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Maddie Kilminster - 24 June, 2020

Category : Blog

3 reasons why you should switch to a cloud-based MIS now to future-proof your school

We’ve been working hand in hand with schools and MATs to help them to adapt to partial school closures and the recent wider opening to some year groups during the Covid-19 outbreak. Because Arbor is cloud-based, staff can continue to access all the student information they need to do their daily tasks remotely, without worrying

server vs cloud

We’ve been working hand in hand with schools and MATs to help them to adapt to partial school closures and the recent wider opening to some year groups during the Covid-19 outbreak. Because Arbor is cloud-based, staff can continue to access all the student information they need to do their daily tasks remotely, without worrying about having a VPN or patches. 

There’s lots of uncertainty about what school life will look like in September. Schools don’t know how many students will be on-site or what social distancing arrangements will be in place. What they do know is they’ll need to prepare for lots of different outcomes.

Trying to plan flexible arrangements in September is difficult if you’re still relying on a server-based MIS. That’s why lots of schools are switching to a reliable cloud-based system which will allow them to manage their school flexibly over the next few months. 

Over 225 schools have moved to Arbor since March. Here are three reasons why moving to the cloud now will help you manage your school during Covid-19 and beyond:

 

1) Be prepared for September with systems that reduce your admin burden

There’s likely to be more challenges to come in September, so you need a school system that automates your essential daily admin and frees you up to focus on supporting your students and staff. 

Whether all students come back, or you have split-populations, Arbor’s cloud-based MIS will allow you to easily plan your rotas and set up flexible timetables. You’ll be able to log and manage attendance from wherever you are, plus track key demographic groups such as children with EHCP, child protection status, FSM, and children of key workers easily with in-built reports. Simon brown quote

2) Keep on top of DfE requirements

Having a cloud-based MIS in place makes it easy to adapt to rapid changes in regulation, like socially distanced timetabling, new attendance and absence codes or key worker status. This is because whatever the DfE introduces, Arbor can update within 24 hours, meaning you can keep on top of new requirements from the next day. No more patches or workarounds!

 

3) Instantly access student and staff information from anywhere

With staff working in different ways, and in different locations, their jobs are much more difficult if they have to come into school to access the information they need. That’s where a cloud-based MIS like Arbor comes in, which gives staff all the student data they need wherever they are. 

Having instant access to data about the children in your school also reduces the safety risk. Staff can see immediately if something doesn’t look right and follow up immediately with their Teacher or parent directly from the same page. No more switching systems or downloading contact lists! You’ll find more tips for keeping in touch with your school community here.

jacky blaikie quote blog

It’s easy to switch

Because managing your school how you need to right now is so difficult with a server-based system, the question has become not if you should move to the cloud but when

To help, we’ve made the process of moving to Arbor simple and we can get you up and running in a matter of weeks, 100% remotely. From migrating your data to Arbor, to training up your staff to use the system confidently, a dedicated Project Manager will guide you every step of the way.

Read about how both Hoyland Common Academy Trust and LEO Academy Trust moved to Arbor during lockdown, along with more than 225 schools since March! 

Vicky Harrison blog quote

To find out more about how Arbor’s cloud-based MIS can help you future-proof your school during Covid-19 and beyond, join one of our free webinars or book an online demo. You can also call 0208 050 1028 or email tellmemore@arbor-education.com

 

Maddie Kilminster - 5 June, 2020

Category : Blog

How can you move forward with your socially distanced school timetable?

Just before half term, lots of schools joined us for a webinar hosted by The ONTO Group all about designing a new school timetable in line with social distancing. It was a great opportunity for schools to discuss the challenges of their settings with timetabling experts and MIS providers. Lots of important practical and technical

Just before half term, lots of schools joined us for a webinar hosted by The ONTO Group all about designing a new school timetable in line with social distancing. It was a great opportunity for schools to discuss the challenges of their settings with timetabling experts and MIS providers. Lots of important practical and technical questions were raised, including “How could I split my school into two populations?” and “How can we keep students separate when they arrive and depart from school?” TimeTabler had some useful advice that you can find on our blog.

Since then, the conversation has continued on Facebook, with school leaders sharing the solutions they’ve found. You’ll find some great example timetables that members have shared in the “files” section on the page. 

With schools now starting to open up to more year groups, the questions now are “How are you putting your new timetable into practice?” and “What is working well and what have been the challenges?”

To discuss all this and more, join us for another free panel discussion next Tuesday (9th June) in partnership with The ONTO Group and with contributions from Edval and TimeTabler. Sign up for free here to join fellow Timetablers and School Leaders and share best practice.

The main topic we’ll be discussing is “Should you put your new timetable into your MIS?” The answer to this will look very different depending on your school setting. We’ll dig into this in the webinar, but beforehand we’ve put together some of the things you can think about to help you make the right call for your school:

  • How many students are you expecting?
  • Will your students be moving around the school?
  • Are you following the same rota each week?
  • How will you take your registers?
  • How will you know which students to expect in school? 
  • How will you follow up if expected students don’t come in?
  • Will you be able to identify quickly who is on site for health & safety and safeguarding reasons?
  • Can you easily log the contact points between students and between staff and students for contract tracing purposes?
  • Do you have any systems linked to your MIS? For example, Show My Homework, Hegarty Maths, CPOMS, Microsoft Teams or Google Classroom?
  • What will happen if you end courses and replace your main timetable for this year? Will it affect your New School Year setup?

If you’re using Arbor MIS, you can find all our guidance on how to set up your new groups and classes, and complete your New School Year Setup on our Help Centre. You’ll find everything we’re doing to support schools during Covid-19 here. You can also discuss with fellow Arbor schools on the Arbor Community.

Maddie Kilminster - 5 June, 2020

Category : Blog

How IT support teams are helping schools adapt to new ways of working 

As we all know, schools have had to rapidly change the way they work in the last few months – adjusting their processes to meet the needs of children and families in and out of school. In turn, IT teams that support schools have also had to change the way they operate.  At Arbor we’re

As we all know, schools have had to rapidly change the way they work in the last few months – adjusting their processes to meet the needs of children and families in and out of school. In turn, IT teams that support schools have also had to change the way they operate. 

At Arbor we’re proud to work in partnership with more than 30 IT teams across the country, who collectively support thousands of schools. Teaming up with support partners means we can give schools freedom and flexibility so they can get the support that’s right for them

Over the past weeks, we caught up with some of our support teams (Agilisys in Sefton, ICT Schools Team in Buckinghamshire, Cantium in Kent, HertsForLearning in Hertfordshire, iCT4 in Cornwall, and Orbis in East Sussex) to get their perspectives on the challenges schools are facing and how they’re helping. 

We thought we’d share this insight into what’s being going on behind the scenes. Look out for links to some useful blogs and webinars to support you with wider school opening.

 

Working remotely to help schools do the same

Up and down the country, our partners have been working hard to help schools get used to a new way of working, whilst dealing with working remotely themselves. For many it’s been the busiest period they can remember, with teams pulling together despite, as Richard May from Orbis puts it, having “relocated to a variety of spare rooms and kitchen tables”, and as Sheryl Everett from Buckinghamshire Council adds, with the companionship of “pets, offspring and partners.” 

Whether putting their own business continuity plans into action, or reacting quickly to help schools with the latest government guidelines, it’s been a time of constant adaptation for our partners. They’ve moved their usual consultancy services online and redesigned their summer training programmes so they can deliver them digitally. However, it has been important to the majority of teams to provide continuity and business as usual as far as possible. Maintaining familiar working patterns has not only been vital for schools, but it has been helpful for IT teams too, as they adapt to the new climate. 

 

Helping schools access the information they need

For the first few weeks of lockdown, the biggest challenge for our partners was to make sure schools who didn’t have cloud-based systems (for example, if their MIS was server-based) could access the data they needed and get work done. This often meant many hours of work setting up remote access to locally hosted servers via VPNs. One of the most important focuses has been helping schools work securely without their normal networks.

Find out all about the new government grant that could save you thousands on tech support with your G Suite or Office 365 setup – and our Support Partners who could help you – on our blog. 

Partners were also busy guiding schools through the rapidly changing government advice. The team at Cantium, for example, pulled together a dedicated resources page where schools could find all the information they needed on Covid-19 in one place. 

Find all the support you can get from Arbor during Covid-19 here.

When plans were announced to open schools to more year groups from 1st June, partners began helping schools think about how to design a timetable that keeps students and staff safe. We attended a webinar hosted by The ONTO Group, EdVal Timetables and TimeTabler on how to adapt your timetable for social distancing. Check out our top tips from TimeTabler in our guest blog.

Join us for our next webinar all about timetabling on Tuesday 9th June when we’ll be sharing examples from schools of how to embed your new timetable. Sign up for free here.

 

Guiding schools on how to manage online learning

More recently, the focus has switched to supporting online learning, helping schools through daily blogs such as those provided by Herts for Learning, or webinars on a range of distance learning topics and getting schools up-and-running with O365 or G-Suite. The team at iCT4 for example, have been running daily Q&A sessions on Microsoft Teams. 

Richard Martin from London Grid for Learning (LGfL) wrote a guest blog for us recently with advice for schools on how to manage teaching and learning remotely, including links to digital training for staff.

Join us for a free webinar all about how to manage online learning on Friday 12th June. Derek Hills, Head of Data and Andy Meighen, IT Director at Harris Federation will be sharing how they rolled out their online learning to over 36,000 pupils during lockdown, and what they’ve learned from looking at the data from remote learning. Sign up for free here.

 

A blended learning future 

As we look to the future and the gradual extended opening of schools, our partners will continue to have an important role to play in both supporting schools with the technology and the pedagogy for a more blended learning approach. If we’ve learnt one thing from the current crisis, it’s that we can all operate effectively more remotely. Whilst our partners (like all of us) can’t wait to get back to a more normal way of working, elements of online training and service delivery will be here to stay. 

If you’re an IT Support Team, School or MAT and you want to find out more about Arbor MIS get in touch at tellmemore@arbor-education.com, or give us a call on 0208 050 1028. 

Maddie Kilminster - 3 June, 2020

Category : Blog

Apply for free support from Google and Microsoft to support your virtual learning

You may have seen that the Government has introduced a new grant that schools can apply for to get support to use digital learning platforms G Suite for Education or Office 365 Education. This is a great opportunity for schools – especially at a time when you’re having to manage at least some of your

You may have seen that the Government has introduced a new grant that schools can apply for to get support to use digital learning platforms G Suite for Education or Office 365 Education. This is a great opportunity for schools – especially at a time when you’re having to manage at least some of your lessons, and your staff and students, remotely. 

At Arbor, we believe that you should be able to lean on digital tools to pick up the slack when you find yourself pulled in lots of different directions. That’s why we’ve designed our cloud-based MIS (Management Information System) to allow schools to work flexibly – with access to all your data, the ability to follow up with vulnerable students, plan staff rotas and communicate with your school community – wherever you’re working from. 

Arbor MIS integrates with G Suite and Office 365, which means all your students, staff and classes will be automatically set up in your online learning platform – so you can get on with teaching.  

The new government grant will help you get started with G Suite or Office 365 with free technical support and project management. We’ve summarised below everything you need to know about the grant:

  • What is the grant?
  • Why should I use a digital learning platform at my school?
  • How does Arbor work with G Suite or Office 365?
  • Use your grant for support from our trusted partners

Here’s the breakdown …

What is the grant?

1. What’s the deal?

Although G-suite and Office 365 are already free for educational settings, you’ll need technical support and project management to get set up. This is where the grant comes in. To migrate all of your teaching and learning resources to the cloud you’d normally have to pay a supplier £1-2,000, but qualifying for this grant means the DfE will effectively pay the supplier on your behalf.

2. How much is the grant? 

Up to £1000 per school for a Multi-Academy Trust (capped at £10k per trust), £1,500 for an individual primary school or £2,000 for an individual secondary school. 

3. Who can access the grant? 

The grant is available to both Local Authority maintained schools and Academies, but not to independent schools. 

4. How do I sign up?

First of all, we’d recommend doing some research into the digital platforms available to make sure you choose the right one for your school or trust. Speak to other schools, your IT provider or your Local Authority, and read advice from The Key in partnership with the DfE.

Next, you’ll need to choose a supplier who will work with you to migrate your data and set up your new platform. Only certain companies are part of the scheme, so it’s worth checking first whether your local IT partner is involved, and if not, whether they could recommend another supplier. See below for a list of Arbor partners who are on the scheme! 

Once you’re ready to go ahead, you can apply using these links: 

Why should I use a digital learning platform at my school?

Some level of remote working looks set to be part of the “new normal” going forward for schools, so this grant is a great opportunity to review your technology and make sure you have a reliable set-up in place for the future.

In an earlier blog, we wrote about how carrying out a systems audit at your school can help you identify where you could cut down on systems to work more efficiently and save money in the long run. Moving to a cloud-based MIS means you can complete all your daily admin tasks and access all your data from one place, rather than all over the place. 

The same principle is true for how you manage your online teaching and learning. Choosing a cloud-based platform, like G Suite and Office 365, allows you to access your curriculum resources in one central place, wherever you’re working. They also open up exciting possibilities for more efficient, collaborative working. 

Here’s just a few things you can do on G Suite or Office 365: 

  • Hold virtual lessons using Google Meet or Microsoft Teams 
  • Create classes and groups instantly using data synced from your MIS
  • Assign and mark homework online, so you can continue teaching and learning remotely if your teachers or students have to work from home
  • Test students’ learning remotely with online quizzes
  • Collaborate more closely with students, e.g. via shared online whiteboards or notebooks. Just because you’re separated, doesn’t mean you can’t still have meaningful interactions!
  • Communicate more easily with students, staff and parents using Gmail or Outlook and share calendars
  • Get answers quickly – create and send simple online forms directly to parents 

What’s more, when both your MIS and your learning platform are cloud-based, this frees you from having to have a server at your school, saving you thousands of pounds in maintenance and replacement costs. Working on the cloud also secures your data making you less at risk of losing your information. You can read more here about how Arbor keeps your data secure.

How does Arbor work with G Suite or Office 365?

Having an MIS and digital learning platform that you can rely on is great, but the next step to working even more efficiently and saving your staff more time is when all your systems can communicate seamlessly with each other.

That’s why Arbor has integrated with G Suite and Office 365. You’ll have all your student data from Arbor at your fingertips when you’re giving your remote lessons. 

Here are some of the benefits of syncing Arbor with G Suite / Office 365:

  • Analyse your data however you need to – You can dig down further into your live student data from Arbor using Google Sheets, Excel or other BI platforms like PowerBI. You can also track and authenticate exactly who has access to your data from Arbor
  • Set up new users, classes or groups faster – Because your data in Arbor syncs with G Suite / Office 365, your student profiles will be set up automatically and the system will use their timetable and class information to put them into the right groups for you
  • Only ever log in once – Arbor’s integration with Google means you’ll only have to log in once to access your MIS and G Suite – no more remembering multiple passwords!

Use your grant on support from our trusted partners

We work with IT support teams up and down the country who support our schools to get set up on Arbor, and any other technical issues they have. Many of our partners are part of the new government G Suite / Office 365 scheme, so they come highly recommended from us to help you manage your move to one of these platforms. 

See below for a list of our trusted partners on the scheme, and the support they offer. Feel free to get in touch to hear more about how you could work together to get your digital learning platform up and running.

Vitalize IT

Can support you with: G Suite and Arbor MIS

“Training teachers is the key to success with digital learning and a big part of what Vitalize deliver to schools throughout the UK. We have found that schools that invest in training and have a clear digital learning strategy achieve the most impact from deploying cloud learning platforms. It is great to see the positive impact in a short space of time that Google for Education can provide schools with. This will not only help schools now, but provide the basis of a digital strategy for the future.”

123ICT 

Can support you with: G Suite 

“123ICT Computing Solutions specialise in working with primary schools to develop their digital education platform and our team of education consultants have trained and supported hundreds of teachers over the past few weeks. With our support and training, many schools have adapted well to the current situation and are now providing a reliable, engaging and easy to use digital education platform enabling daily lessons and activities to be delivered remotely.”

Computeam

Can support you with: G Suite and Office 365

“Computeam were delighted to be part of this new DfE scheme to level-up digital learning in England. While Covid-19 has been the trigger, we believe the benefits of cloud-based teaching and learning will extend well into the future. As both a Google and Microsoft partner, Computeam can offer deep expertise in either platform. We can also extend the initial service by offering enhanced training and MIS integration to drive benefits from these technologies after the crisis has passed.”

Computer Talk 

Can support you with: G Suite 

“As a certified Google Partner with over 30 years’ experience within the education sector, we are delighted to be part of this joint initiative with Google and the DfE. Our EdTech Team are a fountain of knowledge and we pride ourselves on our ability to deliver new ways of improving on-premise or cloud learning which should be seamless, collaborative and engaging.”

Badger Computer Services 

Can support you with: G Suite and Office 365

“Remote learning is not going away and digital platforms are the tools for schools to empower teaching and learning and connect with your students. The DfE funding is available for a finite time and our view is that we should be doing everything we can to ensure schools can continue to support our children’s futures and wellbeing even when away from the physical classroom.”

Turn IT on 

Can support you with: G Suite, Office 365 and Arbor MIS

“Our mission at Turn IT on is to enable schools to get the most from their technology – and the last few weeks have shown that tech is an absolutely critical part of any school environment, whether in lockdown or “normal times”. This DfE initiative is a fantastic opportunity for schools, both in the short and longer term. Turn IT on is delighted to have been chosen to partner by both Google and Microsoft and we are looking forward to helping schools all over the UK take advantage of this great opportunity.”

Herts for Learning 

Can support you with: G Suite

“The Covid emergency has required a re-engineering of the education system overnight and the schools that were able to adapt fastest were those that had already adopted digital classroom offerings. At HfL, we believe that successful implementation is just as much about the process of change management with staff and students as it is about technology and this is at the very heart of our approach when we work with schools.”

JTRS 

Can support you with: G Suite

“During this challenging time, technology is crucial. At JTRS, we’ve been working hard to help schools achieve distance learning – we created a Distance Learning Resource Centre for parents, and we’re excited to be part of this DfE scheme to help schools who do not yet have a digital platform like G-Suite for Education. We can help you check if you’re eligible for the funding and apply for it, as well as implementing G-Suite for your school quickly.”

Joskos

Can support you with: G Suite and Office 365

“Joskos has been working closely with the DfE on the platform provisioning programme, which will support schools as they look to leverage the ever growing world of SaaS based EdTech solutions. The scheme will proactively support schools as they start to bring some students in, whilst others remain working at home. We believe that the programme is a positive step forward in making sure that every young person can continue to access learning.”

Other Arbor partners on the scheme and what they can support you with: 

 

Once you’ve started your school’s cloud journey with G Suite or Office 365, the next step is to think about your MIS. The Arbor team is here to help with any questions you have about how your school could make an easy move to be fully cloud-based today. Get in touch hello@arbor-education.com or call 0208 050 1028.

Maddie Kilminster - 28 May, 2020

Category : Blog

Arbor’s guide to managing your school flexibly

Spring Term has brought a great deal of change for schools and trusts, with staff having to quickly adapt to every new challenge and requirement that came their way. As we move into Summer Term, change is set to be the new normal, and we’ll have to keep adapting in lots of new ways. Since

Spring Term has brought a great deal of change for schools and trusts, with staff having to quickly adapt to every new challenge and requirement that came their way. As we move into Summer Term, change is set to be the new normal, and we’ll have to keep adapting in lots of new ways.

Since partial school closures were announced, we’ve been working hand-in-hand with schools to build out our MIS (Management Information System) to ensure schools can continue to run flexibly. Because we can move schools to Arbor 100% remotely, lots of schools have taken this opportunity to get up and running on our cloud-based MIS to help them access the information they need wherever they are.

As experts in school operations and data, with many former teachers in the Arbor team, we’ve been sharing practical support and guidance over the last few months, designed to help schools adapt. In case you missed anything, we’ve put together a round-up below so you have one handy guide to managing your school flexibly.

1. Using Arbor MIS to manage your school remotely

2. Expert guidance on key topics on our blog

3. Advice from schools and MATs in our webinars

4. Hear from the Arbor Community

Here’s how to find everything … 

1. Using Arbor MIS to manage your school remotely

We’re firm believers that you should be able to lean on tools like your MIS to pick up the slack when you find yourself pulled in lots of different directions. Arbor takes the hassle out of important tasks like following up with vulnerable children, planning staff rotas, and communicating with your students and parents, wherever you’re working from. Plus, we’re making updates every day to make sure you’re covering all the new government requirements

Here’s a list of some of the features we’ve developed to help you manage your school or MAT during Covid-19:

  • Log all attendance and absence from wherever you are from your Covid-19 dashboard, and have all the info to hand ready to complete the DfE’s Daily Form, and directly follow up with any parents/guardians you need to
  • Produce key demographic reports on children with EHCP, child protection status, FSM, and children of key workers at school and MAT level
  • Keep track of vulnerable students and follow up, all from one system 
  • Communicate with classes, staff, and parents from one place – no more switching systems or uploading/downloading contact lists
  • Arrange supermarket vouchers for FSM students
  • Plan rotas and set up flexible timetables (see our blog for tips on creating a socially-distanced timetable)
  • Record medical conditions for students or staff
  • Track the information that’s important to you, e.g. students’ access to the Internet or a laptop at home

You can find more detailed guidance and all the support you need from the dedicated Covid-19 page on our Help Centre. Don’t forget, our Support Team is always there for you on the phone, email and web chat.

Find out about the government grant you can apply for to get support with setting up G Suite or Office 365 at your school or trust on our blog.

 

2. Expert guidance on key topics on our blog

Over the last few weeks we’ve been blogging about some of the top priorities for school leaders right now – from keeping in touch with students and parents, to nurturing staff wellbeing. We’ve gathered advice from across the Arbor team, guest experts, and schools and MATs in our network, designed to give some practical tips on how to adapt to change – whatever your role.

Check out the topics that interest you below, there’ll be more to come! Look out for links to useful resources in the blogs if you want to learn more.

From the Arbor team:

From guest experts:

From schools and MATs:

 

3. Advice from schools and MATs in our webinars

We’ve also been learning a lot from listening to our schools and how they’re coping during lockdown, and the strategies leaders have put in place. We’ve been asking questions like “How do you plan for change, support your students, and manage staff wellbeing when you’re working remotely?” and “How do you keep adapting as new guidance comes out?” 

We’re running two free webinar series that have been really popular:

  • Adapting to Change: Bite-sized 45-minute webinars created for MAT CEOs, COOs, CFOs and SLT and delivered by your peers. Each week we invite a trust leader to share one thing they’ve been doing particularly well or think others could learn from in an informal setting. With topics ranging from how to make online education a success, to how to collaborate and communicate at scale, this series is a space for sharing best practice, network with other MAT leaders, and leave with new ideas to take back to your own trust. Look out for more in the series!
  • Managing your school remotely with Arbor MIS: We walk you through the parts of the system that will help you run your school flexibly and remotely. Choose from a range of topics such as assessment, behaviour and payments, as well as sessions designed for primary, secondary or special schools and MATs. Check out our schedule of Summer Term webinars here.

If you’d like to listen to the recording of any of our past webinars, get in touch at james@arbor-education.com. 

