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Arbor - 4 November, 2018

Category : Blog

Hugh Greenway, The Elliot Foundation: My guide to running a successful MAT (part 2)

Hugh Greenway, CEO of the Elliot Foundation, recently spoke at our MAT conference Scaling Sustainably: Centralisation vs. School Autonomy. This blog is the second part of a two-part blog series on his presentation – in part 1, Hugh spoke about the challenge of scaling a MAT without adequate funding. Here, he goes on to say

Hugh Greenway, CEO of the Elliot Foundation, recently spoke at our MAT conference Scaling Sustainably: Centralisation vs. School Autonomy. This blog is the second part of a two-part blog series on his presentation – in part 1, Hugh spoke about the challenge of scaling a MAT without adequate funding. Here, he goes on to say that creating trust among the people in your MAT is crucial to running a successful operation. We’ve transcribed part two of his presentation below.

Creating something from nothing

In order to successfully create a school-led system, we must ask ourselves two questions:

Question 1: Am I doing everything I can to improve outcomes for as many children as possible with the resources available to me today?

Question 2: Are the outcomes good enough?

The difficulty with Q1 is that it can make it difficult to get out of bed some mornings. Therefore, you have to find different ways and different people to help you ask the question in different ways. This is my latest version:

The questions that need to be asked are as follows: Are all children safe? Where do they learn? What do they learn? How do they learn? Who do they learn from? Can we pay for it? Does it work? Is it compliant?

Each of these questions relates back to a relevant operational part of the MAT, about which we can ask various questions to see if we are creating the best learning environment for our children using what we have available to us.  

Think about your finances, for example. If you think that you’ve saved money on photocopiers and/or stationery, you probably haven’t. You just think you have. I can tell you that by implementing print management and switching off colour printing, you can save up to 50% on your print costs now. Schools don’t actually need to print in colour. But here’s the thing: your photocopy costs will be less than 1% of total costs, so even saving you 50% will only deliver a 0.33 of 1% point saving – which might not be worth the uproar you will face from teachers!

The benefits of good governance

The real savings come from building trust with your people. At the beginning of the previous blog, I said that there were no volume discounts on teachers. Well, you can save money on them by treating them better.

This in turn leads to systems which transcend individual schools. If you think about your trust as a tent that needs to be kept upright against any inclement weather, then you need guy ropes. Each guy rope represents a golden thread that runs through the organisation.

In order to be sure that things are as good as they can be you need to check the tension on the guy rope. The inputs and the outputs.

How do we know that all children are safe or that the provision of education is improving? What evidence do we have? And what do we then do with that evidence? Which employee is responsible? Which trustee and which committee has oversight and what does good look like?

For example:

  • The inputs to ‘educationally improving’ are simple: OFSTED reports, phonics, KS1 & KS2 results, RSC letters etc.
  • The outputs are academy improvement plans linked to budgets, TATA reports, and trust/school improvement priorities. The employee responsible for this is me. The Committee is “Standards” and the Trustee is the Chair of Standards. But stakeholders engaged with a sense of agency is more nuanced

Obviously there needs to be a limit to the number of guy ropes, because otherwise you’d spend all your time running round and never get to sleep in your tent.

For those who find that analogy a bit fluffy, here is a slightly harder nosed way of looking at the current way I look at our system:

In brief, the Trust board is accountable to the DfE, which in turn is accountable to the children and the community. Within the the MAT, the staff are accountable to the principal, who reports to regional directors, who report to the CEO. There is then a web of support and representation that links the finance committee, LGBs, the audit committee and the standards committee, as well as NUC unions, an ops group and the principals’ council. A feedback loop runs through the MAT, connecting children to staff, staff to principals and principals to the CEO & trust board.

No roadblocks or concentrations of power.

But, at the end of the day it comes down to trust, and that is where we turn our greatest weakness into our greatest strength. Because if we can deploy our values in such a way that they generate value, then we all have a chance.

Arbor - 4 November, 2018

Category : Blog

Hugh Greenway, The Elliot Foundation: My guide to running a successful MAT

At our MAT conference, Scaling Sustainably: Centralisation vs. School Autonomy, Hugh Greenway, CEO of the Elliot Foundation spoke about the challenge of keeping the “big picture” in view when managing operations across a trust, arguing that this is the biggest challenge to scaling a MAT. We’ve transcribed part 1 of his presentation below. Introduction: The

At our MAT conference, Scaling Sustainably: Centralisation vs. School Autonomy, Hugh Greenway, CEO of the Elliot Foundation spoke about the challenge of keeping the “big picture” in view when managing operations across a trust, arguing that this is the biggest challenge to scaling a MAT. We’ve transcribed part 1 of his presentation below.

Introduction: The job of a MAT CEO

I was at a DfE meeting recently where the job of being a MAT CEO was explained as being, “to find what works and make it scalable”.  But education has always been and always will be mostly unscalable. You don’t get volume discounts on teachers (which are between 65-85% of your costs). The 1,000th teacher costs the same as the first one. What economies of scale you can achieve on your other costs are generally lost to the costs of running the system.

I set up the Elliot Foundation with my friend Caroline Whalley. She was the visionary, I was builder. But what did we set out to do?

The idea behind the Elliot Foundation was to build a safe place for primary schools and to try to protect them from the unintended consequences of academy reforms. We could see that the fragmentation of the system was likely to lead to hundreds, if not thousands of orphaned primary schools, with no one able or prepared to help them.

We set out to build this with three core ideas:

  1. To bring an end to the deficit model
  2. To create a genuine school-to-school model where expertise, decision making and money was kept as close to children as possible
  3. To build a primary voice

So – how’s it going?

The Elliot Foundation currently has 27 schools – that’s around 10,000 children (growing to 30,000). Two thirds of these schools are sponsored and 4 out of 8 converters were RI jumpers.

We’ve had 19 inspections so far, with 7 schools being awarded Oustanding, 10 awarded Good, and 2 Requiring Improvement. Out of the 6 Outstanding sponsored primaries in the West Midlands, 3 of those belong to the Elliot Foundation. But Age Related Expectations are not good enough. They’re probably at about 55% (validated). There are Pupil Premium and EAL gaps in East Anglia.

You can see from the numbers below that our schools are in the most deprived quartile:

Whilst you were reading the statistics, did you notice anything odd about the diagram above? Anything… gorilla-shaped? This idea is based on a famous 1990s psychology experiment that you can find on YouTube (but I’m afraid I’m now about to ruin for you). The difficulty is that nearly all MAT CEOs are former Headteachers, and they view the world through the lens of their experience. They see children, teachers and schools.

But they don’t see the gorilla. Do you see it now?

Unlike the academics at the DfE, I believe that our job as MAT CEOs is to create and maintain systems that keep schools, safe, solvent, structurally sound, legally compliant and educationally improving.

How do you scale without the money to scale?

Back in 2001 our system costs were handsomely funded – LAs used to retain around 16%. When the academy project was expanded by the coalition government in 2010, this had fallen to 12%, and academies had to make do with 8%. When the LACSEG was replaced by the ESG, it had fallen to £160 per pupil (around 3.5%). Today, each of us is personally accountable and potentially criminally liable for maintaining these systems. Yet we are given…nothing. Not even the most frugal of SME would run its head office on less than 5% of total. And in the UK, charities average closer to around 10%.

And yet, we have accepted this bargain by taking our system costs out of individual schools’ funding – and more often than not, by not taking enough, because we don’t want to. In doing so, we have tacitly accepted that our schools were over-funded. So, next time you sign your VfM declaration, you can point out that you have achieved VfM, even if you have only maintained standards (because you are doing so for much less than we used to get paid!).

The real pinch is that we cannot opt out of the law of the land (although that doesn’t stop the ESFA and the National College trying). Indeed, academy legislation is the first time in UK legal history that a government has used primary legislation to alter the terms of contract. By prioritising children we have simply put ourselves in the firing line. Asbestos compliance trumps school improvement. The Equalities Act is more important than SATs. GDPR (so help me) will be more important than SEND.

We all know that this is not true or fair. And this is the gorilla that we cannot see.

Moral purpose is the gorilla that killed Kids Company. And we will be victims of our vocation if we do not get a little more open and honest about how difficult this is.

The only way we can afford to have a moral purpose is to get a whole lot better at creating something from nothing. Fortunately, that’s what Primary schools are really good at.

Click here to read part two of Hugh’s presentation.

James Weatherill - 2 November, 2018

Category : Blog

4 practical ways to centralise school data & back office ops

— I recently spoke at the MAT Summit in Brighton on how culture beats strategy when MATs start thinking about centralising data, operations and people. At Arbor we talk about 4 (broad) types of MAT cultures, and how the degree of MAT alignment vs school autonomy dictates how you approach scaling systems, processes and people.

I recently spoke at the MAT Summit in Brighton on how culture beats strategy when MATs start thinking about centralising data, operations and people.

At Arbor we talk about 4 (broad) types of MAT cultures, and how the degree of MAT alignment vs school autonomy dictates how you approach scaling systems, processes and people. What we see more and more from the 40 MATs who we provide MIS systems to, and the 100s more we are speaking to is that centralisation of school back office functions such as data, HR, finance and operations is the general direction of travel for all MATs. The debate is centred around the degree, style and pace at which this happens.

We’ve gathered feedback about the 4 different ways MATs go about scaling decision making, curriculum & assessment, systems & processes and their central team in the presentation below. See what you think and whether you fit into 1 or more of the categories I describe.

Stephen Higgins - 2 November, 2018

Category : Blog

6 steps to create an effective interventions strategy

As a former Secondary school middle leader, I know how effective a well planned, and well executed intervention can be. That said, I also understand what a detrimental effect a poorly planned, badly-executed one can have! Interventions are incredibly expensive in terms of material cost, staff and student time, and it’s often very hard to

As a former Secondary school middle leader, I know how effective a well planned, and well executed intervention can be. That said, I also understand what a detrimental effect a poorly planned, badly-executed one can have! Interventions are incredibly expensive in terms of material cost, staff and student time, and it’s often very hard to find out what works and what doesn’t, particularly when you’re dealing with larger groups of students. In this blog, I’ll share a strategy that I developed during my time as a teacher, and talk about how Arbor can help alleviate the administrative burden of planning, managing, and monitoring interventions.

Step 1: Define the outcome

The first thing you need to do when planning an intervention is to think about its outcome, or, in other words, what you want your students to achieve by the end of the intervention. The outcome of an intervention should be SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Timely

For example, students may reach their Phonics targets by the end of that term, or a student could have 100% attendance over the 4 week intervention period.  

Step 2: Carefully plan your intervention

For an intervention to succeed, planning is essential! Your intervention will need to be planned differently depending on the scale, scope and target students. Once you’ve successfully devised an effective, well-planned intervention, it can be used time and time again.

Ask yourself the following questions when planning your intervention:

  • Which students/groups of students will the intervention target?
  • What do I want the students to have achieved by the end of the intervention?
  • What resources will I need?
  • What individual strategies an we put into action?

Image 1: Our MIS helps you plan the dates, participant criteria and outcomes of your interventions, and schedule intervention reviews

Step 3: Start small

I’ve always found that starting small, or using a ‘control group’ of students is a great way to test out your intervention and to learn what does & doesn’t work. It’s much easier to plan your next steps and measure progress when you’re dealing with a small, manageable group of young people, and it’s also a much better way to get feedback from the students themselves. Share the intervention’s outcomes with them and ask them if they think they’re making progress; after all, they are the key stakeholders!

