Management Information System (MIS) for schools
Expert ideas for a better working life at your school or trust
School Improvement | School Operations
Category : Blog
Schools are used to change. New students come in, classes rotate and cohorts move on. Leadership changes, each coming in with a new vision for how to run the school. Schools also need to react to changes in requirements, regulation and funding imposed by the Government, Ofsted and their Local Authority. Recently the Covid-19 pandemic
Schools are used to change. New students come in, classes rotate and cohorts move on. Leadership changes, each coming in with a new vision for how to run the school.
Schools also need to react to changes in requirements, regulation and funding imposed by the Government, Ofsted and their Local Authority. Recently the Covid-19 pandemic has given schools perhaps the most changes they’ve had to deal with in years, often having to adapt overnight.
Schools may well be used to changes on a daily basis, but when it comes to implementing changes to technology, ways of working and culture, schools can learn a lot from the change management principles used in industries like tech and business to make sure changes are successful and have a lasting positive impact.
Each term and each year, staff work to cycles of continual improvement with the objective to provide the best quality of education and care to their students. From updating textbooks and materials, to adjusting teaching and assessment strategies, to training and upskilling staff, to procuring new systems (like an MIS, or piece of online learning software) – schools are always looking for ways to improve their provision, to ultimately improve student outcomes.
When changes are managed well, they can be transformational. The most successful changes have a positive impact on both students and staff, bringing everyone together in the shared goal of working in new and better ways.
Changing a system, or a way of working, doesn’t automatically bring improvement. Changes need all staff behind them if they’re going to work. Often when Leadership introduces something new, some staff are not brought into the change in the right way, they may think the change is being done to them – mandated from the top. This might mean they’re either confused or sceptical, and the change therefore might not have the desired effect.
In busy schools, one of the central concerns of introducing new ways of working is the impact on staff’s already high workload and the highly time-pressured environment they work in. Staff can be reluctant to change ways of working that they’ve been familiar with for years, fearing that learning new processes will impact their ability to do their job to their best standards.
“People should come before systems… In any systems change, if people don’t have a sense of ownership or the right skills, this simply creates an added challenge.” – Jason Brown, CFO at Bath and Wells Multi-Academy Trust
Since March 2020, schools have had to deal with rapid changes to regulations, online teaching and learning, as well as changes to student and staff personal situations, their wellbeing and vulnerability. Very quickly, schools have had to get used to totally new ways of working internally, with parents, and with other services in their local area.
As with any crisis, humans tend to react and adapt to change in a curve – which starts with panic but ultimately results in finding new ways of operating under the “new normal”.
As the dust settles a little with the pandemic, schools have started to take a step back and reflect on the lessons they’ve learned over the last year, and changes they can make to prepare themselves for the future.
Hear how six MAT Leaders have coped with the pandemic, and how they’re creating sustainable plans for the future in our new free ebook for MAT leaders.
At the top of Leaders’ minds is asking themselves whether the systems they have in place can cope with flexible ways of working going forward.
Check out advice from Rachel Coldicutt, expert on tech and social impact, on how to reflect on the rapid technological changes that have happened during the pandemic, and how to plan for the future.
One of the most important changes that many schools have undertaken is to move to cloud-based systems like Arbor MIS (Management Information System), to give them more flexibility in the way they run their school. Did you know that almost 1 in 5 schools are predicted to switch to a new MIS in the next year?
At Arbor, we’re experts in change management. We’ve worked with over 1,890 schools and MATs to roll out Arbor MIS successfully to make a measurable improvement to the way they work.
In fact, 92% staff say Arbor has changed the way they work for the better. 81% say Arbor has improved how they analyse and understand data, and 92% say they save time with Arbor compared to their previous MIS.
Any big change that you introduce at your school should be planned and implemented using change management principles to make sure the change is manageable and impactful for staff. Effective change only happens when people change their habits, which is when they are adequately prepared and buy into how the change will benefit them.