 

4. Hear from the Arbor Community

Across our network of schools and MATs, we’ve seen some inspiring responses to an extremely challenging situation, with schools finding new and innovative ways to connect with their students. English Martyrs Catholic Primary School were straight out of the gate with their virtual PE lessons, as were LEO Academy Trust with their distance wellbeing sessions. Hoyland Common Academy Trust have been promoting mental health awareness and Avanti Schools Trust have been offering free yoga sessions

As staff and students are working in totally new ways, it’s more important than ever to reach out and connect. When we shared some of our work-from-home stations and morning routines on Twitter, we were pleased to discover lots of our schools also wanted to share their creative ways to make the most of lockdown.

In what continues to be a difficult period, the Arbor team is always here to help and support where we can. We wanted to share a few pieces of feedback we’ve got lately from schools and partner organisations that we’re really proud of.

“Arbor’s been pretty essential to the distance learning program here and I’m confident we have a system that is really strong. We log daily checks with our students and have been able to use this to get to the stage where we can say we have contact with 100% of our students every day.”
Phil Jones, Head of Academy Services at Pool Academy

As a school we could not have accomplished half of what we have with our previous MIS. Arbor’s cloud based MIS has not only allowed remote working within what is a challenging, time sensitive period; but also given the exact information required without the need for additional query templates to be set up.”
Simon Brown, Headteacher at, Blaydon West Primary

“It’s refreshing to know that Arbor listen to what schools need and respond so quickly and also that priorities change depending on the current situation.”
Susan Scott, Education ICT, Bradford Metropolitan District Council

“We wouldn’t have known what to do without Arbor this week, it’s been an absolute godsend being able to access school info from the Group and all the other inbuilt reports we can access, as well as accessing remotely!”
Vicky Harrison, COO at Hoyland Common Academy Trust

“We just don’t know how we have managed before we had Arbor. We are all in this together and should ensure people know how much we appreciate Arbor helping us get through this difficult time.”
Jackie Blaikie, Bursar at Acresfield Primary School

“I’ve found it great to be able to use Arbor while working at home. I’ve sent instructions for parents about how to resolve issues with students logging into Show My Homework and how the students can access their school email accounts from home.”
Joanne Hedges, Data Manager at Manshead CE Academy

We’re moving schools to Arbor every day, 100% remotely. If you’d like to find out more about how Arbor MIS could help you manage your school or remotely and flexibly, get in touch at hello@arbor-education.com or call 0208 050 1028. 

Maddie Kilminster - 20 May, 2020

Category : Blog

Top tips for creating a socially distanced school timetable

Over the last few months, schools have had to adapt to constant change, and keep their schools running without really knowing what the weeks ahead would hold. Although we still don’t have all the details, the latest Government plans suggest schools should prepare to partially reopen from 1st June, starting with Reception, Year 1, Year

Over the last few months, schools have had to adapt to constant change, and keep their schools running without really knowing what the weeks ahead would hold. Although we still don’t have all the details, the latest Government plans suggest schools should prepare to partially reopen from 1st June, starting with Reception, Year 1, Year 6, Year 10 and Year 12. A key question on everyone’s minds right now is how to design a school timetable that will adhere to social distancing and keep students and staff safe. 

To help, our partners at TimeTabler have put together some practical advice on adapting your timetable for social distancing. Maggie, our Key Account Manager and former Timetable Manager at a secondary school, has summarised their advice below:

  • Top 3 tips for a socially distanced timetable
  • Managing two school populations 
  • Questions you should ask

You’re also invited to join us in a webinar on Thursday at 3pm where we’ll be discussing timetabling in detail with our partners TimeTabler and The Onto Group. Click here to register! 

If you just can’t get enough timetabling tips, you can read the full article on TimeTabler’s website. Otherwise, this blog should give you some food for thought.

 

Top 3 tips for a socially distanced timetable:

1. Set different start and end times

Think about staggering your school start and end times to reduce contact in the school playground before and after school. This may seem straightforward, but bear in mind any implications for the local bus services, who may not be able to change their timetable. Instead of staggering by year group, you could even stagger by transport method, so that pupils who travel by bus arrive a little earlier or later than those whose parents drop them off in the car. 

2. Set different break and lunch times

Spacing kids out at lunch might sound like a simple solution, but without careful planning it could mean that some staff end up going without a break. For example, if Mrs Jones teaches a Year 7 class before break and Year 10 class after break, but Year 7 now has a later break time than Year 10, Mrs Jones may have to go straight from one class to the next. (Note, if you’re using TimeTabler, you can use the ‘split-site’ feature to avoid this).

3. Limit group sizes by creating two school populations

As and when all year groups return to school, if social distancing is still a requirement, one option is to set a maximum group size (e.g. 15) so students can be spaced out in the classroom. However, in most schools, this would mean only 50% or less of the school population could be in school at a time, and therefore students would only receive 50% of their ‘normal’ teaching. In this case, schools could try splitting into two student populations and manage teacher coverage using a rota system. 

Currently, the DfE is not expecting schools to introduce staggered returns or a rota systems, but without the ability to be flexible, many schools are concerned it will be impossible for them to follow social distancing guidelines.

If splitting your school into two populations is something you want to consider, we’ve put together some more detailed advice on this below. 

 

Managing two school populations 

There are two routes you might consider when splitting your student body:

Route 1: Split each teaching group within each Year in two

At Key Stages 1-3, it should be fairly easy to split each class in two as students are generally all taking the same subjects. However, you might want to consider how you split the teaching groups, for example to maintain friendship groups, or to separate antisocial or disruptive pairs. Equally, you might actually decide to break up friendship groups to cut down on social interaction before and after class.

However, at Key Stages 4 and 5, it’s likely to be more difficult to create two populations of equal size by dividing teaching groups. With students attending lots of different combinations of subjects, each with different class sizes, it would be near impossible to coordinate options to have only one population at school at one time (see ‘Staggering populations’ section below). 

Route 2: Group Years to make populations

There are a number of different ways to do this, for example you might group Years 7, 9 and 11 into Population X and Years 8, 10, and 12/13 into Population Y. Alternatively, you might split by Key Stage – whatever makes the most sense for a balanced demand on specialist rooms, labs, equipment and so on. Note, with this option, individual teaching groups may still need to be split to stay within the size limit.

Staggering populations

Once you’ve split your population in two, you then need to consider how to manage how to timetable them. For schools considering reopening on a rota basis, there are a few different ways you could approach this:

  • Populations come in on alternate weeks 
  • Population X in morning, Population Y in afternoon
  • Population X in morning Mon-Weds AM, Population Y in afternoon Weds PM-Fri

If you go for B or C, you should bear a few things in mind: 

  • Make sure social contact is limited at crossover time
  • Mornings tend to be longer on a school timetable, so make sure each population gets an equal amount of teaching time
  • Plan two lunch sittings during crossover time

Whatever your approach, it’s also important to consider whether there are sufficient transport links to get all populations to school on time, and whether parents’ work schedules are able to adapt.

Questions you should ask:

  • Could you find a way for students to stay in one place? Unless they needed a specialist room, teachers could move from room to room instead, to reduce social contact on the corridors
  • Do students have to eat lunch in the canteen? Students could eat in their classroom or on the school field, where they can spread out and where it’s more ventilated
  • Could students spend the day in their PE kit? There are different opinions on PE – some say it could make physical contact more likely, but others argue it’s vital for mental as well as physical health. If you do keep PE on your timetable, students could come to school in their PE kit to avoid the close proximity of changing rooms
  • Will you be adding hand sanitiser stations around the school? If so, you might need to make changes to the work of ancillary staff like cleaners and caretakers
  • Could you make a one-way system? You could use floor-arrows or cordons to cut down on corridor bottle-necks 
  • Is the staffroom big enough? Is there enough space to spread staff out too?
  • Can you make detentions socially distanced? Or is there an alternative way of managing behaviour?
  • Do you have students living with elderly or vulnerable parents or guardians? These students might need to arrive late or leave early
  • Do you have any elderly or vulnerable staff? For example, should vulnerable staff do online teaching only? If so, how will this affect the timetable?
  • Have you got consistent guidelines for setting and marking remote learning? Staff with lower teaching loads could be made responsible for setting online work and monitoring the students who are not currently in school
  • Do you have a plan to make up for lost time? The effects of this break in learning may well be felt for some time after schools return. Do you have a plan to tackle the loss of motivation that some students may experience?
  • Should you invest in the future? Has the technology you have been using for remote working worked well? It’s worth investing in good solutions now, because although things are starting to return to normal, restrictions may be tightened again in future

About TimeTabler

TimeTabler is a fast, friendly and reliable computer program used by schools & colleges in over 80 countries to schedule their timetables. Designed to reduce the manual work involved in timetabling, TimeTabler leaves you with more time to apply your professional skill and judgement where it’s needed, to produce a timetable of the highest quality.

TimeTabler’s founder Keith Johnson is also the author of the standard ‘bible’ on Timetabling: ‘The Timetabler’s CookBook, which has now helped thousands of beginners to learn the Art of Timetabling, and many experienced timetablers to understand it in even more depth.

The good news is that TimeTabler integrates with Arbor MIS to give you the best timetabling experience. Use TimeTabler to schedule your timetable, then simply import it into Arbor’s MIS, using our inbuilt Wizard that guides you through the steps. Once your timetable is imported, you can make any changes or tweaks you need to in Arbor, so you don’t have to keep going back and forth. What’s more, as a trusted TimeTabler partner, Arbor customers can receive a discount on their TimeTabler licence.

If you’d like to find out more on the topic of timetabling for social distancing, Arbor and TimeTabler are taking part in an online debate hosted by our partners The ONTO Group on Thursday 21st May at 3pm. Click here to register!

Because Arbor MIS is cloud-based, you and your staff can work from wherever you need to. Find out more about the ways Arbor can help you work remotely and flexibly in our free webinar series today – check out the schedule here. You can also get in touch to book a virtual demo with one of our team – simply email hello@arbor-education.com or call 0208 050 1028.

 

 

Richard Martin - 15 May, 2020

Category : Blog

Delivering remote teaching and learning during lockdown by Richard Martin from LGFL

LGfL (London Grid for Learning) is a not for profit organisation that provides secure internet connectivity and digital services to over 90% of London schools and many others nationwide. Special Projects Lead at LGFL, Richard Martin, has put together this blog with advice for schools on delivering remote teaching and learning during lockdown. Richard was

LGfL (London Grid for Learning) is a not for profit organisation that provides secure internet connectivity and digital services to over 90% of London schools and many others nationwide. Special Projects Lead at LGFL, Richard Martin, has put together this blog with advice for schools on delivering remote teaching and learning during lockdown. Richard was previously the CIO for the ARK academy group and Head of IT for the Girls’ Day School Trust. He is also a governor for a small primary school in Surrey.

 

The challenges presented to schools during the Covid-19 lockdown have been diverse and complex. In my role as the Special Projects Lead for LGfL, I get to speak to many schools directly and have regular contact with organisations who provide on-site technical support for schools through the LGFL Digital Transformation Partner Programme that I run.

This has brought to the fore real challenges for schools that go beyond traditional teaching in the classroom. I am aware of many school heads and school leaders spending their time delivering lunches to vulnerable and disadvantaged pupils and regularly checking in with families to help them through the crisis. Schools also stayed open during the Easter holidays to look after children of key workers. 

The challenge to move to new ways of working and delivering remote teaching and learning provisions almost overnight introduces a level of organisational change that would break most large corporate organisations, let alone a small primary school! At LGfL we have been supporting our schools and the wider education community as best we can, and have set up a website – coronavirus.lgfl.net – to provide advice, guidance and useful links.

 

Some schools were more prepared than others

As someone who has been promoting the use of tech, especially cloud-based tech, in schools for years, I am aware of the vast differences in approach and progress with digital tools across the school community. Some schools have embedded technology in their organisation very positively, whereas others for many reasons have made slower progress. A small but not insignificant minority of school leaders just did not see that tech would add any value. This view has not been helped by a multitude of failed IT initiatives in schools that were poorly thought out, highly expensive with little or no thought given to teacher training and effective, sustainable ongoing support.

Unsurprisingly, what we have seen in the schools we are engaging with during lockdown, is that those who had already started down the road to the cloud were the ones who have had the greatest success in sharing online content, lessons and materials. Schools starting from scratch in the few weeks before lockdown have struggled. One large London academy group who had already invested heavily in setting up and providing training on Microsoft 365 were quickly able to expand operations, including setting up 25,000 MS Teams sites in the days after the announcement of lockdown.  

 

Harnessing Google to deliver learning

Similar successes were had with Google G-Suite in schools such as Poverest Primary in Bromley who were quickly able to switch to online provision. Paul Haylock, the Deputy Headteacher, explains below what they have achieved during lockdown:

As a school already set up with Google accounts for both staff and children, we found the transition to online learning very easy to do. Within those last two days of school we managed to be completely set up and ready for the Monday lessons. […]

 All our teachers have become so much more confident using Google Classroom and now using many features they weren’t before. Using Google Meet we have had staff meetings and year group planning meetings. Teaching presentations sourced from a whole host of website-based companies are shared in the classroom for pupils and parents to read, tasks are also shared in the same way and blank documents (mainly docs and slides) are given to each pupil for them to share their learning. This is then remotely handed in and reviewed by the teachers. Those who can only access on phones and small devices read the information but complete learning on paper and upload photographs for the teachers to see.

 Teachers are preparing work as year group teams and posting on the Google Classroom so that each new learning is posted at 9am each morning. This is done via a time stamp so learning for a whole week can be prepared at any time but only appears to the child at 9am each day.

As school leaders we are using Google Forms with our parents to identify when children are coming into school and what the weekly free school meal arrangements are for each family. This means we can staff the building with the minimum number of staff for the children we have in the building, helping our staff to work from home and isolate as much as possible.

Paul Haylock was able to achieve this comprehensive provision because he had put in the groundwork previously and worked closely with an engaged and competent support partner. You can see more on how LGFL work with schools here.

 

Getting tech to every pupil 

Another challenge amplified by remote learning is digital connectivity for disadvantaged children at home and ensuring there’s a solution for pupils who do not have access to a device or whose only internet provision may be via a parent’s mobile phone. Upon request from the DFE, LGfL are looking to procure devices and provide a safe, secure route to the Internet for those that need it.

The Covid-19 outbreak has been a horrible time for everyone and a tragic loss of life both in the UK and around the world. What we once perceived as normal is unlikely to return for a very long time, if ever, but I hope that some positive change will come out of our experiences in the past few months. 

This time will teach us the true power of tech – if staff have the right support, tech can free them up and help them to adapt. If implemented in the right way, tech can improve and transform the way schools work so they can weather any storm. For example, the ability to set and mark work digitally should, in the long term, save teachers’ time and effort, and provide analytics on engagement far more easily. Teachers will now be much more confident using tools to teach children who are incapacitated, or for whatever reason cannot get into schools once they are opened. Sadly, for many of us, snow days will now be a lot less fun!

If you want to get up to speed with digital tools to use in your classroom, click the links below to access online learning resources from: 

 

Because Arbor MIS is cloud-based, you and your staff can work from wherever you need to. Find out more about the ways Arbor can help you work remotely and flexibly in our free webinar series today – check out the schedule here. You can also get in touch to book a virtual demo with one of our team – simply email hello@arbor-education.com or call 0208 050 1028.

Maddie Kilminster - 11 March, 2020

Category : Blog

Life at Pool Academy: An Interview with Phil Jones

Pool Academy is a secondary school in Cornwall with 650+ students. We caught up with Phil Jones, Head of Academy Services, who told us about some of the ways life at school has changed for the better since they moved to Arbor back in 2018 Can you tell us why you decided to switch to

Pool Academy is a secondary school in Cornwall with 650+ students. We caught up with Phil Jones, Head of Academy Services, who told us about some of the ways life at school has changed for the better since they moved to Arbor back in 2018

Can you tell us why you decided to switch to Arbor? 

  • We were looking to review our MIS system as we weren’t happy with the one we had in place. We’d been using our previous system for years, but no one had ever really questioned it or thought to change it.
  • If it had been any other piece of software or system, we’d have been doing tenders every two or three years to make sure we were getting the best option for our money, but that just wasn’t the culture we were operating in. I felt that needed to change!
  • One of the first things I did when I stepped up to my new role as Head of Academy Services, was to look for a better MIS system. We looked at a few others but Arbor jumped out because it felt a lot more modern; the look and feel was much more up to date, which gave us the confidence that lots was being done in the background. The systems we had grown used to working with looked very dated, so it was great to see something that felt a bit more fresh.

Was having a cloud-based system important for you?

  • The fact that Arbor is web-based was a big pull for us. Now that everything else is moving into the cloud, we wanted that for our MIS too – at Pool, we’re quite IT literate, and staff and students all use iPads and laptops, so we needed accessibility from lots of different devices.
  • I remember once when we were using our previous system there was a sudden blizzard (we don’t get snow often in Cornwall!) and we needed to access parents’ phone numbers at a moment’s notice to let them know. It was a mess because we all had these iPads but only certain people had access to student information, and lots of that information wasn’t up to date. This is when we realised something wasn’t quite right. We also realised that we wanted access to our data in the way that we wanted it, not in the way that someone else had decided to format it, and that we then needed to work around.  

Which area of the system in Arbor has saved you the most time? 

  • We save a lot of time with our day-to-day tasks. Most importantly, it’s the reporting side of things that has really improved. The world is changing all the time and the Ofsted goalposts are always moving around, so we need to be able keep up with the different things we’re required to track, and Arbor has really helped us do this.
  • We were spending a lot of time extracting information out of our old system, just to put into other systems, and then putting that into Excel and running reports. Getting the data out that we needed was really difficult.
  • For example, I used to have to manually run a report for the Vice Principal every Friday, which she then had to manipulate further herself, and it was just a waste of everyone’s time. Now, Pastoral Leads and Heads of Year all receive an automatic report on Friday afternoon, which shows them who performed the best in their year that week, who performed the worst, who had the worst attendance, and here’s who you need to keep an eye on. They then know where they need to focus for the coming week, which is really valuable.
  • Plus, with tools like Live Feeds, the information is always there when we need it. We use a lot of Google apps at Pool – Docs, Sheets etc. – and to be able to feed key information straight into a secure Google Sheet saves us loads of time.
  • We’ve also started to use Arbor to help us engage with parents. The principal has a custom report that feeds into a weekly email for parents, which allows us to send out updates each week with a quick rundown of what’s happened in school for their child. This is really powerful (and helpful for parents whose child might not have mentioned that they’d had a detention that week!). 
  • Lastly, on a slightly more serious level, when you’re looking at attendance and we need to take something to the next level e.g. when we get to the stage where we need to prosecute  – to have that communications log in Arbor is invaluable. We now have an instantly accessible paper trail to show parents that, for example, we’ve been in touch with them every week about their child’s attendance, so it puts us in a stronger position.

How did you find the migration and implementation process?

  • When you undertake a big change, there’s alway resistance from some people! That said it was really crucial that teachers were happy, and that’s taken some time, but it’s people our Data Manager, Exams Manager and our HR Manager who use Arbor all day, every day who really like it and get on very well with it.
  • Before we moved to Arbor it wasn’t in our culture to question the way we were operating – it was more “We do this, we don’t do that”. Arbor has been a really great exercise in stepping back and questioning the ways we were doing things, and asking ourselves: “Why do we do that?” and “Can we do things a different way?”
  • For example, Arbor gave us an opportunity to question how we were running exams at Pool, and if there was a better way we could be doing things. Parents Evenings also used to be this massive deal, but with Arbor it’s now a breeze.
  • At the end of the day, there are people who’ve used SIMS for 15 years at Pool, but they’re slowing being won over! What’s more, things are continually improving with the Arbor product, and things keep changing, which is really exciting. I know my Exams Officer made a couple of suggestions that she’s seen implemented, which has been great. You never feel like you’re shouting into the dark!
  • Having access to the Arbor roadmap is really really helpful – we know where you guys are going, and being able to vote on things makes us feel involved in the conversation and the direction the product is going in. I’m now on the online Arbor community too – and I think as that grows it will be fantastic.

Are there any other aspects of Arbor that you have found particularly useful?

  • Like I said, we love the fact that Arbor is web-based. It’s also invaluable to have so much functionality built into one system.We used to pay for lots of other apps that we needed to sync with our old MIS, but now, having everything in one place makes so much more sense.
  • With our previous system, we spent a lot of time taking information out of it to put into other systems because there were so many things that it wasn’t capable of doing (like parents’ evenings for example) and we needed to buy an add-on. We then had another system to sync, and another system to keep up-to-date, and another system that could go wrong.
  • We were able to drop at least 3, maybe 4 third-party systems when we moved to Arbor – we kept things like SISRA for heavy data (which Arbor integrates with), but lots of the others we were paying for became obsolete.

Do you feel you get the support you need from the Arbor team?

  • Yes – I really like the online help chat tool. Obviously it’s great to be able to call, and every time I’ve called I’ve had my question answered, but there are times when I’m juggling 3 or 4 different things and need a quick answer then and there.
  • What’s great about the online help chat is that I can share the page I’m having a problem with directly with you. Nine times out of ten I get the answer straight away, and then if there’s anything that needs looking into further I get a call back pretty soon after.
  • It’s great to know that the Arbor team can help with even silly little things – and I don’t feel like an idiot!

Would you recommend Arbor?

  • I absolutely would! 
David Norton - 21 January, 2020

Category : Blog

Announcing Arbor Lite

Arbor Lite is our new, essential MIS package for primary schools in partnership with Herts for Learning, iCT4, Orbis and OSMIS. At Arbor, our mission is to transform the way schools work to save teachers time and improve student outcomes. We built Arbor MIS (Management Information System) to make essential daily admin quicker, school data

Arbor Lite is our new, essential MIS package for primary schools in partnership with Herts for Learning, iCT4, Orbis and OSMIS.

At Arbor, our mission is to transform the way schools work to save teachers time and improve student outcomes. We built Arbor MIS (Management Information System) to make essential daily admin quicker, school data more powerful and day-to-day school management less stressful for everyone, so you can get on and focus where it matters most.

Over the past few years we’ve helped over 900 schools of all shapes and sizes make an easy move to our smarter, cloud-based MIS. But we know that for some schools – smaller, LA maintained primary schools in particular – that a move to the cloud has to be a real partnership between their school staff, their new MIS, and their trusted local support partner. We also know that, if you’re a smaller school, moving to a full MIS might feel too complex if you only use your existing system in a light touch way.

That’s why we’re excited to announce Arbor Lite – a new, lightweight version of Arbor MIS. Arbor Lite offers all the key features smaller schools need to save time from day one, like lightning fast digital registers, behaviour logging, communication to parents and everything you need for census. Plus, working in the cloud means Arbor is always up-to-date and you can access what you need securely, from anywhere. 

Crucially, Arbor Lite is only available through our four launch partners – Herts for Learning (HfL), iCT4, Orbis and OSMIS – to ensure your move to the cloud is supported by the partner you already know and work with. If you’re a primary school working with any of these partners already, and you’d like to switch to the cloud, our launch partners will support you along the way, making the switch much easier. Working with your support partner, you can also choose to build on and adapt Arbor Lite as your school’s needs change. 

