before moving to Arbor. Obviously we checked their reliability, ‘uptime’ status over the past few years, accounts, customer service, compliance with GDPR and other relevant legislation. I was also mindful of our school being the first maintained primary school in the county to move away from local authority’s preferred product. We were also twitchy about the actual transition and the physical moving of all our MIS data from one product to another! We knew that we were taking a leap of faith!
However, after the delays in getting the data out of the old system, the actual transfer into Arbor was slick with several layers of verification. Additional checks by the Arbor team continued to make us feel confident that our data was being well looked after!
3. What was your staff’s reaction to changing MIS?
The office team were instrumental in evaluating Arbor before moving over to it, so they had some idea of what to expect. They were very excited about the transition, especially with regard to us being a growing school and requiring a product that would grow and help us streamline systems and processes. We are still finding time-saving devices regularly in the product!
My Business Manager is able to put all the staff details in a single system, and add staff attendance, contract details and we are investigating transferring our Single Central Record over too. Teachers like being able to locate parent’s contact details quickly, alongside assessment and attendance data. All these features make for a happy staff!
4. How has Arbor transformed the way you work?
One of the most notable areas that has been transformed is the census return. Having our own maintained nursery (with its variety of Nursery 2s and 3s, 15 and 30 hour funding, irregular sessions, non compulsory attendance, paid for sessions, etc.) used to require multiple telephone calls to the previous system’s help desk. These were often painfully long, incredibly complicated and stressful days! However, the most recent census return was completed in under 20 minutes (and when help was required, it’s always clear and accurate!).
I love the automated reports – I’ve got two main ones set up at the moment; one for safeguarding, the other for attendance. These scheduled reports are automatically generated and emailed to the relevant staff. These save so much time!
For us, however, Arbor is the one-stop-shop for everything. During parents’ evenings, we load on the pupil’s page, and we have all the information at our fingertips. We can quickly see who is social media safe, or doesn’t have permission for the administration of paracetamol, who has a food allergy, or what they achieved in their Y1 Phonics screening. We used to waste so much time digging into separate systems to find all this – having it all on the screen in one place has been fantastic!
5. What would you say to a Local Authority maintained primary school in an area like Hampshire who’s thinking of moving away from SIMS but is nervous about it?
Do it! Don’t hesitate! There are better, more efficient and more effective ways of working. Arbor holds your hand all the way through the process (and beyond – they definitely do not “drop you once you’re in!”). The ongoing communication, support and training continually reassure and help you get the most from Arbor. They are continually developing the product (the Covid attendance summary page is brilliant for the daily DfE return!), and they listen to your suggestions for improvements too! Take the plunge – you won’t look back!
To find out more about how Arbor’s cloud-based MIS could help your school work faster, smarter and collaborate more, join one of our webinars at ArborFest – our exclusive online event for schools across the country. You’ll hear how fellow school staff have transformed the way they work with Arbor MIS. Find out what’s on and book now – it’s free!
Read Part Two for our second interview with Kay Bowen, Headteacher at St John the Baptist CoE Primary
As hundreds of maintained schools are choosing to move to cloud-based systems, many independently of their Local Authority, we’ve been speaking to schools in Hampshire about why they made their decision to move to Arbor. You can catch up on our first interview with Jason Anderson, Headteacher at Romsey Primary School here. In this blog,
As hundreds of maintained schools are choosing to move to cloud-based systems, many independently of their Local Authority, we’ve been speaking to schools in Hampshire about why they made their decision to move to Arbor.
You can catch up on our first interview with Jason Anderson, Headteacher at Romsey Primary School here. In this blog, we speak to Kay Bowen, Headteacher at St John the Baptist CoE Primary, who moved to Arbor in Spring 2020.
The cost of our previous system and lack of usage; feeling that it probably could do a lot but we did not have staff trained and experienced in using it over many years and thus we weren’t able to get the power from it. We wanted a system that everyone could use to quickly find out anything they needed to about a child.
We wanted to save time and make the office function more efficiently, have everything paperless, with all staff able to access all they needed themselves rather than relying on the office. We felt sure there was a more 21st Century solution to school data than the rather 20th Century system we had.
Cost was a concern as we could not afford to spend more (on training for everyone). We needed to find a really straightforward system so that everyone could do the basics and we would not have much time or money to train people. We also had the worry of losing data or things being complicated for parents at the start, thus them being disinclined to use it. I think I was also worried that a lot of these systems seem to be very “secondary centric” and would they understand that an average sized primary has different usage and needs compared to a big secondary?
They seem quite relieved, and hopeful! The office team we have are new in post in the last few months so they are keen to learn a new system that they will then know inside out.
4. How do you hope moving to Arbor will transform the way you work?
I hope that everything will be efficient and fast. The medical info will be shared more easily, and data should remain up to date every day without needing to be checked. We hope that it will be easy for parents to use to communicate messages from the school. We hope it will reduce the load on the admin team to do routine data work and they will be freed-up timewise.
5. How is implementation going so far?
OK – there has been a lot of work to tidy our current system which has been more difficult than for other schools as we have a new team and they had not learnt the old system, so it is time consuming. We are about to swap over systems, but we have had someone to talk it through with every week and check if we have any queries. Our Admin Staff have had their first training session and report that it all looks very straightforward to add information to.
6. What would you say to a local Authority maintained primary school in an area like Hampshire who’s thinking of moving away from SIMS but is nervous about it?
Don’t be afraid – having a system that everyone can use with ease as an end point to keep in mind makes it doable. Plus, financially we’re not losing out this year, even with the additional training costs of year one, when you add up all the systems we had for emails, payments, MIS – we will be saving money every year going forward and can see that we will be saving time too.
With constant changes to Government guidance, family situations and the wider national picture, schools and trusts certainly learned a great deal last term. Where there were huge challenges that meant working in totally new ways, schools has also taken some positive lessons from the crisis. It gave schools the opportunity to pivot fast to work
With constant changes to Government guidance, family situations and the wider national picture, schools and trusts certainly learned a great deal last term. Where there were huge challenges that meant working in totally new ways, schools has also taken some positive lessons from the crisis.
It gave schools the opportunity to pivot fast to work more efficiently and find new ways to reach out to parents and guardians. It also put the spotlight on student and staff wellbeing issues, bringing them top of the agenda.
We recently caught up with Jon Ward from The Parks Academies Trust who told us about the ways he and his staff adapted their ways of working during the crisis. Moving their secondary schools to Arbor MIS in April – right in the middle of partial school closures – meant they saw right away the new and better ways of working with a cloud-based MIS.
Staff across the trust felt Arbor allowed them to collaborate and align over their work. Plus, it took the hassle out of important Covid-19 related tasks like tracking attendance and following up with hard-to-reach families.
To read more about the measurable differences Jon and his team have measured since moving MIS during Covid-19, download their full case study here along with other feedback we’ve received from schools during Covid-19 crisis.
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With over 1200 schools and trusts, we’re proud to be the UK’s fastest-growing MIS community. Join in and book a demo today, or join one of our webinars.
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Case Studies | MAT Operations
As part of our “Adapting to Change” webinar series for MAT leaders, Dave Noble, Director of Operations at Red Kite Learning Trust, shared with us how the trust have been dealing with the Covid-19 crisis. Dave explained the vision he’s building for a centralised and collaborative IT infrastructure across the trust. Embracing new technology has been
As part of our “Adapting to Change” webinar series for MAT leaders, Dave Noble, Director of Operations at Red Kite Learning Trust, shared with us how the trust have been dealing with the Covid-19 crisis.