“When we bring in change, it’s not mandated from the top-down; it’s based on research and best practice – for example, when we see something working well or we see a strength that we want to embed across the cluster.” – Nick Cross, CEO at Kings Group Academies
Here are our top five change management principles from our in-house experts to bear in mind when making any large scale change at your school:
The first things to think about when you’re starting a project are why you need to make the change and what you want to achieve over the long term. The reasons you need to make the change will have a lot to do with:
Once you know where you want to be, you can break down your vision into manageable steps you need to go through to get there. You’ll then be able to track the progress you make from your baseline towards your target.
Our teams at Arbor have found some great free online tools for planning, for example Miro, the smart whiteboard tool.
When you start your project it’s important to work out which of your staff will be directly involved in or impacted by the change. Putting in place roles and responsibilities across your team will help you assign clear owners for every stage in your project.
Staff who have a positive attitude towards the project will make great advocates to promote it to others. It’s often worth nominating one of these people to be your official Change Manager (or a few), who will be responsible for leading the project.
Change Managers can work closely with other staff in a “change network” in order to coordinate communication, respond to feedback, provide support and report on progress.
When schools move to Arbor nominating a Change Manager (called an Arbor Champion!) is a really useful part of the process.
When you’re undergoing a big change at your school or organisation, the easiest thing to do (but most often forgotten) is to talk to each other. When you’re coordinating the priorities of different staff members, communication can be challenging, but keeping everyone motivated and on the same page is one of the most important aspects of successful change management.
However you create your communication strategy, remember these two top tips:
It’s inevitable that some colleagues will be resistant to changing the way they work. It’s a good idea to ask them to explain why they view the change as a challenge. It could be that they’re worried their job is at risk or that they lack the right skill set.
We recommend involving everyone who is going to be impacted by the change in meetings and decisions right from the start. It’s also important to make sure there are channels for staff to give feedback throughout your project. When schools switch to a new MIS, for example, we encourage them to bring staff into demo meetings with us early on to make sure they understand how the system will impact their day-to-day work, and they can voice any concerns.
“If you know you need to make a change that’s important to the direction for the trust you want to set, have confidence. Managing ‘through’ people is too problematic, and the pace and direction of change is not guaranteed.” – Nick Cross, CEO at Kings Group Academies
Finally, when a project comes to a close, too often we think about the problems that came up along the way, rather than celebrating what went well. Marking key milestones and successes helps demonstrate the progress that your team has made together and gives due credit to everyone who has given time to the project. It also validates your reason for the change and keeps everyone on track to achieve the longer term goals of the project.
We hope our change management tips have given you some useful food for thought when you come to lead change successfully at your school or MAT.
If you’re considering moving to a cloud-based MIS at your school, we’d love to walk you through the tried-and-tested approach we take to making the move manageable and tailored to every school, with support from us every step of the way.
We work with school teams throughout the year to move them to Arbor’s cloud-based MIS (check out our blog on how to work out the best time in the year to switch). We can also manage the whole process 100% remotely – we’ve moved over 700 schools to Arbor since the pandemic began!
To learn more about Arbor MIS, arrange a personalised demo for your school here, or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org | 0208 050 1028.
If you’ve recently made the move to Arbor, why not share how it went for you on the Arbor Community forum (of over 2370 users!).
Popular | School Improvement
School staff work hard every day to improve standards and student outcomes. But it’s the responsibility of School Leaders to bring staff, parents and the wider school community together behind core values and objectives which focus their attention and efforts. As students’ circumstances have changed during the pandemic, schools have had to be flexible with
School staff work hard every day to improve standards and student outcomes. But it’s the responsibility of School Leaders to bring staff, parents and the wider school community together behind core values and objectives which focus their attention and efforts.
As students’ circumstances have changed during the pandemic, schools have had to be flexible with their resources, making quick decisions in order to prioritise what’s best for students. In many cases, schools have made vast improvements to the way they work, faster than they would have before. More students now have access to devices at home, staff have gained extra digital skills, and school communities have been brought closer together.
Above all, Covid-19 has brought to light the students who need the most support, and schools now have the opportunity now to put objectives in place that will really help them long term.