By launching Arbor Lite in partnership with HfL, iCT4, Orbis and OSMIS, our aim is to bring the benefits of our brilliant, cloud-based MIS to those schools who might have felt a solo move was too complex. If you work with a different support partner, don’t worry – we work with a growing number of support and training providers across England and we plan to extend Arbor Lite further in the future. 

We’d love to tell you more about everything Arbor has to offer this week if you’re attending BETT 2020. Come and see us at stand NM30 to have a chat, or join us for a free lunch and glass of wine at Tapa Tapa restaurant (on the DLR walkway outside the ExCel centre). Sign up for your free spot here

If you’re already an Arbor partner and want to find out more about Arbor Lite – or if you’re a support team and want to know how we work with partners – we’d love to hear from you too! Come along to our BETT Partners’ Lounge this week – you can sign up here. We hope to see you there!

Maddie Kilminster - 15 January, 2020

Category : Blog

Our new partnership with turn IT on

We’re delighted to announce that turn IT on is now an accredited support partner for Arbor MIS. Turn IT on’s team of experienced experts work in partnership with schools to maximise the potential of ICT for the benefit of pupils, teachers and management groups. Many of their team have been teachers and all of them

We’re delighted to announce that turn IT on is now an accredited support partner for Arbor MIS.

Turn IT on’s team of experienced experts work in partnership with schools to maximise the potential of ICT for the benefit of pupils, teachers and management groups. Many of their team have been teachers and all of them understand the huge challenges that modern schools meet in the face of an ever-changing landscape.

With over 150 years of combined experience in supporting Management Information Systems, turn IT on can ensure the effective and enhanced use of Arbor to give you peace of mind that your funding is correct, Ofsted data is ready and expert support is on hand whenever you or your team need it.

Turn IT on’s experts know every aspect of Arbor and their support covers key areas including census, attendance, behaviour, admissions, school dashboard, student & staff profiles, assessment & summative tracking, reports & dashboards, custom report writer, communications, teacher app, SEN, timetabling, exams, and cover.

Arbor MIS (Management Information System) is the hassle-free way for schools and trusts to get work done that schools and trusts love to use. 

Whether you’re a primary, secondary or MAT, Arbor helps make your essential daily admin more powerful and less stressful – so everyone from your back office to your SLT can get on and focus where it matters most. 

We’ve already helped more than 900 schools and MATs make the switch to our smarter cloud-based MIS. With human support at every step! 

We completed a full-day accreditation test with turn IT on which included:

  • A 1-hour training assessment to evidence turn IT on’s capability
  • A Service Desk troubleshooting test
  • An inspection of turn IT on’s Service Desk.

Following a successful day, we’re thrilled to say we are now working together to give schools the option to switch to Arbor MIS whilst keeping their trusted support team at turn IT on. Working with Arbor and turn IT on together gives your school:

  • A cloud-based MIS which makes your essential admin and day-to-day work hassle-free
  • Clear MIS data you can use to focus where it matters most
  • An MIS Support Team who will help you get the most out of Arbor
  • Peace of mind that you’re Ofsted-ready
  • A team who are on hand whenever your school needs it.

To find out more about switching to Arbor with the turn IT on MIS team, contact turn IT on through their website, by email to office@turniton.co.uk or call 01865 597620 (option 6).

James Weatherill - 15 January, 2020

Category : Blog

Best-of-Breed vs One-Stop-Shop?

We often get asked by schools and MATs what’s better – choosing several ‘best-of-breed’ software tools, or one tool that promises almost all the functionality you need? Our CEO, James Weatherill, asks, are there any shades of grey in-between? Jack of all trades, master of none When software was in its infancy in the 90’s

We often get asked by schools and MATs what’s better – choosing several ‘best-of-breed’ software tools, or one tool that promises almost all the functionality you need? Our CEO, James Weatherill, asks, are there any shades of grey in-between?

Jack of all trades, master of none

When software was in its infancy in the 90’s and early 00’s, companies and schools tended to choose ‘one-stop-shop’ systems that could do virtually all the tasks a school needed to run itself. The advantage was lower cost, higher central control and simplified management. But this came at a cost of being tied to one supplier, meaning prices often went up with little product improvement, less flexibility and local variation on customisation. There is also the simple adage that whilst big systems have a lot of functionality, they tend to do more things less well than specialist tools. 

Businesses and schools are now generally moving to best-of-breed strategies which pick a few core systems and integrate these with a wider suite of specialist apps, reducing implementation time, giving greater flexibility and higher levels of functionality. This has all been made possible by a shift to the cloud, where integration can be online and seamless (at least in theory). However, as we’ll show, it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.

Your culture and strategy should dictate your systems choice

The answer to what type of system to choose in my view depends on what you want to achieve as a school or MAT, as well as the culture you’ve set. As I’ve written about before, MATs should be intentional about the culture they want to create, as this will often drive how they make decisions. This is no different for schools and how they select systems, as the diagram below shows.

MAT culture

Let’s break that down…

A) Low need for control + Low complexity = define data standards
If you’re a school or small trust that typically gives high agency to staff, then you might not need to standardise much except for how to use the systems you’ve procured and the data you want to get out. Choosing best-of-breed tools that fit the needs of your individual school (or schools) works well here, with the caveat that you’ll need a plan for how all the systems integrate (don’t forget or underestimate this step or you’ll be swimming in a data soup!).

B) Low need for control + High complexity = collectively agree core systems; staff choose bolt-ons
If you’re a large school or trust, you may like to give an element of agency to your staff to choose systems that can be tailored to the local context of the school. Yet, due to your size, a certain amount of system standardisation is important or there would be chaos. For these types of schools or trusts, it works well to clearly define your non-negotiable core systems (often involving many staff in procurement decisions), then delegate non-core systems to staff to allow variation according to need.

C) High need for control + High complexity = several monolithic systems, centrally controlled
If you’re a large school or MAT involving multiple phases spread across many sites or geographies, who needs high control of the systems staff use (perhaps due to cost or culture), you may prefer more monolithic systems. This approach involves selecting fewer, larger applications and perhaps even hosting them on-site.

The advantages of larger systems are simplified vendor management, cost savings, support simplicity and data standardisation. However, this is at the expense of flexibility (being tied to one vendor makes ‘rip-and-replace’ harder), functionality gaps (the vendor is likely to have less product depth in specific workflows) and more difficult implementation (more tools have to be replaced).

D) High need for control + Low complexity = standardised core systems; staff choose bolt-ons
If you’re a school or MAT of medium size and scale, a hybrid approach of leadership works well with core non-negotiable systems being centrally defined and school staff choosing bolt-ons. This preserves an element of standardisation whilst allowing staff agency over the systems that might be more appropriate to their context. The trick is ensuring the core systems chosen (typically MIS, finance, HR, assessment) work well together so you can retain flexibility.

A bit about how Arbor can help…

Arbor MIS can tick all the boxes above, as we have a wide range of functionality that caters to primary, secondary, special schools and MATs of all shapes, sizes and cultures. However, we know that every school and MAT has their preferred and loved applications and we want to play well within that ecosystem.

We believe choosing best-of-breed software beats monolithic tools that are a ‘jack of all trades’ but master of none, so our focus is being the best MIS that provides all staff with smart information so they can make better decisions, whilst reducing unnecessary admin tasks.

To discover the hundreds of software partners we work with click here.
Get in touch and find out how we could help your school or MAT by emailing me at james@arbor-education.com. Look forward to hearing from you!

Harriet Cheng - 16 December, 2019

Category : Blog

You’re invited to ArborFest!

We’re very excited to announce ArborFest, our first ever conference dedicated to schools using Arbor. ArborFest is your chance to meet the growing community of over 800 schools using our MIS to transform the way they work. Share best practice with fellow Senior Leaders and Administrative Staff, learn from other Arbor schools, see what’s coming

We’re very excited to announce ArborFest, our first ever conference dedicated to schools using Arbor.

ArborFest is your chance to meet the growing community of over 800 schools using our MIS to transform the way they work. Share best practice with fellow Senior Leaders and Administrative Staff, learn from other Arbor schools, see what’s coming up on our roadmap, feed back on our ideas, and hear from leading speakers from the wider world of education. And the best thing is – it’s completely free!

What can I expect?

  • Meet the Arbor Team – hear about the long term vision for schools using Arbor
  • Breakout sessions – choose 4 sessions on Arbor best practice led by fellow Arbor users and the Arbor Team
  • Keynote speaker – hear from a respected speaker from the wider world of education (more to be announced soon)
  • 2020 Roadmap Reveal – be the first to hear about the exciting changes coming up in Arbor next year!
  • Networking breaks – spend the day with Arbor schools from across the country
  • Arbor Partner Marketplace – meet some of the support and app partners we work with
  • Arbor Surgery – get 1on1 help from our expert customer team
  • Lunch included – have a very nice lunch on us in a beautiful venue in Kings Cross, London!

Who should come?

Places are limited, so book your place soon! As a quick note, we particularly recommend ArborFest for members of your SLT or Administrative Team as we’ve designed the programme with these staff members in mind. 

How do I sign up?

Book your free tickets at: https://arborfest2020.eventbrite.com/

What’s the full programme?

9am: ArborFest doors open!

9am-9.45am: Sign up for your Breakout Sessions and breakfast with the Arbor Team

9.45am-10.30am: Welcome from James Weatherill (CEO) and Sonia Leighton (Chief Customer Officer)

10.30am-11.30am: Morning Breakout Sessions

Choose two from:

  • Primary Assessments
  • Secondary Assessments
  • Making the most of Arbor’s behaviour module
  • Increasing parental engagement

11:30pm-12.15pm: Keynote speaker (TBA)

12.15pm-1.15pm: Lunch

  • Arbor Partner Marketplace
  • Arbor Surgery

1.15pm-2pm: 2020 Roadmap Reveal

2pm-3pm: Afternoon Breakout Sessions 

Choose two from:

  • Primary Assessments
  • Secondary Assessments
  • The effective school office – making the most of Arbor
  • Making the most of Arbor’s behaviour module

3pm-3:30pm: Closing talk

3.30-5pm: Networking drinks

Got any questions?

Ask your Arbor Account Manager or Customer Success Manager. We hope to see you there!

Harriet Cheng - 5 December, 2019

Category : Blog

Our new partnership with School Business Services (SBS)

We’re delighted to announce that School Business Services (SBS) is now an accredited support partner for Arbor MIS. SBS is a leading specialist in school support services, offering a wide range of MIS services to suit schools’ finances, staff and vision. They work with over 1000 schools across England, with strong hubs in London, the

We’re delighted to announce that School Business Services (SBS) is now an accredited support partner for Arbor MIS.

SBS is a leading specialist in school support services, offering a wide range
of MIS services to suit schools’ finances, staff and vision. They work with
over 1000 schools across England, with strong hubs in London, the South
West and the North.

Consisting of ex-deputy headteachers, teachers and educational
specialists, the SBS MIS team builds trusting relationships with schools,
providing consultancy and training.

In addition to MIS, School Business Services is an onsite, offsite and online
support provider for Finance, HR and ICT. They develop the leading budget
management software SBS Budgets, accessed anywhere via SBS Online.

Arbor MIS (Management Information System) is the hassle-free way for
schools and trusts to get work done.

Whether you’re a primary, secondary or MAT, Arbor helps make your
essential daily admin more powerful and less stressful – so everyone from
your back office to your SLT can get on and focus where it matters most.

We’ve already helped more than 800 schools and MATs make the switch to
our smarter cloud-based MIS. With human support at every step!

We visited the SBS Milton Keynes office recently to complete their
accreditation test.

The full day’s accreditation included:

  • A 1-hour training assessment to evidence SBS’s capability
  • A Service Desk troubleshooting test
  • An onsite inspection to observe SBS’ Service Desk

Following a successful day, we’re thrilled to say we are now working together to give schools the option to switch to Arbor MIS whilst keeping their trusted support team at SBS. Working with Arbor and SBS together gives your school:

1. A cloud-based MIS which makes your essential admin and day-to-day work hassle-free

2. Clear MIS data you can use to focus where it matters most

3. An MIS Support Team who will help you save time on data management

4. Peace of mind for statutory returns

5. A team who will empower your staff to develop skills

To find out more about switching to Arbor with the SBS MIS team contact
0345 222 1551 – Opt 5 or email hello@schoolbusinessservices.co.uk.

Beth Mokrini - 3 December, 2019

Category : Blog

Orbis becomes Arbor-accredited

In my last blog, I explained why SIMS Support Units are teaming up with Arbor right now – and why this is great news for schools. This week, we’re celebrating one of our new partners gaining their Arbor accreditation. Meet Orbis – a collaboration between Brighton & Hove City Council, and Surrey and East Sussex

In my last blog, I explained why SIMS Support Units are teaming up with Arbor right now – and why this is great news for schools. This week, we’re celebrating one of our new partners gaining their Arbor accreditation. Meet Orbis – a collaboration between Brighton & Hove City Council, and Surrey and East Sussex County Councils – who’ve just passed their test with flying colours! 

(Image 1: logo of newly-accredited Arbor Partner, Orbis)

The Orbis Partnership started seven years ago as a way of taking the stress out of procurement and helping schools get the best value for money. In 2017, they teamed up formally sothey could share more services and bring together decades of expertise in finance, business operations, HR and IT.

Orbis are proud of their public sector background and they know how important it is that the technology in your school “just works”. Their passion and experience help them go the extra mile for their schools by:

  • Offering a mix of on-site and remote IT support so you can create a package that suits your needs
  • Helping you keep your data accurate and up-to-date to avoid stress on census day
  • Backing up and restoring your data from a secure remote network
  • Advising you on how to meet Department of Education (DfE) and Ofsted requirements
  • Looking after the core hardware and software that makes your school tick
  • Giving outstanding training and support

(Image 2: The Orbis team explaining how they help schools and MATs)

Orbis chose to work with Arbor after noticing that more and more local schools were switching away from Capita SIMS each year and choosing cloud-based systems instead. SIMS – once the go-to name in schools for all things admin – has had some delays in bringing out a  cloud alternative to their traditionally server-based product. Now, schools and MATs are switching to the cloud in greater numbers than ever before, and are looking for a cloud-based MIS like Arbor that takes the stress out of daily admin and lets them work from anywhere. 

(Image 3: A graph showing the declining number of schools using SIMS and increasing number of schools using a cloud-based MIS)

This has transformed the way thousands of schools work, putting data at the fingertips of every teacher, administrator and senior leader to help them see the big picture and take action. Even so, schools are busy places and people still need human support! A new MIS can often do things they couldn’t have imagined with the old system, and they need training to empower them to use it.

Orbis realised that there was a demand for local, hands-on support and training from the hundreds of schools using Arbor MIS across the South East, so they joined Arbor’s partner program in February 2019. As well as championing the effective use of MIS in schools, they can also help with all aspects of IT within your school as part of their all-inclusive, fully-managed Premier Support Service. They can also advise you on Finance, HR and Payroll, Property and Catering – so you can get all your support from one team. 

The Orbis Partnership is one of 24 brilliant Arbor support units around the country – click here for a full list. If you’re a current Arbor customer and you’d like to switch your support to a local partner, reach out to your Arbor account manager on 020 7043 0470 and they’ll be happy to advise. 

 

If you’re new to Arbor and thinking of switching to our cloud-based MIS, book a demo by calling 020 8050 1028 or email tellmemore@arbor-education.comFor more information on Orbis IT Services you can call them on 01323 463133 or email itd@orbis.services 

 

Tim Ward - 28 November, 2019

Category : Blog

Research Led Curriculum Design

Every school has been working hard on ensuring they have an inspiring, rich and challenging curriculum for the pupils recently.  Whilst a great curriculum has always been at the heart of learning, the extra focus of the updated Ofsted evaluation schedule has led to schools revisiting their curriculum design. Whilst reviewing curriculum design, schools should

Every school has been working hard on ensuring they have an inspiring, rich and challenging curriculum for the pupils recently.  Whilst a great curriculum has always been at the heart of learning, the extra focus of the updated Ofsted evaluation schedule has led to schools revisiting their curriculum design.

Whilst reviewing curriculum design, schools should ask themselves not only what pupils should know, be able to do and understand, but also how these aspects work in a cross-curricular way.  Is there a skill that will help a pupil’s understanding of many subjects? Should we have explicit goals for learning behaviours that will assist learning in a global sense? Many schools will already do this but – when asked why – they often assert that such learning behaviours are impactful -, without being able to reference any real evidence.

Is this really a problem?  Perhaps not. After all, a skilful teacher or leader often draws on years of experiential learning of what works well.  High performing professionals are known to work in a constant loop of self-feedback that informs future practice.

On the other hand – maybe this is a problem.  Those of you who are familiar with the work of John Hattie will know that his research into the impact of what strategies truly improve learning can be very insightful. For example, his work highlights the relatively small impact of class size on outcomes – yet many still believe this is crucial. 

Before we make changes, we need to be sure we are making decisions based on sound evidence.

Which brings me to my main point: all schools should be actively researching and monitoring  the impact of their curriculum design. If you are about to spend significant time building a change to your curriculum, training teachers and updating documents, then you need to know this change will make a meaningful impact.

During my time working with Computing At School, I saw what I believed to be evidence that computational thinking had a positive impact in other areas of the curriculum, with a focus on problem-solving, decomposition of problems and self-evaluation of solutions.  But how could I be sure?

This is where we need to design a process that tests the theory by providing clear evidence of impact; this means building in a way to make the important measurable (as opposed to making the measurable important).

In my example, I may believe that pupils who are better at problem-solving perform better across the curriculum.  I might decide, therefore, to explicitly teach problem-solving. In order to effectively judge whether I am right, I need to know two things: which pupils are good at problem solving and does this correlate with other educational outcomes?

Time, then, for some active research. Using a rubric, I could evaluate pupils’ problem-solving skills.

(Image 1: A table taken from Livingstone Academies part of the Aspirations Academies Trust – Copyright 2016)

 

I could then cross-reference this to academic outcomes in English and Mathematics.  If a strong correlation exists, then it will be worthwhile integrating the teaching of problem-solving into my curriculum.

As ever though – this can be time-consuming work.  If schools are to engage in research like this, they need a hassle-free way to get it done.  They need a tool that can bring together what you already know about your pupils, such as their background and current academic grades, and your research evidence.

Luckily for Arbor schools, it’s very easy to make a rubric for assessing almost anything, such as the problem-solving example above.  Once this has been used, clear analytics can then be used to determine if a strong correlation exists.

Research like this needs to be a continual process, as the needs of your pupils may change; the world they live in certainly will! So, having the tools to make the process easy and hassle-free should be a high priority.

In summary:

1. When you review curriculum design, look for opportunities that improve outcomes across all subjects

2. Beware of falling back on assumed knowledge of “what works well”

3. Instead, find ways to make what you believe to be important measurable and generate your own research data

4. Use this data to make evidentially driven changes to secure maximum impact on pupil learning

5. Don’t start work without having the right tools at your disposal that will make the process hassle-free and help you get the work done quickly. 

 

If you’d like to find out why Arbor is the MIS schools love to use, why not contact us? You can also book a demo by calling 0207 043 0470 or email tellmemore@arbor-education.com.

 

Rebecca Watkins - 25 November, 2019

Category : Blog

KS4 Performance Data Analysis: Now available on Arbor Insight

We’re really pleased to announce that your latest KS4 data is now available on Arbor Insight!  We’ve been hard at work crunching all of your 2018/19 ASP data, so you can spend more time focusing on how findings from your performance data will inform your school improvement planning.  We’ve produced 7 premium PDF reports, which

We’re really pleased to announce that your latest KS4 data is now available on Arbor Insight! 

We’ve been hard at work crunching all of your 2018/19 ASP data, so you can spend more time focusing on how findings from your performance data will inform your school improvement planning. 

We’ve produced 7 premium PDF reports, which benchmark your school against similar schools and top performing schools, as well as the national average. You can quickly and easily share these reports with your team, governors and even parents. We’ve also created free performance dashboards for every school in the country, where you can look at all of your headline measures and drill down into your data to see your strengths and weaknesses and where your biggest gaps are in attainment and progress. Adjust filters to change the year, demographic group and benchmarks; this makes your analysis quick, simple and highly effective.  

(Fig. 1 Key Findings page from an example Understanding Your School Report)

 

The percentage of pupils entered into the EBacc increased this year by 1.6% from 2018; this is the highest entry rate since the introduction of the Ebacc in 2010. Both Humanities and Foreign Languages subjects had increased entry rates this year compared with last, which contributes to this increased entry rate. However, this increase is not across the board, The Department for Education has stated that this year 58.4% of pupils with high prior attainment entered the EBacc, compared with 30% of pupils who have middle attainment and just 9.4% who have low attainment. 

There is also a lot of variation in terms of what subjects students choose across these 3 attainment groups. We’ve created a curriculum summary in the “Understanding Your School Report”, so you can see what subjects your low, middle and high attainment pupils have taken this year and a separate summary for the subjects your FSM pupils have entered. Our Understanding Your School report also shows you the subjects your disadvantaged students have entered into in comparison with their peers, so you can see whether there are issues with access to different areas of learning between different pupil groups.

(Fig2. Curriculum Summary focus on disadvantaged from an example Understanding Your School Report)

 

Another feature of the “Understanding Your School Report” is our “Schools Like You” benchmark, which is hugely effective in demonstrating how the specific demographic context of your school affects pupil attainment. This is something that the Progress 8 measure cannot show by itself and it’s useful to know how similar schools are performing, so you can use this as a realistic benchmark. Our “Schools Like You” benchmark shows an average figure of all schools that have a similar demographic intake to yours. We’ve used the methodology of the Education Endowment Foundation for the weighting of demographics in this benchmark, which is: average prior attainment (40%), variance prior attainment (5%), FSM 6 (25%), EAL (20%) and IDACI – Income Deprivation Affecting Children (10%).

(Fig. 3 Maths attainment page showing an example of the “Schools Like You” benchmark from the Understanding Your School Report)

 

Researchers at the Centre for Multilevel Modelling, Bristol University, compared the current Progress 8 measure with an “adjusted” measure that also accounted for pupil criteria such as gender, age, ethnicity, residential deprivation, Free School Meals, English as an Additional Language and Special Educational Needs. Adjusting the Progress 8 measure to include background factors like these meant that, in national rankings based on accountability measures, 20% of schools would change by over 500 places. 

Exam results can also be disproportionately affected by social and geographical context. You can see how the area your school is in has impacted your pupils’ outcomes in our “Understanding Your School Report”, which features our new Area Type Comparison graph. This graph brings ONS area classification data together with your ASP attainment data – something entirely unique to Arbor Insight. The ONS has classified every LA in the country into 8 “supergroups”, which share characteristics, based on socio-economic and demographic data from the national census. Our graph explains which supergroup (or area type) your school is in, and shows how your performance compares to schools in areas with similar socio-economic characteristics, helping you to examine patterns between your student intake and attainment.

(fig. 4 Area Type Graph of a school in “Affluent England” taken from an example Understanding Your School Report)

 

Arbor Insight is our industry-leading benchmarking tool for every school and MAT in the country. It’s free for everyone! If you haven’t already, sign up today in just 1 minute: https://login.arbor.sc/auth/register

If you already have an account, log in to see your updated performance dashboards: https://login.arbor.sc/auth/login

 

Over 80 secondary schools have Arbor MIS and if you want to know why they love using Arbor, then take a look at the product here: https://arbor-education.com/products/school-mis/. Get in touch by phone on 020 8050 1028 or email hello@arbor-education.com -we’d love to hear from you!

