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Amy Underdown - 11 July, 2022

Category : Blog

Migration to the cloud as a mindset – In conversation with AWS

As part of our partnership with Amazon Web Services, we interviewed Andrew Proctor, Executive Lead for Education, about how schools should be thinking about migration to the cloud. You can read a shorter version of this article in our joint whitepaper with Socitm.  – How has the move to the cloud looked across other parts

As part of our partnership with Amazon Web Services, we interviewed Andrew Proctor, Executive Lead for Education, about how schools should be thinking about migration to the cloud. You can read a shorter version of this article in our joint whitepaper with Socitm

migration to the cloud AWS

How has the move to the cloud looked across other parts of the public sector?

I think it’s taken a number of different shapes and forms across different sectors, but I also think it’s important to draw a distinction between those organisations and companies that are born in the cloud and those that are not. Cloud-borne companies can scale rapidly, because they already have a cloud way of thinking and doing. This is more the case for the private sector, where companies are often driven by the need for a competitive edge. 

Traditionally, I think the public sector has looked at digital transformation as a set of projects to implement new technologies, rather than an embedded cultural change. For those that have made the move to the cloud, they are able to see past technology as something that simply keeps the lights on. It has accelerated and de-risked innovation. 

What we’ve seen over the past two years is evolution and adaptation in the education sector, rather than true transformation and reinvention. An example would be moving lessons online. This is in no way to dismiss the incredible work that the public sector has had to do in a very short amount of time, but it demonstrates that they’ve been limited to almost reproducing what they’ve already been doing via different methods, rather than reinventing and improving them. 

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What learnings could the education sector take to help propel its digital transformation forward? 

The adoption of a cloud mindset should be central to any plans for transformation – viewing cloud as something that can help your team focus on your end-users. 

When I was first at Staffordshire University, there were monthly management meetings. The different teams would come in and talk about patches to the infrastructure, uptime and availability. By moving to the cloud, one of the cultural things I was able to do was shift the focus of those meetings away from maintenance of the system and through to telling us what problems they’d solved, what new functionality and new services they’d designed and delivered to help staff and students. Ultimately, cloud was a springboard for a much more user-centric approach. 

I also think it’s important to know that you don’t need to boil the ocean and seek perfection. Public sector governance doesn’t often align with digital and agile ways of operating. There’s a tendency towards multi-year business plans where every detail must be nailed down. Teams need to accept that traditional governance and its rigidity may not always be conducive to the benefits of the cloud. 

 

What advice would you give to those unsure about how to go about moving to the cloud? 

Look at digital transformation as a way of being and doing – not the shift to a different piece of technology. You need to be user-obsessed and focused. My advice would therefore be to start by putting some of the cultural building blocks in place and thinking of the bigger picture. 

Don’t try to reproduce what you’ve already done but in the cloud. Of course, you can make cost efficiencies and savings by getting rid of a data centre. But the real advantage of cloud is the ability to be innovative and agile. 

I’d also say that you should look to the huge community of support that’s out there for help. You don’t have to do it all alone. Many organisations, sectors, and industries have reinvented themselves and are willing to offer a helping hand. Look to partners as well. 

migration to the coud

    To see other case studies like Andrew’s, click on the image above

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What barriers have other sectors faced when approaching digital transformation and a move to the cloud?

Whatever the sector, organisations face some barriers, but many of these are actually just perceived barriers, particularly around security and skills. 

The security of the cloud is one such perceived barrier. There’s a trust and comfort to having something under physical lock and key in a data centre in your building. Cloud doesn’t remove locks and keys, it just does them in a better and different way. You still get 100% control over who has access to your data and applications. If you take Amazon Web Services (AWS), for example, we have over one million monthly active customers, across every vertical, including policing and security services around the globe. So our infrastructure is designed around the most stringent of security requirements from around the world – and each customer benefits from that. If you’re a school, you’re benefiting from infrastructure that’s been designed for a much higher tier of security than you actually need. 

Another concern is around skills. Some organisations worry that they haven’t got the internal skills for digital transformation or cloud adoption. There’s also a natural concern within individuals that they don’t have the skills required. So there’s a fear about making sure transformation is sustainable, because it has the right people moving it along. These concerns have solutions. You can train and develop your internal team where appropriate, rely on partners and also look to grow teams where necessary. In such a fast-paced environment as is the world of IT, the ability to upskill is viewed as an exciting opportunity for internal teams. It’s a positive thing. 

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How do other sectors make large-scale projects manageable?