I’ve spoken to schools that have conducted blanket after-school interventions across large sections of the student body, especially during key points of the year like SATs, or GCSEs. This approach is incredibly costly in terms of staff time and financial resource, and often doesn’t yield good results. Start your test groups at the start of the year, learn from them first, then build up to whole school initiatives.

Step 4: Scale up your intervention

Once you’ve got something that works, you’ll need to scale it up. When doing so, it’s always wise to keep the following in mind:  

  • How will I manage staff time?
  • How will this affect students’ learning time?
  • How can I manage costs?
  • How do I keep parents and other members of staff informed about the progress of the intervention?
  • How can I best manage resources? (e.g. room allocation)
  • How do I make sure students attend my interventions?
  • What’s the best way to continually monitor impact?

Image 2: How to measure & track intervention costs in Arbor’s MIS

You should have an answer for all these questions before you begin scaling up your intervention, otherwise you might find yourself in a difficult situation.

Step 5: Make sure you’re monitoring progress

It’s easy to start an intervention initiative and expect it to “just work”. I made this mistake early on in my career: if students are leaving my lesson to work with a Teaching Assistant on their literacy, surely that will help them to improve? Ultimately, every child is unique; what works for one student may not work for another. Continually monitoring each student’s progress towards the intervention’s desired outcome is essential. Remember, the outcome must be measurable.

With all of the above, you should be able to lean on your MIS system to do some of this work for you. Arbor’s built-in Interventions module makes planning, monitoring and reporting on interventions easy, and saves you hours a week on repetitive data entry & admin tasks. You can quickly target students and measure the success of an intervention by defining your desired outcome based on student data points in the MIS, and track student’s progress in real time as they progress through the intervention. You can also easily manage intervention costs, timetable interventions and provision maps.

Image 3: Easily monitor how students are getting on via Arbor’s Student Profile as they progress through an intervention

Step 6: Share best practice!

Finally, running effective interventions is a brilliant learning process, not only for your students, but also for you and the other teachers at your school. Sharing best practice with colleagues not only helps others to learn from your successes and failures, but also provides you with valuable feedback from other professionals.

If you’d like to find out more about how Arbor’s simple, smart cloud-based MIS could help you manage interventions at your school, send us a message or call us on 0208 050 1028.

Cosima Baring - 30 October, 2018

Category : Blog

Scaling your MAT sustainably: Different ways to centralise to achieve economies of scale

Last April, we held the first in our series of free MAT CEO conferences. Over 100 Executive Leaders representing 72 MATs nationally came to London to network, exchange best practice advice, and listen to our speakers discuss strategies for achieving sustainable growth. We had such a positive response from attendees that we’ve decided to hold

Last April, we held the first in our series of free MAT CEO conferences. Over 100 Executive Leaders representing 72 MATs nationally came to London to network, exchange best practice advice, and listen to our speakers discuss strategies for achieving sustainable growth. We had such a positive response from attendees that we’ve decided to hold a second – this time at the Co-Op Academies HQ in Manchester!

The landscape for MATs in England is constantly evolving, and the debate continues around the best ways for trusts to successfully manage growth, including questions over how much autonomy MATs should afford their schools. Whilst a number of studies have been published by the DfE and other research bodies in an effort to guide new and existing MATs as they grow (including this Expectations for Growth Report from 2016), exchanging and learning from good practice remains an effective way for MATs to navigate this landscape.

With that in mind, the next instalment of Arbor’s free MAT conference series will bring together Executive Leaders from across the country in Manchester to hear other MAT CEO & Senior Leaders from different-sized MATs tell their stories about scaling. Speakers including Luke Sparkes (Dixons Academies Trust), Claire-Marie Cuthbert (The Evolve Trust), Mark Williams (The Co-Op Academies Trust) & Karen Burns (Victorious Academies Trust) will discuss scaling everything from their strategy, operations, central team process & systems to their reporting, governance and culture. Also on the program is a presentation from Ofsted’s Regional Director for the North West, Andrew Cook, who’ll talk about what Ofsted looks for in a MAT’s ability to provide school improvement. We’ll finish with a open, roundtable discussion between Northern MAT CEOs about what has and hasn’t worked for them on their journeys so far.

Click here to see the full agenda and sign up for your FREE ticket!

With over 100 delegates from MATs across the country expected to attend, we’ve left plenty of time between talks (and organised a free buffet lunch!) to allow for networking and conversation between delegates. Guests will leave with a series of relevant, practical and implementable steps to take back to their MATs and help them grow sustainably, as well as new MAT contacts to keep in touch with.

Finally, if you can’t make it, don’t worry! We’ll be publishing all the presentations from the conference on our blog, so keep an eye out and keep checking our Twitter & LinkedIn for updates. In the meantime, why not have a read of the presentation given at our last conference by Dominic Norrish, Group Director of Technology at United Learning, about how and when to scale systems within your MAT?

 

Full programme for the day:

 

09:45 – 10:00: 4 different ways of centralising data & ops across your MAT

James Weatherill, CEO, Arbor Education

 

10:00 – 10:30: How to scale culture across your schools

Mark Williams, Director of Education at Co-op Academies Trust

 

10:30 – 11:00: Ofsted’s new framework & MAT’s capacity for school improvement

Andrew Cook, Regional Director for the North West, Ofsted

 

11:00 – 11:30 : Networking break

 

11:35 – 12:05: How to centralise your back office to help scale

Will Jordan, Education Sector Manager, PS Financials

 

12:10 – 12:40: Improve collaboration within your MAT and across school phases

Claire-Marie Cuthbert, CEO at The Evolve Trust

 

12:40 – 13:40: Lunch

 

13:40 – 14:10: A new model to make your MAT structures more agile & responsive

Luke Sparkes, Executive Principal at Dixons Academies Trust

 

14:10 – 14:50: Roundtable

Phil Crompton, Former CEO at Trent Academies Group

Karen Burns, CEO at Victorious Academies Trust

Chris Kirk, Ex-Partner for Education at PwC, formerly GEMS DfE & Director at CJK Associates

 

14:50 – 15:20: MAT Mergers: what to do right and what to avoid!

Speaker TBC

 

15:20 – 16:00: Networking break

 

Arbor - 17 October, 2018

Category : Blog

The DfE’s ASP service helps you ask the important questions – Arbor can help you answer them

Our take on Analyse School Performance (ASP) The DfE launched its new, slimmed down service called Analyse School Performance (ASP) to replace RAISEonline in April last year. ASP is intended to be a sister service to Compare School Performance (which helps you benchmark your school’s performance), and was designed to be a simpler and more straightforward service than RAISEonline.

Our take on Analyse School Performance (ASP)

The DfE launched its new, slimmed down service called Analyse School Performance (ASP) to replace RAISEonline in April last year. ASP is intended to be a sister service to Compare School Performance (which helps you benchmark your school’s performance), and was designed to be a simpler and more straightforward service than RAISEonline. In theory, this sounds great – but what’s it actually like using ASP for meaningful performance analysis?

At first glance, ASP does seem easier to use and more useful than RAISEonline. It’s not flashy – but to get a quick overview of your data, ASP works well. The charts are clearer to read than in the old RAISEonline, and some less frequently used data (like confidence intervals) have been dropped, which makes it easier to digest your data at a high level.

But what about if you want to dig deeper into your performance? Below we show you how ASP can help your Senior Leadership team get an overview to ask the right questions – but how you’ll need to use other performance analysis tools like Arbor Insight to go one level deeper and help you answer them.

Using Arbor alongside ASP

As in the old RAISEonline, ASP shows users an overview of headline and key measures for your school. The problem is, seeing your performance at such a high level doesn’t help you truly understand why your school performed as it did.

Analysing Progress 8 in ASP

For example, after seeing this chart on Attainment 8 in ASP, schools might wonder:

  • The school is below the National average, but is it moving in the right direction? What’s the trend?
  • Does this school have a particularly challenging intake? How does the Attainment 8 data compare with similar schools?

Analysing Progress 8 in Arbor

Services like Arbor can help you answer these questions. Our reports (like the example shown above) use trend data to help you see how your performance has changed over time, and we benchmark your school not just nationally and locally, but against similar schools and Outstanding schools too.

The DfE has also introduced scatter graphs in ASP. These graphs are helpful in that they allow schools to see individual students’ attainment on a key metric, and identify whether there are any trends with other measures. For example, the scatter graph below shows the correlation between KS2 prior attainment and KS4 Progress 8 score.

An example scatter graph in ASP

Again, whilst this graph is good at giving an overview, schools might need to look elsewhere to answer key questions this graph raises such as:​

  • Progress in English GCSE is correlated with prior attainment for this school. How significant is this? Should it be the main priority for the school?
  • Non disadvantaged pupils are getting higher Progress 8 scores than disadvantaged pupils at this school. Are the non disadvantaged pupils doing as well as non disadvantaged pupils nationally? What about locally?

Benchmarking different groups in Arbor

In Arbor we help schools answer these questions by using plain text call outs to explain how significant a trend is. We also benchmark different groups within your school against each other, and against national and local averages to help you see your performance in a more holistic context.

Use Arbor to give you the edge in discussions with Ofsted, and to provide context to your governors

Using Arbor Insight reports, like the ones shown above, can give you an extra advantage when an inspector calls. Our reports can help you show things like:

  • “We’re doing as well as the average Good or Outstanding school”
  • “We’re doing better than schools with similar intakes to ours”
  • “We’ve made clear progress towards closing our attainment and progress gaps”

Arbor Insight reports help you present the real story behind your data – sometimes this isn’t clear just from looking at your average headline measures for the current year. Once you understand the real picture you can have much more constructive conversations with stakeholders like Ofsted and your Governors to help you focus on your priority areas for the year ahead.

Want to find out more? Read our blog about how Arbor Insight can help your governors get to grips with data here

Jem Jones - 11 October, 2018

Category : Blog

3 reasons your school should avoid running competing IT systems

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

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

1. It saves money

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

2. It gives your staff back their time

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

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

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

3. Your data will be safer

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

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

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

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

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

Arbor - 10 October, 2018

Category : Blog

How governors can get to grips with data literacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cosima Baring - 8 October, 2018

Category : Blog

6 steps to reduce teachers’ data workload

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teacher Workloads

6 steps to reduce teachers’ data workload

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

Six steps

Implementing a data workload checklist

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

Tasks_Checklist_2

Click here to download this checklist as a handy PDF.

Cosima Baring - 4 October, 2018

Category : Blog

2018 KS2 Performance Data is available in Arbor Insight now!

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

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

  1. Inform your School Improvement Plan

  2. Prepare for Ofsted inspections

  3. Provide context to your governors

Inform your School Improvement Plan

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

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

Jo Ashcroft, Director of Education at Aspire Educational Trust


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

Prepare for Ofsted inspections

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

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

James Ayton, Headteacher at Walgrave Primary School

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

Provide context to senior leaders and governors

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

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

Richard Gasser, Headteacher at Park Junior School

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

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

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

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

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

Arbor - 2 October, 2018

Category : Blog

Ofsted, data and a school system in flux

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

By Loic Menzies, LKMco

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

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

A new landscape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The two key questions to ask yourself are therefore:

1. What do we do well/less well?

2. What is our plan going forward?

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

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

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

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

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

Metrics

The inspectorate will consider:

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

Primary school accountability

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

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

Secondary school accountability

Key measures for secondary schools are:

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

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

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

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

Using the data

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

James Weatherill - 27 September, 2018

Category : Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q) How secure is a cloud-based system?