Andrew Mackereth - 20 November, 2019

Category : Blog

A day in the life

I read the news today, oh boy.  Unfortunately, I’m not going on to talk about the lucky man that made the grade in the famous song by The Beatles; instead I’m talking about the story that appeared on BBC News with the caption: “I had an interest in school – but zero help.”  I felt

I read the news today, oh boy. 

Unfortunately, I’m not going on to talk about the lucky man that made the grade in the famous song by The Beatles; instead I’m talking about the story that appeared on BBC News with the caption: “I had an interest in school – but zero help.” 

I felt profoundly sad for the families and their unmet needs but as a former Headteacher, I also felt for the schools as they seemed to be taking the presenting issues extremely seriously but their “help” wasn’t helping. 

Thinking back to situations I had managed in my schools, I remembered the round-robin reports that regularly hit my desk about the progress, behaviour and attendance of pupils causing concern. This was our way of capturing the presenting issues in order to formulate a plan.

The sort of report I’m talking about is the kind that is being generated right now by teachers and pastoral leads across the country (and across the world) to explore concerns, or support meaningful meetings with parents. Every school seems to have their own template and completes in a way that meets their specific circumstances. However good I thought our report templates were, there was always some information that we hadn’t captured to complete the picture of the child. It’s only since I’ve been working with Arbor MIS that I realised just how poorly set up my schools were to surface student-level information quickly due to the limitations of our previous MIS. To compound the problem, my teams could only access the information when on site, which put an added burden on working parents and carers. 

Our weekly student focus meetings brought together progress, educational support, welfare and attendance leads to discuss current and emerging issues. A typical action arising from the meeting would be for a key worker (in this instance: me) to make contact with home to request a meeting. 

For the purpose of this blog, I am going to walk through a typical “student of concern” scenario but in this instance, the fictional student is Kimberly Adams, a Year 10 student at Pinewood Secondary School. As Head, I’m collating information ahead of a meeting with her parents. The meeting is therefore at our request because, as I shall explain, her name had cropped up in a number of progress and well-being meetings recently and we want to engage with home at the earliest opportunity. I want to get a comprehensive picture of the student using Arbor MIS.

The following picture begins to emerge:

Kimberly appears to like school; her attendance is currently 96%+ and this is an improvement on last year. She has regular planned absences for medical appointments due to a long-standing medical condition: the result of a head injury that causes a lack of focus. She has the highest attendance in her Tutor Group.

(Image 1: Screenshot of Attendance in Arbor broken down into different groups) 

 

Unfortunately, since the start of Year 10 she has begun to arrive at school late. There is no particular pattern to her lateness to school but she is frequently late to Pd3 which follows break. This is an area to investigate.

(Image 2: Screenshot of Attendance in Arbor broken down into time of day) 

 

Her behaviour is generally good but September the 18th was an uncharacteristically bad day. Kimberly didn’t suggest a reason as to why she had such a bad day but perhaps her parents can offer some context that would explain it. This is an area to investigate.

(Image 3: Screenshot of Behaviour in Arbor broken down into time of day) 

 

It seems that Kimberly does not adapt well to temporary teachers and, looking at her behaviour log in more depth, there seems to be a correlation between her incidents of misbehaviour and supply teachers. As a side issue, I can see that she had eight lessons where her regular teacher has been absent which is potentially having a de-stabilising effect. This is an area to investigate. 

(Image 4: Screenshot of student cover statistics in Arbor) 

 

Academically, she is performing fairly well. She is a low prior attainer but she has a flair for Maths and English. It would be useful to explore the issues around English and the relative underachievement in Computer Science and Textiles from her perspective.

(Image 5: Screenshot of assessment and progress statistics in Arbor) 

 

Kimberly has not signed up for any trips or visits this academic year but she is a member of the Eco Club. Her form tutor, Ms Kelly runs the Eco Club and this seems to have sparked her interest somewhat. Ms Kelly fears she may be bullied by some of the other girls in the tutor group but Kimberly has always denied this. This is an area to investigate. 

Neither parent has logged into the parent portal, so may be missing vital communications from school about events, achievement and progress. I should offer to reset their password or resend the joining instructions if required. 

I am confident that I can approach the meeting with some good evidence to back up my concerns and steer the conversation to cover the areas for further investigation. 

Meetings like this one will happen everyday in schools for a myriad of reasons. I’m fortunate that, because Arbor is designed to turn insight into action, I have all of my information on students at-risk together in one place – and not all over the place.

 

If you’d like to find out more about how our hassle-free, cloud-based MIS could help you act on everything important fast, so you and your staff can focus on what matters most, contact us. You can also book a demo by calling 0207 043 0470 or email tellmemore@arbor-education.com.

Rebecca Watkins - 19 November, 2019

Category : Blog

Budget Planning with your Schools Financial Benchmarking Report

We are all aware of the widespread funding shortfalls in the education sector, and it’s definitely a challenging time to be a budget holder in schools and Multi Academy Trusts. Having full visibility of all income and expenditure is hugely important in order to understand your school’s financial allocations, like where you may be lacking

We are all aware of the widespread funding shortfalls in the education sector, and it’s definitely a challenging time to be a budget holder in schools and Multi Academy Trusts. Having full visibility of all income and expenditure is hugely important in order to understand your school’s financial allocations, like where you may be lacking in funding and areas you might be overspending in. 

We have created a Schools Financial Benchmarking report (SFB) for every state school in England, which displays all of your income and expenditure in a clear, easy-to-read PDF report. Over 1,000 schools have used their Arbor Insight Financial Benchmarking report since we launched it in 2015; sharing it with governors, using it as evidence in internal and external meetings and using it to inform their budget planning.

(Image 1: A screenshot of Grant Funding as presented in Arbor’s Financial Benchmarking Report)

 

Your school budget should reflect your School Improvement Plan – covering a five-year basis, showing two years in retrospect, the current year, and the next two years’ forecast.

Before setting up any new budget, you’ll want to have handy:

  • Old budgets/past financial data to look at past performance, so you can learn from under and over-spends. You can find the last 2 years of financial data in your SFB report with clear trends shown in line graphs and 3-year rolling averages 
  • Pupil numbers, so you can find the last 5 years of your school numbers in the free ‘School Context’ dashboards in your Insight portal and in the free Performance Summary report we’ll be launching in Spring Term (keep an eye out!)
  • Exam results, so you can identify which parts of the curriculum could benefit from more money, and which have previously benefited. You can use your free Attainment and Progress dashboards or Premium Performance Reports- available to purchase from your Arbor Insight portal or Staffing requirements, including updated pay scales.
  • Other resource requirements – money needed for insurance, maintenance, etc.

 

Being aware of where you expect to see larger expenditure and accounting up front for your budget planning and communication is really important. For example, staffing costs in schools typically account for between 75 to 85% of the overall school expenditure and premises costs 10 to 12%. It’s therefore important to forecast likely costs in these areas early on. In your SFB report, you will see all expenditure and income sections shown as a percentage of total spend so you can visualise all of your finances better. We also break down every value as an amount that has been spent or received per pupil in your school. 

(Image 2: A screenshot of total spend as presented in Arbor’s Financial Benchmarking Report)

 

Arbor’s Schools Financial Benchmarking report is a useful resource for school budgeters, as you can see how much schools in your local authority spend on resources, such as classroom assistants, catering, building maintenance and so on. We also benchmark you school against other schools that have a similar demographic cohort of pupils to you, weighted by percentage of prior attainment, FSM and EAL pupils. If you have a high proportion of disadvantaged pupils, or perhaps pupils with low prior attainment, it’s important to see whether similar schools have comparable spending patterns – or if being benchmarked against these schools highlights some areas of funding/spending that might be good to look into. 

 

In terms of planning your budget and making sure it aligns with your school improvement planning, you can see how your finances have shaped up over the last 3 years with our line graphs that include trend figures. We also show the last 3 years of finances for each resource compared with that of the national average, schools in your LA and schools like you. Our 3-year rolling average for each expenditure and income resource can help you predict and plan your future 3 year expenditure planning. 

(Image 3: A screenshot of Premises as presented in Arbor’s Financial Benchmarking Report)

 

How to present this data to other key stakeholders:

Now you’ve got to break down the school budget for the governors. Come with easy-to-understand, clear budget reporting sheets, such as your Schools Financial Benchmarking report and feel prepared to explain any holes with recommendations for avoiding them in the future. For example, if you overspent on building maintenance this year, you could suggest implementing more regular building checks to spot problem areas, or negotiating better terms with your insurers and maintenance providers.

 

If you’re looking to keep your cost low and give next year’s budget a little wiggle room, look at how Arbor’s simple, smart MIS can help you not only centralise your systems and data, but also your costs, so that you can focus on what matters most, your pupils. 

 

Haven’t yet signed up to your Arbor Insight portal? No problem! Sign up here in seconds: https://login.arbor.sc/auth/register

Already signed up? Just log in here: https://login.arbor.sc/auth/login

If you have any questions or would like any help, you can reach the Arbor Insight team at insight@arbor-education.com or by calling us on 0207 043 1830.

 

Arbor Insight is a free tool we offer alongside our hassle-free MIS that schools and MATs love to use. If you’re interested in learning more about how our MIS can make daily school admin easier and your data more useful, book a free demo here or call our MIS Demo Team on 0208 050 1028.

Arbor - 21 October, 2019

Category : Blog

800 schools & MATs are now using Arbor MIS!

Last week, we reached an exciting milestone – over 800 schools have now switched MIS to Arbor to transform the way they work! Of this 800, we have 620+ primary schools, 80+ secondary schools and 100+  special schools using Arbor. We also work with 71 MATs, including Bridge Multi-Academy Trust, United Learning, and REAch2, the

Last week, we reached an exciting milestone – over 800 schools have now switched MIS to Arbor to transform the way they work! Of this 800, we have 620+ primary schools, 80+ secondary schools and 100+  special schools using Arbor. We also work with 71 MATs, including Bridge Multi-Academy Trust, United Learning, and REAch2, the largest primary MAT in the UK.   

Schools normally decide to switch to Arbor’s smart, cloud-based MIS to bring all of their data into one place, which not only saves money on server costs & licensing fees, but gives teachers their time back in the classroom to concentrate on their pupils.  

To celebrate our 800th school, we thought you might like to hear a few of our favourite stories that have been sent in to us by schools using Arbor. From saving hours of time per week following up on absent students, to being able to spot trends more quickly & improve student outcomes, read on to find out how our schools are using Arbor to improve the way they work.

How Arbor saved Parkroyal School £10,000 on server costs

Parkroyal’s admin server was coming up for renewal a couple of years ago, and they were quoted around £10,000 to replace it. Instead of paying this fee, they decided to move everything onto the cloud. They put their curriculum into Google, switched MIS to Arbor, and their finance system to SAGE. They invested in Chromebooks for the staff. They now have only one server on-site and it’s not out of choice – they have to use it to interact with the Local Authority Child Services system, which can only be done through the LA intranet. They were really glad they made the decision to switch to Arbor when the school needed to carry out building works on the school office in 2017. Previously, it would have cost thousands of pounds to move and safely rewire the servers into the temporary portacabin, but because they’d moved everything to the cloud, all they had to do was carry their desks and laptops downstairs, connect to wifi and log in to Arbor!

How Arbor transformed parent communications at Castle Hill St Philip’s

Castle Hill had a couple of issues with parent comms before they moved to Arbor, because almost everything was based on paper. When children showed good or bad behaviour, teachers would write a note in the student’s planner, which the child would then take home for parents to check. However, children couldn’t always be relied upon to take their planners home with them – especially if they’d been given a negative behaviour note from their teacher! Now they’ve switched to Arbor, the staff at Castle Hill log behaviour points in the system, which automatically sends an email to the relevant guardians. Parents can also log into their Parent Portal for a live update on how their children are doing. Children are now better behaved because they know that their parents know what they’ve been up to, and the school has less paperwork to get through!

How Arbor streamlined assessments at St Paul’s CofE Primary School

At St Paul’s, teachers used to use “Key Performance Indicator” tick-sheets in every child’s book, that they would mark every time a student met an objective. Each term, this handwritten data was inputted into Target Tracker, which the Headteacher, Anthony David, would then export into Excel for analysis. This resulted in a high paper burden, and if a child lost their book, a lot of data would disappear along with it. It became difficult to keep track. Since moving to Arbor, St Paul’s have been using our Curriculum Tracker to track children’s KPIs. This feeds straight through into our Summative Tracker, so that rather than manually inputting it, teachers can see pupil progress analysis automatically. They then use this data to create automatic intervention groups for children who are struggling.

If you’re interested in finding out more about how Arbor could transform the way your school operates, get in touch! 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.

Beth Mokrini - 25 September, 2019

Category : Blog

3 Reasons SIMS Support Units are teaming up with Arbor

This blog was written by Beth Mokrini, Partner Manager at Arbor Education. Click here to discover Beth’s Top 10 must-have cloud systems for your school.    Two years ago, my job didn’t exist.  That’s because two years ago, most schools used on-premise SIMS as their Management Information System, supported by a local IT support desk known

This blog was written by Beth Mokrini, Partner Manager at Arbor Education. Click here to discover Beth’s Top 10 must-have cloud systems for your school. 

 

Two years ago, my job didn’t exist. 

That’s because two years ago, most schools used on-premise SIMS as their Management Information System, supported by a local IT support desk known as a SIMS Support Unit (SSU). Meanwhile, the growing number of schools using Arbor MIS came to us directly for support and training. Although we sometimes collaborated to help a school switch, in general, there wasn’t much opportunity for SSUs to team up with Arbor. 

Fast forward to September 2019, and Arbor is now closely partnered with 19 SSUs of various shapes and sizes, based everywhere from Oldham to Cornwall. I have the exciting full-time job of managing Arbor’s partner program, which means leading on the development of new partnerships, helping SSUs earn their Arbor accreditation, and spreading the word to schools!

 

Image 1: A collection of just some of Arbor’s partners 

 

We’re not the only ones making moves in this direction – most cloud based MIS providers now offer a partner program, though the costs and benefits vary widely. Like us, they’re responding to demand from support units who’ve been working with SIMS for decades, but who are now keen to diversify. Everyone is adapting to the new reality of the school MIS market: SIMS has lost 7% market share since 2016, while alternative MIS vendors have picked up over 5000 schools and continue to grow.

 

Image 2: A graph showing how school cloud MIS usage is increasing over time

 

Schools now have a wider choice of MIS provider and (quite rightly) they want a wider choice of support options too. Many SSUs are taking the opportunity to form new partnerships, develop new skills and ride the wave of schools moving to the cloud (rather than being swept away!). 

We asked our three biggest support partners what they thought was behind this significant shift, and they gave three key reasons: 

 

1.  “We’re listening to our schools.”

A quarter of all primary schools and 1 in 14 secondaries have now moved to a cloud-based MIS. The pace of switching is accelerating year on year, as more schools realise the benefits of a cloud-based MIS in terms of saving time, reducing costs and enabling more flexible working. 

Just because schools want to switch MIS, doesn’t mean they want to switch their support too. Many SSUs have been working with their schools for 15+ years and they’ve built up a strong relationship, which neither party wants to lose. But the challenge that’s emerging for schools is that when their support provider only works with Capita SIMS, moving to the cloud means they’ve no choice but to leave them behind. 

This may put some off switching MIS for a year or two – but eventually the benefits of the cloud become too hard to ignore. This is especially true for MATs, who are faced with the challenge of aggregating and analysing data from multiple schools on a regular basis. Too often with on-premise SIMS, this means physically driving from school to school to download reports, then manually combining them in excel. For academy trusts, moving to a cloud MIS puts data at their fingertips so they can concentrate on improving outcomes for students. In fact, over half of the largest MATs have already moved to a cloud based MIS, according to a recent blog on MIS market stats by the director of the analytics platform Assembly Education. 

School leaders too, previously cautious about leaving SIMS, are now more likely than ever to know another school that’s already done it. As the school market dares to become excited about the alternatives to SIMS, SSUs are listening and welcoming partnerships with  cloud-based MIS providers. 

 

2. “We don’t know when ‘SIMS8’ will be ready.” 

We posted a year ago about the delays to Capita’s new cloud based product ‘SIMS8’, and not much has changed since then. It’s still live in fewer than 50 schools, only suitable for primaries and behind in the development of complex areas like reporting and integrations. 

Meanwhile, there’s no sign of schools & MATs waiting around for Capita to release their cloud-based offering. Around 1,200 schools are thought to have switched MIS in the last academic year, including many Local Authority maintained schools. Although academies have so far been switching from SIMS in greater numbers, maintained schools are increasingly challenging the assumption that they should all use Capita software – especially when doing so prevents them from taking advantage of user-friendly, cost effective systems.  

Unfortunately, until SIMS can meet schools’ demand for a smarter, cloud-based MIS, neither can SIMS Support Units. That’s why, to fill the gap left by SIMS8, many SSUs have differentiated their provision and developed partnerships with existing cloud MIS providers instead. This in turn is stoking up a measure of healthy competition between the leading cloud-based MIS providers, all of whom want to be chosen as the SSU’s preferred alternative to SIMS.

 

3. “Arbor is the leading alternative to SIMS.”

Arbor is now the 4th biggest MIS provider in England by school numbers, having grown by over 100% this academic year. We cater to all phases – primaries, secondaries, special schools and MATs. Of all the schools who left SIMS in the last year, more switched to Arbor than to any other provider. 

We’ve also invested in our partner program to make sure we’re not only the leading alternative for schools, but for SSUs too. Our Partner program is completely free – there’s no cost for training & support, no fee for our accreditation test and no annual charge to remain on the program. We believe schools should have the widest possible choice of support as well as MIS, so we’ve removed the barriers to becoming an Arbor partner.

We also offer a referral scheme, so instead of losing money when a school moves to the cloud, Arbor support partners receive a bonus! This has helped the SSUs we work with to see their partnership with Arbor as a growth opportunity, rather than simply a way of minimising disruption to their business. Schools can switch to the MIS of their choice without losing their trusted local support provider, and SSUs can continue to provide outstanding support, but now to a wider customer base. 

It’s fair to say a lot has changed in the last two years at Arbor (and not just in my job). We look forward to seeing what the next two will bring! 

 

If you’re a SIMS Support Unit and interested in becoming a partner, I’d love to have a chat – please email me to set up a phone call.

If you’re a school and would like to know more about our MIS or our support partners, contact us today. 

For a list of our current support partners, click here

Hannah McGreevy - 23 September, 2019

Category : Blog

The Understanding Your School Report is here!

As I’m sure you’ve read, the new Ofsted Inspection Framework has now come into effect. Central to the new framework is the idea that there isn’t a “correct” way for schools to do things – whereas the old framework encouraged inspectors to look at your school’s results and use data for accountability purposes, the new

As I’m sure you’ve read, the new Ofsted Inspection Framework has now come into effect. Central to the new framework is the idea that there isn’t a “correct” way for schools to do things – whereas the old framework encouraged inspectors to look at your school’s results and use data for accountability purposes, the new one focuses on the context of your school and the ways in which this has shaped your curriculum and the “quality of education” available (you can see a summary of the other changes in our blog here).

After reviewing the new framework with our partner LKMCo, we decided that we wanted to help schools make the most of this less prescriptive approach from Ofsted. So we’re excited to announce that we’ve upgraded and enhanced our old Ofsted Readiness Report, converting it into a report which is focused on helping schools to plan around and respond to their specific context, rather than on whether things are being done in a particular way. The old name didn’t make much sense any more, so we’ve renamed it the Understanding Your School Report

The Understanding Your School Report combines your latest DfE performance data (ASP) with ONS area classifications, families of schools, and top quintile benchmarks to give you the most complete picture of your outcomes in the context of your school’s unique demographic intake. Our aim is to bring a range of data sources together to give you a balanced and nuanced picture of your school to help inform your school improvement approach. We’ve summarised some of the new report’s features below.

 

What can I do with the new Understanding Your School Report? 

The main data source in the report is still Analyse School Performance (ASP). Whilst ASP is helpful for getting a basic overview of your performance, it’s often hard to use, so we wanted our new report to be a useful companion to the DfE’s service as well as a helpful tool in its own right:

 

1. Understand your school’s performance & outcomes in the context of its demographics

Exam results can be disproportionately affected by social and geographical context, but it’s time-consuming to bring these data sets together. Services like ASP don’t show any contextual data alongside your performance out-of-the-box. 

To help you see how the area your school is in has impacted outcomes, the Understanding Your School Report features our new Area Type Comparison graph, which uniquely brings ONS area classification data together with your ASP attainment data for the first time. The ONS has classified every LA in the country into 8 “supergroups” which share characteristics, based on socio-economic and demographic data from the national census. Our graph explains which supergroup (or area type) your school is in, and shows how your performance compares to schools in areas with similar socio-economic characteristics, helping you to examine patterns between your student intake and attainment.

Image 1: A screenshot of the Area Type Comparison graph from Arbor’s Understanding Your School Report 

 

2. Get meaningful benchmarks beyond just comparing to the national average

ASP only benchmarks your school against the national average. Whilst this is helpful, the national average isn’t always the most meaningful benchmark (for example, as a small rural primary school you might feel it’s not relevant to compare yourself to large primary schools based in a city because their intake will be so different). The Understanding Your School Report still shows how you’ve performed compared to the national average, but it also introduces 2 new benchmarks as well.

Our new schools “Like You” benchmark uses EEF “Families of Schools” methodology to compare your performance to similar schools based on four factors:

  • Prior Attainment
  • % FSM
  • % EAL
  • IDACI

This benchmark helps you to compare your performance with other schools with similar pupil characteristics, in similar contexts. 

The Understanding Your School also gives you a “Top Quintile” benchmark, which compares you to the top 20% of schools for each measure – this provides your school with a useful stretch target to work towards. 

Image 2: A screenshot showing the different benchmarks available in The Understanding Your School Report 

 

3. Understand how consistent your performance has been over time

It can be hard to visualise progress over time using the tables and bar charts provided in ASP. Our new Understanding Your School Report helps you see how your performance has changed over time by presenting Trend over Time line graphs, and showing 3 year rolling averages next to key headline figures. This gives you a broader picture of your performance, meaning you can quickly spot any inconsistencies and identify anomalies (for example, is this cohort’s performance consistent with your school, or is it atypical? If so, why?).

Image 3: A screenshot of the Trend over Time line graph in The Understanding Your School Report 

 

4. Easily visualise gaps and work out where to target interventions

Whilst ASP breaks down your performance by pupil characteristics, it does this in tables – which means it can be time consuming to spot gaps, making it very hard to tell at a glance how well different groups are performing. 

The Understanding Your School Report has a dedicated Closing the Gap section which helps you to benchmark different school groups such as SEN or Pupil Premium against each other. We express gaps as numbers of pupils rather than % to help make your SIP more meaningful.  

Meanwhile, the new Curriculum Summary section for secondary schools helps leaders see how different student groups have chosen to take exams, so that they can identify whether there are issues with access to different areas of learning between groups of pupils. 