Dave explained the vision he’s building for a centralised and collaborative IT infrastructure across the trust. Embracing new technology has been vital in responding to the challenges of the pandemic, from maintaining business critical operations like payroll, to reaching out to vulnerable students, to managing the quality of remote teaching and learning.
Check out Dave’s webinar and presentation below.
To find out more about how Arbor MIS could transform how you work at your school or MAT, we’d be happy to give you an online demo. Get in touch or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, you can call 0208 050 1028.
With planning arrangements and timetabling at the top of school leaders’ minds right now, we invited expert timetabler and curriculum planner Jan Hetherington to join our webinar series “Adapting to Change” to share her solutions for September. Jan is Vice Principal and Specialist Leader of Education for Curriculum Leadership at Wykham Park Academy, a secondary
With planning arrangements and timetabling at the top of school leaders’ minds right now, we invited expert timetabler and curriculum planner Jan Hetherington to join our webinar series “Adapting to Change” to share her solutions for September.
Jan is Vice Principal and Specialist Leader of Education for Curriculum Leadership at Wykham Park Academy, a secondary school which is part of the 15-school Aspirations Academies Trust. As well as developing the timetable for her school, she also coaches senior leaders across other trusts on how to create more effective timetables.
Jan shared with us some of the plans Wykham Park Academy is putting in place to keep students socially-distanced and to help maintain teaching and learning standards in September. She explained that above all, she wants to ensure that the new arrangements don’t sacrifice students’ full learning experience.
You can read Jan’s conversation with Arbor’s CEO James Weatherill below.
What I mean by that is students need a variety of rhythms across the school day and week to get the highest quality experience. The right timetable should put together the right groups of students with the right teachers. Every lesson slot has a currency; some are lower value than others, for example nobody wants Friday Period 5, or Monday Period 1. Staff need to appreciate that if they get any of those lower value slots, they’re going to have different pedagogical challenges. The timetable should also be suited to the age of the students. I worked once with a MAT which completely restructured their day based on teenage sleep patterns with a staggered day.
As we went into lockdown, we decided that KS3 would have four lessons a day – English, Maths, Science and Humanities – and Year 10&11’s would have five lessons a day. We didn’t synchronise these in the school timetable, we simply uploaded them onto Google Classroom. Our staff skill set has grown exponentially in terms of using online platforms. We had been using Google Classroom already for about a year for setting homework, but we’ve had to learn rapidly over the last few months how to use it for much more.
At first, when we didn’t know how long school closures would last, we wanted to keep a normal lesson format as far as possible. But after Half-Term, we shifted to project-based work for KS3. Year 10 moved away from new learning into consolidatary learning, and for Year 11 we put on four lessons a day only to support those students who were at risk of achieving a 4 or above.
The quality of pre-recorded teaching and learning was mixed at first, so we started to give live lessons to KS5. We chose not to do this for the rest of the school due in part to union advice, plus we wanted to protect staff given potential safeguarding issues and uncertainty around best practice. Instead teachers uploaded pre-recorded lessons – some with audio, some with video.
A key lesson was wrongly assuming that simply uploading a Powerpoint will do. We quickly realised that students need more support; they need a full learning experience with learning modelled by the teacher. For example, we started to use videos showing the teacher writing or demonstrating. It’s also important in pre-recorded lessons that the teacher still engages with the students personally, for instance calling out student names as though they were live in the classroom.
We’re going to use the same lesson timetable we would have used in the normal course of events. The location of lessons might change but the timings won’t. We’re also going to offer a full curriculum. This is because we want to keep things as normal as possible in terms of what is being taught in order to give students’ the richest experience possible. We worry that if they had only a “partial diet” they might easily disengage. We also don’t want to stagger lesson start and end times too much because this would lead to unsupervised time.
We’re going to split the student body into different physical zones, with their own entrance exit and toilets. On the Banbury Aspirations Campus (which contains an Academy, a Studio School and a Sixth Form), we have the unique advantage of a massive site with lots of different buildings housing lots of different specialist areas, so this makes it easier for us to keep students apart.
We’ve got the potential for three different entrances into the school site. Students will have their own route to their zone, and within the zones, they’ll be able to move around into new spaces in order to maintain a rich and varied school day. KS3 will be kept in a “bubble within a bubble”, having all their lessons in one classroom. They’ll only leave their zone as a class to do specialised activities like Drama. KS4 will be zoned as a Year Group “bubble” so all their lessons will be in that zone unless they move for specialist activities.
We’re going to have a reduced menu and students will place an order, then pick it up and go. We’ve got two dining room spaces and we’ll have staggered slots so two “bubbles” can use the room but be separated by time slots. We’re going to continue the breakfast clubs we run for disadvantaged students by keeping them in a “bubble” with each other.
We’re still waiting for advice from the Government on what “enhanced cleaning” means. In the meantime, Headteachers are looking at what pubs and restaurants are doing right now to inform our plans. IT and Food Tech rooms are tricky because they’re used by every Year group and they’re available to book. The plan is to timetable them so there’s at least one lesson period in-between usage so we can clean down surfaces before the next group of students. We’re also going to limit use of those rooms to practical lessons, keeping theory based lessons elsewhere. Cleaning is of course going to be a big expense. We’re looking to the trust to support with that.
Breaks are easier because students will use the outdoor spaces within their zones. We won’t be serving food at break, but students are welcome to bring their own break time food. We will be offering snacks and keeping an eye on known vulnerable students to make sure they are fed.
I’d recommend staggering lesson times and movement times. Also assess what size of “bubble” you’re comfortable with. Some schools I’ve heard of are doing Key Stage “bubbles” which can include 600 students! Some are using online platforms to teach different lessons to classes that stay in one room.
On his blog recently, James Duran gives a range of options for Teachers to consider to balance “catch-up” content and new material. We’re planning a parallel approach of new learning with some revision along the way. We’ll review the content and progress regularly, and define “threshold” concepts within the curriculum students need to understand to move forward.
We plan to make all lessons digitally accessible if needed, making use of the online platform skills staff have learned. We’ve found pre-recorded videos are not just convenient but have the additional benefit that students can pause and rewind which can actually help to reinforce learning. If there’s another lockdown, we’re going to commit to doing live digital lessons because we don’t want to sacrifice the face-to-face element again going forward.
We’re still working out our quality assurance processes. Some schools have been doing live lesson evaluations but we don’t want to do that. In September, we’ll first of all carry out an audit of the technology students have at home to avoid the situation we’ve had where 600 students had to have paper lesson packs because they couldn’t get online. We’ll also do a RAG rating so we’re taking into consideration student preference and learning style.
We’re going to put a digital learning policy in place so students know what we expect of them. In terms of teaching, we expect the same high quality as in the classroom. We want to maintain the learning structure we use normally, with a balance between guided practice and independent practice.
The structure will look like this:
1. Live guided practice: 15 mins or more (live or recorded) where teachers model what they want from students. We’ll encourage the use of audio for this, rather than video, because we know that audio doesn’t split students’ attention in the same way video can
2. Live Q&A and dialogue, encouraging peer interactivity,
3. Independent offline practice, then students upload the work they’ve achieved
We also want to encourage a variety of different learning experiences (e.g. app-based and flip learning). In terms of assessment, we’re still working this out and looking into a system that allows live online assessment. We’ll definitely be including low stakes testing (e.g. using Kahoot). We’re also looking into functionality which allows students to put their work up on the screen rather than asking the teacher to come over and have a look.