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

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

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

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

Q) So what should I do as a school?

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

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

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

Jem Jones - 26 September, 2018

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Category : Blog

5 simple steps to move to Arbor MIS

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

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

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

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

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

Step 2: Create your personal implementation plan

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

Step 3: Migrate your data

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

Step 4: Get to know your new MIS

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

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

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

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

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

Stephanie Bass, Business Administration Manager at Bridge Schools Trust

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

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

 You can read more quotes here!

James Weatherill - 5 September, 2018

Category : Blog , Uncategorized

Questions you should ask your MIS about GDPR

Questions you should ask your MIS about GDPR As you’ve no-doubt seen from the relentless marketing by third-parties – GDPR came into force in schools in May 2018! The below is our take on the questions you should ask your suppliers, including your MIS to ensure you’re GDPR ready. Just copy and paste! Why should

Questions you should ask your MIS about GDPR

As you’ve no-doubt seen from the relentless marketing by third-parties – GDPR came into force in schools in May 2018! The below is our take on the questions you should ask your suppliers, including your MIS to ensure you’re GDPR ready. Just copy and paste!

Why should schools & MATs care about GDPR?

GDPR introduced significant new compliance obligations for schools and new requirements for the processing of children’s data, notably increased governance requirements and much higher fines if schools & MATs fail to comply (upto the greater of €20m or 4% turnover). Ensuring compliance is unfortunately a good deal of work, but you can lean on your systems providers to do a lot of the heavy lifting for you.

Questions to ask your MIS

Your MIS is the key source of student and staff information you have in your school, including most of what GDPR would constitute ‘personal data.’ It’s important when preparing for GDPR that you ensure that your MIS is compliant, then you can switch attention to other suppliers and systems that feed off the data in your MIS.

What GDPR Introduces Why should schools & MATs care? Questions for your MIS
Extends the definition of personal data Increased data protection processes and procedures to document What is your current MIS’ Information Security Management System (ISMS)?

Does your MIS have any current data protection and cyber qualifications (e.g. ISO 27001, Cyber Essentials Plus)

Higher penalties for breaches and non-notification (upto the greater of €20m or 4% turnover) Schools need to audit their systems and suppliers to check compliance

Increased risk, especially for MATs who are data controllers for multiple schools

Do your data protection terms flow down to sub-processors so you’re covered?

Is your MIS liable for any act or omission by these sub-vendors?

Extends the rights of individuals to their data Parents and students can request a greater amount of information from schools, and schools need to be able to give it to them easily Can your MIS export a full list of fields for student and guardian data?
New breach reporting requirements Appointment of a Data Protection Officer who is up-to-date on legislation and can respond appropriately

If you as a MAT pool your data centrally in a dashboard or central schoolview, does that meet GDPR requirements around permissioning and data pooling?

Has your Data Protection Officer audited your MIS to ensure compliance and assess risk using the questions above?

Does your MAT central data meet GDPR requirements ensuring that data is permissioned and each school’s sensitive data is kept separate?

Additional governance requirements

What should your schools be doing now?

There’s a lot of scaremongering by third parties, but Iain Bradley (Head of Data Modernisation) at the DfE has written what I think is a very useful blog that discusses the steps schools should be taking now.

  1. Think where personal data is captured during school life – this is likely to include admissions, parental forms, assessment, school trips etc
  2. Think about where that data is used – generally it’s for contacting people, for tracking education, or for maintaining regular school facilities and activities like libraries and canteens.  Several, but not all of your systems, may interconnect with the core management information system (MIS)
  3. Think who you share that data with – for schools this commonly includes local authorities, multi-academy trusts, the DfE and beyond.
  4. Start to ask questions to your system providers – you can use our list above for MIS.

The above steps are often best captured in a data mapping exercise which we’ve done at Arbor, and which Iain from the DfE has done at the primary school where he’s a governor. A copy of the picture is below.

How Arbor can help

Arbor exceeds current data security recommendations. We’re ISO 27001 compliant (the standard in data protection certification), on the government’s G-Cloud framework and accredited to hold sensitive data. We also stress test our processes and procedures by getting tested by third parties and holding cyber qualifications.

We’ve put a presentation together that sums up these points which you can read by clicking here. All in all, GDPR is something that schools should consider seriously, but you should lean on your providers to help alleviate the burden.

 

Harriet Cheng - 16 July, 2018

Category : Blog

Free Arbor Insight & ASP training is back!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What you’ll take away:

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

Click here to book your free place!

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

Chris Kirk - 11 July, 2018

Category : Blog

How to build MAT central teams and services

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daniel Giardiello - 25 June, 2018

Category : Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daniel Giardiello - 25 June, 2018

Category : Blog

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

Five years have passed since the 2013 review of the National Curriculum first gave schools the chance to Assess Without Levels (AWOL).

In this blog, I’ll talk about the initial interpretations of these reforms, the challenges that they created for schools and just how this opportunity can be used to meet the needs of learners more effectively. With over 13 years of teaching under my belt, this blog is informed by my own personal experience, and I’d welcome any stories that you may have about ‘going AWOL’ with assessments in the last few years!

Into the unknown

In 2013 I was appointed Deputy Head of a special school for children with Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) needs. Assessment reforms had just been announced, so it was a tricky time to venture into leadership as I had to really challenge my own position on assessments (at the same time as getting to grips with being a Senior Leader). I became involved in local focus groups, during which we would collectively try to make sense of what the changes meant for our schools (having been given very little official guidance on the matter!). We spent a lot of time going over our options before ultimately reverting back to a ‘safety in numbers’ approach, deciding to assess using statistically driven systems. In many ways, this wasn’t so different from levels…!

On reflection, this sudden autonomy to assess any way we liked was, whilst being a step in the right direction, perhaps too big a change for many teachers. The majority of qualified teachers practicing in England who were tasked with carrying out AWOL reforms came into the profession after 1989 (levels were introduced at the same time as the National Curriculum to schools in England & Wales under the Education Reform Act 1988). Therefore, most people involved in school level decision making, myself included, had very little experience of assessing in a way that wasn’t primarily focussed on national benchmarking and age-related expectations.

1. Why do we assess? For the school or for the child?
The research driving the 2013 assessment reforms discovered that in higher performing jurisdictions around the world, children master fewer concepts but in greater depth. Educators make sure key concepts are mastered before moving students on, rather than pushing them all through curriculum content at a uniform pace. These core AWOL principles have received a wide consensus of support, but haven’t been easily implemented in an educational system where a culture of performance comparison is arguably the primary driver for most decision making.

Knowing that your results are constantly being compared against the school down the road, and that you’ll need to be ready to make a case for your school on an accountability framework at the drop of a hat does create a need for schools to seek external assurances that what they are doing is right. A whole marketplace of curriculum tracking software has therefore opened up to help these schools get this. Numerous standardised assessment frameworks are available to give schools an idea of how their internal tracking fares against other schools also using the system. Whilst this is helpful to schools for the purposes of self-evaluation against national criteria, it’s worth noting that the concepts assessed using these methods are established by externally standardised practice only and are not informed by the contextual needs of the students in the school.

In the pressure cooker environment of school leadership where you are constantly balancing operational demands with strategic decisions, it is completely understandable that opting for standardised approaches is more manageable, and will help you to know if you’re “Good” or not. There is certainly a place for this kind of assessment. However, to improve on this, the context of your learners should also play a large part in determining what else you measure as being appropriate progress for them. This is especially the case for SEN pupils, and in my experience SEMH pupils, where provisioning for individual need is hard work – but undeniably more meaningful and rewarding!

2. The opportunities for AFL in the SEN context
Before AWOL, my experience of assessment for SEMH students was that of measuring a specific range of knowledge and skill variables against a national framework and periodically confirming that they were underperforming. I would feed back to them about the ways in which they could improve in these areas but didn’t stop to question the appropriateness of the process itself or the prioritisation of content for them as individuals.

3. When it came to looking at their progress in the purely academic context, they were indeed not making very much. By narrowly focussing on just the academic elements of learning, I was not giving them enough opportunity to build up the cultural capital they would need in order to overcome their difficulties and succeed. It was the learning dispositions such as emotional literacy, self-regulation and conflict resolution that were influencing their lives and decision-making abilities the most, and were also the root cause of academic underperformance in the first place. To be true to the principles of AFL, I needed to incorporate collaborative assessment where pupils became more aware of these metacognitive aspects of learning as well as subject related knowledge and skills.

Aspects of learning such as self-confidence, self-awareness, managing feelings and making relationships receive a lot of attention in the EYFS framework used in early years provision but are broadly left behind in favour of more academic curricula when students reach school age. For many students with SEMH though, these still need to remain at the forefront of their schooling as pushing for academic success can only really be achieved when building from the right social and emotional starting point.

I’ll be posting part 2 of this blog next week, so keep an eye on the website for updates! 

James Weatherill - 21 June, 2018

Category : Blog

3 ways of centralising data for schools, MATs and LAs

Why bother centralising your data? Schools, Trusts and LAs increasingly ask us how they can centralise their data, but they sometimes don’t know where to start and what their broad options are. Most share the common need of wanting to bring their data together to gain deeper, faster insight into their staff and students, save

Why bother centralising your data?

Schools, Trusts and LAs increasingly ask us how they can centralise their data, but they sometimes don’t know where to start and what their broad options are. Most share the common need of wanting to bring their data together to gain deeper, faster insight into their staff and students, save teachers time endlessly copying and pasting data from multiple systems (and reduce mistakes whilst doing so), whilst saving money by reducing the number of systems they have in the school.

3 ways for centralising your data, and when to do it

From our work with schools, MATs, LAs and governments we’ve seen a lot of different ways of centralising data, but they generally fall into 3 categories.

1. Using Excel/manual exports [best for small schools; MATs with less than 5 schools]

When small, it’s best to keep things simple. Whilst not ideal, excel is the quickest, cheapest and easiest tool to get to do your heavy lifting. Most schools will organise data drops at set times in the year, using permissioned worksheets and data validation to minimise errors, and producing graphs and reports that can act as simple dashboards. New versions of excel can even link live to your systems (we do this in Arbor) so that can be pulled automatically from your MIS, meaning no more data drops and data errors! That said, excel comes with hidden costs, it can involve staff double entering data, takes time to fill in, is prone to errors, and doesn’t scale as your school or MAT grows (in fact it gets harder to administer as you grow).

2. Standardising systems [best for large schools; MATs with more than 5 schools; LAs]

Once a Trust grows to about 5 schools (depending on the complexity of the Trust) the person in charge of collecting and analysing all of the data can often become overwhelmed by the manual process, and as we’ve written about before, this is the time most Trusts look at standardising some core systems to start to automate the process of data collection. It’s worth noting that this step is typically beneficial for all school types; the key is not to leave it too late, as you then end up unpicking all of the manual process within each school.

Once the core systems have been standardised and rationalised into as few systems as practical (e.g. finance, assessment, MIS), then the school, Trust or LA can integrate these systems, ensuring data is only entered once, and use the tools’ internal ability to aggregate their core data and reports. The disadvantage of this approach is the upfront setup time and cost, however if chosen sensibly, these system should be able to payback this in time/money savings within a year or two, lowering overhead, improving reporting capability, allowing the Trust to centralise workflows and communication and ultimately enabling the group to scale.