The vast majority of projects that are deemed to be large-scale can and should be broken down into manageable chunks. It’s very difficult to produce this perfect, accurately timed and costed multi-year project plan sat at a desk in a room before you’re actually faced with reality. But we still seem wedded to doing that in the public sector. 

It’s much better to adopt, again, a sort of cloud mindset, by listening to what end-users need and want. And be prepared to change and adapt where needed.

It’s healthy to think big, but start small. This big idea that all schools will move to the cloud is absolutely right and proper, but the key is to start small, learn some lessons and demonstrate both success and value. Start by migrating those systems that aren’t complex to do so. 

 

How should the needs of end-users or customers be aligned and managed with a centralised project? 

In terms of practical advice, the establishment of some core tenets for the project is very important. What are the key things that are driving the initiative? A really rough idea of a tenet could be that you will always prioritise the security of people’s data, so when you come to some difficult or challenging decisions that you need to communicate to everyone, you can refer back to those tenets as well to make sure that you’re staying true to what was agreed upfront. This can help defuse some of the conflict and tension, because you’ve got that established guidance to refer back to. So setting, agreeing and communicating those key tenets to the broader school community can be very helpful.

And again, take digital ethos and approach. It could be moving a single school or a single application or service to the cloud. Take stock, learn some lessons and then progress from there and be prepared to adjust your plans accordingly.

Finally, I think it’s important to advocate for the fact that even though there may be some initial trade-offs, as we’ve discussed with the needs of users, going back to one of the core benefits of a cloud mindset is that ultimately you become much more customer-centric and you get much more time and resource to invest back into your end-users as well. Advocating that to the user community is really important. Naturally, there will be some friction and surprises, but just make sure you’ve got some resources ready to communicate to teams and keep them informed. 

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Is there anything you’d like to add?

I would add that there is a lot in the public sector and education sector to celebrate. There is plenty of opportunity for them in terms of digital transformation, but I think they should take a sense of pride in just how important they’ve been, how important they will remain to be and what they have done during a challenging few years.

It’s been a very challenging environment for universities and schools. Lots of noise in the media and press, lots of pressure politically. But they have absolutely done everyone in the country proud in terms of the service that they provided. If you look at them being able to provide new mental health services at universities and schools and the adoption of those, I think we should all be proud of what the education sector has been able to achieve, and we should all advocate for the many opportunities that are still ahead of them.

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More case studies in the cloud

A shorter version of this article appears in our whitepaper with Socitm, which also features interviews with Hampshire County Council and Herts for Learning about how and why they are offering schools in their area the choice of a cloud MIS. Click here for your free copy of the whitepaper.

soctim move to the cloud

blank Sophie Elms - 1 March, 2022

Category : Blog

Women in tech leadership

As part of our focus on diversity and inclusion at Arbor, we wanted to shine a spotlight on our leadership team, which is made up of majority women, to think more about what it means to be women in tech. Sophie, Arbor’s Talent Acquisition Manager, interviews four of our female leaders at Arbor below. The

As part of our focus on diversity and inclusion at Arbor, we wanted to shine a spotlight on our leadership team, which is made up of majority women, to think more about what it means to be women in tech. Sophie, Arbor’s Talent Acquisition Manager, interviews four of our female leaders at Arbor below.

The lack of women in STEM and tech starts in education and the subjects women choose, with only 26% of  STEM graduates (science, technology, engineering and maths) being women.  

Although this number is increasing, not all female STEM graduates go into jobs in the industry (only 22% are women), with computer science, engineering and technology the most affected. These statistics are sparking projects and events aimed to boost female representation in the STEM and tech sectors. 

Women in Tech Leadership at Arbor 

I’m very proud to say that Arbor Education is leading the way – six out of ten of our Senior Leaders are women and we have a high percentage of women in line management positions across the business. Our board has a female chair too. 

But what does it feel like to be a woman in leadership in the EdTech world? I recently caught up with four of our female leaders at Arbor to discuss their career and experiences. 

I’ve pulled out some highlights from the interviews below. 

Sonia Leighton – Chief of Customer Success 

Sonia-leighton

What is your role at Arbor and what got you into the tech world in the first place?

“My team provides first and second line support, as well as training and onboarding for our customers. I’ve been working in tech for about 20 years now across a number of different sectors. I left university and didn’t know what I wanted to do… and landed in BT Group… and I’ve been in tech ever since! 

The thing I love about it is that my role – Chief of Customer Success – didn’t exist 20 years ago. It’s now one of the fastest-growing roles in the industry. So it’s just a super exciting space to be in!”