If you look at the research after the 2011 earthquake and lockdown in New Zealand, it showed that students did better than expected when they returned. John Hattie (2020) says rather than focusing on “gaps” and content students have “missed”, you should focus rather on what students actually need.
In this vein, we’re not expecting the new arrangements to have a huge effect on students because they’re going to be in a group that’s good for their learning and they’ll be with the right teacher. The sequence of learning may change over the year but they’ll achieve it all by the end of the year.
If you’re new to Arbor, we’d be happy to give you an online demo. Get in touch or email email@example.com. Alternatively, you can call 0208 050 1028.
In our latest webinar for MAT leaders, we were joined by Derek Hills, Head of Data and Andy Meighen, IT Director from The Harris Federation. In our previous blog, we explained Harris’s unique approach to IT and how they were able to enable remote learning for their 36,000+ students when the Covid-19 crisis hit. In
In our latest webinar for MAT leaders, we were joined by Derek Hills, Head of Data and Andy Meighen, IT Director from The Harris Federation. In our previous blog, we explained Harris’s unique approach to IT and how they were able to enable remote learning for their 36,000+ students when the Covid-19 crisis hit.
In this blog, Derek and Andy share how they analysed their data across the trust using Microsoft Power BI, so they could measure how well students and staff were engaging with the online learning tools they’d put in place.
Once remote lessons got underway at The Harris Federation, questions soon arose around how it was all going; how many Teachers and students were engaging and what the quality of the interactions were. It was easy for Teachers to get insights about their classes from Microsoft Teams, but it was difficult to get useful information at a departmental, academy or trust level. To combat this, the IT team developed reports using Power BI to analyse usage data across the trust.
Below is a standard Power BI template they used to see all trust digital activity over a period of time, such as where users were logging in from and which files they were accessing. This was useful as it meant they could look at huge quantities of log data (10 million rows a day) during lockdown.
This image shows a different report they used to look at log information showing all online student activity. This allowed them to easily see the peaks and troughs over time, which helped them identify anyone they should follow up with.
The below report showed them usage of systems during the Covid-19 period. Office 365 is orange, SharePoint is pink, OneDrive is grey, purple is Teams and yellow is Exchange (email) (not many students).
They could see that in March, there was a big increase in email use as students and staff needed to communicate more than ever before, but Teams soon overtook email as remote lessons became regular. Use of Onedrive dropped, potentially because students and Teachers were storing and accessing assignment files within Teams instead.
They also used Power BI to get important demographic information for safeguarding purposes. They also had to keep Governors and the Board of Trustees up-to-date with stats such as attendance.
Covid-19 has drawn attention to just how important having a strong IT infrastructure has been for teams across Harris. It has allowed the IT team to continue business as usual for the large part, and respond to the huge number of data requests they’ve received during lockdown.
Though they’ve been able to learn a lot about the quantity of their online learning data, e.g. the peaks and troughs of usage, which parts of the system were being used and by whom, but what they haven’t been able to analyse is the quality of what was actually going on in the classroom.
We’d be interested to know how and what you’ve learned from your online learning data at your school or trust, and the lessons you’ll take forward as you continue with a blended learning approach. Post a comment here or on the Arbor Community forum.
You’re invited to join us for the next webinar in our “Adapting to Change” series tomorrow (Friday 19th) where we’ll be demonstrating how to use benchmarking and performance analysis to drive smart strategy at your trust. Sign up for free with the link below.
Friday June 19th 2020, 11:00am
Using Arbor’s benchmarking and performance analysis to inform data-driven decisions for your trust
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Recently we invited Derek Hills, Head of Data and Andy Meighen, IT Director from The Harris Federation – a trust of 48 academies in London and Essex – to talk about how they rolled out an online learning programme for their 36,000+ students. They explained how when Covid-19 hit, their flexible, cloud-based setup allowed them
Recently we invited Derek Hills, Head of Data and Andy Meighen, IT Director from The Harris Federation – a trust of 48 academies in London and Essex – to talk about how they rolled out an online learning programme for their 36,000+ students.
They explained how when Covid-19 hit, their flexible, cloud-based setup allowed them to quickly and easily give all students access to online education, which would not have been possible using a legacy, server based system. You can read more below about Harris’s unique IT approach and how they responded to Covid-19.
Check out our next blog to find out how they analysed their online learning data!
With 4,500 staff and 36,000 students across primary and secondary, Harris uses a centralised and standardised IT set-up designed to give everyone the same experience across the trust.
The focus of Derek and Andy’s roles is making IT work for everyone across the trust with systems that are as efficient and cost effective as possible.
The key principles of their IT approach are:
The IT team at Harris manages data centrally through a combination of their own data warehouse and cloud-based systems. They created a data warehouse so that they could hold all their MIS (Management Information System) data on premises and develop systems on top of it.
Using a data warehouse also means that when they bring in a new system, for example Microsoft Teams, it can set up user accounts for all students and staff automatically. Admin Staff simply add the student names, then the data warehouse puts them into the right groups, saving the central IT team time.
Whenever they design new systems or processes, Derek and Andy ensure they can be used across all academies. They want to make sure all staff and students have the same technology options at their fingertips. At the same time, it’s also important to give Teachers the freedom to use digital tools in a way that suits the particular lesson they’re giving. For this reason, the IT team doesn’t advise that staff teach in a certain way, or use a certain VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) such as Google Classroom. From experience, without top-level buy in from trust leadership, initiatives like these are rarely successful.
Harris uses Microsoft systems across the trust which are set up to communicate with their data warehouse. These are some of the key parts of the puzzle that help the systems interact:
As schools began to close and remote working became necessary, Harris was able to respond quickly, using lessons they’d learned from a recent snow day. On that day, phone lines couldn’t cope, staff ran out of SMS credits and the web connection crashed. They therefore had already solved these issues, and increased their supply of laptops for students and staff to take home when Covid-19 hit.
Setting up remote teaching and learning was also a smooth transition because staff were already using Microsoft Teams and Show My Homework to record lessons and set assignments. The only difference was that staff had to adjust to doing much more on Teams such as leading live lessons. The IT team also needed to set up lots more users on Teams – in March alone they set up 20, 000 accounts which took two weeks as Microsoft struggled to cope!
Click here to see the four steps the IT team took to set up users on Microsoft Teams using their data warehouse
Although they were smooth to set up, remote lessons brought some challenges. IT worked quickly with Teachers to adapt the ways students interacted with Microsoft Teams. For example:
Check out our next blog to find out what Harris has learned about their online learning programme from analysing their data in Microsoft Power BI.
During our webinar series “Adapting to Change”, we’ve been hearing from lots of Multi-Academy Trust leaders about how they’ve shifted their strategy to deal with the Covid-19 crisis. Dan Morrow, CEO of Woodland Academy Trust, shared how he’s looking out for staff wellbeing, whilst Mark Greatrex, CEO of Bellevue Place Education Trust, spoke about the
During our webinar series “Adapting to Change”, we’ve been hearing from lots of Multi-Academy Trust leaders about how they’ve shifted their strategy to deal with the Covid-19 crisis. Dan Morrow, CEO of Woodland Academy Trust, shared how he’s looking out for staff wellbeing, whilst Mark Greatrex, CEO of Bellevue Place Education Trust, spoke about the balance between school autonomy and trust centralisation, and Mark Lacey, CEO of Diocese of Salisbury Academy Trust shared some lessons for leaders in a global crisis.
Our latest speaker in our Adapting to Change series, LEO Academy Trust gave a brilliant talk about how they’ve rolled out cloud-based technology and consolidated their systems across their trust. They shared how they had to rapidly step up their rollout as the Covid-19 crisis began to kick in. They also explained some of the ways Arbor’s cloud-based MIS has helped them work flexibly during lockdown since they moved in March.