3. Analytics layer [best for very large schools; MATs with more than 15 schools; LAs]

Without a degree of standardisation in your core systems and data, as described above, achieving an analytics layer can take a lot of time and patience. Custom field names, non-standardisation across schools of assessment, and people simply choosing to record things in different ways at different times lead to increasing complexity. Many systems (like Arbor) integrate with analytics layers such as Microsoft’s PowerBI (which many Trusts are using) out of the box, so once you’ve standardised your MIS, you can spin up an analytics layer in little to no time. This allows you to create custom graphs and charts with the reassurance that the underlying data is accurate – else bad data can lead to bad decisions!

How Arbor can help [click here for slides]

1. Integrate live with Excel/Google: Every table and report in Arbor can be live linked to Excel or Google sheets [slide 18], meaning no more data drops. Schools and Trusts can collect data instantly from several schools, and generate their own simple dashboards, combining MIS, national, HR and external data to create a holistic view of performance

2. Standardising systems: we’ve talked about what systems to standardise and when before. Once standardised, Arbor’s Group dashboards and reports instantly aggregate student and staff data across schools, allowing MATs and LAs the ability to centralise data and take action by logging into systems remotely and performing workflows (e.g. attendance follow-ups)

3. Analytics layer: Arbor integrates with PowerBI out of the box via the excel integration, allowing groups to build their own simple Analytics layers. Our free and open API can also be used for deeper integration with Business Intelligence tools.

Harriet Cheng - 4 June, 2018

Category : Blog

Why schools & MATs are moving to Arbor

REAch2 is the latest MAT to move its schools to Arbor’s simple, smart cloud-based MIS In a recent blog, we wrote a Q&A about why 4,000 schools have moved their MIS away from legacy, server-based MIS systems to the cloud (mostly away from SIMS and CMIS). We highlighted the trend emerging across schools & MATs

REAch2 is the latest MAT to move its schools to Arbor’s simple, smart cloud-based MIS

In a recent blog, we wrote a Q&A about why 4,000 schools have moved their MIS away from legacy, server-based MIS systems to the cloud (mostly away from SIMS and CMIS). We highlighted the trend emerging across schools & MATs in England who are increasingly choosing cloud-based systems to help save money, reduce the number of systems they need, help centralise their data & operations, and work in a more flexible, mobile way. Dominic Norrish, Group Director of Technology at United Learning, also spoke about the benefits of moving specific systems to the cloud at our recent MAT Conference (see a summary of his talk here).

We’re delighted that REAch2, the largest primary-only academy trust in the country, has just chosen Arbor as the MIS for its 55 primary academies. They join 37 other MATs who have deployed Arbor to get a single overview of their schools’ performance, drill down to identify issues, and centralise operations by logging into each school’s MIS directly and taking action – all from one single Group MIS. They include Ventrus Multi-Academy Trust (12 primary schools), Bridge Schools Trust (24 primary schools), and Wellspring Academy Trust (14 special & mainstream schools) as well as others (see below).  

We now work with 500+ schools, including 389 primary schools, 49 secondary schools, and 62 special schools, and over 40% of our schools are in MATs (including 7 schools in United Learning). You can read a little more about why schools & MATs have chosen Arbor in this booklet, or click here to read a case study showing how our Group MIS has helped improve outcomes at Bridge Schools Trust.

Interested to see how Arbor could help save time and improve outcomes across your school or MAT? We’d be more than happy to chat by phone or meet you in-person at your school – just call us on 0208 050 1028 or email tellmemore@arbor-education.com.

 

James Weatherill - 1 June, 2018

Category : Blog

8 steps to help manage change in schools

The pace of change is increasing The pace of change in education is increasing fast, with new structures, policies, funding formulae and technologies announced seemingly every month. This is particularly hard to cope with in schools who often have highly embedded, overlapping and complex processes which have been in place for years and never questioned.

The pace of change is increasing

The pace of change in education is increasing fast, with new structures, policies, funding formulae and technologies announced seemingly every month. This is particularly hard to cope with in schools who often have highly embedded, overlapping and complex processes which have been in place for years and never questioned. Top that off with a highly time-pressured environment and it makes change hard. “If you want to make enemies, try to change something,”  as the saying goes.

Change is tough but if done right can be transformational

However change is a reality that has to be faced if you want to improve, and rather than ignore it and try to batten down the hatches, Senior Leaders should take the time to learn about how to manage it. If change is well managed, and staggered so as not to overwhelm staff, it can improve outcomes for all stakeholders.

We thought we’d publish our guide for how to manage change (which we use for MIS implementation) so that Senior and Middle Leaders can borrow and adapt it for use inside your school or institution. It’s not meant to be a proscriptive series of steps to be followed, but rather a general guide to help you think through the process and tailor to your own school.

1. Establish a need for change (your “burning platform”)
Identify a compelling need for change with a sense of urgency to maintain momentum throughout the project. If you don’t make the need for change compelling or urgent enough, people won’t see the point.

2. Build up champions to drive through change
Identify champions who have the capability, capacity and positive attitude to help drive through change. It may start with you (it often does!), but it always helps to roll out within a school, department or team you know will have the best chance of success. Remember you can’t do everything alone!

3. Create a compelling vision outlining benefits for all
To get buy in you’ll need a compelling vision. Articulate what success looks like and the benefits this will have for each stakeholder (how much time they’ll get back, how their job will be easier etc). Ideally identify some metrics of measuring success (e.g. number of users logged in, amount of time/money saved, staff satisfaction).

4. Communicate the vision to stakeholders to get buy-in
Communicate the vision publicly to get buy in from your staff for the change and to help support the champions you identified. You’ll never win everyone over, that’s fine, but you’ve at least called out the issue and given it support. Change comes from the top, so you need to be seen to champion it.

5. Empower others to act on the vision
All too often we see projects fail in schools as change is not staggered so it combines with the pressures of daily school life to overwhelm staff. Instead try to phase in change, identify the right time of year for it, and try to get others to be seen to be successful. Staff will then feel empowered, not threatened or overwhelmed.

6. Create and celebrate short-term wins
Try to create quick, meaningful wins to demonstrate success and encourage buy-in. These should be publicised as success stories to galvanise support and overcome inertia. Keep a steady drip of success stories coming to maintain momentum and isolate the naysayers.

7. Measure success and embed change
Demonstrate success further by quantifying it against the success criteria you identified earlier, and publicising results. Use this credibility to change other more entrenched systems and processes.

8. Don’t let up!
Most change initiatives fail by assuming the job is done before change has taken root. Culture is a strong force that takes time to realign. To create and sustain change will require continued demonstration of success and ongoing dialogue with staff.

Evidence for Change Management Working
Arbor has gone through our Change Management process with our Group and Multi-Academy Trust clients. Our Impact Metrics and Net Promoter Scores show consistently high scores given by schools over time, showing that the Change Management Approach and system has helped to create a consistently positive impact, as shown below. That’s one way we measure success, but I’d be keen to hear how you measure yours!


Sample size for each survey  >=300

*positively indicates users respond “sometimes, often or frequently”

 

James Weatherill - 25 May, 2018

Category : Blog

Balancing MAT alignment vs. school autonomy

In this presentation about scaling your data & Trust which I emailed to every MAT CEO last term, I highlighted how central teams often struggle to decide on the right balance between a MAT’s need for central alignment and a school’s desire for autonomy. The argument typically goes that alignment makes MAT operations more streamlined, efficient, auditable

In this presentation about scaling your data & Trust which I emailed to every MAT CEO last term, I highlighted how central teams often struggle to decide on the right balance between a MAT’s need for central alignment and a school’s desire for autonomy. The argument typically goes that alignment makes MAT operations more streamlined, efficient, auditable and cost-effective but at the expense of a school’s individual autonomy, which has often been established over many years.

Some groups talk about ‘earned autonomy’ as a compromise, but this still assumes that a school needs to tow the MAT line until they can prove they ‘deserve’ autonomy. And once schools do ‘earn’ their autonomy under this model, they’ll most likely still be submitting data and using processes that the MAT have designed and embedded in the school.

MAT Alignment vs. School Autonomy

 

Alignment.png

 

I’d like to challenge the notion that MAT alignment and school autonomy are oppositional. In fact, alignment can enable autonomy if you have accountability and transparency in place.

Alignment Can Enable Autonomy, if there’s Transparency & Accountability

 

Matrix.png

 

The picture above shows how MAT alignment can enable autonomy, allowing for sustainable growth beyond 5+ schools. The Assistant MAT in the top right example sets clear performance goals, and because it has built the right infrastructure (including standardised systems, instant access to data and auditable processes) it doesn’t mind how the schools go about achieving those goals. If there’s an issue, the MAT will be instantly alerted and can step in to assist the school in fixing, or sit back and monitor how the situation is dealt with. Either way, the schools get autonomy from day 1, and don’t have to earn it, whilst the MAT has the benefit of alignment.

There are other examples shown where alignment does not enable authority. This is typically a conscious decision by the MAT. For example, more authoritative MATs (such as in the top left of the diagram) may choose to have very high degrees of standardisation in terms of systems and processes, leading to low school autonomy. This isn’t necessarily bad – for example, in turnaround schools there may be processes and systems that need complete overhaul.

Standardise systems and give autonomy to people to get the best of both worlds

The key is for MATs and schools to decide on what they want to align or standardise, and what they want to devolve autonomy to schools on. This will depend on your culture, but at Arbor we tend to be of the mind that to create a sustainable infrastructure you should standardise systems to allow for a degree of uniformity and give autonomy to people in how they use those systems. That way you get the best of both worlds. More on that in the next post…

Chris Kirk - 19 April, 2018

Category : Blog

Why you need an operating model for your MAT (and 6 steps to build one)!

Chris Kirk,  Ex-Partner for Education at PWC and formerly GEMS/DfE,  has written a blog for us which  looks at how using an ‘operating model approach’ can help MATs ensure they’re laser-focused on delivering their vision — The DfE’s 2016 Good Practice guide for MATs remains a useful document 18 months on. It was one of the first

Chris Kirk,  Ex-Partner for Education at PWC and formerly GEMS/DfE,  has written a blog for us which  looks at how using an ‘operating model approach’ can help MATs ensure they’re laser-focused on delivering their vision



The DfE’s 2016 Good Practice guide for MATs remains a useful document 18 months on. It was one of the first times when MATs were urged to consider their ‘operating model’ – advice which was also picked up recently in ASL’s study, ‘Building Trusts’.  However, MAT CEOs often ask me what is really meant by the term. In this blog I offer my take on what one is, why you need it, and how to review and develop it.

An operating model is a single overview of what your MAT does, and how it does it. The different elements, such as your approach to school improvement, are pieces of the jigsaw, and the operating model gives you the picture on the front of the box. In this way, it makes the vital link between your vision, mission and strategy, and the details of individual roles, policies and activities.  It also provides a connection from support services (such as HR or finance) to core educational services. By getting your operating model right, you make sure you spend your time and money on what really matters, aiming always towards better impact in the classroom.

An operating model approach can be applied to all of your capabilities, including:

Educational capabilities – such as the capability to improve schools, deliver quality in the classroom, provide an inclusive education, to engage communities, or to provide students with employability skills and careers guidance
Supporting or ‘back office’ capabilities – such as the capability to manage finances, to support your workforce, to provide technology, to manage your estates or to engage with your communities.