 

5. View meaningful analysis of your data presented in easy-to-understand charts 

With its clear, visual designs, simple bar charts and callouts in plain English, the Understanding Your School Report does all your performance analysis for you. Instantly see headline measures on the Key Findings page, as well as key areas to work on. This means you can get on with using your data to drive school improvement instead of wading through tables in ASP.

Image 4: A screenshot of the Key Findings page in The Understanding Your School Report 

 

We hope that the Understanding Your School Report becomes an essential part of your school improvement cycle. If you’re interested in hearing more about the report, as well as about what our other Insight reports can do for you, why not come along to one of our free Insight Training Sessions this Autumn? 

 

Sign up to Arbor Insight here to purchase your own Understanding Your School Report, and to view other popular reports that we offer. For more information about Arbor Insight, email insight@arbor-education.com or call 02070431830.

Daniel Giardiello - 21 September, 2019

Category : Blog

How Arbor can help you to proactively identify and help students at risk of exclusion

In May, the DfE published the findings from the much anticipated Timpson Review, which recommends that schools be supported to reduce the number of exclusions they make by focussing in on early intervention and quality Alternative Provision. In this blog, I will explore the implications of this on schools and discuss how Arbor MIS can

In May, the DfE published the findings from the much anticipated Timpson Review, which recommends that schools be supported to reduce the number of exclusions they make by focussing in on early intervention and quality Alternative Provision. In this blog, I will explore the implications of this on schools and discuss how Arbor MIS can help schools to use data to intervene proactively with students and better understand their holistic needs, before they reach the point of being an exclusion risk.

 

Are current intervention strategies timely enough?

Prior to working with Arbor, my 13 years as a teacher and senior leader were spent both in Mainstream Secondary and in Specialist Education for Behaviourally Challenging students, so I have seen both the before and after stories of mainstream exclusions. 

When a child comes into a full time AP or SEMH school, it’s often the case that they have been excluded, not just once but many times, and are trapped in an ongoing, negative spiral of:

Image 1: A diagram showing a child’s negative behaviour cycle 

Trying to re-instill a sense of self-worth and value for learning into individuals who seem almost broken by this experience is very difficult at the post-exclusion stage. We succeeded with many, but not with all. 

For those with whom we didn’t, I often wonder… Could it have been a different story if during their more formative stages in education, greater focus had been placed on developing their necessary dispositions for learning, rather than hammering home a nearly entirely academic curriculum? For students who are more resilient and better at regulating their emotions , this is ok; but for those who aren’t, early subjection to repeat experiences of failure will trigger innate safety behaviours such as escape and avoidance, which in the classroom context will display as refusal to work and disruption to lessons.

This opens up a broader debate about the appropriateness of the curriculum we deliver and whether we are assessing the right things for these individuals – something I discussed in my previous blog which focussed on SEN Assessment. Whilst there will never be a silver bullet answer to the “what to do?” question for all children (this will differ depending on context), my overriding feeling regarding “when to do it?” is that, in nearly all cases, it could have been earlier in the story and not at the point where behaviour had already become unmanageable. But how do we know when is best to take a different approach? That’s where the effective use of data comes in! 

 

Data driven intervention

During my time in schools, I have seen and implemented a fair share of behavioural initiatives and policies, some of which were successful and others less so, but in every instance their success was dependent on the quality of information that fed into them. Data-wise, the two most important questions to ask are:

  • Is the data gathered in a timely enough way for the actions it informs to actually have an impact?
  • Is the data telling us something we don’t already know?

Unfortunately, the answer to these questions isn’t always “yes”. In many schools, it’s hard to act on data in a timely way, as there’s usually a heavy reliance on the manual collation and analysis of it in order to find meaning. Therefore, intervention is often carried out at the point where behaviour is so severe or prevalent that you don’t even need data to tell you there’s something to do. So, you become a reactive culture. 

Negative behaviour doesn’t occur in isolation; it’s often linked to other factors, such as home-life, literacy, attendance and pastoral issues. But due to the siloed nature of data in schools (as illustrated in the systems diagram below) it is also difficult to combine different measures into simple, quick analysis, or to easily know what’s been going on with a child. 

Image 2: A diagram showing the siloed nature of data in schools  

Arbor MIS makes it easy to input and analyse all your core data in one system. With all student data brought together on simple profile pages, it’s easy for staff to get the holistic overview of a student that’s needed in order to plan more specifically for their needs. This is something that’s crucial to Liam Dowling, and the staff of Hinderton School, an Outstanding Cheshire SEN school who specialise in supporting students with Autistic Spectrum Conditions (ASC) and social communication difficulties from a young age. 

Image 3: A diagram showing the way school data can be brought together  

Hinderton’s short inspection letter from June 2017 praised the school on the interconnectedness of it’s systems, meaning that all stakeholders have easy access to the data they need:

“Your online systems, which work seamlessly together, make sure that senior leaders, staff and parents all have the information they need at their fingertips. As a result, you have streamlined and improved all aspects of information relating to pupils.”

Hinderton’s short inspection letter – OFSTED June 2017

Hinderton are one of nearly 800 schools who benefit from Arbor MIS’ ability to:

Give staff easy access to the full story of a child to enable better understanding of needs

Image 4: A demonstration of how Arbor MIS gives you the full story of a child

With appropriate permissions, all information ranging from communications with parents, attendance, behaviour and SEN history is visible in one place. Understanding what has gone on with a disaffected child is crucial to knowing how best to work with them and Arbor makes finding this information as easy as possible.

 

Automate behaviour action and analysis

Image 5: A demonstration of how you can automate behaviour action in Arbor MIS

Arbor’s automatic workflows within the behaviour module ensure that students who exhibit persistent low level behaviour across multiple lessons are always identified and action is taken without an administrative burden to staff. This helps schools to ensure that negative behaviour is appropriately challenged in all instances and isn’t allowed to snowball to the point of being unmanageable. 

 

Link Interventions to Data

Image 6: A demonstration of how you can plan interventions with Arbor MIS

Arbor allows you to create interventions with Participant and Outcome criteria that pull data in from anywhere in the MIS. Therefore, students could be recommended for a Behaviour for Learning intervention following a slight change in behavioural patterns at an earlier point in time than when it becomes prevalent and significantly disruptive to others.

 

Customise Assessment frameworks to target specific needs

Image 7: An example of how to customise assessment frameworks in Arbor MIS

The Springwell Special Academy are an Outstanding SEMH school who make full use of Arbor’s flexible Assessment system to host specific frameworks that fit their students’ needs. This enables them to focus on social and emotional development, resilience and student wellbeing as well as tracking academic progress. The image above shows the input page of a framework they have developed called the SEMH tracker. 

In conclusion, the Timpson review has brought about a greater emphasis on schools to develop strategies to help students whom they may otherwise exclude. The four tools above are just a few examples of how Arbor could help schools in collecting more specifically focussed data to use in a more timely and targeted way in order to help improve the holistic outcomes of these vulnerable students. We recognise that the challenge isn’t easy and the “what to do” expertise lies with the people who know the students best – a piece of software isn’t going to be the solution but could play a significant part in the data strategy that drives the change! 

 

If you’d like to find out more about how our simple, smart cloud-based MIS could help you transform the way your school uses interventions, contact us. You can also book a demo by calling 0207 043 0470 or email tellmemore@arbor-education.com.

 

 

Chris Taylor - 17 September, 2019

Category : Blog

Education and modern technology: is a change of attitude needed?

Being born in the early 90’s and receiving my first computer as a gift in December of 1999 turned out to be not only a brilliant idea (thanks mum & dad!), but for many reasons, also quite profound in the way that this beige PC tower ended up shaping not just my life, but also

Being born in the early 90’s and receiving my first computer as a gift in December of 1999 turned out to be not only a brilliant idea (thanks mum & dad!), but for many reasons, also quite profound in the way that this beige PC tower ended up shaping not just my life, but also the lives of an entire generation. 

It’s almost impossible to imagine today’s world without the advent of the technology that has shaped our lives so dramatically. Even as a young boy, while I would spend countless hours playing around with this marvellous box of tricks (Windows 98 seems so archaic by today’s standards), I was amazed by what it could do and saw no limit to what was possible. 

Suddenly, I could (willingly) do my homework on-screen and at the press of a button it would be spat out by the enormous printer to the left of the big-back monitor. I’m sure you can imagine my utter delight when I figured out how to access the internet through dial-up (and my hopeless despair when I’d spent 10 minutes trying to download an image, only for the phone to ring half way through and kill my connection). 

Picture 1: A comparison of a computer from 1984 and a computer from 2019

Fast forward 20 years and I still find myself astounded with all the technological advancements of the modern world. My smartphone can do everything and more that my first computer could and all the time we’re finding new and clever ways to apply all of this technology to a variety of different situations, problems and sectors to make our lives easier.

However, this isn’t always the case. When I think about how we use technology to supplement educational outcomes and improve the effectiveness of our schools in general, I have mixed feelings. In some cases schools are embracing tech with great results (putting iPads in the classroom being an example) but in other areas, schools are being left behind. 

 

The (not so) looming crisis

In 2019, schools are under scrutiny and pressure like never before. The education system is ever evolving and adapting to address its own challenges whilst trying to find new ways to teach the next generation so they’re set up for life in an ever more competitive and challenging world. Despite this, it’s failing to adequately address an ever progressing crisis: teachers leaving the profession at an unprecedented rate.

Among others, one of the most commonly cited reasons for the staffing crisis in the UK is the increasing demand and workload placed upon school staff as a whole, not just teachers. When I meet with school leaders in the North of England this is a question which is raised almost every single time – ‘how can I improve the efficiency and outcomes of my school whilst also reducing my staff’s workload?’ and my answer is always the same: try to see technology as an assistant and a driver for positive change and not a means to an end. It should help, not hinder you. 

In most elements of our lives we embrace the latest and greatest in tech and no longer do we settle for the sub-standard; take mobile phones as an example. On average, most people change their smartphone every 2-3 years and sometimes even more frequently. If the device doesn’t do what we want or expect it to, or even if we just find it a bit difficult to use, what do we do? We replace it without hesitation and try another brand entirely. 

I really like this attitude to tech; it serves to ensure that vendors are always striving to find new and innovative ways to make our lives easier, always one step ahead of us and improving on things that we never even thought were a problem, until we’re handed the solution. Of course, we know what happens when they don’t move with the times. More so, it stops vendors becoming complacent. 

Having seen the internals of education and technology for myself, I firmly believe schools should think of their systems like most of us do a mobile phone; a really useful tool to help us out on a day to day basis, but something we can easily swap and move away from if it no longer serves its purpose. It’s for this reason that we encourage schools we meet with to do a systems audit, which helps determine if the technology they’re paying for has become outdated or no longer fits with the day-to-day running of the school.

Picture 2: An example of mobile phones from the 1980s and a mobile phone in 2019

In a school, the MIS is one of the key pieces of tech which has the capacity to vastly reduce staff workload, increase the efficiency of the school and improve pupil outcomes at large. Despite this, many schools across the country are still using clunky, out-of-date systems that are time consuming and difficult to use, yet some appear to accept this because they’re perhaps unaware just how much of a difference a modern MIS could make to their work, and their school as a whole.

If I could give one piece of advice to anyone who’s not happy with the technology that’s supposed to assist them and make their life easier, it would be to explore alternatives and try and find a system that fits the ethos of your school, and that enhances the livelihoods of its staff and the outcomes of its pupils. 

Sometimes, we’re unaware that there are better ways to do things until we’re presented with a new idea. Try to look for a solution to your problems in a proactive manner – technology is there to help you and when it no longer does, it effectively becomes surplus to requirements. 

If you’re unhappy with your MIS and school systems in general, it could be that they’re no longer fit for purpose and you should start exploring alternatives. It’s your duty to ensure your school has the best outcomes and your staff are as happy as they can be.

Remember, a change of attitude is all that’s necessary. 

 

 

 

 

Hannah McGreevy - 15 September, 2019

Category : Blog

2019 KS2 Data is now available in Arbor Insight!

We’re thrilled to announce that we’ve just added 2019 KS2 data to Arbor Insight. We’ve crunched your data ahead of the DfE to give you a head start analysing your latest SATs results, making Arbor one of the first places you can see your latest data! We’ve been busy updating your dashboards, readying your reports

We’re thrilled to announce that we’ve just added 2019 KS2 data to Arbor Insight. We’ve crunched your data ahead of the DfE to give you a head start analysing your latest SATs results, making Arbor one of the first places you can see your latest data!

We’ve been busy updating your dashboards, readying your reports (and even adding a whole new report!) to analyse your performance data for you so you can get on with using it to plan your school improvement approach. Keep reading to find out more about Arbor Insight, what’s changed and how our reports can help.

What is Arbor Insight? 

Arbor Insight is a free performance analysis tool for schools & MATs to help you analyse your latest Analyse School Performance (ASP) and finance data. We automatically analyse your latest school performance data and present it back to you in easy-to-understand PDF reports and interactive dashboards, so you don’t have to spend hours analysing the raw data yourself. It’s free to sign up for your school’s interactive dashboards and portal, and we charge a small amount for our premium, in-depth reports (as they take a bit more work to build).

Can I use Arbor Insight alongside the DfE’s ASP service?

Yes! Arbor is an accredited supplier of ASP data, which means we receive secure, early access to all your school performance data from the DfE as soon as it’s released. So far over 10,000 schools have signed up to use us. Lots of schools use us instead of the DfE’s ASP service, but you can also use our reports and dashboards as a companion to the DfE’s analysis.

How do you present my KS2 data? 

Your school’s Arbor Insight portal contains free interactive dashboards benchmarking your performance against the national average, as well as against schools “Like You” and “Top Quintile” schools. Click on any measure to drill down and see which demographic groups are driving over or underperformance.

 

Image 1: A screenshot of one of Arbor’s free interactive dashboards

 

You can also dig deeper into your KS2 data with our popular paid-for PDF reports:

  • Attainment & Progress Report: Analyse the attainment and progress of different demographic groups at your school over the last 3 years. Use this report to identify where you could be making more progress
  • Gap Reports: See the gaps between different student groups across attendance and attainment. Get individual reports on Prior Attainment, Ethnicity, Disadvantage, Gender and SEN. Use them to identify which areas in your school to focus on and why

What’s the new report you mentioned?

This year we’ve released our brand new Understanding Your School Report, which helps you understand your performance in the context of your school’s unique demographic intake. See your performance benchmarked against similar, top 20% & national averages, and explore patterns between the socio-economic makeup of your local area, deprivation and attainment.

Image 2: A screenshot of Arbor’s new Understanding Your School Report

 

How do I sign up?

Click here to sign up to your school’s free Arbor Insight portal: https://login.arbor.sc/auth/register 

When will you add KS1 & KS4 data to my portal?

We expect to receive your 2018/2019 KS1 data in October and your KS4 data in November – so watch this space! If you’re already signed up, we’ll email you automatically to let you know when this happens.

Do you offer training on using my school’s Arbor Insight portal?

Yes! We run a free Arbor Insight Roadshow each Autumn Term to help you get the most out of your school’s dashboards and reports. Click here to sign up for your slot

You haven’t answered my questions! Can I contact you for help?

Absolutely. You can reach our Arbor Insight Team on insight@arbor-education.com or by calling 0207 043 1830.

 

Arbor Insight is a free tool we offer alongside our simple, smart, cloud-based MIS. If you’re interested in learning more about how our MIS could help to transform the way you work, book a free demo here or call our MIS Demo Team on 0208 050 1028. 

Nataliia Semenenko - 21 August, 2019

Category : Blog

What are Strong Customer Authentication regulations and how will they impact school payments?

School payments happen every day: parents pay for school lunches, clubs and trips all the time. Studies have shown that the number of cashless transactions is constantly increasing, with  more and more of these parents choosing to use online payments to purchase goods and services from schools.  It’s not a secret that online payments are

School payments happen every day: parents pay for school lunches, clubs and trips all the time. Studies have shown that the number of cashless transactions is constantly increasing, with  more and more of these parents choosing to use online payments to purchase goods and services from schools. 

It’s not a secret that online payments are susceptible to fraud (we’ve all heard stories about stolen credit cards and phishing sites that steal your details), so making online payments as safe as possible is a challenge for organisations all around the globe. As they became more aware of these risks, governments and financial authorities decided to take action by making payments more secure and protecting consumers when they pay online. They introduced the Payment Services Directive (PSD) in 2007 to regulate online payments in the EU and EEA, and in 2015 the updated directive –  second Payment Services Directive (PSD2) – was released. This introduced even more regulations, including Strong Customer Authentication.

What are Strong Customer Authentication regulations?

It was initially put forward that on 14th September 2019, new requirements for authenticating online payments will be introduced in Europe as part of PSD2. When you make an online payment, SCA requires you to use at least two of the following 3 elements:

  • Something the payer knows (e.g. password or PIN)
  • Something the payer has (e.g. mobile phone or hardware token)
  • Something the payer is (e.g. fingerprint or face recognition)

Update: UK Finance are now recommending an 18-month delay to the introduction of Secure Customer Authentication rules in the UK to give companies more time to prepare. While this might mean that SCA regulations are postponed, there is no guarantee, which is why we have made sure we are compliant. Arbor is set up for all eventualities so that your school won’t face any problems now, or in the future. Our updates to your system also means that school payments will be protected from fraudulent transactions, which is an added bonus!

From when SCA comes into action, banks will decline payments that require SCA and that don’t meet this authentication criteria (if you would like to read the original SCA requirements, they’re set out in this Regulatory Technical Standards document). These regulations will apply to British banks as well, as they are not dependant on any Brexit decisions. 

Authentication is typically added in as an extra step after checkout, where the cardholder is prompted by their bank to provide additional information to complete a payment (this could be a code sent to their phone or fingerprint authentication through their mobile banking app).

Under this new regulation, specific types of low-risk payments may be exempt from Strong Customer Authentication. Payment providers will be able to request these exemptions when processing a payment. The cardholder’s bank will then receive the request, assess the risk level of the transaction, and ultimately decide whether to approve the exemption or whether authentication is still necessary. Usually, transactions lower that £30 will be considered as low-risk and, in most cases, will not require any authentication.

How will this impact school payments?

SCA regulations will introduce small changes to the way people make card payments to school:

  • Initiating the payment: when the payer decides what they want to pay for (e.g. a school trip) and starts making the payment, they will be prompted to fill in their card details and to then initiate the payment.

Image 1: A screenshot showing you how to enter your card details into Arbor

  • Triggering dynamic authentication: it will be automatically detected whether authentication is needed for the payment to take place. If required, the payer will be prompted to authenticate the payment using an SMS code, bank mobile app or other element, depending on what their bank supports.

 

  • Completing the payment: Once the payer’s identity is successfully confirmed, the payment will be completed and their card will be charged. 

Image e: A screenshot showing a successful payment in Arbor

At Arbor, we’ve introduced changes to the way we process card payments to become 100% compliant with the new regulations, which means your school won’t face any problems when Strong Customer Authentication comes into practice. You also won’t need to make any changes if you use the card payment functionality in Arbor – we’ve taken care of all that for you already! 

 

If you’d like to find out more about how our simple, smart cloud-based MIS could help you transform the way your school handles payments, contact us. You can also book a demo by calling 0207 043 0470 or email tellmemore@arbor-education.com.

 

Rebecca Watkins - 15 July, 2019

Category : Blog

Arbor Insight Training Roadshow is back – sign up for free now!

At Arbor, we don’t just provide free ASP and finance data benchmarking tools for every school in the country; we also want to make sure that each one is analysing their data effectively, and knows how best to use that analysis to drive their school improvement plan. That’s why, for the last 3 years, we’ve

At Arbor, we don’t just provide free ASP and finance data benchmarking tools for every school in the country; we also want to make sure that each one is analysing their data effectively, and knows how best to use that analysis to drive their school improvement plan. That’s why, for the last 3 years, we’ve been running free Insight Training sessions throughout the UK, with new and improved content each year! 

 

Each session lasts between 90 – 120 minutes, and will cover:

 

1. Benchmarking Reports & Dashboards: 

We’ll demonstrate how to use Arbor’s reports and dashboards to quickly identify strengths & weaknesses and make effective interventions to improve outcomes in your school. Digging deeper into the trends behind your benchmarking data, we’ll investigate whether this year’s results are typical for your school, or specific to one cohort. 

Plus, you’ll get the first training on our new ‘Understanding your School’ report, released this Autumn! This Report combines your latest DfE performance data with ONS area classifications, families of schools, and top quintile benchmarks to give you the most complete picture of your outcomes in the context of your school’s unique demographic intake. 

 

2. School Improvement Workshop: 

See how your performance data can feed into planning & writing specific, measurable objectives for your School Improvement Plan. You will work through practical scenarios with colleagues and take home solutions, tools and top tips, to apply in your own school.

 

3. Arbor Management Information System:

If you would like to stay for an extra 15 minutes at the end, you can watch a demo of Arbor’s smart, simple, cloud-based MIS. 

 

This year, we’re teaming up with some of our valued partners to deliver content that’s tailored to the schools in specific areas of the country. Just click the link below to book your free place!

Click here to sign up for a free training session near you: https://arbor-insight-training-2019.eventbrite.com

 

Everyone is welcome at these sessions, and if you’re not yet using your Insight portal – don’t worry! It only takes a minute to sign up for free, but you can attend these sessions without having used your Insight portal before.

 

Can’t see a session near you? Just get in touch to let us know you want the Insight Training Roadshow to come to you! Give us a call on 0207 043 1830, or drop us an email at insight@arbor-education.com.

Stephen Higgins - 13 July, 2019

Category : Blog

Preparing for Exams Results Day

A-Level and GCSE results days are amongst the busiest days in any school’s calendar. We’ve compiled this guide and checklist to help the day go as smoothly as possible.  1. Import results files Results files can either be downloaded from the awarding organisation’s online portal or automatically received using the A2C transport application. Once you

A-Level and GCSE results days are amongst the busiest days in any school’s calendar. We’ve compiled this guide and checklist to help the day go as smoothly as possible. 

1. Import results files

Results files can either be downloaded from the awarding organisation’s online portal or automatically received using the A2C transport application. Once you have received your results files, it’s then a case of importing them into your MIS. 

Arbor’s MIS makes this process very easy by automatically identifying any problems when you upload your results files. Don’t worry about importing QN (Qualification Number) files, creating grade sets, or entering discount codes; because Arbor MIS is in the cloud, this is all done for you. 

Image 1: A screenshot showing how results files are imported onto Arbor MIS

2. Set embargo date/times

The JCQ stipulates that only the school’s Exams Officer, Senior Leadership and other selected members of staff can have access to results before the official publication date. To ensure that this happens, it is essential that an “embargo date” is set in your MIS. The embargo date ensures that results can only be viewed by other members of staff, students and parents the day after results are published. 

Setting an embargo is straightforward in Arbor. When you upload results files, you’ll be asked to enter an embargo date. Arbor automatically assumes that the Examinations Officer and Head Teacher will have access to results files before the embargo date, but it’s really simple to add more staff members as “pre-embargo” viewers if you’d like. 

Image 2: A screenshot showing how to set an embargo date in Arbor MIS

3. Manually enter the results for any non-EDI qualifications

In the case of qualifications that don’t support EDI results files, results need to be manually added into your MIS. Non-EDI results can be viewed and downloaded from the awarding organisation’s secure portal. 

