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Chris Taylor - 17 September, 2019

Category : Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The (not so) looming crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Hannah McGreevy - 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?

Jem Jones - 28 February, 2019

Category : Blog

Could the right behaviour climate improve outcomes at your school?

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

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

Graph: the impact of improved behaviour on Primary outcomes

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

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

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

Infographic: Baumrind's four parenting styles

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

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

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

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

Choose systems which will keep your policies in line for you

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

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

Infographic: a behaviour workflow in Arbor MIS

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

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

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

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!

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.