Hilary Aylesworth – Head of Product

hilary ayelsworth

What advice would you give to women thinking of exploring a career in tech?

“Making the move from teaching to tech is a hard one to make, and the advice I might give myself back then, that I’ve learnt and reflected upon now, is I think the first step is mapping your skill set and really being clear what your strengths are. I didn’t know at the time that I wanted to be a Head of Product, I think that’s something that ended up fitting me very well, but I can see now that actually a lot of my skills were really nicely correlated with the specifications for a Head of Product kind of role. Also, mentorship is huge – whether you’re a woman in tech or a young person trying to get into tech, find somebody who you think does it really well. Spend time with them. Get to know how they do things!”

Phillippa De’Ath – Chief Revenue Officer

PDA

Have you noticed any significant changes in the industry from when you first started? 

“Despite 20 years in tech, Arbor is my first software job. I think the difference in  working on an enterprise software platform (as opposed to a mainframe) is that it brings together people who care about the end user, and that tends to require a lot of sensitivity to the challenges of work, understanding different ways of solving the problem. Different ways of thinking about the humans using the tools that you build and not just being in a big, sweaty data room with increasingly powerful engines but no thought to user experience.

The age of people we work with also influences our design and approach – the demographic of our heavily-female group is much younger than the industry average, so there aren’t entrenched ideas of how to do things.”

Harriet Cheng – Head of Marketing

Harriet-cheng

There are a number of networking communities aimed at developing future female leaders within technology. Have you been part of any and are there any you would recommend? 

I think it’s really important for women to support each other at work through mentorship, community building, networking and coaching – in tech, but in all industries really. I’m lucky to be part of an amazing team at Arbor and to know women leaders at several other EdTech companies across the UK, who have all been really helpful for sharing advice and swapping stories. Beyond that, I go to events by DevelopHer, a nonprofit community supporting women in tech, and would recommend Code First Girls who my sister (a games developer) has mentored with before. 

I’d also like to call out The Girls Network who are excellent – they work with girls from disadvantaged backgrounds in schools across England. I mentored girls interested in tech through their programme previously and would highly recommend it.”

We know that female representation in leadership positions is also behind in education, with only 38% of Headteachers are women at secondary level, and at primary men outweigh women almost 2:1. We’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about these issues and how they relate to your schools you’ve worked in.

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David Norton - 28 January, 2022

Category : Blog

The importance of frameworks in the changing MIS market

Close watchers of the Management Information System (MIS) sector often look to the MIS switching decisions of large MATs when trying to work out the direction of the market. However, activity at Local Authority level is growing, especially the rising number of frameworks with a cloud focus. This development could, in the longer term, have

Close watchers of the Management Information System (MIS) sector often look to the MIS switching decisions of large MATs when trying to work out the direction of the market.

However, activity at Local Authority level is growing, especially the rising number of frameworks with a cloud focus. This development could, in the longer term, have a more significant impact on the MIS market as a whole.  

But what role do frameworks play? Moving MIS can seem like a daunting task, particularly as many schools only have experience of their current system. It’s easy to be put off by all the consideration that changing a critical piece of software brings with it, even when the change can often be much easier than imagined. There’s a need to consider timing, statutory compliance, GDPR and security before you even start to think about how easy the software is to use or how particular features will benefit your school in the long run. 

Frameworks help to take away a lot of this heavy lifting, as the framework provider conducts all the necessary due diligence on behalf of the schools. Value has already been determined and price lists set.

Launched in September this year, Herts for Learning’s (HfL’s) MIS framework is one such example – and it’s rapidly being embraced by local schools.

As Catherine Tallis, Director of Business Services at Herts for Learning, explains:

We have seen first-hand, that when offered choice and value for money, schools, settings and trusts embrace the opportunity. 

We’re proud at Arbor to be the first-ranked MIS provider in HfL’s cloud-based lots. This partnership means that, working alongside the HfL team, Arbor will be supporting over 200 HfL schools and trusts move to a cloud-based MIS, which can transform the way they work. 

With current changes in the market, it’s likely that the importance of frameworks will continue to grow. This could be in the form of other Local Authorities creating their own versions to best meet the needs of their schools. Or alternatively (and more cost-effectively) using existing frameworks, such as HfL’s MIS Framework (which is designed for national as well as local use), to procure in a compliant and time-efficient way for their schools. 