LEO’s Director of Technology (Learning) Graham Macaulay and Chief Operations Officer Nicky Gillhespy shared some great advice for fellow MAT leaders, particularly if you’re planning on updating your trust’s digital strategy in light of the demands of Covid-19.
We’ve summarised their talk below – we hope it gives you some useful tips to take back to your trust when thinking about how to manage the coming weeks and months.
Our Trust is built up of six academies, 3550 students, 415 members of staff across seven sites, but we wanted to bring in one digital strategy which drives our use of technology across the board. It was really important to us that we aligned all our key stakeholders in a clear direction before thinking about how we would actually roll out new systems.
When we began planning our new digital strategy in September 2017, we had five challenges we needed to overcome before moving forward:
To solve these problems, we had two options. The first was to carry on doing what we’d always done and “fill the holes and paint over” so that on the surface everything looked like it was working. This would have been the easy option, as it would involve no new staff training, no new risks, costs or demands on staff time.
Option two was to innovate and think differently. We had to realise that the world was massively changing and that we as an organisation needed to embrace that change. Sometimes the quick wins don’t always produce the best outcomes in the long term.
Defining what we wanted to achieve
The digital vision has to come from the top and you have to have the support of the Trust Board. You also have to have input from various different groups. The key to our success was setting up Digital Working Parties with key stakeholders from across the trust, including Trustees, the CEO, the CFO, COO and Director of Technology. We asked key questions such as “What do we want out of the system?”, “What do we need?” and “What are we doing now that we could do better?” Then we tasked the IT and Technology departments to devise new solutions. Having input from every single area within our trust helped to manage knock-on effects of initiatives and make sure they worked for everyone.
Planning is essential
During the journey, there have been highs where we’ve made progress and delivered change, but of course, there have also been challenges along the way. We learned quickly that the key to success, as with any change management project, was setting essential milestones along the way. Then as the plan began to change, we could default back to our core objectives in order to manage expectations.
We spent a lot of time thinking about long-term development, for example the sort of organisation we wanted to be and the opportunities we wanted to provide to our staff and pupils. But we also needed to deliver short-term projects where staff could see the benefits immediately. What was important was to position these “quick wins” within the longer term direction.
Communicating the strategy
We initially took a “dissemination approach” to communicating the changes to staff. Centrally, we communicated in the Digital Working Party, then Headteachers and Principals passed on the message to their teams. We reflect now that this process could have been improved because it meant those messages weren’t always delivered on time or accurately, and this generated a feeling of hearsay between schools. It would have been better if we’d have taken on some of that responsibility centrally.
Changing mindsets and empowering staff
We wanted to ensure that every staff member had the core skill set they needed to make the changes we were putting in place. We therefore spent almost a whole academic year preparing support materials for staff and delivering CPD on everything from beginner’s Google, to creating forms, to managing files.
Running a staff development programme was essential to making the digital project a success. And this work is ongoing – as we evolve our digital strategy, we will regularly review our provision for our staff and their capabilities, and change the way we deliver our CPD accordingly.
Although most staff have adapted to the new technology we’ve introduced, there was some reluctance and fear of change. We found the most important thing was to build their confidence. Our Office Staff have enormous skill and so we asked them why they liked working in certain ways so we could make sure our new ideas suited them and made their workload easier. By encouraging them to take part in our Digital Working Parties, and demonstrating their particular skills, they started to flourish.
The impact of technology on teaching and learning
Since we moved to the cloud, we’ve been able to change our pedagogy and the way we deliver teaching and learning. We’re running a programme to provide all KS2 children with a Chromebook to use in school and to take home. This has enabled us to move from a passive approach where teachers talk and children do an activity, to having a lot more strategies that enhance the teaching and learning. Pupil engagement has rocketed as a result.
We’re also really proud that one of our schools has become a Google for Education Reference School which means they regularly host visitors from around the world to look at the impact that technology is having on pupil experiences and outcomes.
Supporting remote learning
During these unusual times, we’ve used technology to maintain a sense of normality as much as possible. One of the ways we’ve supported teaching and learning has been through setting up a simple Google website for schools to upload activities. The vision was to provide fun opportunities for children and help families support their children with their education from home. The site is massively helping not just our children, but children across the world, with around 15,000 visitors every day!
We’ve also set up Google Hangouts for our classes, as well as sessions for our “Digital Leader” pupils with speakers from Google and Adobe sharing words of wisdom and ideas for how they can develop their computing knowledge. We’re also holding virtual discos with staff acting as DJs which we’re streaming live.
We moved to Arbor on 16th March – midway through the start of the Covid-19 crisis – but the timing worked out perfectly. Moving to a cloud-based MIS meant that our Office Staff could do all of their admin work at home. From the operations side we have been able to continue business as usual since the crisis hit, since all of our payments and orders could continue, and we could set up staff to work from home easily.
Moving to the cloud has changed how we work for the better and put us in a really strong position, especially for the demands of distance learning. From one computer we can access all areas across the trust, such as the MIS, our data stores and our finance systems. As soon as we decided to close our schools, we created a form to find out from pupils and staff whether they had access to a device or the Internet at home. We then made sure that every pupil and member of staff went home with a web-based device.
Look out for more webinars with MAT leaders in our series “Adapting to Change”. You can also check out our Summer schedule of webinars all about how to manage your school or MAT flexibly with a cloud-based MIS. With sessions specific to primaries, secondaries and MATs, and managing assessments, meals and payments, and more, find the session that’s right for you and book here. See you online soon!
In our webinar series for MAT leaders “Adapting to Change”, we recently heard from Mark Lacey, CEO of Diocese of Salisbury Academy Trust, who shared his strategies for leading his trust through the challenges of Covid-19. Mark had some really useful advice for fellow MAT leaders around how having strong foundations through your strategic plan,
In our webinar series for MAT leaders “Adapting to Change”, we recently heard from Mark Lacey, CEO of Diocese of Salisbury Academy Trust, who shared his strategies for leading his trust through the challenges of Covid-19.
Mark had some really useful advice for fellow MAT leaders around how having strong foundations through your strategic plan, business continuity plan and risk registers, as well as a strong set of digital tools, can help you pivot flexibly in a crisis. Most importantly, Mark highlighted the need for realism and compassion for staff.
As you’re planning your exit strategy from the current Covid-19 crisis, you might find it helpful to take a look at Mark’s planning document which he kindly shared with us. As you’ll see, the document addresses key risk scenarios and outlines the trust’s response, with space for the individual schools to complete their responses. Click here to download the PDF.
We’ve summarised Mark’s conversation with Arbor’s CEO James Weatherill below.
How well prepared were you for the Covid-19 crisis?
I don’t think anyone was prepared for what has happened, but what we benefited from is we have a clear strategic plan, business continuity plan and risk register which gives us a strong backbone and allows us to adapt and flex when external events occur.
We also pride ourselves on having an adaptive culture at the trust. We recognise that we don’t always have all the answers, but that it’s more important to share best practice, collaborate, and be open to admitting when we’re doing something wrong. This allows us to change direction fast.
How did you adapt to the crisis?
Earlier in the year, we had already experienced a large challenge – we went through 7 Ofsted inspections over a period of 10 weeks – which forced us to adapt quickly. This served as a test in some ways for what was to come with Covid-19 and we were able to learn important lessons so we could easily switch to a new rhythm of working.