The School Improvement Plan or School Development Plan (SDP) is the central document in which School Leaders map out their strategic plans for the development of their school. Based around the school’s established values, it sets out the actions and resources needed to achieve priority objectives. It is often shared with Governors and published on the school’s website.
All other key plans, such as staff appraisal objectives and CPD programmes tie back to the SDP. The school’s strategic financial plan will also link closely to the strategic improvement objectives, in order to plan sufficient funding to achieve them.
Every school’s SDP will look different, but the most important thing about an SDP is that it’s developed based on evidence of where the school is at, and what it can realistically achieve in order to best support its students. It is also a living document that’s reviewed and updated in an ongoing cycle.
When you come to write your SDP, there are several resources you can draw on. First, refer to your four-year strategic plan which will provide the foundation of your key aims. Second, return to last year’s plan to assess what you’ve achieved and how your priorities might have changed. Third, your strategic financial plan (usually written in January) will show you where you’ve committed spending, and what still needs to be addressed as part of your four-year plan.
Next, remember you’ll need to back up each of your objectives with evidence showing why you’ve identified each focus area, and what your actions will achieve. For this, you’ll need to first carry out a school self-evaluation (SSE) which will help you judge your school’s past performance, strengths and areas for improvement. Your SDP should then align with each of the points in your SSE report.
Check out guidance from the Education Endowment Foundation on how to create school plans this year.
The first (and arguably most important) step in creating an effective SDP is to really understand your school’s performance in depth, including the attainment gaps between different student groups and the factors that cause them. You should look at both summative and internal assessment data in order to build a full picture of how students have been doing this year compared to previous years.
Discover how Arbor’s free Insight performance reports could help you prepare your SDP.
In combination with your past performance data, you can also look at data from other sources, such as:
Look critically at your performance data before writing up your SSE report. Ask questions like “Why did these trends happen?” and “Are they typical of our school?” These will help to make sure your judgments are not based on any bias or previous assumptions.
The best way to make informed judgments about your school’s performance is to benchmark against schools like you nationally and in your LA (local authority). Arbor Insight reports will help you with this, by showing you:
But you still might not know:
You can take two approaches to help answer these questions:
1. The Socratic approach – Think about your data from various angles (e.g. “Do boys underperform in reading in all year groups?”, “How does this affect SEN pupils?”, “Should we look for another reason for this?”) to uncover any hidden assumptions you might have before taking action
2. Ask “why” 5 times – This single, repetitive question is a really useful way to dig deeper into the context behind your results and again, challenge your assumptions
A big focus of most SDPs this year will be how to get students back on track after lockdown. Your Governors will need to understand the impact of partial school closures on students’ learning and wellbeing to help them review your plans for recovery.
To understand the impact of Covid-19 on your students’ attainment, you might have carried out various baseline tests, and compared these results with where students were at before lockdown. Full and broad evidence of students’ prior performance will help you reliably understand what has changed and set the most effective goals for how to get students back on track.
Think about other areas that have been impacted by the pandemic, such as students’ mental health and wellbeing. Find out how The Mead Academy Trust investigated how students’ vulnerability, educational needs and wellbeing had changed as a result of Covid-19, and the interventions they’re putting in place to support students.
Similarly, hear how Aspirations Academies Trust are banning the terms “catch-up” and “behind”, to focus on positive recovery.
Schools should structure their School Improvement Plans (or School Development Plans) around Ofsted’s four inspection categories:
1. Quality of education
2. Behaviour and attitudes
3. Personal development
4. Leadership and management
Under each category, you should map out your key objectives with actions and targets associated with each of them. A good model to use is SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-framed), which means making clear the associated costs, timescales and resourcing needed to achieve each of your objectives.
Get advice from education advisor, writer and speaker, Mary Myatt on how to carve out time for satisfying work on curriculum improvement.
Check out these helpful articles in Schools Week about how to improve sectors of your curriculum: Science, Maths, RE.
If you’re a new Headteacher, it can be really useful to have a look at example SDPs from other schools, particularly those with similar sizes, cohorts, or in your geographical area.