I use the word ‘capabilities’ rather than ‘functions’.  This is because a function implies decisions have been made about reporting lines, but a capability can exist across different parts of the MAT.  For example, the capability to improve schools is likely to be a mix of the quality of leadership, information about performance and how it is analysed for improvement, as well as – potentially – specific teams dedicated solely to school improvement.  Similarly, financial capability may not just be in a central finance team, it may also exist in schools. A capability lets you think about the whole picture, not just one team.

If you want to review and improve your operating model, I recommend the following steps:


1. Before you begin, make sure you are really clear about your strategy and growth plans, as this determines your operating model needs.  
2. Review and understand your ‘current state’, see what needs to change.  A useful exercise is to look at each capability you require and ask:
– What is this capability aiming to achieve?
– Where does it sit?
– What people, systems and processes do we need in order to deliver it?
– How is it managed and governed?  
– How do we know if it’s working well?
If you do this in an open and questioning way, you should be able to identify a number of issues for improvement.  You may find particular issues with one capability; equally you may find some recurring themes, for example that you don’t have the right systems in place across several capabilities, or that your organisational structure is not right.

3. Use a workshop approach to create your ‘Design principles’.  This is a good chance to agree what really matters, and resolves differences of view, e.g about standardization vs autonomy, the balance between efficiency and flexibility, the relative priorities for improvement, what your ‘spans of control’ should be, and what the ideal time distances should be between schools, hubs/ clusters and head office, what your pace and approach to growth will be
4. Identify your ‘Future state’ options, and any major costs of getting there, or of operating it (e.g. if you are centralising finance, what new roles are needed; what happens to current school roles; is a new Finance system required?)
5. Create a ‘Road Map’ for the change – what needs to be done first, what can follow later.  How will you support Principles and back office services as they make the change, and how do you make sure your education and other services don’t suffer while it happens?
6. Use strong change management approaches, as engagement will be the most important factor in getting things right.  Remember that the hardest part is actually implementing it!

People often ask me, how long should I expect such a review to take, and what might it cost.  For a small MAT of 2-5 schools (who are growing more fluidly) you should think in terms of weeks not months for a review; for a system leader MAT a full review might take 3-6 months.  Implementation will of course depend greatly on what is changing, as there could be HR, procurement and contract variations to consider.  A small MAT may be able to undertake this work internally; a larger one may want some external support from a suitable consultancy and potentially other professionals (e.g. legal, HR).  However, I have heard of MATs spending hundreds of thousands just to consider their back office, and personally I think this is a scandalous waste of taxpayer money – I believe any external consulting costs should be a fraction of this!  

If you can review and amend your operating model you should reap a number of rewards, in terms of efficiency, clarity of responsibility, time for innovation and improvement, and the ability to adapt to future change.  Most importantly you can achieve the benefits of collaboration without an ever-increasing cost in terms of staff time. Teacher recruitment and retention is a vital issue, and the right MAT operating model can help it to support excellent teaching whilst reducing unnecessary workload.

Chris Kirk - 19 April, 2018

Category : Blog

6 phases of MAT growth, (and the crises that follow!)

At a recent residential programme for MAT CEOs we were discussing different models for improving schools across a MAT, and how any chosen strategy needed to change and adapt at different points in a MAT’s growth.  I was reminded of the ‘Greiner Growth Model’, which I first used when I was a Strategy Partner at

At a recent residential programme for MAT CEOs we were discussing different models for improving schools across a MAT, and how any chosen strategy needed to change and adapt at different points in a MAT’s growth.  I was reminded of the ‘Greiner Growth Model’, which I first used when I was a Strategy Partner at PwC, and I’d like to share how this shows MAT leaders the 6 phases of growth they might go through, and some potential pitfalls that accompany them (which might sound familiar!)..

The 6 phases of growth (and the crises that accompany them!)

Professor Greiner observed that in fast growing organisations, the management practices that were ideal in one phase of growth may eventually bring on a crisis as the organisation outgrows them.  The resolution of this crisis creates a new model of management.

The Greiner Growth model has six phases :

How the growth model applies to MATs

If the pace with which fast growth leads to a crisis is, as Greiner said, a factor of speed of change in a sector, there can be few sectors that have seen such dramatic changes as Multi-Academy Trusts.  In contrast to schools, which have been with us for hundreds of years, MATs were only created in line with the sponsored academies programme 16 years ago, and the number of MATs has risen 88% in the past year alone. MATs are growing not just in number but size, with the number of MATs with over 10 schools growing by 68% in the same period.

MATs are put through rigorous stress tests by DFE before they can become sponsors, and at various stages of growth; but even if the management approaches were right at those points, the Greiner model predicts, and therefore helps us to manage, the points at which those practices are outgrown.  

The size of a MAT is only one factor to consider when choosing how to manage.  The appropriate management style will also relate to other aspects of complexity, such as the chosen approach to curriculum, pedagogy and school improvement, the geographical spread, the difference in context of different Academies, and whether the MAT covers a mix of Special schools and a range of phases of education, or just one phase.

Stage 1: 1-4 schools – a crisis of leadership

In a small and young MAT growth can be achieved through ‘creativity’.  In this phase, which might consist of a single Executive Head / CEO in charge of  up to 4 schools, there are few formal management activities at the MAT HQ level, and head office communications are frequent and informal.  The small senior leadership team are collectively driven by their belief in the MAT, and its mission for students.  However, as the MAT grows, it becomes too large for such informal ways of working: it cannot provide adequate reports to the Board on finances, and it needs to be able to take on new schools which were not part of the original discussions about mission.  The founding Headteacher-turned-CEO may or may not have the appetite for more formal management. Sadly I have come across many MATs that have allowed the early warning signs to develop into a full blown crisis of leadership before they have taken action.

Stage 2: 3-15 schools – a crisis of autonomy

The Greiner Growth model would suggest that a MAT of anywhere from 3-15 schools may be well served by growth through ‘direction’.  At this point the MAT puts in place functional structures, with specialised IT, HR, Finance and other roles.  Proper accounting systems, budgets, common work standards, and formal communications are needed. The Growth model suggests that it is possible for a MAT of this size to be led from the top, with Heads of School and Executive Heads focused on running individual schools.  Professional teaching communities, focused by subject and age range, would set standards and make sure they were being applied across the MAT.

However, with further growth, the MAT needs to create ‘clusters’ of schools which can work together, and potentially also Regional structures.  At this stage, the Growth Model predicts a growing tension between the clusters/ Regions and HQ, and the new directive approach may begin to fail.  Regional leaders of sizeable groups of schools may feel restricted by the central hierarchy, believing that they know their local context better than staff in HQ, but can’t take initiative.  The Greiner model predicts that a crisis of autonomy will follow.  To move forwards, a new model of delegation will be needed, but it may be hard for the leaders who rescued the organisation from its early chaotic struggles to give up their directive style, and equally hard for Regional/ hub leaders to take that responsibility off the CEO.

Stage 3: 7-70 schools – a crisis of control

This leads us to MATs with a mix of Regional and Hub structures, making use of increased levels of ‘delegation’.  These decentralised structures motivate Regional and hub leaders to respond to local needs, and work with middle leaders to push forward subject excellence and other solutions.  The role of the HQ is to manage by exception, using reports from the field. Communications to staff would more frequently be from the region/ hub than from HQ. The professional subject (and other) communities would continue to meet nationally as well as regionally, but the role of deciding how to implement the practices emerging from these communities would be devolved to the region, cluster or schools.

The very wide size band for this phase relates to earlier comments about the many other factors that affect complexity, although this tends to emerge from ~7 schools.  It is not certain to me that a large MAT necessarily needs to outgrow this phase, but this delegative management style will in turn face challenges. Sizeable Regions, hubs and schools enjoying greater autonomy will start to run their own shows, resisting HQ requirements for reporting or interventions.  A crisis of control may emerge, which if not addressed will lead to those regions breaking away from the MAT entirely.  Of course, this may be a reasonable outcome, but a pro-active HQ will at least want to be aware of the alternative options.  Whilst there may be a temptation for the MAT HQ to try to regain control and re-centralise management, this will usually fail due to the vast scope of operations involved at this stage of growth.  Instead, what is needed at this point is for the MAT to shift its management style to co-ordination.

Stage 4: 30-100 schools – a crisis of red tape

A very large MAT managing through ‘co-ordination’ would focus the HQ on leading formal planning procedures, and allocating budgets carefully based on clear business cases.  The MAT HQ would retain some technical functions, such as data processing.  Many other operations would be decentralised to ‘Territories’, that is groups of Regions.  Consider that by this stage, each region might be the size of many of today’s medium-sized MATs.  The HQ would still retain an oversight function, but would be unlikely to intervene directly, as by this point, individual Territories should have sufficient capacity.  As with Stage 3, it is unclear if a MAT would necessarily outgrow this phase, but the model suggests that the signs it is failing will be when the formal systems for planning and investment across HQ, Territories and Regions create a crisis of red tape, alongside growing mistrust between HQ , Territories, Regional leaders and local teams.

Stage 5: 50-150+ schools – a crisis of growth

A MAT which was so large that it outgrew co-ordination should focus on growth through ‘collaboration’, the preferred style of some of the world’s largest organisations.  The HQ would focus on setting behaviours, social role modelling, and interpersonal interaction, and would apply very few formal coordinating systems.  HQ would act through consultation, not direction. A matrix of Territories and professional functions would help to maximise the benefits of people with the same skills collaborating, whilst allowing for geographical responsiveness.  Simplified control systems would use real-time information about a few things that really matter, to inform daily decisions. Frequent conferences of senior leaders (territorial and functional) across the MAT would address problems, and CDP funded by HQ will focus on teamwork and conflict resolution (territories and regions would have devolved budgets for other forms of CPD such as subject specialisms).  Experimentation and innovation will be fostered and encouraged.

The main limit on MATs moving beyond this phase is likely to be a constraint on the number of Academies which find the MAT to be a good fit, leading to a crisis of growth.  In fact, this constraint may come up at any of the earlier stages, and lead to a final type of growth, through mergers and alliances.

Stage 6: Mergers and alliances (any size) – a crisis of alignment

MATs may find themselves considering mergers and alliances at any stage of growth.  There will be two main scenarios: either because a highly performing MAT is asked to take on all the Academies in a low performing MAT (for financial , educational, or both reasons) ; or because a MAT has identified a need to grow further, in order to access the benefits of greater size, but cannot do so through taking on individual schools – perhaps because there are none in a suitable location that fit the MAT’s values and focus.  At this stage, MATs will consider growth through mergers and alliances.  There have been relatively few examples of the second ‘voluntary’ scenario to date, due to the complexity of MAT Boards deciding to merge unless they are forced to.  It is likely that in this scenario, as well as full mergers, other models will emerge, such as groups of MATs sharing services, or ‘reversible’ decisions to create a merged MAT which continue to allow separation in future if this does not have the benefits they wanted.  

If the right steps are not taken before and after merger there can be a crisis of alignment.  There there will be particular challenges if one MAT is in a different phase of management style than the other. For example, a MAT growing through ‘Direction’ merging one growing through ‘Creativity’ would need to be clear about the tighter expectations.  A ‘Collaborative’ MAT merging with a ‘Directive’ one might find that the Directive MAT can continue to operate in a semi-autonomous fashion for a while; but there is a risk that it never feels fully part of the family. The act of merging may trigger a need to enter a new phase of growth with a different management style.  The MATs’ respective approaches to topics such as standardisation, and choice of curriculum, will be important factors.