Arbor’s Exams module supports all Ofqual recognised qualifications. Non-EDI qualifications can be easily added to your centre’s qualification offering. Arbor manges all the information for non-EDI qualifications centrally, so there’s no need to manually add information such as award and/or learning unit names and combinations.

Image 3: A screenshot showing where to enter non-EDI qualifications in Arbor MIS

4. Export results to a data analysis application

There are a number of excellent and intuitive third party data analysis tools available to schools (some schools have their own Excel templates, or prefer to use an analysis tool such as SISRA, 4Matrix or ALPS Connect for this purpose). After all the candidates’ results have been loaded into your MIS, the next step is to export them for analysis. To get the most out of your exams day data analysis, you should have exported assessment data at selected periods (“data drops”) throughout the year; this will allow your school’s Data Manager and Heads of Department to analyse student’s progress throughout the year.

Importing data into a third party data analysis tool can either be done from within the application itself, or by creating a marksheet with the relevant student and exam result that can be re-imported into the application. 

We know that creating marksheets to export exam data is incredibly time-consuming – that’s why Arbor’s Exams module has multiple, powerful out-of-the-box reporting tools that allow you to export candidates’ results in a few clicks. If you want more flexibility to create your own reports, you can also use Arbor’s Custom Report Writer which lets you quickly and easily compile custom marksheets that contain any data point from your MIS.   

Image 4: A screenshot showing how export candidate results from Arbor MIS

5. Print candidate’s Statement of Results

After you have completed your results analysis, it’s advisable to print out paper copies of candidates’ Statement of Results. Remember, only the relevant members of staff should be able to see these results before the release date. This means that all printed content should only be handled by theses members of staff. When the Statement of Results have been printed, they must be stored in a safe and secure place until the following day. 

Image 5: A screenshot of how candidates’ Statement of Results appear in Arbor

6. Electronically share results with parents and guardians

The nervous thrill of opening your exam result is something that none of us ever forget. Opening the envelope is usually followed by a phone call home to tell loved ones. Students will be making plans for college, university and the rest of their lives; teachers will be on hand to offer congratulations, advice and support. 

It’s not always possible for parents, guardians and students to be in school on results day, and amidst all the excitement, it’s not uncommon for Statements of Results to get spoilt or lost! With this in mind, it’s wise to share students’ exam results with their parents and guardians electronically too. Your MIS provider should give you the option to do this.

If your school is using the Arbor App, parents will be able to see their child’s exam results by selecting ‘Examinations’ in the menu. Parents can view a list of their child’s exam results or download a printable PDF. If you don’t want to share students’ exam results with parents via the Arbor App, or you would like to wait until after results day, all of this can be managed in Arbor MIS.

Image 6: A screenshot of how examination results appear in the Arbor App

Using Arbor MIS? Need help on Results Day? 

We have a comprehensive online help guide that addresses all the questions that you may have. Still stuck? Our customer team will be on hand to help you! 

If you’d like to find out more about how our simple, smart cloud-based MIS could help you transform the way your secondary school works, contact us. You can also book a demo by calling 0207 043 0470 or email tellmemore@arbor-education.com.

Andrew Mackereth - 10 July, 2019

Category : Blog

Is your curriculum planning improving outcomes for your students?

I used to marvel at the mystery and complexity that always seemed to surround the world of the Curriculum Deputy. When I eventually became one, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the enormous privilege but enormous responsibility I had to create the perfect curriculum model – taking into account the latest thinking on curriculum design and

I used to marvel at the mystery and complexity that always seemed to surround the world of the Curriculum Deputy. When I eventually became one, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the enormous privilege but enormous responsibility I had to create the perfect curriculum model – taking into account the latest thinking on curriculum design and implementation. As I became more experienced, I began to make increasingly bold moves to build the curriculum around the needs of learners and not just the constraints of the budget.

My first mentor was a retired (and fabulously wise) Curriculum Deputy who stressed that planning the curriculum was a whole-year job. When I became a Headteacher, I continued working and planning in this way and valued the support of some really creative thinkers on my leadership teams. It was a special day indeed when Ofsted visited one such school and judged leadership, management and the curriculum as outstanding.Sadly, that framework and financial climate are a thing of the past now!

In more recent times, the Leadership Team started to consider in depth the outcomes for pupils after each set of summer results and would use this to interrogate the merits of our curriculum plan. Once or twice we did withdraw a course in September if student numbers didn’t justify it, or a staffing crisis necessitated it, but generally,  once a commitment had been made to students that a course would run, we honoured it for the full two years.

Whatever our staff/student profile looked like, our first priority  was to ensure that students had access to a broad, balanced, relevant curriculum. Our most recent challenges included:

  • Pressure to increase curriculum time for maths and English
  • Pressure to create additional time for science in KS4 to cope with the demands of the new syllabus
  • Our wish to make explicit provision for wellness and mental health first aid within the curriculum

Working to a timetable of 30 periods a week meant an inevitable squeeze on option choices, reducing the number of subjects students could choose from four to three in one case, and removing PSHCE/RE as subjects and mapping the provision across the curriculum. None of these decisions were easy to make or sat particularly well with me, but as the saying goes; something’s got to give.

My mentor, Bob, helped me plan my staffing requirements and showed me how many staff periods I needed to cover my commitments. Not only did this give me the opportunity to examine my current staffing needs, I could also begin to plan ahead – particularly if it meant recruiting a double specialist like a French/Spanish teacher or an RM/Textiles teacher. This was hugely helpful in feeding into the budget planning cycle and supporting my requests for additional funding for staffing.

We rarely carried any slack in our curriculum model. This inevitably meant that SLT members would also have to pick up subjects outside of their discipline and teachers that didn’t have a full timetable of classes were used as additional support with key groups and interventions. In reality, our staffing model would have to change incrementally throughout the year if the staffing profile suddenly changed, or if it was clear from our in-year tracking that students were not making sufficient progress. 

One strength of our curriculum was that we could plan our interventions so well that we could provide extra lessons and tailor the curriculum for individuals and groups. We would do this by taking them out of some lessons where they were performing well to give them additional support in subjects where they were performing less well. We were blessed with a dedicated team of teachers and TA’s, some of whom would run sessions before and after school, others during registration and others during gained time or non-contact time.

If, like we did, you believe the curriculum is the dominant driver for boosting student outcomes and life chances, you will face constant budgetary pressures with very few variables to play with. We explored:

  •   Increasing teacher contact ratios
  •   Increasing class sizes
  •   Imposing strict enrolment quotas (that placed Arts subjects and languages in particular jeopardy)
  •   Increasing the classroom contact time of SLT
  •   Doubling-up or co-teaching Y12/13 classes in minority subjects
  •   Considering some subjects as extra-curricular offerings only

As a direct consequence, we found ourselves increasingly offering shorter contracts, reducing the size of the SLT and going without certain associate staff roles like a PA – just to balance the books. After all, it’s about delivering the most effective curriculum possible with your current staff and budget!

We used an approach we called “active vacancy management” that ensured that each time a post became vacant we didn’t simply fill it. First of all, we decided if we needed to replace the post, assessed whether it would be a like-for-like replacement or in some reduced capacity and analysed current staff deployments in detail, before considering placing an advert.

Increasingly, we looked beyond our own staff and worked closely with neighbouring schools to share teachers and other support roles. This is not without its complications, but it makes the process of appointing one full-time English teacher that works on two sites marginally easier than appointing two.

I am heartened by news of courageous schools and Trusts that break the mould and shape their curricula around the needs of their students by considering the skills, knowledge and understanding they need to be happy, resilient and independent learners.

Maintaining the intent and moral purpose of the curriculum is challenging, but the rewards for young people make it worth every minute.

“When we’re talking about intent, we’re talking about how ambitious, coherently planned and sequenced, how broad and balanced and inclusive the curriculum is.”

Heather Fearn – Ofsted

Hannah McGreevy - 5 July, 2019

Category : Blog

How to reduce data entry at your school

Data entry is a daunting prospect for most teachers. With the amount of data they are expected to record, it can often take up a large portion of their daily workload, and workload is listed as one of the most common reasons for leaving the profession. The good news is it doesn’t have to be

Data entry is a daunting prospect for most teachers. With the amount of data they are expected to record, it can often take up a large portion of their daily workload, and workload is listed as one of the most common reasons for leaving the profession. The good news is it doesn’t have to be this way – keep reading to see how you can transform the way your school deals with data entry. 

Making data work

In November 2018, the Teacher Workload Advisory Group released a report called “Making Data Work”. The report reveals that teachers consider unnecessary tasks around recording, monitoring and analysing data to be notably time-consuming, with data entry highlighted as the biggest problem. The Teacher Workload Advisory Group set out a number of suggestions for the DfE to consider. These included:

  • Making sure schools are using cloud-based products which help to minimise workload by allowing teachers to access the MIS from anywhere at any time – the same isn’t possible from a desktop computer 
  • Promoting the use of education technology to “improve the collection, monitoring and analysis of attainment data” 
  • Encouraging parental engagement through the use of technology – for example, the Arbor App keeps parents up to date with school trips and parents evenings, meaning teachers spend less time chasing up on emails 

So what’s the best way to reduce data entry at your school? Try following these simple steps:

Part 1: Streamline your systems

Before you do anything else, you need to ask yourself if all the third-party systems you’re currently using still work for your school. Are they up to date? Do you need all of them? Do staff engage with them regularly? 

Find out by running a systems audit. It’s easy to do – just follow the instructions in our blog on how to audit your school or MAT’s IT systems. By running a systems audit, you can reduce the number of places you have to enter data. Goodbye, multiple logins! Your staff will have fewer systems and apps to keep track of, which will considerably reduce their administrative workload. 

An IT systems audit

Image 1: How we encourage schools to approach an IT systems audit

Part 2: Make sure any extra systems you’re using are integrated with your MIS

Over the years, your school has probably invested in lots of different systems that were useful at the time, but which don’t integrate with your current MIS. This can make everyday tasks like following up with detentions and creating meal plans much more complicated and time-consuming than they need to be, as you have to visit external apps in order to properly record all of the data. Using systems that integrate with your MIS can make admin a lot simpler. For example, Arbor’s integrations with apps like CPOMS and Inventry means that you only have to enter student data once and it will update automatically in these apps. 

The “Making Data Work” report also advises that schools should “minimise or eliminate the number of pieces of information teachers are expected to compile.” Ensuring your systems integrate with your MIS will mean that you can access all your data in one place, which means you won’t have to spend time transferring it from one system to another. 

Image 2: How parents can view all payments and invoices from Arbor’s Parent Portal 

Part 3: Set up a system to suit your school

It’s important to think about how your MIS can best serve your school. For example, the report advises that schools should have simple systems that allow behaviour incidents to be logged during lesson time, rather than at break or lunch. In Arbor, you can set up incident workflows that track negative and positive behaviour (e.g. a Level 2 incident could automatically create a lunchtime detention). Automating workflows in this way means that teachers don’t have to add this information manually, which will save them a significant amount of time. 

Your MIS can also help to reduce data with quick group selection. For example, in Arbor you can select absentees from your register and instantly send emails to their primary guardians with the help of our mail merge tool. You can even use a pre-made message template so you won’t have to type a single word! 

Image 3: How you can follow up on students registered absent in Arbor

Not only will reducing data entry help to improve workloads, it will make your staff happier too. So – streamline your systems, make sure they integrate with your MIS, and set it all up to suit your school. If you’d like to hear more about how Arbor could help you reduce data entry at your school, why not drop us a message here?

Gwyn Mabo - 17 June, 2019

Category : Blog

5 ways to boost parental engagement at your school

As a former Maths teacher at an Alternative Provision in Leeds, I’ve encountered more than my fair share of students and parents reluctant to get involved in school life. Here are the top five methods I found worked to encourage active engagement between your school and parents. Focus on the Positives At a school where

As a former Maths teacher at an Alternative Provision in Leeds, I’ve encountered more than my fair share of students and parents reluctant to get involved in school life. Here are the top five methods I found worked to encourage active engagement between your school and parents.

Focus on the Positives

At a school where most students had already been excluded, parents were used to receiving nothing but negative news. But effective parental engagement doesn’t mean only speaking when things go wrong. Tell parents about positive events too, with greater frequency. At the Alternative Provision, we’d send a quick text for positive events. If a student had a really good day, we’d use a phone call. Track what’s been said by keeping a communications log.

Set Regular Reviews

Parents Evenings aren’t just for telling parents about their child’s grades. They can also be an opportunity to talk about their social development, friendships, career goals, attitude and behaviour, and agree an action plan of how to support the child at home and at school. To increase the number of parents who attend, stop relying on sending kids home with sign-up sheets and use an online booking system, letting parents book slots whenever they want. 

Image 1: A screenshot of the Arbor MIS Guardian Consultations feature 

Get parents and students to work together

Education has changed so much since parents were in school, they may have no idea what their children are studying. Keep parents engaged by assigning homework that they can help their children complete. For primary school students, try giving tasks to read aloud. For secondary schools, let parents know what assignments their child has to complete and if it’s been submitted on time using a student or guardian portal.

Be open to feedback

Parents are most likely to get involved if they feel like they can make a real difference. Whenever parents visit or contact you, be willing to listen to their responses, answer their questions, and make them feel their contribution is welcomed. Make sure parents feel they can come to you if they have questions about how your school works, and let them know which person they should contact about certain issues.

Give them what they want

Despite your best efforts, there will always be some parents who won’t respond to a text, email or letter. You also can’t rely on students to pass on information. Maybe they’ll forget to mention something, or they simply don’t have a good relationship. To overcome this, give parents all the information they need in the palm of their hand by using an App. Not only does this notify parents instantly, but they can also refer back to it later if they forget.

      

Image 2: A screenshot of Arbor’s new in-app messaging feature 

At Arbor, we’re always trying to improve how we can support schools to take parental engagement to the next level. We’ve recently introduced an in-app messaging feature that allows fast, free communication between schools and parents – take a look at this article to see how else you can use our new Arbor App!

Sue Northend - 3 June, 2019

Category : Blog

How REAch2 use touchstones to unite their organisation

Today I will share with you the principles that keep REAch2 together. We call them our touchstones. These are the things that are common and that are important for us as an organisation. We call them touchstones because a touchstone 500 years ago was a measure of quality. It’s a standard by which we are judged.

Today I will share with you the principles that keep REAch2 together. We call them our touchstones. These are the things that are common and that are important for us as an organisation. We call them touchstones because a touchstone 500 years ago was a measure of quality. It’s a standard by which we are judged. Hence, their importance can be felt across our organisation.

They’re also a barometer of how we’re doing. As a director of HR, I can assure you: when we have challenging conversations, this is what we come back to. As I’ve said before, REAch2 isn’t a Starbucks where every coffee shop is the same. We’re the equivalent of a bespoke coffee shop, where quality is absolutely paramount. No teacher is the same; no two schools are the same, but we share these guiding principles.

So what does this mean in practice?

Let me give you some good examples:

  • The head teacher of one demanding school with some serious challenges decided, rather than excluding pupils, to convert the old caretaker’s house into a centre with specialised provision for children who needed it. Pupils don’t leave school; they stay in the grounds and they’re still part of the community.
  • In an East Anglia school, our staff came in during the summer holidays to provide lunch to children who probably wouldn’t get 3 meals a day otherwise.

We make time to meet. If you take everything else away, apart from aligning with your culture and your purpose, this is paramount. It’s the easiest thing to disappear out of your calendars. We enjoy working together. We are vibrant when we work together.

We don’t have head office, so we’re all in lots of different locations. We’ve gotten really good at Zoom or Skype calls and work hard at making it feel like we’re all in one room. Making time together is really important. That’s the senior leadership team, head teachers and teachers.

You’ll see on the website that we talk about the REAch2 family. That may sound corny to some, but we mean it. Being a family means that we actually hold each other to account. We have a chart that reminds us of who’s responsible for what: how central team is going to work with schools, what support they’re going to get. We challenge each other when things aren’t going so well.

One of the things we remind our headteachers and SLT about is “raise extra purpose”. We have to ensure that everyone understands why we do what we do. If you go onto our website, then you’ll see our 5 year strategy document, which outlines that REAch2 stands for ‘reaching educational attainment’. Under that, we’ve got 3 headings:

  • Truly exceptional performance: this isn’t just about Ofsted, but other things that our schools achieve.
  • Distinctive contribution: what makes our education different and purposeful for every pupil?
  • Enjoying impact: this includes pupils, parents, and governors alike.  

Image 1: REAch2 uses touchstones to stay focused on their guiding principles when on-boarding new schools to the MAT

Another key element: people. When I first joined REAch 2, I was clearly the executive. My focus would be leadership, leadership, leadership coupled with location, location, location. You can imagine that, having 60 schools, we’re not looking for the same head teacher for every single one. Our smallest school in East Anglia has 75 pupils, while our largest in London has over 1000. We’ve appointed every single one of our head teachers apart from 3. It’s not a ruthless statistic: it’s the results of painstaking clarity in what we’re about and what works.

When you think about it, it’s not difficult. Know what you’re looking for when you interview. Our first questions are about the ‘REAch2 fit’, not about experience. Our on-boarding plan for every single person on the central team is 6 months. It’s very specific, it’s very clear and the line manager takes ownership of it. We have an induction event, which is not just for head teachers, but for any of their SLT whom they wish to bring along. We have 3 regional teaching conferences a year, and we have one larger headteacher conference where everybody comes together.

It’s important to get people together to reinforce messages. When it comes to leadership and culture:

  • You are strategic, not operational. Doing what we’ve always done will get us nowhere apart from where we are today. Take time to think. Have clarity of vision – at trust level and at school level. Communicate the route for others.
  • Leadership is a moral activity. You do the right thing because you know that it’s the right thing to do, regardless of whether anyone’s looking or not.
  • REAch2 is about transformational improvement. We’re not scared of doing things differently. We all make mistakes, but fundamental change doesn’t happen overnight. We’ve just embarked on a structural reshuffle of our whole organisation. 
  • Personal learning is very important. Be a role model to others. Learn from your network. Don’t stand still.
  • It’s not all about you. A leader in REAch2 seeks to develop the collective capacity of their team.
  • Relationships. They require investment both in and out of the organisation.
  • The touchstones. Live them so you can believe them. Set standards and welcome the bar being raised. Seek to work with others and be prepared to have challenging conversations.

Practice is important. If our touchstones are non-negotiable and we’re clear about our mission, then actually it takes practice. Communicating something via a poster or on a website and doing it once won’t accomplish anything. It’s about reinforcing it on a daily basis. Over the last 6 months we’ve been looking at our own growth to make sure we maintain our purpose and principles when we add more schools. We’re not standing still.

One of the reasons why REAch2 is really keen to be at Arbor’s conference today is because our sector is still relatively new. This is a good reason to support each other. Don’t forget that whilst we’re all working on our own individual culture, people outside our sector will be looking at us. They will say: ‘what’s it like working there?’ So, your culture (our culture) is important. It will define us as a good place to work: a sector for a career and a sector which means business.

Nataliia Semenenko - 11 April, 2019

Category : Blog

Are you using the best payment method for your school?

People buy and sell every day, and schools are no exception. As a product manager developing payment systems, the main ‘use cases’ I consider when thinking about school payments include school meals, paid clubs, and field trips. There are a lot of other use cases depending on what kind of additional services the school provides,

People buy and sell every day, and schools are no exception. As a product manager developing payment systems, the main ‘use cases’ I consider when thinking about school payments include school meals, paid clubs, and field trips. There are a lot of other use cases depending on what kind of additional services the school provides, such as selling snacks, school uniform, items in the school shop, books, tickets for school events, and more.

The most popular ways to process payments from parents and guardians are:

  • Cash
  • Cheque
  • Bank transfer
  • Credit or debit card

Let’s discuss the pros and cons of each of these methods!

Cash payments

On the school’s side, cash has the major benefit of no processing or transaction fees. Parents at many schools may also prefer to use cash to pay for activities and meals – this is generally a question of demographics, as lower income families are less likely to use cheques or have credit/debit cards as their main form of payment. 

Cash does have it’s downsides though, from the stress of counting bags of coins and banknotes, to the security required to safely store them in school and take them to a bank at least several times per week (hello, staff time and safety).

Cheque payments

Cheques are another way of accepting payments that mostly have similar pros and cons to cash. The specific downsides of cheques, however, are that there is a longer lag time between the parent making the payment and the school being able to cash it. This can cause problems with, for instance, having the money you need for a trip in time for every child to go, or even with cheques bouncing altogether.

It’s probably fair to say that in a lot of places this way of accepting payments is slowly dying out because of its inefficiency, and the long time needed to process money. A lot of people these days simply don’t use cheques, or even own a chequebook.

Bank transfers

This payment method doesn’t involve dealing with banknotes and papers, everything is in one place on the screen, and the accounting is so much easier. However, this payment method is not as popular at schools because it tends to be very time-inefficient when it comes to making frequent, smaller payments of different sizes – like you do with school meals. The time that it costs to make a bank transfer is worth more than the £2.40 you’re actually sending.

Card payments

Research shows that most people prefer using card payments when they can. From the parents’ point of view, card payments provide several incentives to pay reliably and on time: its fast and easy, refunds are simple, and they can track their payments in their account or on their phone.

Schools must always consider the fee that comes with each payment and understand whether this is feasible for them to use (remember, that lots of providers don’t use a flat fee and usually charge some percentage plus a couple of pence, which become super expensive for micro-payments that are most common in schools). However, sometimes it’s better to lose a small percentage on a transaction fee, rather than losing 100% of a payment when a parent says that they don’t have enough cash with them!

All these considerations are why we take a holistic approach to school payments, and have given our MIS the ability to log cash, cheque, bank transfer, and online card payments. Arbor provides a sophisticated solution for managing school payments via the MIS and our Parent Portal. Together with taking payments for school meals, trips and clubs, it gives flexible possibilities for setting up and accepting payments for bespoke accounts, such as for books or uniforms. You can also use Arbor to audit and report on all these transactions and accounts.

So, what’s the best method for your school?

This is up to you, but on balance out of all four options, it’s no secret that going cashless is the current trend in today’s world. The United Kingdom had the highest revenue rate in cashless payments among all EU countries in 2017 – more than 100 trillion pounds. More and more schools are joining this trend and deciding to go cashless (or mostly cashless), for simple reasons:

  • It is not particularly safe for kids to bring money to school
  • It is also not very safe to keep money in school
  • It involves either school staff time spent to take money to the bank, or spending money on services that would bank money for you
  • Going cashless eases accounting workloads

A card payments system like Arbor will help you go cashless in a format designed for schools and integrated with all your other MIS modules.

Image 1: A screenshot of the Arbor App 

The benefits of card payments in Arbor:

  • A flat transaction fee of 1.275% (cheaper than most providers). Schools that often process micropayments (for instance for school meals) don’t have to worry about a high add-on price, since Arbor takes only a flat fee with no hidden costs or additional service charges per payment.
  • Everything is in one place – in Arbor – so there is no need for schools to maintain different systems to run the MIS and accept card payments. It’s easier and time efficient for school staff. And it’s great and easy for parents as well – they log in once to their Parent Portal in which they can not only see their kids results and information, but pay for their meals, clubs, trips etc.
  • Arbor supports paying out money to different bank accounts (for instance, when there is a need to pay out collected money to a caterer to a different bank account). You can also find the detailed breakdown of each payout per transaction basis.
  • All reports, VAT invoices etc. are accessible in Arbor MIS, saving time otherwise used on maintaining and using more than one system.