The Key for School Leaders has some great guidance and resources on creating your SDP, including a school improvement plan (SIP) template and checklists to help you implement and evaluate your SIP.
As you’re writing your plan, it’s important to share your findings, judgments and reasoning with your Governors and staff, so you can work together to perfect it. Governors will especially have an eye on how you plan to close certain high-profile gaps in attainment such as disadvantaged students.
As the school year goes on, the needs of your students may change (the world they live in certainly will!). That’s why your school improvement planning should be done in cycles; with ongoing evaluation throughout the year to help you figure out what’s working.
If the objectives you set in your SDP are measurable, you’ll know what evidence you need to look at to work out if you’re on track. The most effective way to track the impact of your school improvement initiatives is in your MIS. Systems like Arbor give you a clear, visual view of how your students are doing at school or MAT level across behaviour, attendance and attainment. It’s then easy to problem-solve your student performance and understand the root factors using relevant information such as students’ background and personal circumstances.
This evidence will show you where you might need to tweak the focus of your objectives so they have a more meaningful impact.
Got a question about how to write an effective School Development Plan? Why not ask fellow schools in the Arbor Community of over 1,800 schools? Join the online Community forum today.
Want to find out how our schools use Arbor to work faster, smarter and collaborate more? Listen to our case studies here.
We spoke to Educational Consultant David Hughes about why such a large wave of schools have started moving to cloud-based tech in recent years (approx. 1,700 have switched to a cloud-based MIS since 2017). David Hughes is the author of “Future-Proof your School” and “Re-examining Success”, as well as the popular blog “Learning Renaissance’” He
We spoke to Educational Consultant David Hughes about why such a large wave of schools have started moving to cloud-based tech in recent years (approx. 1,700 have switched to a cloud-based MIS since 2017).
David Hughes is the author of “Future-Proof your School” and “Re-examining Success”, as well as the popular blog “Learning Renaissance’” He has over 40 years of experience in schools and Education Technology, with particular expertise in change management, professional development and flexible learning.
Read below for David’s advice for how schools can make sure large-scale technology changes support learning in a sustainable way.
The challenges of running a school remotely during Covid-19 have accelerated the cloud-based revolution – but this is a trend that was already well established.
There are two main drivers:
1. Economies of scale
2. School improvement
Schools now recognise that they can save money using cloud-based solutions, which place the technical support burden on the vendor, meaning schools no longer have to maintain costly servers on site. In times of stretched budgets, this is enough to encourage many schools to switch.
However, there are also deeper educational motivations at play. Although the first generation of EdTech products greatly improved the productivity of collecting, collating and presenting information, schools are rightly now demanding more intuitive and granular information.
For example, schools recognise that their Management Information System (MIS), not only saves time for office staff, can actually drive iterative school improvement. Where previous systems merely showed the “what”, they can now use their MIS to ask deeper “why” questions. They can use their own data to experiment and collaborate in the search for better learning outcomes for students and more effective professional development for staff across the school.
I think a lot of this comes down to negative past experiences with technology roll-outs. Schools often didn’t realise that a technology change isn’t just about installing a system and teaching staff what the buttons do – it requires a cultural change and a behavioural adjustment for teachers.
I’ve seen many companies who are too keen to make a sale and let schools skimp on training or rush through the implementation. This always leaves teachers exasperated that as well as their normal teaching load, they now have to incorporate a confusing new technology.
Instead, good technology providers take the time to demonstrate how they can drive up standards across the school, either by saving time, enabling better collaboration, improving teaching practice, or shining a light on successful strategies. Ultimately, schools and vendors need to be critical friends and share a vision centred around educational outcomes.
Companies need to realise that there’s no point in building a great piece of tech unless it’s totally aligned with the needs of your customers. Too often, companies are at risk of letting the “tail wag the dog” – making decisions based on what’s possible, rather than what’s needed.
One aspect of Arbor’s offering that greatly impressed me was the number of experienced former Teachers and Senior Leaders in the company. Hiring and consulting with Educators means companies understand their users’ context and can be more responsive to development needs in a timely and iterative way.