Given our schools are spread over quite a wide geographical area, we made sure above all that we worked tightly as a Central Team and that we set a clear direction. It was important that we were responsive in relaying information as soon and as clearly as possible to schools, and that we were accessible for whatever schools needed.
What have you learned about being responsive in a crisis?
The speed at which we’ve adapted to ensure emergency provision has shown us just how much potential we have for change. It’s also proven to us the importance of building into our strategic planning a focus on people more than process. We know staff will continue to feel vulnerable sometimes going forward and we believe taking a compassionate approach and prioritising wellbeing is really important.
When you return to more normal operations, how will your “people over process” approach change the way you work?
Putting people first is a difficult thing to measure and be certain about, but there are some concrete measures we can put in place. For example, we’ve seen that easy-to-use shared IT systems like Office 365 take a lot of burden away from staff and can help them feel connected. We also try to gauge how staff are doing through sending out digital forms and bringing representative groups of staff together to discuss certain issues. We aim to use the feedback we get from staff to build into our policy making going forward. A big emphasis across the trust is also social and personal development.
How do you monitor wellbeing when working remotely?
A big focus of ours as a Central Team is looking after our Headteachers. Our Academy Improvement Team members have each taken responsibility for a group of Heads who they meet with every week using Microsoft Teams (video chat). Every meeting starts with questions about their wellbeing – it’s been important for us to understand all the different struggles Heads are dealing with at the moment, such as spouses who are key workers or having children at home. We’re learning a lot, and fast, about how to sense how staff are doing from their body language and tone over video. Many of the tensions Heateachers found with staff at the beginning involved miscommunications over email, so we’ve actively encouraged video chat to bring a personal approach.
Keeping regular lines of communication has also been really important. We’ve converted our monthly bulletins to weekly bulletins focused on wellbeing, in order to make sure everyone has access to helpful resources.
How has your leadership style changed during Covid-19?
The most challenging thing we’ve faced as a Central Team has been working remotely and not being physically in each school. Whilst my natural leadership style is collaborative and approachable, this has been essential to emphasise even more, making Headteachers aware I’m here if they need.
Of course, we’ve been direct and interventionist where it was necessary. For example, we felt it was important to bring some schools together into hubs so that we had greater control of emergency provision and more staff could shield, despite some resistance from Headteachers.
How have you been using tech to adapt?
Because we’ve invested quite considerably in digital tools over the last two years, we didn’t have to suddenly bring on lots of new systems to cope with remote working. This crisis has shown us the real value of having systems like Arbor’s cloud-based MIS and Office 365 in place to rely on. It’s meant we can share data within and between schools easily, and communicate with parents using tools staff are comfortable using already. Some of our schools weren’t using some of the communications features before the crisis, but Arbor switched these on swiftly for us.
We’ve also seen the benefit of Arbor in our financial management during the crisis. We were able to set up our own Free School Meal voucher scheme and get all the data we needed from Arbor.
Setting up students on Microsoft Teams has also made a lot of impact. Going forward, we’re going to ensure everyone has access to a remote learning platform.
Has this crisis challenged your expectations on how quickly you can implement change?
It’s shown us the importance of being clear about what we all need to do together and what will have the most impact. It’s given us conviction and belief to step into changes more boldly in future.
What are your future plans?
Having learned from this current situation, we’re going to be cautious about making too many plans going forward. Being able to adapt is much more important. We’ve got to be realistic about what can be achieved over the next year, given schools will need time to recover.
In terms of planning towards wider school opening, we’re trying to make neutral decisions by weighing up the polarised spread of views out there. We’ve put together a risk assessment and planning document for our exit from the Covid-19 situation* which outlines key questions and issues, and the trust responses to each of them. It also provides space for schools to add their responses.
* You can download Mark’s “Risk Assessment: Planning for Exit from COVID-19 Emergency Period” document here.
What are your key takeaways from the Covid-19 crisis?
I hope we will all go forward with a greater appreciation for what we have and more compassion for each other. I have been incredibly impressed with everything our staff have achieved and will not forget it.
As a Central Team, we will aim to take collective responsibility for who we are as a trust and move forward with a strong moral compass.
Mark Greatrex has had a rich history in education; having held senior positions in three academy trusts and serving ten years at the DfE, his current position is CEO at Bellevue Place Education Trust (BPET), where he’s been for five years. BPET is geographically spread out, made up of eight primary schools in eight different
Mark Greatrex has had a rich history in education; having held senior positions in three academy trusts and serving ten years at the DfE, his current position is CEO at Bellevue Place Education Trust (BPET), where he’s been for five years. BPET is geographically spread out, made up of eight primary schools in eight different Local Authority regions across London and Berkshire.
Mark joined us for a brilliant webinar in our series “Adapting to change”, where he shared with fellow MAT leaders his strategies for leading a geographically dispersed trust, and how these strategies play out during the challenges of Covid-19.
You can read Mark’s conversation with Arbor’s CEO, James Weatherill, below. Here’s a quick summary of the three main strategic areas Mark talked about:
We’re very passionate about the breadth of provision we offer. We want the children to leave having real independence and confidence. Not only is the curriculum broad, but it’s delivered in an exciting, engaging and purposeful way.
The most important thing for us is educational autonomy. We create the culture of the organisation centrally, and do have some policies that are approved centrally, such as safeguarding, first aid, health & safety and HR. But all our educational policies are approved at a local level.
In the autonomy model, the role of the Headteacher is key. I’ve wanted to make sure that they have full ownership of everything that goes on in the institution they lead. It’s the middle leaders and the Teachers too, who are the engine room of the school. They own the curriculum content and the delivery of it. Because we serve schools across a diverse group of affluent and not so affluent areas, the curriculum needs to meet the needs of the local community that we serve.
The first thing I did as the CEO was put a very strong Headteacher performance management policy in place so that I can properly hold them to account, and that the metrics are shared and understood across the organisation. If we are pushing accountability, we need to reward so our Headteachers are eligible for discretionary bonuses every year of 2-8%.
Headteacher objectives and targets are linked to our trust goals: Learn, enjoy, succeed.
We make five two-day visits a year to review each of our schools. In the visits, we look at the school development plan, the safeguarding audit. The essential element is the learning review where we look at a particular piece of teaching and learning.
Our review cycle is modelled on “C.O.D.E.” (Challenge, Ownership, Dialogue and Engagement). Each school chooses one area to be reviewed on each year. For example, under “Ownership”, we review childrens’ engagement in their own learning. This drives a powerful teaching and learning conversation within our schools. I wouldn’t recommend doing the whole Ofsted review cycle, because if the Central Team has got leadership right, and we’ve got teaching and learning right in schools, everything else will fall into place.
Systems like Arbor MIS and Civica (our finance system) are invaluable to us as a Multi-Academy Trust, as they make those conversations a lot more focused. Five years ago, when I was going into schools with school improvement advisors, we’d spend a whole hour just trying to agree on a figure. Now we can immediately identify where the challenges are, for example persistent absences or behavioural issues. Arbor and Civia take us to the right places to focus our discussions and move the schools forward at pace.
As part of our school improvement strategy, we produce performance reports every term that are similar to the “school on a page” reports that some trusts use. These are two-page reports with RAG ratings covering attainment, quality of teaching and learning, leadership, attendance, safeguarding, behaviour, resources, staffing and engagement with the community. These consistent documents share the dialogue and increase visibility and accountability, bringing everyone into the conversation of improvement.
As a Central Team, we then plan strategic improvement interventions. As David Blunkett said “Intervention should be in inverse proportion to success.” We believe the system is improved by working on our worst performing schools.
