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Maddie Kilminster - 22 October, 2020

Category : Blog

Why are so many schools switching to cloud-based tech right now?

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.

 

Why are so many schools switching to cloud-based tech right now? 

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. 

 

Why have schools been reluctant until recent years to change their tech? 

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. 

 

What should companies do to help? 

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. 

 

How can schools ensure new systems have a long-term positive impact? 

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. 

 

What positives can schools take from the Covid-19 crisis and build into their strategies going forwards? 

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:

  • What if school lesson time was devoted to higher level explorations of a particular topic, with some preliminary materials and exercises before the lesson, plus some extension materials after it, for those motivated to develop their understanding in greater depth? 
  • What if there were accredited artistic, linguistic, cultural and STEM activities online so that the curriculum could be more balanced and cater for choice, interest and consolidation? 
  • What if there was some element of choice for students in negotiating curriculum pathways? 
  • What if we used online resources to better inform students about the impact of their choices in their studies on their preferred career destination? 

 

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 tellmemore@arbor-education.com, arrange a demo or join a free webinar. 

Maddie Kilminster - 14 September, 2020

Category : Blog

How to use your past performance data to kickstart your school improvement plan

The start of this academic year presents a lot of immediate challenges for students and staff – from new routines, to catching up on lost learning and recovering emotionally from lockdown. Looking beyond September towards setting school improvement objectives for the whole year, School Leaders are also faced with a challenge. With a six month

The start of this academic year presents a lot of immediate challenges for students and staff – from new routines, to catching up on lost learning and recovering emotionally from lockdown.

Looking beyond September towards setting school improvement objectives for the whole year, School Leaders are also faced with a challenge. With a six month gap in reliable attainment data, there’s less evidence to help identify areas for improvement.

So how can you use the data you do have to inform your school improvement plan this term? 

Gathering evidence

Like any other year, the first (and arguably most important) step in creating an effective school improvement plan is to really understand your school’s performance in depth, including the attainment gaps between different student groups and the factors that cause them. 

This year, without performance tables, ASP data from the DfE or consistent assessment data from last term, a good idea is to look back at your prior attainment data (averages over three years are ideal) as a starting point.  

For a full picture of your school’s attainment from the last three years, we’re releasing a bundle of our popular Arbor Insight reports exclusively for free. Find out more below or go straight to download your reports here.

In combination with your past performance data, you can look at data from other sources, such as:

  • Any Teacher assessments during lockdown 
  • Centre-assessed teacher predictions for GCSE and A Level
  • School context and demographic information (e.g numbers of Pupil Premium, Free School Meals and Disadvantaged students) 
  • Outcomes of your previous school improvement plans 
  • Previous self evaluations 
  • Findings from any surveys to students during lockdown (e.g. how they experienced working from home). This could provide you with some useful qualitative data on the wellbeing of your students. Wellbeing surveys are working well for The Mead Educational Trust 

Discovering the impact of Covid-19

A big focus of most school improvement plans 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, most schools will be performing a new set of baseline tests with students in the first few weeks of term, then comparing these results with where students were at before lockdown. This is where a 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.

How Arbor Insight reports can help

Gathering full and reliable prior attainment data could mean lengthy searching through DfE performance tables, and pulling together internal spreadsheets and student records. 

To save you time this term and help you kickstart your school improvement planning, we’re releasing a bundle of our most popular Arbor Insight reports (usually worth £300-400) – exclusively for free.

Created especially for your school, your reports will show you the full picture of your students’ progress and attainment over the last three years, giving you the context you need to see where to focus your efforts this year. 

You can download your reports from your free benchmarking portal – Arbor Insight – used by over 10,000 schools in the UK to dig deeper into their results and benchmark their performance.

Here’s what the reports will help you to achieve:

  • Visualise your students’ progress – Using three-year rolling averages, your reports will help you understand how consistent your performance has been over time and quickly spot any inconsistencies and identify anomalies 
  • Instantly spot attainment gaps – Your reports will help you understand how gaps have emerged between your key demographic groups (such as SEN, Pupil Premium, disadvantaged & EAL) and the school & national averages, so you can better support your most at-risk students post-lockdown
  • Understand the impact of socio-economic factors – Using contextual information about the area your school is in, your reports will help you look at all the factors affecting your students’ attainment 
  • Benchmark your school against others – Your reports benchmark your headline measures against other schools nationally, your LA, Top Quintile schools and similar schools to you, allowing you to put your school’s performance in its wider context 
  • Give your Governors the background they need – Saving you time gathering data, your reports are also presented in easy-to-understand PDFs with colour-coded charts and expert analysis, ready to share at your next Governor meeting

Your reports are waiting for you in your free Arbor Insight benchmarking portal – sign up here and download them today!

