Blog

The blog all about school data & operations

Recent Posts Popular posts

Hannah McGreevy - 17 July, 2019

Category : Blog

Coming soon: The Understanding Your School Report

As you’ve undoubtedly seen by now, the new Ofsted Inspection Framework will come into effect in September 2019. 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

As you’ve undoubtedly seen by now, the new Ofsted Inspection Framework will come into effect in September 2019. 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 will combine 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 will still be 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 will feature 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 will still show 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 should help 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 will help 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? 

The Understanding Your School Report will be available in Autumn 2019. Sign up to Arbor Insight here to be the first to hear when it comes out. For more information about Arbor Insight, email insight@arbor-education.com or call 02070431830.

Stephen Higgins - 16 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.

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.

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!

Arbor - 28 February, 2019

Category : Blog

700 schools & MATs are now using Arbor MIS!

Last week, we reached an exciting milestone – 700 schools have now switched MIS to Arbor to transform the way they work! Of this 700, 551 are primary schools, 71 are secondary schools and 78 are special schools. We also work with 52 MATs, including Bridge Multi-Academy Trust, United Learning, and REAch2, the largest primary

Last week, we reached an exciting milestone – 700 schools have now switched MIS to Arbor to transform the way they work! Of this 700, 551 are primary schools, 71 are secondary schools and 78 are special schools. We also work with 52 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 700th school, we’ve put together 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.

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, Amber 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.