Depending on internal capacity, we sometimes commission organisations such as Local Authorities or expert private providers to do a piece of work with a clear scope e.g. improve attendance in one of our schools.
We’re lucky to have an “Enrichment fund” which we use for certain passion projects across our schools, such as “Philosophy for Children” staff training, or hiring a Maths advisor five days a year for each school.
Our CPD offer is critical. We’ve developed new Headship, Senior and Emerging Leaders programmes. We run one trust-wide INSET day a year in one of our schools, with about fifty one-hour taster sessions in different areas e.g. having courageous conversations with parents. These really drive enthusiasm and give staff tools and techniques they can take back to their schools. They’re also aimed to continue to fire their enthusiasm for teaching and learning.
We also make sure we do safeguarding every year for new staff or those who need a refresher. It’s possible to do things centrally but you can’t do it as often and you need to use remote formats. Going forward, we plan to do 4 out of 5 of our collaboration sessions per year virtually.
Where we give our schools educational autonomy, the opposite is true in terms of how we’re structured financially. By managing finances centrally, I want to invest funds in the schools that need it the most. That’s not to say we pool school funding. Each school retains their budgets based on the school funding letter.
We’ve set three key financial performance indicators:
1) No school will go into deficit. Those who are in deficit have a goal to be out by the end of the year
2) Staffing should be no greater than 75% of each school’s budget. This has allowed us to prioritise our numbers of staff
3) 95% of invoices should have a purchase order. We want to ensure a formalised process where all committed spend at school level is raised in our finance system (Civica) as a purchase order. We then process all invoices centrally in weekly payment run across all schools. This ensures all our suppliers are paid against their payment terms
Since 2011, the MAT market has been growing and evolving exponentially. The question of proximity was only really brought up by Lord Nash when he recommended an hour’s journey time between schools. Hopefully the way we support our schools will give confidence that distance doesn’t have to be a barrier, but we take responsibility for our growth, not only in numbers, but in geography, and work hard to make sure we don’t have any true outliers.
A management consultant once introduced to me the rule of “10, 40 100”. If you think of these proportions applied to an organisation – it could be the number of employees, or the turnover – organisations with 10, 40 and 100 need to be run in very different ways and probably need very different CEOs. In our case, we think of this in terms of number of schools. Our aim is to grow to 15 schools, but if we’re successful at 15 and the trustees want us to grow to 40, that will be a very different business model.
However, where operational alignment works well for 15 schools, the question is, is it scalable within the 10, 40, 100 rule? I don’t know. If we grow, Regional Directors and hubs might be an option. We could also split the Finance Director role into four hubs. What we’d have to think about, however, is how we’d bring those hubs together to maintain consistency.
Over the past few weeks we’ve been thrown into web calls; we use Zoom for all of our conversations with Headteachers. Normally, having a meeting with a school can take two hours out of everyone’s time, so doing them virtually is really powerful. I think having a blend of the Internet and meeting in person is important – Zoom is something the finance and operations teams use quite a lot anyway, and have been for a few years now. But you can’t deny the power of personal contact. I think we’ll always continue our physical meetings with Headteachers four times a year.
Look out for more webinars in our series “Adapting to Change”, where we’re interviewing MAT leaders about how they’re adapting to partial school closures and all the changes that are happening at the moment. You can catch up on one of our recent webinars with Dan Morrow, CEO of Woodland Academy Trust all about “Nurturing Staff Mental Health and Wellbeing” here.
If you want to find out more about how Arbor MIS could help your trust work flexibly and remotely, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or 0208 050 1028. Or alternatively you can book a web demo here.
Arbor’s CEO James Weatherill caught up with Vicky Harrison, COO at Hoyland Common Academy Trust (HCAT), about how she’s adapted to change over the last few weeks Why did you decide to move to Arbor? Last year we had significant growth, acquiring a large secondary school with over 2000 pupils and two more large primary
Arbor’s CEO James Weatherill caught up with Vicky Harrison, COO at Hoyland Common Academy Trust (HCAT), about how she’s adapted to change over the last few weeks
Last year we had significant growth, acquiring a large secondary school with over 2000 pupils and two more large primary schools, as well as working with a school in Barnsley as an associate MAT member. We were previously using Capita SIMS but it wasn’t working for us as an expanding trust, so that was the main reason we decided to move to Arbor in February.
In general, it’s not been about challenges, it’s been about successes. There were a lot of unknowns, so we had to react to the daily information from the Government. We’ve used the central team really well, which has freed up our schools to concentrate on the key worker kids, student wellbeing and chasing up vulnerable children.
Arbor helped us alleviate some of the burden on teachers and admin staff having to create staff rotas and track free school meal pupils, because we could access all the free school meal data via the MIS from our central office, and upload it to the Edenred site. To get the FSM data, I could easily log into everybody’s Arbor and create a simple report with the names of pupils, their contact numbers, addresses and email addresses, then send out a blanket message to them asking them for the supermarket of their choice. We’ve also created a whole raft of letters and emails centrally that we’ve rolled out across the trust. That just wouldn’t have been possible before.
One of the things we’ve found useful is that Arbor has been very reactive to the situation. You react as soon as something happens, and being a cloud-based system, updates are instantaneous. Like with the free school meals report, for example, it was there ready to go within a day. Also, initially we were doing the registers at a trust level – logging on every day and putting the hashtag code in but Arbor soon created a fix in the system that automatically put in the hashtags, which saved us another thing to think about.
The ability to use Arbor at home has been especially helpful to our teachers and headteachers. On Capital SIMS, we had to rely on something called Forticlient which teachers had to have installed on their laptops and didn’t always work. With Arbor, teachers have been able to log on at home to contact their class through a safe portal. It’s also been really easy to use for any staff who are “anti-ICT”.
It was really seamless. We made the decision to move to Arbor in February because we still had until the end of March with Capita SIMS. This was so if anything had gone wrong, we could still use Capita. Initially I was kind of dreading it. I was thinking all our data was going to be lost, and that we wouldn’t be able to find anything but it’s been really straightforward and simple and really supportive from the Arbor team as well. We were using SchoolComms and Parent Pay and initially planned to roll Arbor out in phases, but because staff found it so easy to use at a school level, we decided to roll with it from day one. Even if you’re not particularly ICT-savvy, it’s so straightforward and you can see where you’ve got to go to get the information you need. If you don’t, Arbor’s live chat and the Arbor Community forum have been really useful.
When we were using Capita SIMS, we relied on our local authority to write reports because it was so difficult to work out where you needed to go to get the information. Then when we wanted to send a communication to a parent, we had to log into a separate text messaging service and there was no log of communications. With Arbor, staff are able to readily access children’s contacts without having to rely on somebody back at the office. You can track what you’ve sent out (for example the messages to FSM families I’ve sent during Covid-19) and see if they get back to see you – and parents can see too. Then if you do need to chase it up, you can send a text out again.
Because the system is so easy to use, they’ve not needed much training. When we first rolled it out, we did initial training on core things like how to take the register, how to manage dinners etc. And they all picked it up. Then we just sent an easy, simple crib sheet to staff with how to contact Arbor if they needed. Prior to school closures, we did a staff briefing on how to contact parents and how to get the information they needed.
Our associate school is local authority maintained and still on Capita SIMS at the moment but because we’re having to keep contacting them to get all the information we need, we’ve decided to roll out Arbor for them while Covid-19 is going on. So it won’t really be a barrier to rolling out Arbor any further.
I don’t think so. If we’d have known about Arbor sooner, we’d have moved sooner!