We are at the beginning of a fascinating journey for different ways of accepting payments, and the future may bring even more developments, from mobile and biometric payments, to things like cryptocurrencies. If your school trip funds are still tied up in a lockbox in reception though, a decent card payments system may just be the best place to start.

If you’re an Arbor customer, you can talk to your Account Manager about getting started on Arbor Payments and Parent Portal in your MIS. If you’re not yet an Arbor school, and would like to find out more, get in touch via our contact form or on 0207 043 0470.

Carly McCulloch - 25 March, 2019

Category : Blog

How to use Arbor to track homework in your school

Over the past few months we’ve been giving our Assignments a fresh lick of paint, so that what used to be a minor feature on the lesson dashboard is now a full blown module schools can use as an electronic homework solution. Teachers have always been able to set students work directly from the lesson

Over the past few months we’ve been giving our Assignments a fresh lick of paint, so that what used to be a minor feature on the lesson dashboard is now a full blown module schools can use as an electronic homework solution. Teachers have always been able to set students work directly from the lesson dashboard, which will appear in their Student Portal so they can submit their work online, but we’ve made some big improvements to what you can then do with the data this generates. School leaders can now analyse how much work is being set in each subject, which teachers are setting the most work, and more!

We asked Carly McCulloch, Arbor Product Manager, to go over some of these features for you in a bit more detail:

We’ve made some improvements to the workflows for creating assignments, and tracking the submissions of assignments within Arbor for you and your teaching staff. These new additions to the assignment module have been developed based on feedback from school senior leadership, who wanted a way to see the submission statistics for assignments in their school, and check the quantity and quality of homework set by teaching staff. We take suggestions from schools very seriously, so please keep them coming!

Improvements to homework tracking include:

  • In the “Overview by Courses” section, you can see the number of assignments created and the submission statistics for each course in your school by month, term or academic year. Based on what you want to look at in more detail, or if there are any areas you want to follow up on, you can drill down to see the number of assignments created and the submissions statistics for each year group and each class within that year group. You can also see the assignment submissions for specific students in a class and across all their classes with the grades and/or comments for each assignment they submitted.

Fig. 1 – The Overview by Courses page showing automatically calculated stats for the number of assignments set and their submission rates

  • In the “Overview by Staff” section, you can see the number of assignments created by each member of staff per month, term and academic year. You can easily drill down from this view to see the assignment details as well as the submission rates in the markbook. This gives you a clear view of the amount of homework being set according to your schools’ homework policy, and gives you a deeper insight into the quality of assignments your teaching staff are creating for students.

We’ve also not forgotten about our company mission to save teachers time. A lot of the new features should help teachers set and mark Assignments more easily, incentivising use of the system and streamlining workflows in your school:

  • You now have the ability to create an assignment for multiple classes, saving you the hassle of re-creating the assignment for each class you need to assign it to. This is particularly helpful for members of your team who may need to create an assignment like a coursework deadline for all classes across a department or faculty.
  • You can create an assignment that doesn’t need to be marked by selecting ‘No mark’, giving you and your teaching staff more flexibility to track the submission of every kind of work. You can track submissions for assignments that do require marking by selecting ‘Grade’, ‘Number’, ‘Percentage’, or ‘Comment only’. Alternatively, you can simply input a grade and/or a comment into the markbook, which will automatically update the submission status.

Fig. 2 – A Student Marks Chart automatically generated for a marked assignment in Arbor MIS – the colour splits the marks down the median, the blue line shows the mean, and hovering over each bar shows further student level information

  • You can track the submission of all assignments, whether they are submitted via Arbor through the Student Portal or physically in school. Teachers can update the status to ‘Submitted’, ‘Not submitted’, ‘Submitted late’, and ‘Waiting for a student to submit’. If students submit work via their Student Portal, it will automatically show as ‘Submitted’ and will be ready to mark.

Fig. 3 – A teacher marking a grade-based English assignment, submitted by students online

We hope this module can help you to track assignment submissions, make them easier for students and teachers to manage, and ultimately improve the effectiveness of assignments in your school.

If you’re interested in finding out more about how Arbor’s simple, smart, cloud-based MIS system could transform the way your school or MAT works, save your staff time and improve student outcomes, get in touch via the contact form on our website

Jem Jones - 5 March, 2019

Category : Blog

How to buy Arbor for your school or Trust

More and more schools and MATs are choosing to move MIS, with 1,000+ schools and MATs predicted to switch this year, and we’ve definitely noticed interest in our own products and services increasing. We now work with over 600 schools spread across hundreds of MATs and Local Authorities, driven by a desire to transform the

More and more schools and MATs are choosing to move MIS, with 1,000+ schools and MATs predicted to switch this year, and we’ve definitely noticed interest in our own products and services increasing. We now work with over 600 schools spread across hundreds of MATs and Local Authorities, driven by a desire to transform the way they work, save teachers time, and improve outcomes. However, while it seems ever clearer why you might want to move to simpler, smarter, cloud based systems, we still often hear from schools wondering exactly how they buy something as complex as a Management Information System.

Arbor's leaflets at our BETT 2019 stand

Get in touch! 

This is always the first step! Email tellmemore@arbor-education.com or call us on 0208 050 1028 and we’ll connect you with your local Arbor Partnership Manager. Your Partnership Manager will come and visit you to learn more about your requirements and give you a demo of our MIS. They’ll also answer any of your questions while you decide when you’ll switch, including a written proposal so you can feel confident in your decision and share it among other stakeholders.

When you’ve had time to evaluate your options and decide which package suits you best, they’ll send your contract and introduce you to your dedicated Customer Success Manager, who will personally walk you through your kick-off plan and data migration. This is definitely the simplest way to get started on Arbor MIS, and is perfect for customers from individual schools to smaller and medium sized trusts.

Buy through a framework

You can also buy Arbor through several trusted frameworks, giving you the peace of mind that due diligence checks have already been made on our product and company. Arbor is a member of the government’s G-Cloud 10 framework for approved cloud suppliers, and the ThinkIT framework.

To use a public framework, check their website carefully as the rules for each are different. Generally you’ll be able to send us your requirements and have a demo, before signing using the framework’s contract template.

For example, for G-Cloud 10, a standard process would be:

  • Internally confirm your requirements for an MIS
  • Keyword search in G-Cloud 10 with a relevant term that will turn up results specific to you, such as ‘Primary MIS’, ‘Secondary MIS’, or ‘MAT MIS’, to find the list of relevant suppliers (download this list for your audit trail)
  • Read each supplier’s product and pricing information
  • Send any clarification questions to these suppliers or host a demo day to confirm which supplier best meets your needs
  • Award your contract using the G-Cloud contract template

Both of these frameworks are suitable for customers of all sizes, and allow you to buy direct without running your own process, though they do provide you with a little less flexibility than coming to us directly (see above), or going to tender (see below).

A search for Primary MIS in G-Cloud's Cloud Software framework

Go to tender

If you’re a medium/large MAT or a larger school with more complex needs, you might want to take the time to write a tender outlining your requirements. We can still give you a demo whilst you work out your requirements, and once you go to tender we’ll respond to all your questions and outline the contract we think will be right for your school or Trust.

When writing your requirements, it can help to think about what you need your system to do, rather than just listing specific technical features you like the look of, as different MIS providers may have different solutions to the same problem. So long as you follow this rule of thumb, functions over features, tendering doesn’t have to be intimidating – you know what your school or Trust needs, and it’s up to suppliers to prove how they can provide that for you. You can find lots of great procurement advice online from the Crown Commercial Service, including a list of MIS functions you might want to ask about in your tender. Click here to see their list of suggested areas to consider.

If you think your MIS lifetime contract value will go over £181,302 you’ll need to run a formal public tender, which comes with its own set of rules and guidelines – tender expert John Leonard has written a blog that thoroughly outlines this process. Otherwise, just make sure your questions are clear, that you’ve outlined how you’ll be scoring products and pricing, and that you’ve given a reasonable amount of time for suppliers to respond to you. Don’t forget to give yourself enough time to properly evaluate the systems, as well – it’s better to tender sooner rather than later.

 

All this is especially important to consider at this point in the financial year, as some of your contracts may be coming up for extension. The DfE has confirmed in recent advice that moving to a cloud based product should be considered enough of a contract change to run a new procurement exercise, even if the new product is with the same provider. If you’d like to see what else is out there and look into Arbor MIS or Group MIS for your school or Trust, you can fill out our contact form, email tellmemore@arbor-education.com, or call us on 0208 050 1028 to get in touch!

Maggie Fidler - 27 February, 2019

Category : Blog

How to take the stress out of organising cover

During the winter, we had some lovely crisp mornings and could enjoy the heating coming on in the classrooms. We’re also inevitably faced with colds, flu, sickness bugs and travel delays! For the person responsible for arranging cover, this can be an incredibly stressful time of year (trust me, as cover co-ordinator and examinations manager

During the winter, we had some lovely crisp mornings and could enjoy the heating coming on in the classrooms. We’re also inevitably faced with colds, flu, sickness bugs and travel delays!

For the person responsible for arranging cover, this can be an incredibly stressful time of year (trust me, as cover co-ordinator and examinations manager for 18 months in a 15 year teaching career, I’ve been there!). For me, arranging cover was never just about getting a body into the room for supervision – I always wanted to allocate the most appropriate person for that particular lesson. In a secondary school, I needed to know the teachers that normally taught each subject, in order to avoid things like a French teacher covering a Maths lesson whilst a Maths teacher covered a Language lesson. I wanted the best people in front of the kids to reduce the impact on learning and minimise the workload stress on the staff. As the timetabler, this knowledge was ingrained in my mind, but for anyone stepping in to make cover arrangements in my absence, the task became almost impossible.

To mitigate against situations like this, in Arbor, we show not just available staff, but who is also a teacher of the same subject to actively support you in minimising the impact staff absence has on learning.

Image 1: Arranging cover in Arbor

Not only can you see which teacher is available that teaches the same subject, you can also request their agreement if you want to (this is always a useful feature when senior staff may have meetings booked!). You can, of course, still bulk select all of the lessons from a staff member to allocate as in house cover supervisor or supply in one go – meaning no more clicking into each lesson instance to add the same arrangements.

The first task of the day for any timetabler is to take a deep breath and open the schools’ emails whilst listening to the answer machine messages for staff absence. Within Arbor, you can mark multiple staff as absent either one at a time or all in one go, and you can also differentiate between a full day of sickness absence, or a 1 hour off-site meeting.

Image 2: Entering the details of a staff absence

Arbor’s ability to add attachments to staff absences (e.g. medical documents or a screenshot of a sick note) without separately logging into the HR module would have saved some of my finance colleagues from premature greyness!

Whilst teachers love the sight of a supply teacher (as they are then less likely to be needed for cover), this was one of my biggest nightmares. I could happily allocate them to the classes and print off cover slips, but then came the dreaded registers (I’ve sat at my desk for hours clicking into each individual class in order to print a register!). There was also the issue of wanting two copies: one to return to the office and one for the supply teacher to keep in class for reference. This either required a trip to the photocopier, or the time-consuming task of having to press print twice because no matter what settings I’d select, the MIS just would not let me have two copies.

In between this joyous process of printing and copying, another person would inevitably call in sick or have an emergency to tend to. I would then have to go back to my computer and close the screen I was using in order to start the process again for the newly absent person. Because Arbor is a cloud-based system, it can be open in more than one window (just like when you’re browsing the internet looking for information and open another ‘tab’ to look for something else), which saves you from repeating the same process time and time again.

In Arbor, it takes just a few seconds to download all of the registers you’ve selected, and then all you need to do is to hit the print button, choosing as many copies as you require. For a wet Wednesday during flu season and a full moon (we’ve all had those days!), I’d have saved hours if I’d been using Arbor instead of the other MIS I was using.

Image 3: An overview of staff absence, which lessons are being covered that day and by which teacher

With all the information you need in one place, Arbor gives you an overview of what’s going on in school that day, helping you to stay on top of what who’s covering what lesson and when. The green ‘cover slips’ button in the screenshot above allows you to print you a concise summary of cover staff for the staffroom notice board, as well as personalised slips for each teacher (with page breaks, so you haven’t got to get to the guillotine or scissors!).

So, if you were rushing around arranging cover for hours on end this winter, maybe it’s time to investigate a smarter, time-saving option. Get in touch with us via the contact form on our website to find out more about how Arbor’s simple, smart, cloud-based MIS could transform the way you operate your school!

Phoebe McLaughlin - 25 February, 2019

Category : Blog

How to audit your school or MAT’s IT systems

Why run a systems audit in the first place? Over the years, many schools accumulate a variety of IT systems or software. These systems were initially installed to help make things run more smoothly across the school but, over time, they’ve inevitably become outdated and no longer fit with the day-to-day running of the school.

Why run a systems audit in the first place?

Over the years, many schools accumulate a variety of IT systems or software. These systems were initially installed to help make things run more smoothly across the school but, over time, they’ve inevitably become outdated and no longer fit with the day-to-day running of the school. In many cases, school leaders can forget to question whether a piece of software is continuing to help improve the school, or whether it’s there simply because it worked in the past.

The Audit Theory

When a school or trust tells us about all the third party products they use, we always like to ask why they chose that particular system:

  • What does it do that no one else can?
  • What about it specifically do they like and not like?
  • Is staff engagement with that system high and if not, why?

For example, a school may have been using a behaviour tracking software outside of their MIS for many years and are happy with how it charts points over time, but they don’t use any of the other features that the software offers. In cases like this, and with many other systems that are an added cost, it’s worth questioning if there are alternative ways of working within one system to consolidate both time and funds.

We encourage schools to create a side-by-side price comparison of the cost of each third party product to prompt an internal conversation about the practicalities and usefulness of each system, and whether it can be replaced by a new system altogether. This practice promotes the importance of an audit in deciding if there are added benefits to keeping a specific system, or if it’s time to part ways.

An IT systems audit

Image 1: How we encourage schools to approach an IT systems audit

This is how we would recommend running an IT systems audit:

1. Ask members of staff from all areas of the school when running your audit – don’t assume that one person will know everything that everyone is using!

2. Start by listing out all the systems people use for the core functions in your school, like attendance, assessment, behaviour and communications, and how much you pay for them annually

3. Move on to listing the rest of your systems and costs – if you don’t have to pay for something annually and you already have it, you can mark the cost as £0

4. Make sure to list separate software products from the same company as being separate – one might be more useful than the other

5. Then go back down your list and note each software’s functionality – not just what you’re currently using it for, but what it could do if you used every module and feature in it

6. You’ll probably have come across several overlaps by now. This is the tricky part: for everything that overlaps, consider which really has the greater value, and which you can think about cutting down

This value judgement can’t entirely be based on price, although that is important – you also have to question why you had several systems in the first place. Is one of them more user friendly? Is it quick to train new staff on? Does it save your teachers a lot of time? Will you really get the best deal just by picking between these two programs, or if you’re switching anyway should you choose an entirely new system altogether?

The Outcome

It’s quite possible that with a change in mindset, cutting down your third party systems may open more doors than it closes, and create opportunities to improve how you work.

We understand that this takes time, but we’ve also seen first hand how many schools love the fact that Arbor can bring all of their data and systems into one central system, meaning that the number of logins (and passwords!) for staff can be cut down. This results in increased productivity as it ultimately saves staff hours of time manually transferring data between systems – because everything you need is all in one place!

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.

Tim Gray - 6 February, 2019

Category : Blog

How you can track pupil progress in Arbor MIS

As I’m sure you’ve heard, School Pupil Tracker Online (SPTO) will be closing down at the end of this year. If you currently use SPTO, you’ll be looking for something to replace it with the same (if not better!) level of functionality and analysis, so this is a great opportunity to look at how you’re

As I’m sure you’ve heard, School Pupil Tracker Online (SPTO) will be closing down at the end of this year. If you currently use SPTO, you’ll be looking for something to replace it with the same (if not better!) level of functionality and analysis, so this is a great opportunity to look at how you’re using your current MIS system as a whole. To help you, we’ve written this a short blog explaining how schools & MATs use the integrated assessments module of Arbor’s simple, smart, cloud-based MIS to track, analyse and report on pupil progress.

Let’s start with the basics. Like SPTO, Arbor’s assessments module covers the following:

1. Formative Tracking: In Arbor, teachers can enter marks against curriculum statements and view formative analysis. This helps inform lesson planning and differentiate learning based on students’ understanding of the curriculum. You can either use preset or imported curriculum frameworks, or create your own custom curriculum framework in the system:

 

Image 1: A teacher marking a formative reading assessment

2. Summative Tracking: You can also access marksheets, enter marks for summative & ad hoc assessments, and view and export analysis for summative, ad hoc and 3rd party standardised assessments (such as PiRA and PUMA tests from RS Assessments by Hodder Education)


Image 2: Grade distribution dashboard analysing a summative assessment

Arbor also has some more in-depth, out-of-the-box analysis tools to help you dig deeper into your assessment data:

3a. Attainment over Time allows you to see how many students are achieving each grade during different assessment periods. The date chosen provides a breakdown of the available grades at that given point in time:


Image 3: Measuring Attainment Over Time

You can also choose to group students by demographic, in order to compare grades. For example, you can compare girls to boys and identify that girls currently require more support in this subject:


Image 4: Comparing students by demographic

3b. Below, At or Above: The Below, At or Above page allows schools to see the percentage of children who are below/at/above their targets for each assessment period:

Image 5: Tracking pupil progress using Below, At or Above, and clicking on a record to retrieve a slideover of students

3c. Analysis at MAT level: Some assessments, like PiRA & PUMA, even push up to Arbor’s Group MIS for dashboard analysis across schools:

Image 6: A screenshot of aggregated data in Arbor’s Group MIS

Image 7: A plain-text callout explaining your data

4. Most importantly though, the biggest benefit of using assessments in Arbor MIS is that it’s a fully-integrated module that syncs up with all the other data in your MIS system. This means:

  • Teachers only have one login to perform all their assessment marking, run their classes, take registers, and perform their other daily tasks
  • Our powerful bulk actions can be performed from any table of assessment data, for instance to send a mail merge email directly to your top performing students to congratulate them, or to directly enrol a set of underperforming students in an intervention
  • Assessment trends can easily be compared with trends in behaviour, attendance, and other modules both for groups and for individual students, to create a holistic picture of their progress in all areas through the school

Interested in finding out more about how Arbor’s simple, smart, cloud-based MIS could transform the way your school works? Get in touch with us via the contact form on our website or give us a call on 0208 050 1028

 

Stephen Higgins - 5 February, 2019

Category : Blog

3 stories about how Arbor transforms the way schools operate

At BETT this year, former school leaders Tim Ward & Stephen Higgins took to the stage at the Solutions Den to demonstrate how using Arbor’s simple, smart, cloud-base MIS could transform the way your school operates by putting essential data at the fingertips of your senior leaders, teachers & office staff, and by automating and

At BETT this year, former school leaders Tim Ward & Stephen Higgins took to the stage at the Solutions Den to demonstrate how using Arbor’s simple, smart, cloud-base MIS could transform the way your school operates by putting essential data at the fingertips of your senior leaders, teachers & office staff, and by automating and simplifying administrative tasks to reduce staff workload. For those of you who missed it, we’ve posted the presentation that they gave below!

A little bit about Arbor

We help schools transform the way they work to save teachers time and improve student outcomes

We’re an education company whose core aim is to improve student outcomes – I imagine that’s the same as your aim! At Arbor, we help you learn from your data, turning it into something that informs you and saving you and all the staff at your school hours of time per week. If we can help you do those two things, we’ll empower you to improve outcomes for your children.

We’re also funded by social investors, which allows us to act differently to other companies in several ways:

  • We limit the amount of profit we make and invest in developing our product instead
  • We offer all our products at an accessible price to save schools money
  • We offer some of our products and training for free – like today’s session!
  • We continually monitor our impact by asking our customers whether we’re saving them time and helping them learn from their data

To give you some context, we’re going to tell you a story of how Arbor’s MIS can transform the way that 3 people in a school work:

The date: January 2019

The location: Sunnyville Through School

The characters:

  • Miss Quill (Headteacher)
  • Mr Gray (Head of Maths and Year 11)
  • Anthony (Year 11 student)

Let’s start with Miss Quill. Miss Quill wants to find out what story the following data is telling her about her pupils at Sunnyville:

  • Attainment
  • Attendance
  • Behaviour

How can she do this? Using her Arbor dashboard, she can quickly review all of these areas in detail to uncover trends and take action (and she doesn’t need to ask anyone to create reports for her!). Watch the video below to see how:

Similarly, Mr Gray, who is Head of Maths, wants to know how can Arbor can help him to create a plan for his students. The questions he wants to answer are as follows:

  • Who are my borderline students?
  • How can I intervene with these students?
  • What was behaviour like in Maths this year?

In this video, watch how Mr Gray is able to quickly select underperforming students and add them to an intervention. He is then able to easily monitor the intervention in order to see which students have met the desired outcomes and which haven’t:

Finally, we have Anthony, who is a Year 11 student. Anthony’s parents have come into school, and want to speak to the pastoral lead about his progress so far this year. In order to have a meeting with Anthony’s parents, his teachers need to know the following:

  • How do we tell Anthony’s story?
  • How can having the “whole picture” of a student lead to a happy ending?

Watch the following video to see how Anthony’s teachers can access all the information they need about him from his student profile, including drilling down into his behaviour to spot trends & comparing his attendance to all students in the school, all students in Year 11 and all students in his form:

To conclude, how have we helped this school find a happy ending?

  • Miss Quill has all the information she needs at her fingertips, saving her and her staff time and reducing workload for all teachers
  • Mr Gray can use Arbor to understand his department and year as a whole and create effective strategies to improve student outcomes
  • With all of his information in one place, Anthony can now be effectively supported by his teachers and parents, who can communicate productively about his progress using the information logged in his student profile on Arbor

To find out more about how Arbor’s simple, smart, cloud-based MIS could reduce workload, save time and improve outcomes at your school, get in touch with us via the contact form of the website, or email tellmemore@arbor-education.com to book a free, personalised demo!

 

Jem Jones - 28 January, 2019

Category : Blog

3 key aims from the Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy

With the new Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy now published, we’ve boiled down its many new ideas and policies into 3 of the core goals the DfE want to accomplish. Improve early career support Attracting people to the profession in the first place is a big part of increasing teacher numbers, and to this end

With the new Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy now published, we’ve boiled down its many new ideas and policies into 3 of the core goals the DfE want to accomplish.

Improve early career support

Attracting people to the profession in the first place is a big part of increasing teacher numbers, and to this end a ‘one stop system’ for teacher training is being piloted to make the process simpler. For increased recruitment to benefit student outcomes on a long term basis, these new teachers also need better career support to make sure they have time to develop, instead of becoming overwhelmed and dropping out of the sector.