On a personal note, I’m very proud of the relationship that has been built between Arbor and the HfL team. It’s exciting to be playing even a small part in the changes taking place in the MIS market right now. 

If you’d like to find out more about Arbor and the different frameworks we are part of, please get in touch. You can email us at hello@arbor-education.com

If you’d like to find out more about HfL’s new Framework, you can contact them at misFramework@hertsforlearning.co.uk.

blank Maddie Kilminster - 29 September, 2021

Category : Blog

Free EdTech support for schools from the Edtech Demonstrator Programme

What is the EdTech Demonstrator Programme? If you’ve not heard of it, the EdTech Demonstrator Programme provides publicly-funded schools and colleges in England with access to free, tailored, peer-led advice and guidance to help develop their use of technology in support of effective teaching and learning. This follows on from 4,000 schools and colleges benefitting

What is the EdTech Demonstrator Programme?

If you’ve not heard of it, the EdTech Demonstrator Programme provides publicly-funded schools and colleges in England with access to free, tailored, peer-led advice and guidance to help develop their use of technology in support of effective teaching and learning.

This follows on from 4,000 schools and colleges benefitting from the programme in 2020-21, which launched shortly before the Covid-19 pandemic enforced an extended period of remote teaching and learning.

What does the programme do?

The programme provides peer-led support via a network of over 40 EdTech Demonstrators across England. The EdTech Demonstrators have shown they use technology effectively and have the capacity to help other schools and colleges do the same. The peer-led approach delivers the sharing of learning, upskilling of staff and encourages continuous development for all involved.

The programme offers help on a range of topics, including:

  • School/college recovery
  • Building an accessible and inclusive curriculum (including pupils with SEND and excluded learners)
  • Improving teacher workload
  • Impacting on your educational improvement plans; better resource management
  • Creating a digital strategy

The EdTech Demonstrator Programme webinar series

Sign-up to any of the below sessions to get a feel for for the programme and how it can help your school

October 5th, 5pm: What should school and college leaders be thinking about when they think about technology?

Strategic Leadership and Creating Change

When developing your digital strategy, teaching and learning should be at the centre of your thinking. In this webinar Edtech Demonstrators will discuss the activities a senior leadership team can do to identify the teaching and learning foci for the implementation of technology.

Sign-up here

October 7th, 4pm: Digital wellbeing for pupils: consuming without being consumed

Effective Use of Technology to Support the Processes of Teaching and Learning

Technology plays a key role in our leisure, work and education, whether we are adults or still in school or college. This webinar will showcase the work being done by some of the EdTech Demonstrators to support their communities – staff, students, pupils and parents – to develop strategies to improve their digital wellbeing.

Sign-up here

October 12th, 5pm: Where can digital technology have the greatest impact for schools or colleges?

Strategic Leadership and Creating Change

Making teaching as impactful as possible when using technology requires 3 key ingredients – appropriate classroom technology, pupil access beyond school, and very clever tools. The EdTech Demonstrators will discuss how they have brought these 3 elements together to gain the most benefit for their staff and pupils/students.

Sign-up here

October 14th, 4pm: EdTech Experts’ Choice: decide which are the most impactful pieces of software for use at KS2

Technology Solutions; Platform Functionality

Five Edtech demonstrators will pitch their choice of the most effective KS2 learning applications to those on the webinar. The audience will then have an opportunity to vote, allowing the winner to further demonstrate how the tool supports effective teaching and learning in the classroom.

Sign-up here

Lorum ispum

If you’d like to find out more or would like to access support from the programme you can register your interest here.

Rachel Coldicutt - 27 November, 2020

Category : Blog

How to reflect on rapid technology change and plan for the future

Schools have been on an incredible journey in the last year, adapting to completely new ways of working with technology to deliver virtual lessons, cope with staff and students offsite, organise complex logistics and report on a whole new range of data. But changing ways of working in such a short space of time means

Schools have been on an incredible journey in the last year, adapting to completely new ways of working with technology to deliver virtual lessons, cope with staff and students offsite, organise complex logistics and report on a whole new range of data.

But changing ways of working in such a short space of time means staff haven’t had the change to properly reflect on this change – especially since schools have remained open throughout the pandemic!

To discuss how we can use technology in a more positive way, we were delighted to welcome Rachel Coldicutt to ArborFest on 12th November to give the Keynote presentation at our customer festival. 

Rachel is the former CEO of Doteveryone and expert on the social impact of technology, having collaborated with many organisations in the charity and public sectors. She recently produced The Glimmers Report – a practical toolkit designed to support schools and community organisations to reflect on their use of technology and how to build resilience for the future. 