At the moment everything is unknown. We don’t know what Boris is going to announce when he does. If he decides, for example, to send back families, Arbor will give us that ability to quickly find out what families we’ve got in school and what year groups they’re in, so we can concentrate on the timetabling. It’ll also mean we can do rotas flexibly, for example if staff are in on odd days.
If you’d like to hear from more MAT leaders about how they’re managing their schools remotely, we’ve got lots more free webinars coming up. Check out our schedule of remote working webinars here. We’ve got a special webinar this Friday with Jonathan Bishop, CEO at Cornerstone Academy Trust. Jonathan will be discussing how to make online education a success at scale. You can sign up here for Friday.
For all the guidance on how to use Arbor during Covid-19, it’s all here.
As part of our programme of webinars – “Adapting to Change: Managing your Schools and Staff Remotely” – we invited Dan Morrow, CEO of Woodland Academy Trust, to share his strategies for staff mental health and wellbeing across his trust Dan discussed the responsibility of trust leaders to their staff, particularly during the Coronavirus crisis,
As part of our programme of webinars – “Adapting to Change: Managing your Schools and Staff Remotely” – we invited Dan Morrow, CEO of Woodland Academy Trust, to share his strategies for staff mental health and wellbeing across his trust
Dan discussed the responsibility of trust leaders to their staff, particularly during the Coronavirus crisis, and how he’s shaped policies around what makes a real difference to staff. We’ve put together the key takeaways from Dan’s fantastic talk and also included his slides below.
His main tips were:
The philosophy that guides Dan’s strategy is that “wellbeing isn’t something you can just tack on – it needs to be based in culture and action”. Since arriving at Woodland Academy Trust, a trust of four Primary schools in North Kent, Dan has brought wellbeing and mental health onto the agenda, replacing the previous “compliance mindset” which he says did not treat staff “as people first”.
He’s introduced initiatives such as wellbeing dogs, paid wellbeing days and CPD pathways staff can shape themselves, which have turned around the trust’s previously high level of staff absence, sickness and turnover rate. They’ve achieved this, Dan explains, by shaping wellbeing policies around their staff – which makes them feel heard and creates a reciprocal culture where “people want to get out of bed and come to work every day.”
“A contract is very important but as you see at the moment, it isn’t a contract that’s driving behaviour – it’s relationship, it’s duty, and it’s need”
The last few weeks have proven to Dan that the most important thing for his employees is their families and home life. As a leader, he believes you have to work your decisions around the reality of peoples’ lives. “It’s important we understand that sometimes life happens”, Dan says. With this in mind, the trust has re-examined their bank of policies to make them family-friendly and focused on workload. Making these adjustments has cut down on the number of staff calling in sick because of dependency issues or an issue that would have previously forced them to take unpaid leave.
In shaping wellbeing policies across the whole trust, Dan sent out surveys to his staff to make sure they were on board with everything he was proposing. “The worst thing you can do in wellbeing” according to Dan, “is to announce a strategy which you’re effectively doing to your staff and they may not actually want”. The surveys helped Dan’s team understand what would really make a difference to staff. For example, they had proposed wellbeing workshops but staff said the most valuable thing for them was more time. Dan’s team took this and introduced the idea of paid wellbeing days which staff can use for something that’s important to them, whether that’s to “attend weddings, the first day of their children’s school or a spa day with a friend they hadn’t seen for 30 years. Why not?”
An essential part of Dan’s leadership strategy is listening to his staff. When he started as CEO, he met with every member of staff to get to know them as individuals, ask them how they are and what they need. The aim of these conversations was to build the relationship on “a shared sense of culture and vision”. In a trust the size of Woodland, it was possible (and important to Dan) for the Executive Team to hold these conversations, but for larger trusts Dan suggests this may be done on a Division or Director basis. Dan plans to check in with staff in this way again when schools return after the Coronavirus crisis.
Woodland’s people-first approach extends to staff development, where Dan ensures that initiatives are geared towards what staff actually need and want to work on. Staff can now create their own CPD pathways and take secondments or work experience opportunities, which gives them “a voice in where their development is going”. Staff are also encouraged to take part in networking and to be active in discussions within the education sector on social media. 3 out of 4 of Woodland staff are now involved in Twitter or LinkedIn which, Dan says, demonstrates how staff feel more ownership over their career.
“Being part of a broader narrative of education has been really important for colleagues to find their place within our sector”
As part of the overall strategy at Woodland “WAT CAIRS” (Woodland Academy Trust Care, Aspiration, Inspiration, Respect and Stewardship), they believe that leadership should be “part of the solution to problems” that staff face in their lives. For this reason, a free employee counselling service is available for staff, which has been particularly useful during the difficult few weeks since the Coronavirus outbreak. They also run a wellbeing dogs scheme, which has been incredibly popular, both with children and staff. Initiatives like these are relatively cheap and help to “lift the spirits and make it feel like work has an aspect of care to it.”
And those costs have paid off. Staff retention has risen to over 95%, saving over £ 300, 000 in recruitment costs over three years. Days lost to sickness has reduced significantly, too, falling from 11% in 2015-16 to 3.1% last year, which has cut the need for external cover.
As a result of the Coronavirus crisis, Woodland Academy Trust has taken many lessons which will inform their wellbeing policy going forward. In this challenging time full of anxiety, Dan’s attitude is “it’s incumbent on us leaders now to ensure that staff understand that their wellbeing is being prioritised.” One of the immediate practical measures he took to put anxiety to rest was to reassure his staff around pay. Communication was also key – teams are encouraged to check in with each other regularly and new protocols and practices have been produced so everyone is comfortable working remotely. They’ve also provided close support for the more vulnerable members of staff.
Dan predicts that following this crisis, wellbeing and mental health are going to be higher on the agenda so leaders should “ensure staff have the professional capabilities, the personal resilience and the team around them to be successful”.
You can look through Dan’s presentation below which includes useful links for teachers to resources, podcasts and blogs to access during lockdown.
We have lots more webinars coming up in our programme Adapting to Change. The next few will be conversations between MAT Leaders and Arbor’s CEO, James Weatherill. For more details on what’s coming up, check out our blog.
If you have any questions about the webinars, or about how Arbor MIS could help your trust, you can get in touch at email@example.com, or give us a call on 0208 050 1028.
To find out how to manage and report on the Coronavirus situation in Arbor, you can read our latest blog, or find practical advice on our Help Centre.
Pool Academy is a secondary school in Cornwall with 650+ students. We caught up with Phil Jones, Head of Academy Services, who told us about some of the ways life at school has changed for the better since they moved to Arbor back in 2018 Can you tell us why you decided to switch to
Pool Academy is a secondary school in Cornwall with 650+ students. We caught up with Phil Jones, Head of Academy Services, who told us about some of the ways life at school has changed for the better since they moved to Arbor back in 2018
Can you tell us why you decided to switch to Arbor?
Was having a cloud-based system important for you?
Which area of the system in Arbor has saved you the most time?
How did you find the migration and implementation process?
Are there any other aspects of Arbor that you have found particularly useful?
Do you feel you get the support you need from the Arbor team?
Would you recommend Arbor?
Kate Ferris, Data Systems Analyst at Baxter College, a Secondary Academy of 865 students in Kidderminster, talked to us about how Arbor’s Management Information System (MIS) has not only made admin at her school simpler and easier – it’s transformed the way they work. Since moving to Arbor MIS almost two years ago, there have
Kate Ferris, Data Systems Analyst at Baxter College, a Secondary Academy of 865 students in Kidderminster, talked to us about how Arbor’s Management Information System (MIS) has not only made admin at her school simpler and easier – it’s transformed the way they work.