Having flexible, cloud-based systems is now a necessary condition for driving school improvement, but it’s far from the only thing you can do. There are a number of other dimensions that need to be addressed if technologies are to support learning in a sustainable way.
The most critical aspect, which is often least addressed, is to do with the dominant school culture, or “the way we do things in this school”. This will decide where, when, how and why change is initiated or stalled. School culture comes down to more than leadership – it’s a commonwealth of perspectives which drive behaviours in the school.
School Leaders should engage the whole school in change right from the start – this means involving people in the preliminary discussions, not just when unveiling the final plan. Leaders should also be clear about their goals, whether short or long-term (e.g. maximising exam performance in a particular year, versus a longer-term transformation).
Having worked in and with both high-achieving and struggling schools, a common theme that shocks me every time is that senior leadership teams often don’t think to audit what skills and experience staff have at the outset of a project. Change is done to rather than with them. This management-centred perspective limits the scope, success and sustainability of change.
With simple tools, such as a survey of “can do” statements, School Leaders can generate a complete picture of the skill level across the whole school before starting an initiative. Staff who consistently score highly become the “champions” of the project, developing materials and processes which other staff can then adapt to suit their own needs in the classroom.
Covid-19 has (understandably) forced schools to be far more reactive in their approach. There is much talk of the “new normal” which, in my view, is extremely premature. The current situation is not normal, it is transitional.
There is some truly transformational potential in determining not to go back to the “old normal” and instead exploring how the disruption of the pandemic has changed the way staff and students have shown they can learn. For example, both students and staff have found new ways of working in the disruption, and students have, to an extent, become independent and autonomous learners.
Here are a few ideas for how we could be more ambitious going forwards:
This blog post references materials developed in the books “Future Proof Your School” and “Re-Examining Success”, as well as the Learning Renaissance blog by David Hughes, which schools are welcome to incorporate into their staff CPD library.
To find out more about how Arbor MIS could transform the way you work, get in touch on email@example.com, arrange a demo or join a free webinar.
Every teacher knows that good behaviour in the classroom is fundamental to learning. This isn’t just anecdotal; we’ve had the data to back this up since 2009, when the University of Nottingham surveyed hundreds of head teachers in school improvement groups whose schools had sustained improvement over three years. One of the most highly rated
Every teacher knows that good behaviour in the classroom is fundamental to learning. This isn’t just anecdotal; we’ve had the data to back this up since 2009, when the University of Nottingham surveyed hundreds of head teachers in school improvement groups whose schools had sustained improvement over three years. One of the most highly rated factors in their improved outcomes was an ‘improved behaviour climate’, an effect felt through all phases but most strongly in Primary schools (see below). Critically, the lower a school’s performance was at the start of the improvement process, the higher the impact they were likely to report behaviour climate having.
Fig. 1 – The number of schools in each improvement group and the impact Head Teachers stated behaviour climate had on that improvement
The obvious question then, is what does an ‘improved behaviour climate’ mean? And how can you create one in your school? In the home, the generally accepted theory for how adult attitudes can affect children’s behaviour are Baumrind’s ‘four styles of parenting’:
An authoritative style can also be adopted in the school. Creating an authoritative behaviour climate requires both structure and responsiveness.
For structure, behaviour policies must be clear and understood by all staff and students for them to be effective. When a student misbehaves, they should know in advance exactly what the consequences will be, and they should see these consequences being consistently applied. If discipline is capricious and random, or depends on which teachers are around and what their personal policies are, both staff and students can never feel certain that they are doing the right thing at any given moment.
For responsiveness, there should still be some room in your policy for mitigating case by case circumstances, and considered communication between students and staff. Listening to students to find out their side of the story, or letting them know when their voices will be heard regarding the matter, can be a key part of developing their understanding of what went wrong. If students feel unfairly treated, ignored, and confused about why a rule even exists, they are unlikely to follow the rule again next time – they’ll just try slightly harder not to get caught.