Above all, it is vital that the new identity is shared and owned not only by staff, but by pupils and parents.

Arbor - 19 April, 2018

Category : Blog

How and when to scale systems within your MAT

In our blog “The common barriers to scaling a MAT”, we looked at some of the key areas of debate surrounding the biggest challenge to scaling faced by MATs today (this was also the theme of our first MAT conference in London in April this year). One of the biggest challenges MATs face is getting

In our blog “The common barriers to scaling a MAT”, we looked at some of the key areas of debate surrounding the biggest challenge to scaling faced by MATs today (this was also the theme of our first MAT conference in London in April this year).

One of the biggest challenges MATs face is getting the right infrastructure and systems in place to support growth. We invited Dominic Norrish, Group Director of Technology at United Learning, to speak about his experience of deciding how and when to scale systems within a MAT. We’ve summarised his presentation below.

How to decide when to scale systems within your MAT

Dominic talked about how the degree of MAT centralisation vs. school autonomy at your Trust is one of the biggest challenges to deciding how to scale systems. Exactly where your MAT sits on the scale of full autonomy vs. full centralisation, or at least where people perceive your MAT to be, is the product of your values and culture. The problem this sliding scale creates is to do with the locus of control (the perception of where authority to make a decision sits) between schools and the MAT central team. The locus of control will always be in tension, since both sides have limited views of the others’ reasoning and drivers. This is often what makes it hard to decide how to scale.

To help overcome this, Dominic suggested applying the principle of subsidiarity to all decisions about whether or not to centralise a system. The principle of subsidiarity dictates that if a decision can be taken at a local level, it should be. To determine whether this is true, Dominic suggested asking 3 questions when considering whether a system should be scaled across your MAT:

  • Where is the activity/decision most effectively carried out?
  • What is the educational benefit of a single approach?
  • Are there strong operational or financial benefits?

If the decision is not most effectively carried out by a central team or if there is no benefit to all schools in your MAT adopting the same approach, and if there are no operational benefits, the decision can be local. By contrast, United Learning decided to roll out a single assessment system (Hegarty Maths) across all its schools in 2016 because there was an educational benefit to using the same approach across all schools. Similarly, Dominic said that this principle would suggest that core operational systems, such as Finance, MIS & HR, should be scaled centrally.

When to scale systems within your MAT

When you decide to scale systems comes down to the size and age of your MAT. As the number of schools in your MAT increases, it goes through 4 stages: The Honeymoon Period, The Rubicon of Regret, The Difficult Middle Years, and Converging Needs & Attitudes.

The Honeymoon Period

This is the stage where your MAT has c.2-15+ schools. At this point, appetite for centralisation is high, and the cost/complexity of centralising is relatively low. This is what makes “The Honeymoon Period” a good time to centralise:

  • Your Identity Management solution (e.g. Microsoft 365, Google)
  • Your Management Information System
  • Standards for the classification, collection & storage of pupil data
  • Affordable yet scalable Finance & HR solutions

These are the fundamental systems that should be in place for any young MAT as it grows since the cost of changing them at any point in a MAT’s life is disproportionately high (which is why MATs often put off these changes until it’s too late). Making these requirements clear to schools considering joining the MAT.

The Rubicon of Regret

This is the stage where your MAT has 20-30 schools. “The Rubicon of Regret” as the point at which your MAT has not centralised many (or any!) systems, and now regrets that decision since the cost & complexity of centralisation at this stage is high (but not impossible). This in turn makes the appetite for centralisation low.

Before “crossing the Rubicon”, MATs should centralise:

  • Whole-Trust educational systems (e.g. assessment), because people tend to be really invested in current choices
  • Common solutions for IT hygiene factors, such as firewalls and Anti-Virus software
  • Procurement basics – your MAT should have a leasing partner and preferred suppliers
  • Back office processes – GDPR, SCR, school information

At any time in your MAT’s growth

From 30 schools upwards, the cost and complexity of centralising systems only continues to rise, but so too does the appetite for centralisation as MAT central teams see the value of doing so after the “Difficult Middle Years.”

However at any time in the life of your MAT there should be a really high barrier for prescribing the systems teachers use to teach. United Learning, for instance, have stopped doing this altogether. This is because the likelihood of consensus forming around a single product/approach is extremely low, whilst the cost of changing current products and practice rarely delivers ROI (rolling out the same smart whiteboards as an example – does it matter whether all your schools use the same one?). In this case, it would be far better to support schools in driving their own digital strategies.

Click here to see Dominic’s presentation in full

We’ve now added all the presentations from our conference on scaling culture, strategy, processes, procurement, and governance to the blog. Why not have a read here?

 

Arbor - 19 April, 2018

Category : Blog

6 ways remote leadership can help MATs scale

Dr Vanessa J Ogden, CEO of Mulberry Schools Trust, spoke at our MAT conference about scaling culture and maintaining your sense of identity across your MAT as you grow. During the first half of her talk she stressed the importance of creating a set of values that is shared by everyone in your MAT in order to maintain

Dr Vanessa J Ogden, CEO of Mulberry Schools Trust, spoke at our MAT conference about scaling culture and maintaining your sense of identity across your MAT as you grow. During the first half of her talk she stressed the importance of creating a set of values that is shared by everyone in your MAT in order to maintain your trust identity as you scale. In this blog, we’ve picked out the key pointers from the second half of her talk, which focused on the importance of ‘remote leadership’ when bringing about changes in culture in schools to align with the values and identity of your trust. Read part two below:

‘Remote leadership’ is a term used by Tim Brighouse to describe his approach to education leadership at scale. I think it is highly applicable to MAT leadership, and I have found it incredibly useful when thinking about the importance of the CEO as a leader of outstanding education provision.
It is important to note that culture and identity in MATs applies here. The Mulberry Schools Trust’s model is premised on the CEO being a leader of education expertise. Business acumen is important, but knowing how to create outstanding schools in contexts of challenge is the focus and so education leadership expertise – with it being the central business product, if you like – is what is needed in the CEO. There are other MAT models where business skills are at the forefront of the CEO’s leadership and education expertise is held in the roles of directors of education – and this can also be very effective – but for us, the view is that if you want universally outstanding schools, the top job is to know how to do it and what this looks like, providing you have skilled financial, legal, estates and HR leaders working closely to you that you can properly hold to account.

‘Remote leadership’ of school communities thus becomes very important for a CEO. How do you bring your practitioners with you? How do you ensure they buy in to the vision, values and culture of the work in hand?

Remote leadership for a MAT entails a number of things:

  • Understanding in depth the context and history of the schools that are coming into your MAT
  • Spending time talking to stakeholders of the school’s community: pupils, parents, staff and wider partners
  • Imagining the future for the school community and communicating it – painting that picture of success – a vision that moves people on from the past and making a brighter, more exciting future seem possible
  • Building a team of strong leaders that share the vision and values you have in your MAT
  • Having attention to detail, being able to anticipate and being reflexive and adaptable to your school system’s dynamics
  • Giving time to legitimate stakeholders who will help you in your work

Securing a strong and widely shared commitment to the MAT’s purpose and values across a large group of people requires close communication, despite being more remote, and commitment from practitioners to a vision. One of the lessons I have learned about education and the implementation of any initiative at any level is that those who have a fairly autonomous position e.g. as a classroom teacher – in that they are inpidually responsible for pupil outcomes and the quality of their practice – can destroy it by simply not doing it or doing it differently. To be a lastingly successful initiative, they must agree with its importance and find its implementation rewarding.

Getting that commitment means two things. First, if your leadership is more remote, the immediacy of your communication is less and so every contact is vital. The authenticity of such communications is important and so linking them to genuine passion and values is essential.

Second, understanding and using the power of story is a key aspect of remote leadership in the task of scaling up culture and retaining identity. Stories of success create energy and when bringing about change in culture in a school to align with the values and identity of your trust, the use of supportive, affirming and speculative language is helpful – as well as finding those with a can-do philosophy to help you yield the buy-in from the community that you need in school transformation to align with the MAT.
It needs to be recognized in scaling up culture that in this task perhaps more than any other you cannot enact your leadership alone. If successful change in this respect is going to take root for the long term, you need to develop a team around you that can replicate this work and a central infrastructure to enable faithful development. And so we are back to my first point about the structural things you need to do to enable your identity to go to scale.

I have seen this model of remote leadership enacted elsewhere in recent times in perse fields of business and government: once on a visit to the Dyson engineering plant in Malaysia last month and 2 years ago on a visit to meet Barack Obama’s administration team at the White House. The recruitment and staff development process that supports scaling up culture and identity was plain to see in both cases. After all, what could be more important than the work Obama did to address inequality and social justice in the US?

So, I conclude by going back to the photograph above, as it has become symbolic and powerful for us as a Trust. It both shows the context of our work and the social justice issues we need to address about inequality. A great education is the key to a better and more prosperous future. It is also the means of providing greater social harmony within communities and human enrichment where the obstacles prevent engagement with the resources around you. The rainbow, therefore, is the promise. It is our Trust’s promise and it is the vision you buy into when you join our schools.

There have been some very difficult moments along the way, and there are more to come I am sure, but it is an expression of what we believe to be possible – a vision of hope for continued improvement in outcomes not just amongst the pupils within our family of schools but, through partnership and school-to-school support, improvement across the system. It is not growth for growth’s sake but a considered and thoughtful response to educational change and the requirement for us to support – along with Challenge Partners – a great school-led system.

Arbor - 19 April, 2018

Category : Blog

The common barriers to scaling a MAT

We brought together 100 MAT leaders to discuss how to ‘scale sustainably’ In April this year we brought together 100 MAT leaders from over 70 organisations to discuss different strategies for scaling their MAT sustainably, with a focus on how these varied by the degree of centralisation vs. autonomy the MAT chooses to give to

We brought together 100 MAT leaders to discuss how to ‘scale sustainably’

In April this year we brought together 100 MAT leaders from over 70 organisations to discuss different strategies for scaling their MAT sustainably, with a focus on how these varied by the degree of centralisation vs. autonomy the MAT chooses to give to schools (click here for the agenda). This generated some great presentations from our speakers from Elliot Foundation, United Learning and others which we’ll write up on this blog over the coming weeks, as well as some lively debate about what challenges senior leaders are having with scaling. We held the conference to highlight emerging good practice beyond the highly centralised model of MAT operations that is highlighted in the press. It’s clear that a one-size-fits-all approach is overly-simplistic, and that strategies and barriers to scaling vary both between different MATs, and within a MAT as it goes through 6 phases of growth.

Scaling strategies vary by MAT culture, size and type of school

The first point that was noted was that a MAT’s scaling challenges varies by the culture and size of the MAT. We’ve written previously about how culture and the degree of MAT centralisation vs. school autonomy is a key driver of how a MAT scales systems, processes and people, and how different strategies may suit different school types. For example a MAT of outstanding schools will often have a different culture and degree of centralisation than a MAT of turnaround schools.

Being deliberate and setting clear early expectations about what you will centralise (systems, processes, roles) and what you will devolve autonomy to heads to decide was seen as essential in helping smooth the scaling process, and get ahead of problems that would be exponentially harder to solve retrospectively as the MAT grew. Most speakers agreed that despite it seeming easier to devolve decisions to schools at the outset, making bold decisions to centralise some aspects and capitalising on early enthusiasm would help in the long run.