Here’s some more detail about each of your reports: 

school-report

progress-report

attainment-gap-report

Next steps

We hope your Arbor Insight reports are helpful in giving you the context you need to get started on your school improvement plan. 

Make sure you look critically at your data in the reports, and ask questions like “Why did these trends happen?” and “Are they typical of our school?” This will help to make sure your decisions are not based on any bias or previous assumptions. Check out our earlier blog for two approaches you can use to challenge your assumptions – 1) the Socratic Approach and 2) Asking “why?” 5 times.

As you move onto drafting your in-year priorities and objectives, question where you are in your current 3-5 year rolling plan: What have you achieved? What’s changed? 

Take a look at some guidance we’ve gathered below on writing an effective plan: 

Interested in finding out how Arbor’s cloud-based MIS can help you work more easily and collaboratively this term? Book a demo today, or join one of our webinars

tellmemore@arbor-education.com | 0208 050 1028

Jem Jones - 28 February, 2019

Category : Blog

Could the right behaviour climate improve outcomes at your school?

Every teacher knows that good behaviour in the classroom is fundamental to learning. This isn’t just anecdotal; we’ve had the data to back this up since 2009, when the University of Nottingham surveyed hundreds of head teachers in school improvement groups whose schools had sustained improvement over three years. One of the most highly rated

Every teacher knows that good behaviour in the classroom is fundamental to learning. This isn’t just anecdotal; we’ve had the data to back this up since 2009, when the University of Nottingham surveyed hundreds of head teachers in school improvement groups whose schools had sustained improvement over three years. One of the most highly rated factors in their improved outcomes was an ‘improved behaviour climate’, an effect felt through all phases but most strongly in Primary schools (see below). Critically, the lower a school’s performance was at the start of the improvement process, the higher the impact they were likely to report behaviour climate having.

Graph: the impact of improved behaviour on Primary outcomes

Fig. 1 – The number of schools in each improvement group and the impact Head Teachers stated behaviour climate had on that improvement

So what ‘behaviour climate’ is best for your school?

The obvious question then, is what does an ‘improved behaviour climate’ mean? And how can you create one in your school? In the home, the generally accepted theory for how adult attitudes can affect children’s behaviour are Baumrind’s ‘four styles of parenting’:

Infographic: Baumrind's four parenting styles

  • ‘Neglectful’ (considered least effective) – structured rules are not provided for the child and their needs are treated with indifference.
  • ‘Permissive’ – rules and structure are still not enforced, but children’s needs are tended to, actions are supported, and desires are indulged.
  • ‘Authoritarian’ – rules and structure are heavily enforced, with the expectation of blind obedience, and without consideration for the child’s perspective or developmental stage.
  • ‘Authoritative’ (considered most effective) – rules are clear, reasoned, and enforced, and expectations are high, but the parent still responds to the child’s needs and supports them in becoming independent.

An authoritative style can also be adopted in the school. Creating an authoritative behaviour climate requires both structure and responsiveness.

For structure, behaviour policies must be clear and understood by all staff and students for them to be effective. When a student misbehaves, they should know in advance exactly what the consequences will be, and they should see these consequences being consistently applied. If discipline is capricious and random, or depends on which teachers are around and what their personal policies are, both staff and students can never feel certain that they are doing the right thing at any given moment.

For responsiveness, there should still be some room in your policy for mitigating case by case circumstances, and considered communication between students and staff. Listening to students to find out their side of the story, or letting them know when their voices will be heard regarding the matter, can be a key part of developing their understanding of what went wrong. If students feel unfairly treated, ignored, and confused about why a rule even exists, they are unlikely to follow the rule again next time – they’ll just try slightly harder not to get caught.

Choose systems which will keep your policies in line for you

One of the most important factors in authoritative parenting, or authoritative school operations, is having a consistently applied policy. There are plenty of ways to encourage consistency in your school. Posters of your behaviour policy in classrooms, introductory assemblies for new students and parents, and one on one explanations of rules when students have questions are all great ways to get your policy across. We also suggest using an electronic system to log your behaviour incidents, which will allow you to analyse behaviour across the school over time and improve your policies to target any problem areas.