Since moving to Arbor MIS almost two years ago, there have been a lot of changes at Baxter College; but the biggest shift has been much more focus on data. Kate’s role – Data Systems Analyst – has also changed in two years, now being much more focused on the MIS. The school has expanded their IT team in order to work smarter across the trust (Severn Academies Educational Trust) by upgrading systems and creating efficiencies. To support this, Baxter College needed a smarter MIS that gave them access to live, detailed data that could be pulled easily into clear reports.
Kate shared with us the top four reasons she loves using Arbor MIS at her school:
Arbor MIS allows Baxter College to dig into their data and do more with it. Easy-to-use, visual dashboards present relevant data to everyone who needs it across the school. As Data Systems Analyst, Kate has an overview of what’s going on across different classes, pastoral groups and staff teams, which means she has all the information she needs to jump in if necessary. Kate says she’s seen a culture shift at her school – now that the data is easy to understand, teachers are much more enthusiastic about engaging with Arbor MIS than the previous, clunky system.
Seeing their data in new ways has led to new discoveries. According to Kate, Arbor MIS unlocked their behaviour data and helped them to understand trends and patterns for the first time. Arbor has given them a “360 degree view” of behaviour across the school so they can intervene where they need to and never miss anything. The flexibility to tailor interventions is essential for Kate; she can define metrics that are important to her – for example, if a student is late three times, Arbor automatically alerts the right pastoral leads.
Having attendance, behaviour and progress data all in one place has made a powerful difference to Baxter College. Providing outstanding, all-round care to students is a core part of the school’s mission and having data at their fingertips in Arbor helps them see exactly where extra attention is needed. Staff can now drill down into all the important areas of a student’s school life and take everything into consideration to see how they’re doing.
Thanks to communication through the Arbor App, Kate has seen teachers and parents/guardians come closer together. As a large secondary school, Baxter College is keen to keep regular touchpoints with parents (2-3 emails and SMS messages per week) and the Arbor App makes this easy. Setting up automated communications, such as weekly attendance reports, is a great way for staff to let multiple parents know what’s going on with their child without the hassle of sending individual reports to each parent.
Reaching out like this wasn’t possible before the Arbor App. Getting up-to-date, personalised information to parents was only really possible at parents’ evenings. Parents now have a personal connection to the school and a sense of belonging to the school community. The gap is narrowing – currently 53% of parents at Baxter College have the Arbor App – so Kate’s goal is to encourage more and more parents to engage and feel comfortable contacting the school.
As Baxter College has changed, Arbor has adapted to their needs. With the flexibility to add and customise features, they have shaped the MIS into a system that works best for their school. Kate and her fellow staff members have integrated Arbor MIS across their day-to-day life at school and it is now at the heart of what they do.
To find out why Arbor MIS is perfect for secondary schools like yours, click here to arrange a free demo or call us on 0208 050 1028.
Ever wondered what secondary schools like about Arbor? We interviewed Suzanne Pike, Vice Principal of Sir Robert Woodard Academy, to find out why her school chose to switch MIS, and how Arbor helps with the day-to-day running of the school. What made you choose Arbor? We were previously a SIMS school and it wasn’t
Ever wondered what secondary schools like about Arbor? We interviewed Suzanne Pike, Vice Principal of Sir Robert Woodard Academy, to find out why her school chose to switch MIS, and how Arbor helps with the day-to-day running of the school.
What made you choose Arbor?
We were previously a SIMS school and it wasn’t online; we were constantly running updates, and it was quite clunky – we needed to streamline. It’s fair to say we were a fairly new leadership team, with a big job to do in terms of school improvement. We recognised that although we had a large amount of data, we weren’t using it as smartly, flexibly and efficiently as we could be. It was hard to interrogate. We were trying to set up the processes that really run a school, and those have to be based on data and reliable workflows. We recognised that Arbor could help us achieve that. The big benefit has been being able to hold much more information – around communication, assessments, everything – all in one place, and then being able to cut that data in different ways.
Could you give us a bit of your Trust’s background moving to Arbor?
We’re a part of Woodard Academies Trust – “WAT”. At the moment, two schools are on Arbor. When we moved we had a need to do it and told the Trust we wanted to, and the other school, Polam Hall, also had a need as their contracts were coming to an end. The remaining schools were happier than we were with the legacy system at the time, so we moved first understanding they might move later.
Polam Hall migrated after us, so they were able to come down and do some training with us before they moved. We have contact with them, not on a day to day basis, but there can be similarities and things to compare notes on. Ultimately they’re very different though, as a brand new all-through, so they started a bit smaller in terms of functionality and have been able to set things up in different ways.
We staggered how we adopted our modules to make things easier for staff, and are both now at the point where we’re looking into how we do our assessments and will do some joint training with them around that soon.
What are some of the best features you’ve seen in your time with us?
The App has been very successful. We’re trying to get everyone on board with that as part of our new communications strategy. We love the idea of sending a push notification to a parent’s phone, and if they haven’t checked the App after an hour they automatically get an SMS instead – that’s going to be very useful.
We fully utilise the behaviour system in all its glory – we use all the behaviour workflows, it’s so customisable. We’ve unfortunately had to do a couple of exclusions recently, which is never easy, but is much easier when you have all the right information. It’s also useful having all the information in one place for looked after children, when you’re dealing with so many different authorities.
We have got quite clever with the reports, live-linking them to pivot tables in Google sheets. Certainly in attendance tracking and behaviour we’ve got some funky ways of breaking down the information that’s really pertinent to how we work in our school. We want to get those going with our assessments too – in fact we have a meeting about getting that started later today!
What saves you the most time in your role if you compare it to your previous system?
Communication. Having parents being able to see everything live – report cards, timetables, interventions – makes my job that much easier in terms of raising standards. Now they can be involved as stakeholders in getting their kids to work harder.
We recently set up all of our extra-curricular clubs and trips on the MIS and that’s been great from the perspective of logistics, with registers and student lists all live on the site, and obviously the communication links as well so that parents can update permissions and know what’s happening. When Year 7 came in with 150 more students this year than last it was going to be a massive workload, but the Parent Portal made it a really smooth transition. No “oh when does sign-up for this open? How does this work?” – they can see everything they need.
Now we’ve set up academic interventions for year 11s and year 13s, and we’re going to move all our interventions into the MIS, as again, the links with communication are really powerful.
Do you have any advice for similar schools (or MATs with similar schools) who are switching MIS?
I would say map out all your integrations beforehand, and be very mindful of what you spend time on. If the essential functionality you want can be achieved within Arbor, you’re better off moving it in. Arbor can do so much – you should be clear on what you want to achieve, what is essential, and what is desirable. Scaling the system up over time and having waves of project planning was really helpful for us. Over time you can make your system more sophisticated, and Arbor or other schools that use it can help you prioritise. You might say, “I want this third party system; it gives us what we need,” but does it really?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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)
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.
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)
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.
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)
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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):
You should have found those questions easy to answer. Now I’m going to move onto a harder question.
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.
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:
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
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:
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:
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:
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?
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 email@example.com to book a free, personalised demo!
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/
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
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.
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
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!
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.
At Dixons we have 6 core principles:
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:
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:
Process brings seductively strong near-term outcomes – a highly successful company or Trust:
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:
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.
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)
Why Autonomy (at Dixons)
Aligned autonomy will deliver a more agile and less hierarchical organisation:
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”:
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
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.
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?
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.
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:
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.
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