Building the infrastructure to scale early on

The mean average number of schools per MAT in the conference was ~5, which as we’re previously written about is exactly the time that MATs should be looking to put in place the infrastructure to help scale, typically involving the centralisation of systems. Most MATs in the room had centralised their finance function early on, and were now looking to capitalise on early momentum to centralise their MIS, assessment and HR functions, as this helps to get a single view of MAT data, improve transparency and audit of process, and provide the foundation for scaling your central team. As we’ve mentioned previously, it’s at ~5 schools (depending on phase) where manual processes and systems cause your team to break. Try to tackle this before it becomes a problem.

Common barriers to scaling, including crossing the ‘catch 22 chasm’ of growth

We polled our audience of 100 about what their greatest barrier to scaling was, shown in the chart below. The biggest response by far was the ‘catch 22’ of scaling – needing funding to scale the central team/impact of the MAT, but requiring scale to access more funding. This was commonly reported by all MAT types and sizes, but most prominently in MATs of 4-15 schools who were struggling for financial viability. These MATs were often entering into a period of unsustainable growth, driven by the imperative to become financially viable – conversation was focused on what MATs could do at this stage to smooth what is always going to be one of the hardest phases of scaling. Recognising this early, and preparing the infrastructure and team was seen as vital, reflected by the fact that centralising roles and systems came in at number 2 and 3 on the list. Setting up clusters and changing operating models was commented on by larger MATs as a challenge (often linked to how to manage these), as well as finding suitable schools to join the MAT. Several MATs were changing their governance model, and debating how far to centralise committees and responsibilities. Perhaps most surprising was the fact that finding the right people came so low down the list of barriers. The pool of talented individuals with experience in scaling impact across schools isn’t vast, and perhaps MATs underestimate this challenge or overestimate their capabilities in this regard.

Barriers to scaling a MAT

 

We will be updating this blog over the coming weeks with presentations from our speakers covering how MATs can effectively scale their culture, strategy, systems, processes, procurement, and governance. For now, click here to see my presentation including some of the points above.

 

Arbor - 19 April, 2018

Category : Blog

5 ways to scale culture at your MAT using values-driven leadership

Dr Vanessa J Ogden, CEO of Mulberry Schools Trust, spoke at our MAT conference about how to scale culture and the importance of maintaining a strong sense of identity across your MAT as you grow. She highlighted the need to create a set of values that are shared by everyone when scaling, from your company members and directors

Dr Vanessa J Ogden, CEO of Mulberry Schools Trust, spoke at our MAT conference about how to scale culture and the importance of maintaining a strong sense of identity across your MAT as you grow. She highlighted the need to create a set of values that are shared by everyone when scaling, from your company members and directors through to your school principals, senior teams and Local Governing Bodies. Read on to learn the 5 key ways that you can scale culture at your MAT using values-driven leadership

This photo shows my ‘place’ – where I started my headship in 2006 and where, on 1st May 2017 (after a 7 year journey) the Mulberry Schools Trust was born. The end of the rainbow (with its mythical pot of gold) is right in the City of London. To the side is one of the tower blocks in Shadwell where pupils in my catchment area live – one of the many similar blocks with overcrowding and damp, where people have little personal space or privacy or money. Poverty is patchwork across our country in the same way and so all MATs encounter it in some way. I’ve seen this at close hand through my work chairing the board of the Somerset Challenge and the National Schools Forum for Teach First.

The point of stating all of this is that it means our work at Mulberry Schools Trust is heavily influenced by the need to counter the dynamics of ‘place’ – to counter the close nature of urban financial and social disadvantage shown in the photo, open up opportunity, deal with inequality, offer routes to prosperity, stability and security, and to work towards greater social harmony and human flourishing. As a result, the Trust’s culture is framed by a set of values that are quite specific to this task. In a way, we have chosen to ‘specialise’ as a MAT in this work at this point.

From my experience, I cannot stress enough the importance of values-driven leadership at all levels as you grow. Values frame the culture that is created in all organisations and are easily diluted as you scale up, so values shared by your company members and directors through to your school principals, senior teams and Local Governing Bodies are critical.

Our values at Mulberry Schools Trust

Scaling up your organisational culture and maintaining your identity requires senior leaders to place values and a deep understanding of the context of your schools at the heart of your work. There is a dynamic relationship between a school, its context, its culture and the values which frame that culture. Understanding that dynamic is very important when thinking about scale.

Context or ‘place’ affects education. A school both influences and is influenced by its community. Where a school is situated has a profound, multi-layered effect on its character and the challenges it faces. In turn, good schools enrich their communities and can have a regenerative effect.

Our values are absolutely aligned with carrying out this task. They hold that:

1)Education is a public good: The chance to be educated is a human right and state schools should provide a high quality education for every child regardless of the barriers. An education should provide rich intellectual and personal development for inpiduals and communities. It should equip young people for employment, making a contribution to the economy as well as enabling them to sustain themselves financially

2) The Trust’s work should make a further system-wide contribution to educational improvement beyond being a MAT: Hence being a significant part of Challenge Partners and standing shoulder to shoulder with other school leaders to work collectively for an outstanding school system

Scaling culture as you grow

A fundamental question for us is how we retain these values so strongly and protect our culture from erosion across a growing number of schools. Even within the relatively small 4 square mile patch that my MAT currently occupies, the ‘place’ in which each of the three secondary schools is located is quite distinctive and affects each school’s culture differently. If spread across a wider geographical area and sometimes amongst quite far-flung regions for some MATs the challenge is magnified. However, there are a number of things that have been important for us in going to scale:

Statement of identity, vision and values: having a very clear sense of identity and of the vision and values of the Trust that is written down and shared effectively with the whole MAT community has been fundamental to our work. Helpfully, there is a track record of success already to back its importance, and that success also provides authenticity for people. This is an essential ingredient in education leadership – both in inpidual schools and at scale
Governance: building a Trust board of committed trustees and company members that share our values has been very significant. There have been hard conversations and some very difficult moments connected with building the Board and holding true to our values – particularly when faced with issues of equality. Ensuring that our LGBs are similarly robust has been important too so establishing an appointments committee for the board, having board development, evaluation and training as well as a robust SOD and a handbook have been key to ensuring we retain our identity and culture across an expanding number of schools

Policies that reflect our values too: what becomes a central policy adopted fully by all and what becomes a statement of policy principles for all schools to follow is an interesting discussion. I am also well aware that what you do in a small MAT might be different to a larger one: take curriculum and approach to teaching and learning, where the values of an institution are also expressed. Having a ‘loose-tight’ approach works fine when as the CEO you have time to talk regularly with the principal and to review practice. When you have a larger MAT and take on schools in special measures, for example, a non-negotiable curriculum model that everyone follows is an easier way of quality assuring what is done. I’ll come back to this point at the end because there are more compromises to be made either way on this particular aspect of a MAT’s practice

School leadership: school principals are obviously critical to the retention of culture and identity when going to scale. Either you appoint like-minded leaders who already share the MAT’s culture, values and approaches (we have done this twice now) or you create a talent pipeline that brings people through internally – which we are also doing – but this takes longer to establish. Like others, we have a strong internal leadership development programme which draws upon the talent within our Trust and a headteacher in training / deputy headteacher in training programme which is bespoke and personalized as well as group programmes and courses. The way you interview to test ‘fit’ for a school is, as you know, a sensitive and complex process – but worth investing time into to get the right appointment. And not appointing if it’s not right is always a brave decision

Community: integral to school improvement is the relationship between a school, its context and its community. Investing in external relationships and finding the right ambassadors to enable you to build trust and confidence amongst wider stakeholders helps enormously. Schools in marginalized communities are the community glue and I continue to see the gulfs between groups of different heritage made visible by the events of recent time – such as Brexit, the Syrian conflict and terror attacks. Islamophobia is rife and suspicion between people is unhelpfully fueled by media and social networking sites. Our values around schools’ wider role in social cohesion are strongly held and so for us, work in this domain of scaling up is very important

The close attention of the CEO to these elements of a MAT’s work is essential in scaling up culture and retaining identity, and the work in it over three years to six years is considerable but worth the investment. Facilitating strong governance, nurturing senior teams, building relationships with school communities and having a keen eye on policy implementation are for us the key things that we have considered and continue to develop.

James Weatherill - 5 July, 2017

Category : Blog

3 ways school automation can save staff hours each week

School automation is a bit like having an automated robot which takes all the tediousness and drudgery out of manual data entry and repetitive tasks. All you need to do is set the criteria for what you want the robot to do and, once the action is triggered, the robot will take care of the

School automation is a bit like having an automated robot which takes all the tediousness and drudgery out of manual data entry and repetitive tasks. All you need to do is set the criteria for what you want the robot to do and, once the action is triggered, the robot will take care of the task for you without any extra clicks or work. For example, you might want your Headteacher to get a text message whenever there is an exclusion, or a pupil’s guardian to be notified when their child has 100% attendance, or any incident involving bullying to be automatically escalated and the child assigned a detention.

Just as sales and marketing automation have transformed the private sector, so too we think that school automation will transform the education sector over the next 5 years by saving staff time on repetitive administrative tasks, allowing them to concentrate on teaching and learning activities. The timing for this is as much driven by technology as it is by cost savings and time pressure, with the IFS stating that school budgets will decline by 7% in real-terms over the next 5 years, meaning schools will have to look for smart ways to start making savings without increasing staff workload.

There are 3 immediate ways we see school automation helping to save staff time, all of which can be implemented immediately:

1. Automate reporting
With senior leaders spending around 4.4 hours per week on data analysis, automation can help save time by having reports built, scheduled and sent to those who need them automatically. It also cuts out time spent on manually gathering data. The example below shows a school report on 100% weekly attendance being built and automatically scheduled to send to all pastoral leaders at 8am every Monday morning ready for registration. You could of course build more complex reports for governors, heads of department or headteachers using any reporting template you like too!

2. Automate escalation
Staff spend 8.0 hours per week on administration, much of which is taken up by behaviour management and escalation. This escalation can be automated – allowing, for example, detentions to be assigned automatically for certain behaviours, senior staff to be instantly emailed for trigger behaviours such as bullying, and parents to be notified of repeated good behaviour – all without any additional data entry. At the MAT level, this allows groups to monitor and report on a school’s behaviour policy, ensuring that it’s consistently delivered.

bhaviour automated incident escalation.gif

3. Automate chasing
Staff spend 3.8 hours per week on parent and guardian interaction, and although much of this is essential, some of the communication is repetitive and can be automated. For example, communication around late payments, attendance year-to-date below 95%, and good behaviour on a particular day could be automatically scheduled in your MIS. Chasing staff for late marksheets or incomplete registers can also be automated, saving administrators valuable time.

attendance chase guardians.gif

How do I try this in my school or MAT?
Workflow and data automation is now commonplace in businesses, but old-fashioned school MIS systems have held schools back. All of of the above is now possible in Arbor, and some other integrated, cloud-based MIS systems, so ask your provider for more information or get in touch with us for a demo to see how Arbor can help automate your repetitive admin and data tasks and give your staff their time back!

James Weatherill - 16 June, 2017

Category : Blog

How different MATs scale

I’ve already discussed the 4 different MAT personality types based on how much they standardise vs. give schools autonomy, as well as at what stage of growth MATs tend to standardise MIS systems. From our discussions with 100s of MATs, we’ve learnt some great lessons about how the 4 types of MAT scale their systems and people. I’ve summarised what we’ve

I’ve already discussed the 4 different MAT personality types based on how much they standardise vs. give schools autonomy, as well as at what stage of growth MATs tend to standardise MIS systems.