Trying to remember by heart a complete, in depth set of behaviour policies can increase both staff workloads and inconsistency, achieving the opposite of your aim. If you have a clear, user-friendly behaviour system, ideally one that can automate repetitive admin work for you, you can make sure everyone who needs to be is kept in the loop. Using modern technology, it is possible to create a central repository for all your policies and information, so disciplinary action can only be applied with the proper incident or reasoning behind it.

Infographic: a behaviour workflow in Arbor MIS

Fig 3 – The automatic behaviour workflows in our MIS can be customised to trigger any communication or escalation based on your policy – e.g. issuing an after school detention that will appear in the relevant staff and student calendars, and emailing primary guardians, if a serious incident is recorded.

With ‘behaviour and attitudes’ staying a key part of the proposed new Ofsted framework, it could be time to review your behaviour systems and processes to create an ‘authoritative’ structured & responsive style. Overall, the exact policies that will be best for your school depend heavily on your specific situation and challenges, but making sure those policies are highly consistent and make sense to students and staff alike is one of the key ways to improve behaviour climates, and ultimately student outcomes.

Click here to read more of our blogs about preparing for the judgements in the new Ofsted framework

Rebecca Watkins - 11 December, 2018

Category : Blog

Questions you should be asking about your school improvement plan

This Autumn term, we organised 54 Insight Training sessions that were attended by teachers and members of Senior Leadership Teams from schools across the country. As well as looking at how Arbor’s Insight reports can help you to benchmark your schools results and streamline your operations, the sessions also demonstrated how you can use your

This Autumn term, we organised 54 Insight Training sessions that were attended by teachers and members of Senior Leadership Teams from schools across the country. As well as looking at how Arbor’s Insight reports can help you to benchmark your schools results and streamline your operations, the sessions also demonstrated how you can use your performance data and Arbor Insight portal to support and inform your annual school improvement cycle.

Each year, before you make any decisions based purely on your headline measures, you should be asking more questions about your data. This is to make sure that your decisions are not based on any bias or previous assumptions that you might not have even realised were affecting your improvement strategies. Your Arbor Insight reports help you do this by telling you:

  • What happened last year, and in the last 3 years in your school
  • Whether it was typical for your school
  • What happened in schools in the UK, your LA and schools like you, and whether this was typical

But you still might not know:

  • Why it happened
  • Why it’s typical of your school
  • How to address the problems and consolidate the successes

Until you’ve answered those two why questions, you can’t figure out how to improve. We have two approaches to share to help with this.

The first is the Socratic approach. This approach requires you to think about your data from various angles to uncover any hidden assumptions you might have before taking action. You should ask:

Questions that clarify

“Do boys underperform in reading in all year groups?”

Questions that probe assumptions

“Do our pupils really enter school with low attainment?”

Questions that probe reasons and evidence

“Is there a reason to doubt the evidence?”

Questions about viewpoints and perspectives

“Should we look for another reason for this?”

Questions that probe implications and consequences

“How does this affect SEN pupils?”

Questions about questions

“Why do you think I asked this question?”

Categorising them like this encourages you to ask a wider range of questions and uncover the specific problem.

The second approach is asking“why” 5 times:

As those of you who teach or have younger children will know, one of their favourite, and sometimes most frustrating, games to play is the constant asking of “why?”. In fact, this single, repetitive question is a really useful way to dig deeper into the context behind your results and again, challenge your assumptions.

As a rule of thumb, 5 “why”s will usually get you to a root cause:

“Only 70% percent of children are working at the expected standard in writing”

WHY?

“Too many girls don’t make the expected standard”

WHY?

“Progress for girls is slow across KS2”

WHY?

“They start off poorly, with slower progress in lower KS2 than upper KS2”

WHY?

“Expectations are too low in lower KS2”

WHY?

“Poor teacher knowledge of what could be achieved”

In this case, “poor teacher knowledge of what could be achieved” is the root cause. You’ll know when you get to the root cause because it’s usually something specific and tangible. Unlike vague statements like “progress is slow” or “expectations are low”, it’s something you can actually address.

To log in and see your free ASP dashboard and reports for Phonics, KS1, KS2, and KS4, click here. Our Insight training sessions are over for the year, but if you’d like to host one for your area or find out how else Arbor can help your school or MAT, you can get in touch here.