One of the most important factors in authoritative parenting, or authoritative school operations, is having a consistently applied policy. There are plenty of ways to encourage consistency in your school. Posters of your behaviour policy in classrooms, introductory assemblies for new students and parents, and one on one explanations of rules when students have questions are all great ways to get your policy across. We also suggest using an electronic system to log your behaviour incidents, which will allow you to analyse behaviour across the school over time and improve your policies to target any problem areas.
Trying to remember by heart a complete, in depth set of behaviour policies can increase both staff workloads and inconsistency, achieving the opposite of your aim. If you have a clear, user-friendly behaviour system, ideally one that can automate repetitive admin work for you, you can make sure everyone who needs to be is kept in the loop. Using modern technology, it is possible to create a central repository for all your policies and information, so disciplinary action can only be applied with the proper incident or reasoning behind it.
Fig 3 – The automatic behaviour workflows in our MIS can be customised to trigger any communication or escalation based on your policy – e.g. issuing an after school detention that will appear in the relevant staff and student calendars, and emailing primary guardians, if a serious incident is recorded.
With ‘behaviour and attitudes’ staying a key part of the proposed new Ofsted framework, it could be time to review your behaviour systems and processes to create an ‘authoritative’ structured & responsive style. Overall, the exact policies that will be best for your school depend heavily on your specific situation and challenges, but making sure those policies are highly consistent and make sense to students and staff alike is one of the key ways to improve behaviour climates, and ultimately student outcomes.
Click here to read more of our blogs about preparing for the judgements in the new Ofsted framework
This Autumn term, we organised 54 Insight Training sessions that were attended by teachers and members of Senior Leadership Teams from schools across the country. As well as looking at how Arbor’s Insight reports can help you to benchmark your schools results and streamline your operations, the sessions also demonstrated how you can use your
This Autumn term, we organised 54 Insight Training sessions that were attended by teachers and members of Senior Leadership Teams from schools across the country. As well as looking at how Arbor’s Insight reports can help you to benchmark your schools results and streamline your operations, the sessions also demonstrated how you can use your performance data and Arbor Insight portal to support and inform your annual school improvement cycle.
Each year, before you make any decisions based purely on your headline measures, you should be asking more questions about your data. This is to make sure that your decisions are not based on any bias or previous assumptions that you might not have even realised were affecting your improvement strategies. Your Arbor Insight reports help you do this by telling you:
But you still might not know:
Until you’ve answered those two why questions, you can’t figure out how to improve. We have two approaches to share to help with this.
The first is the Socratic approach. This approach requires you to think about your data from various angles to uncover any hidden assumptions you might have before taking action. You should ask:
Questions that clarify
“Do boys underperform in reading in all year groups?”
Questions that probe assumptions
“Do our pupils really enter school with low attainment?”
Questions that probe reasons and evidence
“Is there a reason to doubt the evidence?”
Questions about viewpoints and perspectives
“Should we look for another reason for this?”
Questions that probe implications and consequences
“How does this affect SEN pupils?”
Questions about questions
“Why do you think I asked this question?”
Categorising them like this encourages you to ask a wider range of questions and uncover the specific problem.
The second approach is asking“why” 5 times:
As those of you who teach or have younger children will know, one of their favourite, and sometimes most frustrating, games to play is the constant asking of “why?”. In fact, this single, repetitive question is a really useful way to dig deeper into the context behind your results and again, challenge your assumptions.
As a rule of thumb, 5 “why”s will usually get you to a root cause:
“Only 70% percent of children are working at the expected standard in writing”
“Too many girls don’t make the expected standard”
“Progress for girls is slow across KS2”
“They start off poorly, with slower progress in lower KS2 than upper KS2”
“Expectations are too low in lower KS2”
“Poor teacher knowledge of what could be achieved”
In this case, “poor teacher knowledge of what could be achieved” is the root cause. You’ll know when you get to the root cause because it’s usually something specific and tangible. Unlike vague statements like “progress is slow” or “expectations are low”, it’s something you can actually address.
To log in and see your free ASP dashboard and reports for Phonics, KS1, KS2, and KS4, click here. Our Insight training sessions are over for the year, but if you’d like to host one for your area or find out how else Arbor can help your school or MAT, you can get in touch here.
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