The ‘Early Career Framework’, a two year training package for new teachers, will support this aim, as will additional bursaries and financial incentives for performance. The Early Career Framework has £130 million already earmarked for its funding, in addition to £42 million from the Teacher Development Premium. The biggest change schools should initially experience is that new teachers in this framework will have a reduced teaching timetable. The idea is that their extra time will be spent in their ECF teacher training, meaning their career has a more gradual buildup of workload in line with the buildup of their expertise.

Promote flexible and part-time working options

This aim could fundamentally change how a lot of teachers progress in their career and how a lot of schools think about staffing. A ‘job-share’ service is set to be launched to both help schools share staff with specific skills between them, and to help people remain in their professions while working part-time. To make sure this new level of flexibility doesn’t just move workloads from teachers to school administrators, free timetabling tools will be released by the DfE to help schools manage the new process.

It’s likely that this will benefit a lot of smaller schools who no longer have the budget for a dedicated staff member in every area, as well as MATs who are already starting to centralise job roles so specialist staff can work across several schools. Specialist NQTs will encourage teachers to focus in on their areas of interest and provide new avenues of career progression beyond the traditional steps up into school management.

Flexible working should also benefit the teachers themselves. The concept includes not only part time schedules, but also ideas like working from home when not needed in the school, that a lot of employees now expect in other sectors. Using cloud-based software could become key to offering these options, as it allows your staff to work securely from anywhere.

Reduce teacher workloads

This is an issue very near and dear to our hearts, as saving teachers time has been a core tenet of Arbor’s social mission since the beginning. As our culture has become more data-driven, the time teachers spend on non-teaching tasks has increased. We’ve known this since 2010 – the results of the DfE’s last teacher workload survey are below.

Source: Teacher Workload Diary Survey 2010 (DfE)

That’s why Arbor focuses a lot of our product development on simplifying and automating administrative tasks for teachers, so they have more time to spend interacting with students to improve their outcomes. A key concept in the reduction of teacher workload includes making sure they have only one point of data entry (i.e. if you have more than one application doing essentially the same job twice, or you don’t have any integration between your MIS and your other providers, you may need to rethink your systems).

The strategy will apparently involve “working with Ofsted to ensure staff workload is considered as part of a school’s inspection judgement”, so this aim will be key for schools to consider alongside the new Ofsted framework, to make sure their improvement plan doesn’t rely on unrealistic expectations for teachers.

There are plenty of other specific plans and policies, from simplifying school accountability to developing housing near schools, that you can read about in the full strategy here. Overall, the strategy aims to make the day to day lives of teachers, as well as their overarching career progression, more manageable and more fulfilling – so talented teachers stay in the profession longer and perform better while they’re there.

You can find out more about how Arbor MIS saves teachers time to help them improve student outcomes by getting in touch here.

Cosima Baring - 15 January, 2019

Category : Blog

Life at Parkroyal since they switched to Arbor

With BETT just around the corner, we caught up with Julie Smith, PA to the Headteacher at Parkroyal Community School, who’ll be joining us at our School Leaders Lounge at Tapa Tapa restaurant at this year’s show. We asked her some questions about how life at Parkroyal has improved since they adopted Arbor in 2015.

With BETT just around the corner, we caught up with Julie Smith, PA to the Headteacher at Parkroyal Community School, who’ll be joining us at our School Leaders Lounge at Tapa Tapa restaurant at this year’s show. We asked her some questions about how life at Parkroyal has improved since they adopted Arbor in 2015.

What was your first impression of Arbor & what did you like the most about it when you switched?

The first word that comes to mind is ‘simplicity’. It’s easy to grasp, and new users can quickly work their way around the system’s functions – you don’t feel like you need hours of training, as you do with other systems.

Something I love about Arbor is the fact that it’s multi-functional across the school. By that I mean that most areas of the school use Arbor, whereas with our previous MIS provider, we found that it was only really the School Office staff that were using it – classroom teachers were using it to take the register in their classes, but that was about it! Now everyone in school knows how to use it. Arbor is a school-wide tool, not an office-based MIS system.  

Can you think of a particular part of Arbor that saves you time on a day to day basis?

Attendance, definitely! Being able to identify who’s absent and chasing them up in a few clicks saves us hours. Having spoken to other schools that don’t use Arbor, I know that it takes one lady nearly all morning to do attendance, whilst it takes our admin team about half an hour.

We also use Arbor for our First Aid. We log all incidents in Arbor which is a real timesaver because we don’t have so many paper copies of forms floating about that we have to then manually enter into the system. Our midday assistants know how to use Arbor and they’re able to log any incidents that happen at breaktime in Arbor independently, and we can then use this data to identify trends to see if the same pupils are involved in incidents at a particular time of day & then tackle the issue.

Our catering team also use Arbor. This is fantastic because we never need to tell them how many pupils are in that day as they can see it for themselves in the system. As a result, they know exactly how much to cook & this means that we almost never have any food wastage!

Can you think of an instance where Arbor has helped you spot a trend you would otherwise have missed?

On the attendance side of things, it’s really important for us to be able to spot trends in absences and we can do that really easily with tools like Arbor’s sibling correlation function. Being able to look back at past attendance and compare it against other pupils so that we can see if certain students have been absent at similar times is a real help. We can also use Arbor to spot if there’s a pattern of a child being absent on particular days of the week. It’s very easy to create detailed reports about this, and that makes my life a lot easier!

I’ve also set up custom reports for student attendance to be sent out to class teachers on a weekly basis. This is obviously automated, so I don’t have to prepare them or send them out myself – Arbor does it for me. As a result, our classroom teachers are more in the loop with what’s going on in their classes and don’t have to keep asking us for reports all the time.

How would you describe your favourite feature of Arbor to someone who’s never used it before?

I like the fact that it’s very visual. The colour coding side of things is brilliant – it helps you spot areas of concern instantly, especially with assessments & behaviour. I like the fact that you can dig deeper into analysing your data without too much effort – it’s there at your fingertips.

As a company, Arbor understands what data is the most important and you break it down into the right areas & present it well. You have an understanding of what actually happens in a school, partly because many of the people that work for Arbor have worked in schools in the past.

You understand the fact that teachers often need data quite quickly & don’t have the time to spend hours looking for it. I can find the majority of what I need just by clicking a few buttons i.e. breakdown of demographics, that sort of thing.

We’ve been using Arbor for 5 years but when we were with our previous MIS provider reporting was very time consuming. We had to make a report, create a report, run a report, and if you wanted to change something, you had to do it all over again! The fact that the teachers can now do their own reports has been brilliant – they used to come and ask us for all sorts of reports, but now they can do all of that themselves because they know exactly what to do.

Do your classroom teachers find Arbor easy to use?

They do, and they have a good grasp of the system. We had a couple of NQTs join us last year and one this year, so I sat down with them for 10 minutes and they knew what they were doing after that. You need a bit more training if you want to be able to have a deeper understanding, or set up something new, but for day to day stuff and getting information our classroom teachers generally find it very intuitive. The last NQT I sat down with said to me “I’ve played around on it, it’s just really easy to use”. She’d worked it out herself. I’m the Arbor champion at Parkroyal who’s responsible for training our staff on the system, so this is a great bonus for me!

Besides of course coming to see us at our School Leaders Lounge, do you have any tips for people visiting BETT this year?

There’s a load of people trying to sell lots of different products! I personally think it’s good to look round and see what there is, but before you launch into buying a particular product or a system that you think you might need for your school, I’d recommend talking to Arbor first because the system can probably do it. Or if it can’t do it, it probably integrates with a product that can.

If you’d like to speak to Julie in person or have any questions you’d like to ask her, you can meet her at our School Leaders Lounge at BETT this year. Why not come and join us for lunch and a glass of wine on us? Click here to see our full programme of events & book your free ticket: https://arbor-BETT-2019.eventbrite.com/

Rebecca Watkins - 20 December, 2018

Category : Blog

Free Arbor Insight Academies Financial Benchmarking reports available now!

We’ve just released our Arbor Insight 2016/17 Academies Financial Benchmarking report. All schools that academised before September 2016 will now be able to log in to their free Insight portal and download their newest Financial Benchmarking report! You can use your Financial Benchmarking report in governors meetings, financial planning meetings and to improve next year’s

We’ve just released our Arbor Insight 2016/17 Academies Financial Benchmarking report. All schools that academised before September 2016 will now be able to log in to their free Insight portal and download their newest Financial Benchmarking report!

You can use your Financial Benchmarking report in governors meetings, financial planning meetings and to improve next year’s school budget. We calculate specific benchmarks in your Financial Benchmarking report to give your data context and enable your budget plans to be effective and realistic. Your report benchmarks your school against schools ‘like you’, ‘Schools in your LA’ and the ‘national average’.

(Image 1: AFB report page on the breakdown spend of an example school)

 

Frequently Asked Questions about our Financial Benchmarking reports:

 

How did you derive my LA and National averages?

We’ve benchmarked your school on a variety of measures to allow you to analyse your budget in a wider context. We only compared your School to the averages for other primary, secondary, or special schools (depending on your school type),  to make the comparisons in the report more meaningful. After all, a primary academy’s spend is different from a secondary academy’s, which is different from a special academy. An average that included all three would be misleading.

What is a school ‘like me’?

We created the schools ‘like you’ measure to give you the most meaningful comparison for your School. First, we filtered by schools of your type (primary, secondary, or special) for the reasons mentioned above. Then, we filtered by schools who were inside/outside London as this changes your cost structure. Next we filtered by size, ensuring that your school is compared to schools with a similar number of students. Finally we took your FSM, SEN and EAL data, weighted them based on the size of the attainment gaps at KS2, and combined them into a baseline score to find schools with similar demographic intakes to your School.

For example, if you’re a large rural secondary school with a lot of FSM students, your spending in each area will be benchmarked against other large rural secondary schools with a lot of FSM students. The schools ‘like you’ measure helps you account for your specific circumstances and understand why your spending might be above or below average.  

(Image 2: AFB report page showing staff expenditure)

For each spend and income measure, your Arbor Insight Academies Financial Benchmarking report will show how much you spent as a whole, as a percent of your total spend and per pupil. We add detailed analysis to all of your graphs so you can quickly see the headlines for each measure.

(Image 3: AFB report page showing three year trends and easy-to-understand text callouts)

Our 2017/18 Schools Financial Benchmarking report will be released early next term. If you have pre-ordered this report you will receive an email from us as soon it is released, and you can then download it from your portal.

 

If you’re a current user, you can log in to view your updated dashboards and reports immediately here: https://login.arbor.sc/auth/login

If you don’t already use Arbor Insight, click here to sign up for your free portal & view your performance dashboards & KS4 reports: https://login.arbor.sc/auth/register

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.

Harriet Cheng - 4 December, 2018

Category : Blog

4 ways a cloud-based MIS will change the way you work at school

We’ve written before about the fact that more schools than ever are choosing to switch to a cloud-based MIS – in fact, we predict that over 1,000 schools will move in 2019 alone! It’s not just potential cost savings which are compelling schools to move (primary schools save £3,000 on average by switching, and secondary

We’ve written before about the fact that more schools than ever are choosing to switch to a cloud-based MIS – in fact, we predict that over 1,000 schools will move in 2019 alone!

It’s not just potential cost savings which are compelling schools to move (primary schools save £3,000 on average by switching, and secondary schools could save around £6,000) – increasingly schools are realising that moving to the cloud offers a real opportunity to transform the way they work. We explore the 4 key ways your MIS could do this below.

1. Your school can go paperless

Put an end to paper registers, incident forms, and classroom context sheets! A cloud-based MIS will let you record all this information quickly & easily via a browser so you never have to worry about printing or losing a sheet of paper again. Not only is this better for data protection, compliance & safeguarding (contrary to popular belief, the cloud is a lot more secure than using a server-based system or arch lever files), it also means you’ll eliminate unnecessary data duplication (never again will you have to transfer information from paper to screen!).

2. Let your MIS do non-teaching tasks for you

The second benefit to putting key information about attendance and behaviour in a cloud-based MIS is that you can start to set up smart workflows which mean your MIS ends up doing a lot of admin for you. For example, you could tell your MIS that everytime a “Level 3” incident is recorded, the Head of Year should be automatically informed by email and the student should automatically be registered for the next detention. This helps to cut out a lot of manual chasing & scheduling – and also helps your school to maintain a consistent behaviour policy.

3. Stop your staff being tied to their desks

When you use a server-based system, staff can only access your school MIS from specific stations (normally the desktop in their classroom). This limits the usefulness of the information inside it, since it can’t be viewed, discussed or put to use outside of that one room. With a cloud MIS, your staff automatically have the flexibility to work on the move around school and bring up important information quickly & easily in key meetings.

4. Reduce your “data workload”

Far too often, schools end up using a patchwork of different systems for different school areas (such as attendance, behaviour, parent communication, interventions, and so on). This normally means that in order to look at patterns between different areas, add demographic data into assessment results, or follow up with parents about absence, staff have to manually download and compare different spreadsheets, find contact details in one place to use in another, and juggle multiple logins. All of this means leads to lots of manual work to make data any use. By contrast, most cloud-based MIS systems replace your patchwork of systems with just one – making your data instantly accessible, comparable and useful.

With so many schools moving to the cloud, we’ve found the question has become when and not if the decision is right for your school. We’d be more than happy to discuss how you currently use your MIS and explain how our simple, smart cloud-based system could help you transform the way you work. Just get in touch here, call 0208 050 1028 or email tellmemore@arbor-education.com.

Rebecca Watkins - 3 December, 2018

Category : Blog

KS4 & new GCSE grades: How your Arbor Insight reports are changing

A couple of weeks ago we added 2018 KS4 Analyse School Performance (ASP) data to our award-winning Insight dashboards and reports. Arbor Insight is a free benchmarking portal that we’ve created for every school and MAT in the country, and our premium performance reports provide in-depth analysis of your data to help you spot trends

A couple of weeks ago we added 2018 KS4 Analyse School Performance (ASP) data to our award-winning Insight dashboards and reports. Arbor Insight is a free benchmarking portal that we’ve created for every school and MAT in the country, and our premium performance reports provide in-depth analysis of your data to help you spot trends you might have otherwise missed, understand strengths & weaknesses, and make interventions.

This is the first year that all 5 core English Baccalaureate subjects (English, Maths, Science, Language and Humanities) have been graded 9-1 under the new grading scale, so we’ve updated your KS4 Insight reports in light of the reform, to make sure you’re still getting accurate insight into your school’s performance data.

How have my reports changed?

Schools and MATs will notice a few changes in their KS4 ASP performance reports and dashboards since last year:  

  • All ASP reports have been updated with new graphs
  • Two extra graphs have been introduced to show the percentage of pupils achieving each the two new pass grades (9-5 and 9-4)
  • A new graph shows the % of pupils achieving 9-1 in the EBacc so you can see if any pupils failed the EBacc
  • A*-C is now used as a proxy data in our trends, as a benchmark for the years before the new 9-1 grade scale was introduced in subjects. This should give you as good an idea of your performance trend over time as possible, although we know it’s an imperfect comparison!
    • Science, Humanities and Languages has proxy trend data for the last two years (2015/16 & 2016/17)
    • English (literature & language) and Maths has one year of proxy trend data (2015/16)
  • The prediction algorithm for your next Ofsted grade has been improved

Ofsted Readiness report

As well as highlighting your strengths and weaknesses in performance measures, our Ofsted Readiness report has 6 graphs for each core subject. These include how many pupils in your school or MAT achieved a Strong or Standard Pass, benchmarked against schools graded Good and Outstanding at their last Ofsted inspection.

Image: an example from an Ofsted Readiness report: Maths Attainment page

Image: an example from an Ofsted Readiness report: Achieving a Strong Pass in English & Maths – showing three year trend data and your school benchmarked against outstanding schools in the country

Attainment & Progress report

In this report, we show you the percentage of pupils achieving a Strong Pass, so you can understand where you need to improve to help all pupils achieve this goal. You can see how your pupils performed in the core subjects (English, Maths and Sciences) how the core average compares, and compare these to national averages.

Closing the Gap reports (x5)

Each report, in this set of five, focuses on a different attainment gap that is prevalent in England. You can see how wide or narrow this gap is in your school, and compare it  with the national average. For example, you can see what percentage of boys in your school are achieving a Standard Pass (4+) in EBacc Maths Pillar, and compare that rate against your girls. You can find this information in the Closing the Gap report: Focus on Gender.

If you don’t already use Arbor Insight, click here to sign up for your free portal & view your performance dashboards & KS4 reports: https://login.arbor.sc/auth/register

If you’re a current user, you can log in to view your updated dashboards and reports immediately here: https://login.arbor.sc/auth/login

 

Harriet Cheng - 28 November, 2018

Category : Blog

Our new partnership with RS Assessment from Hodder Education

We’re delighted to announce our new partnership with assessment experts RS Assessment from Hodder Education on a new integration between Arbor’s MIS for schools & MATs and RS Assessment’s standardised tests for primary schools. RS Assessment’s standardised tests PIRA and PUMA are a key component of many primary school improvement strategies, helping Senior Leaders track

We’re delighted to announce our new partnership with assessment experts RS Assessment from Hodder Education on a new integration between Arbor’s MIS for schools & MATs and RS Assessment’s standardised tests for primary schools.

RS Assessment’s standardised tests PIRA and PUMA are a key component of many primary school improvement strategies, helping Senior Leaders track pupils’ in-year progress and benchmark against age related expectations. They’ve become even more crucial for MATs recently, as central teams at growing MATs need the ability to monitor and support school improvement across multiple schools and get an overview of whole Trust performance. RS Assessment’s MARK (My Assessment and Reporting Kit) online service is pivotal to providing time-saving analysis of test results.

Arbor’s cloud-based MIS helps to transform the way schools & MATs work by putting essential data at the fingertips of senior leaders, teachers & office staff, and by automating and simplifying administrative tasks to reduce staff workload. At a MAT level, Arbor MIS centralises not just data reporting, but operations and communications too – helping MATs to manage & support their schools all from just one system.

Our partnership with RS Assessment brings the power of Arbor’s simple, smart cloud-based MIS and the results of PIRA and PUMA tests together for schools and MATs for the first time. Later this year, schools and MATs using Arbor and tracking PIRA and PUMA test results in MARK will be able to:

  • Automatically sync pupil data directly from Arbor MIS to MARK with no need for data downloads and uploads
  • Automatically sync results from PIRA and PUMA tests back to Arbor MIS for MATs so central teams can get an aggregated view of results across all their schools
  • Allow senior leaders at schools and MATs to use Arbor MIS to take action on their results – for example by setting up intervention groups, or by building custom reports combining data from their PIRA and PUMA test results and Arbor MIS

We’ve worked on this partnership with RS Assessment in collaboration with REAch2 Multi-Academy Trust to ensure it works just as seamlessly for MAT leaders as it does for individual primary schools. To learn more about how we can support your school or MAT, contact us on 0208 050 1028 or email tellmemore@arbor-education.com.

You can also learn more about our integration with Hodder at our specialist User Group at BETT this year! It’s a great opportunity to learn how the integration works, meet other schools & MATs using both products, and catch up with our teams. Click here to sign up for your free place.

Stephen Higgins - 27 November, 2018

Category : Blog

How to get ahead of Ofsted’s new inspection framework

As I’m sure you’ve seen, Ofsted recently announced plans to change the way it inspects schools, colleges, further education institutions and early years settings from September 2019. To help you understand how the new framework will impact the way you operate your school, we’ve rounded up the most important changes you need to know about.

As I’m sure you’ve seen, Ofsted recently announced plans to change the way it inspects schools, colleges, further education institutions and early years settings from September 2019. To help you understand how the new framework will impact the way you operate your school, we’ve rounded up the most important changes you need to know about.

What’s changing?

“Quality of education” to replace current judgements

Firstly, Ofsted will introduce a new judgement for ‘quality of education’, which will replace the current ‘outcomes for pupils’ and ‘teaching, learning and assessment’ judgements with a single, broader judgement.

This new judgement will mean that Ofsted can recognise primary schools that, for example, prioritise phonics and the transition into early reading, and which encourage older pupils to read widely and deeply. It will also make it easier for secondary schools to offer children a broad range of subjects and encourage the take up of core EBacc subjects at GCSE, like humanities subjects and languages, alongside the arts and creative subjects. This is a move away from Ofsted’s previous focus on exam results.

Image 1: Arbor’s Assignments module

In many cases, your MIS system can help provide evidence to inspectors that you’ve incorporated these new guidelines into the way you run your school. Arbor’s Assignments module allows school leadership to check in on the quality of homework set by teachers and returned by students, and teachers can upload lesson resources to assignments and lesson dashboards, which can be reviewed by leadership or inspectors.

 

Other new inspection judgements

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, also announced the 3 other inspection judgements that Ofsted will consult on. These are:

    • Personal development
    • Behaviour and attitudes
    • Leadership and Management

These changes recognise the difference between behaviour & discipline in schools, pupils’ wider personal development, and their opportunities to grow as “active, healthy and engaged citizens.” ‘Extra-curricular activities’ should be incorporated into the curriculum, and schools will be required to prove that they offer a range of these activities.

Image 2: Arbor’s Clubs & Trips module

Ofsted inspectors will want to know that each student has the opportunity to engage in extracurricular activities (especially Pupil Premium students). In Arbor, the Clubs & Trips modules can be used to report on which students are accessing extra-curricular activities, and, perhaps more importantly, allows teachers to identify students that have never taken part in an extracurricular activity and invite them or their parents to sign up, so that you can proudly say: “all our students have taken part in extracurricular activities this year.”  

So what will Ofsted inspectors be looking for with the new framework?

Schools need to be clear answering the following 3 key questions:

  • What are you trying to achieve through your curriculum? (Intent)
  • How is your curriculum being delivered? (Implementation)
  • What difference is your curriculum making? (Impact)

What can schools do?  

  • Dedicate substantial timetable slots beyond the ‘core’ subjects, wherever possible
  • Consider how your curriculum caters for disadvantaged groups. Ensure these pupils are not ‘shut out’ of pursuing subjects they want to study because of too sharp a focus on exam results
  • Show you are making curriculum development and design a priority. Survey your staff on how confident they feel in these skills
  • Offer a range of “extra-curricular” activities
  • For primary schools: evaluate the regularity of SATs preparation, such as mock tests and booster classes. Consider introducing additional reading sessions and encouraging reading for pleasure for a counter-balance

Overview

The new framework places less emphasis on schools’ headline data, with inspectors focusing instead on how schools are achieving their results, and if they’re offering their students a curriculum that is broad, rich and deep. The changes will look in more detail at the substance of education, and actively discourage unnecessary data collection (a key contributor to increased workload in many schools). Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, said that the changes would move inspection more towards being “a conversation about what actually happens in schools”.

 

If you’re interested in hearing about how Arbor’s simple, smart, cloud-based MIS can help transform the way your school or Trust operates, you can get in touch via the contact form on our website, or give us a call any time on 0208 050 1028

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.

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

James Weatherill - 8 October, 2018

Category : Blog

6 steps to reduce teachers’ data workload

Reducing time spent on data and assessment is the key to reducing additional teacher 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

Reducing time spent on data and assessment is the key to reducing additional teacher 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 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.

6 steps to reduce teachers’ data workload

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

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.

 

Click here to download this checklist as a handy PDF.

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.

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”

 

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.