Rachel shared some really meaningful tips that schools can use to make sure as we move forward in a reflective way under the new Covid-19 status quo. 

Rapid change

First of all, I think it can be useful to look outside of the school context to think about where you fit in. Since March, society as a whole has had to pivot extremely quickly to cope with rapid change, living now more of less all of our whole lives on video or looking at a screen. 

We’ve started to accept new ways of behaving as normal and hardly remember things we took for granted as normal before. I’ve seen, for example graduations – institutions which haven’t changed their format for decades, transformed into a virtual events.

graduation

People have responded to new restraints incredibly quickly, and this pivot is completely unprecedented. When we think about change and progress, we normally think of things happening in a linear way; with a horizon in sight. We’re used to moving forwards a bit, then backwards a bit, then forwards again. We’re used to having time to learn the new rules and adapting as we go. We’re used to getting clues and cues so we know when change is having success. 

But during the pandemic, progress surged overnight. 2020 has been like having one foot in 2050 and one in 1630 – in some ways a lot of things have been taken away from us, but in other ways we’ve travelled miles into the future. What we need to remember is that we’ve moved into the future with the same skills and experience we had last year. 

rapid-change

No time for reflection

Everyone has been gathering around the technology, rather than the cultural or human elements of change. It’s only months later that we’re realising how exhausted we are, having had no down time to talk about the changes, or even to properly process the traumatic things that have happened. 

I drew the diagram above in June, but actually it’s probably better drawn like a fast heart rate, to reflect how we’ve been continually adapting to and integrating change at an incredibly fast rate.

Building foundations for the future

As we move forwards into a future that is uncertain, we should think about “recovery” not something that accidentally happens but something you have to nurture. At the moment, as we’re still responding and still don’t know how long the crisis will go on for, it’s important to think about how to look after ourselves, and to prioritise our culture, our team and our tools. 

The first step to moving forward is to recognise some of the compromises or problems that have perhaps been overlooked, such as burnout, lack of infrastructure and platform dependency, instead of storing them up for later. 

The designer Caroline Sinders has come up with the “digital duct tape” phenomenon which describes how, rather than having well worked-out infrastructure, we’re more likely to be using a collection of tools patched together that only sort of work.

We should also recognise the heavy negative focus that has surrounded new technologies – focusing on safety, privacy and a culture of worry – particularly in schools and the public sector when sensitive data is involved. This has meant that people tend to use platforms only in exactly the way they’re prescribed from fear of doing something wrong. But if systems are well made and safe, they should give you the freedom to adapt, improvise, and use them creatively. 

Practical tips for moving forward

The Glimmers Report is a toolkit designed to help schools and other organisations understand where you are now in terms of your use of technology and the impact it’s having, and to end up in a position where you feel you have the tools and experience to be prepared for change in the future.

When compiling the report I began talking to charities and other groups in March and April, most of whom had not really worked in digital ways before the pandemic, but had suddenly moved to operating almost completely digitally. We then carried out interviews and observations, brought together theory and a range of practitioners to share the kind of things they’ve experienced. 

Glimmers-report

The toolkit helps you and your staff reflect around three main themes:

  • Tracking your change

This section encourages you to capture and understand what has changed, what you’ve learned, what you’ll keep and what you’ll discard, helping you to move ahead with more certainty. 

  • Reflection on roles

These questions allow you to think about how people’s roles have changed, the skills people have gained, and how people have felt during the process. It also helps you reflect on the intimacy that might get forgotten when using technology. For example, without the usual in-person cues, how do we know when people are listening and engaging? How can we create space? How can we get feedback? How can we show applause? How can we celebrate achievements? You might ask these questions once, or keep asking them regularly to see how your responses change over time. 

  • Planning for uncertainty

These simple questions and prompts help you look ahead and forecast the opportunities and obstacles that are likely to happen, and how you will respond. This is different to how you might normally plan because you’ll be able to bring the skills and experience of dealing with uncertainty. Just the exercise of projecting as a group what you might do if something totally new happens is really important in building resilience.

Remember, we co-create technology

An important thing to remember about technology is that no two people use a product in the same way, and the way we use products is always changing. And they’re designed that way – rather than there being a prescribed way of using technology, most developers are fascinated by how their users adapt and integrate technology in their lives. 

So rather than thinking of technology happening to us, we should allow ourselves to adapt the tools we use around our lives and experiences, and to meet our changing needs.

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