From our discussions with 100s of MATs, we’ve learnt some great lessons about how the 4 types of MAT scale their systems and people. I’ve summarised what we’ve learnt below:

4 MAT types.png

Authoritative MAT
This MAT type combines a high degree of MAT alignment with lower school autonomy, and as a result has highly standardised systems and processes. Many of these MATs have built their own custom systems or integrations, such as the Praising Stars system developed by Outwood Grange, or the Assembly data system built by ARK. These systems are typically built and administered by a large central team who are on hand to assist with data analysis and school improvement where needed, taking the burden off schools. School workflows and processes are similar in each school and can be audited by the central team.

Micromanaging MAT 
This organisation type is usually found in start-up MATs with challenging schools. Typically there isn’t enough of a top-slice to pay for a large central team, and one or more of the SLT in the lead school will typically act in a dual role both in their school and the MAT. There is typically not much standardisation of progress or MIS systems across the MAT, and as a result each school typically submits data manually via Excel in half-termly or termly data drops. This limits the complexity and timeliness of the data, meaning light data at the MAT level that is only reviewed a few times per year. Reliance on the people in the small central team is great, and as I’ve discussed, people start to break at around the 5 school mark.

Entrepreneurial MAT
This organisation type is usually found in start-up or informal MATs. Each school has high autonomy, and there isn’t much MAT alignment around systems or process. The data that does get collected at MAT level is usually light and done via regular Excel data drops. Like the micromanaging MAT, there is only usually a skeleton central team, with a member of school SLT playing dual roles as data lead for both the school and Trust. This is usually acceptable under the current Ofsted framework as long as the schools are high performing, but two things make this position fragile. Firstly, this system can’t scale beyond a handful of schools, as the central team will start to break under the chaos. Secondly, if Ofsted’s health checks prove to be heavy-handed, entrepreneurial MATs may have their work cut out to gather the data in a timely manner.

Assistant MATs

Usually found in groups of high performing schools, this type of MAT has standardised their ‘non-negotiable’ systems – typically the finance, MIS, progress and HR systems – leaving the rest at the discretion of schools. This allows for a semi or fully-automated data collection similar to the Authoritative MATs, as well as the ability to transparently view what is going on in each school without interfering. The small central team only get involved to help add extra capacity to their schools, such as building reports or analysis, setting up the behaviour policy in the system, or communicating with staff. Schools have autonomy in how they use the system, and the MAT get the core data they need with high levels of accountability.

Whatever your MAT personality, standardising your MIS is a step 50% of the largest 10 MATs are already starting to take as they move away from SIMS or CMIS.  Arbor’s MAT MIS can help centralise all your core student and staff data in dashboards for instant benchmarking and reporting, automates school workflows to save staff time, and allows you to take action to improve outcomes. Why not book a quick demo by emailing me at jweatherill@arbor-education.com or ask one of our MATs why they made the switch?

Chris Kirk - 27 April, 2017

Category : Blog

6 phases of MAT growth by MAT characteristic

Chris Kirk, Ex-Partner for Education at PwC, and formerly GEMS DfE. recently wrote about the 6 phases of MAT growth (and the crises that follow), explaining how as MATs grow in size and complexity the leadership style needs to flex, else crises can occur. Below Chris has summarised what type of MAT fits into what

Chris Kirk, Ex-Partner for Education at PwC, and formerly GEMS DfE. recently wrote about the 6 phases of MAT growth (and the crises that follow), explaining how as MATs grow in size and complexity the leadership style needs to flex, else crises can occur.

Below Chris has summarised what type of MAT fits into what phase of growth, as well as what early warning signs to look out for to avoid the 6 common crises he highlighted from occurring.

Summary: What to look out for, and what to consider doing about it

Five practical tips

  • Discuss actively within the MAT leadership team and schools which phase you are in now, and where you might be headed.  Self-awareness is a powerful tool.
  • Consider whether any of the signs of crisis are present.  Do these resonate with the phase of growth you are in? If so, you should consider what it would take to move to the next phase.
  • Don’t be tempted to think you can easily cut out stages because a later one sounds more appealing.  ‘Collaboration’ is naturally attractive in our sector, but it is only the appropriate HQ style in the last phase of growth because of all the systems and capabilities that were put in place before that.  Otherwise you may simply be in the creative phase, but without the systems of the Directive phase that support sustainable growth. This doesn’t mean people don’t collaborate with each other until that stage – it is about the overall management style of the HQ.
  • Like all models, this framework is a useful prompt for open discussion, but is not the whole truth.  Whilst the Growth Model has long standing provenance in other industries, it has not been directly tested in the MAT sector (to my knowledge).  You may find some parts of it useful, and that your MAT has characteristics of several different stages of growth.
  • When facing clear signs that the current management style is becoming outgrown, don’t take it personally.  This is a necessary part of growth, and as individuals we all have preferences and capabilities that suit us more to one phase than another.  So be prepared to make the necessary changes for good of the organisation.

 

 

Phillippa De'Ath - 22 February, 2017

Category : Blog

How to successfully launch your Free School (Part II)

This is the time in pre-opening when the EFA cheque book is out for IT which can be a hugely daunting task for the uninitiated. I’ve spoken extensively about the following topics and am surprised they’re still up for debate. This is only the case in Education (which is what we’re all trying to change!).

This is the time in pre-opening when the EFA cheque book is out for IT which can be a hugely daunting task for the uninitiated. I’ve spoken extensively about the following topics and am surprised they’re still up for debate. This is only the case in Education (which is what we’re all trying to change!).

1. Use the Cloud

  • In 2012 several school IT companies told us that you couldn’t run a school in the Cloud. They are more open to this kind of thinking. Realise that the resistance is based on their skills and sales targets, and not your needs (I began my IT career setting up servers for the world’s biggest server company, so if I can change my mind, so can they!)
  • You don’t need VPNs or other clunky layers to access the best of breed applications when you use proper SaaS services. If it sounds complicated, chances are it will be
  • Even device management can be Cloud based now so there should be no reason for a server in your school
  • Turn your server room into a music practice room for the benefit of all your students and the environment, and let someone else run your mini data centre for you!

2. Put staff efficiency and training first

  • Ask staff to train each other. A 4 hour training session on using interactive whiteboards isn’t fun for anyone; talking to your new colleagues about the cool things you’ve done with Google Classroom is more likely to drive innovation, collaboration, and productivity in your school. You could even ask one of your IT providers to let you use their space to do it, but facilitate rather than train before you move into your building. Do what startups do (you are one!) and bring decent, healthy snacks to the training room
  • Focus on supporting your staff on new things like processes for collaboration in the Cloud rather than what the C://Drive is or how to email attachments. Use good naming conventions from the beginning

3. Obsess about integrations

  • Nicky Morgan warned against “constraining the power of data” in schools at BETT 2016; in the pre-opening phase you have the opportunity to plan against such constraints. Data is notoriously badly managed (either over-restricted or poorly shared) by education data companies, but you can avoid making decisions that lock you in early on to a particular path. Most importantly, you need ready access to your assessment data in a variety of formats to allow Ofsted, and likely a demanding school board, the chance to understand what great progress students are making in your school.
  • One way to deal with this is to make sure that you use systems that have open APIs and are easy to use for all staff, not just founding data junkies
  • It’s OK to use spreadsheets when you’re small, but make sure you have a good plan for scaling and migrating that historic data to open, secure systems as soon as possible once you’ve launched
  • Ask parents what they’re expecting to see – they’ve supported you this far and it’s fair to ask them what would make sense to them in understanding the story of their child’s life at school

 

Phillippa De'Ath - 16 January, 2017

Category : Blog

How to successfully launch your Free School (Part I)

Just having a brilliant team and a great idea isn’t enough if people don’t know about you and can’t talk to you about it. You won’t have the resources of an open school (lots of teachers, a printer, a kettle…) to market your offer, so you have to do lots and lots of events, flyering,

Just having a brilliant team and a great idea isn’t enough if people don’t know about you and can’t talk to you about it. You won’t have the resources of an open school (lots of teachers, a printer, a kettle…) to market your offer, so you have to do lots and lots of events, flyering, talking to people in person, going to find them as well as getting them to come to you and using technology to reduce the effort and increase the quality of communications.

Be present
We spoke to hundreds of parents in person to get our school full for opening, via our own events, the feeder schools, park and playground trips and small gatherings in coffee shops or local community centres organised by keen parents. We met families on Good Friday to reassure them we’d be open on time and would provide the kind of education they wanted. If the only tangible thing your school has is your team and a prospectus, then your team have to be out talking to people. This includes your Principal Designate, who may not be used to such a street-facing role.

Be available
We had a Skype phone that could always be answered by someone knowledgeable from any location (and you can keep the number when you move to full land phone) so parents got the same response they would get from calling an open school. I cannot believe how many free schools don’t have a phone number, considering how many calls parents make to us. Parents need to talk to you, for reassurance as well as practical details.

Advertise
Advertise effectively. Bus rear-end ads have given us the best return, they’ll be seen in the right geographical area by all people and you can normally get a good deal if you haggle.
Use Mailchimp, Eventbrite and other free and effective tools for making you stay better engaged with your parents, as any growing business would.

The brilliant team
This is a bit motherhood and apple pie but in pre-opening there are three crucial roles in addition to the founding team (which you should keep as lean and capable as possible):

  • Head Designate: Obvious but they need to be brilliant and you need to get on with them. Good relationships and cultural fit are even more important in a start up phase when you’re building the organisation together. The head needs to be resilient and 100% on board with the vision; make them prove this to you in the interviews.
  • Operations/Business Manager: A weak point for all academies not just free schools, as the requirements and levels of accountability are so different compared to established community schools. You’ll need good software that you can use from anywhere, access to a good accountant and someone who can switch between managing lunch money and the EFA capital claims. I would recommend sharing someone brilliant with another school over having a dedicated under-qualified person. In this model, employ an administrator who can communicate really well with parents and the business manager.
  • IT manager: You’re reading this blog because you’re interested in data and technology so make sure you hire someone who believes in your vision and has enough experience to manage your ICT providers and train your staff as well as manage the network and reset your passwords. I think this is a two-man job, and would recommend a Senior plus an Apprentice so speak to your local vocational provider. You might be able to get someone to join in pre- opening from an apprenticeship scheme, and get a grant for doing so.

Don’t expect all the ICT to work perfectly on day one unless you have some good on your side managing it. Make sure you have back up plans e.g. access to a 3/4G connection for when your broadband is not installed on time (this can take 6 months at least).

Collecting and Protecting your data: The Data Roadmap 

Good housekeeping, safety and security of student data starts as soon as you receive applications. If you’re using collaboration tools like Google Apps for School, make sure you have signed the right model funding agreements for data processing outside the EU. Make a single person responsible for Data Security and Quality and put in place good practices before school opens. This will make the preparation for your pre-registration checks, opening day and first census all the more easy.

Make sure things you want to communicate electronically can be viewed on phones as well as computers to reach the widest possible audience. Arbor is free for Free Schools in pre-opening so you can use Arbor to send SMS to parents and begin building up profile data.

You can save yourself lots of time and errors with things like Google Forms or Survey Monkey, that can help you collect information from parents and new staff electronically, and leave you time to focus on the harder-to-reach parents, who might not have internet access or English as a first language.

In the next blog, I’ll focus on ICT in free schools.