Do too many systems spoil the broth?
Schools love systems. Education as a whole loves systems. Although in reality there is a love-hate relationship with all the systems you are expected to use on a daily, weekly, monthly, termly and yearly basis.
Many of the systems at DfE level for schools are simply an input from school or somewhere for them to get results from. Places to go and analyse results or print relevant graphs or find out progress scores and the like.
Within school you may have also taken on a number of systems to aid admin and learning. An MIS of some sort is an obvious system most schools have. Somewhere to store all that vital student data. That is a non-negotiable really. Although it is always worth talking to your MIS provider to find out if you are getting everything you can out of the system – there are often built in tools and functionality that schools might purchase as an extra system instead of using the capability already at your fingertips. This might include sending school trip letters direct to parent emails, or tracking intervention changes.
Most schools also then have an assessment system of some description. A place to track your results from non-statutory in-school assessments. Again these could also have capability you didn’t realise – writing reports for parents from the information given, or linking to teaching resources and home learning websites.
Your school may then have another platform for giving and receiving of homework assignments. Perhaps you also have a system for behaviour points which you may or may not use to also send information to parents.
You probably also use some form of learning platform. Not necessarily a big commercial VLE, although it may be, but perhaps a particular cloud service provided by the publisher of your textbooks to go alongside exam preparation. Or it may be a service such as Google Apps for Education or Microsoft Office 365 – allowing you to share and collaborate with documents and multimedia elements such as audio and video.
You will, also, have a school website. With term dates to keep updated and newsletters to add as well as keeping your statutory requirements up to date and keeping it interesting with photo galleries and curriculum updates.
On top of that you may have any number of other systems you use to allow parents to pay for trips and lunches, for reporting absences, for tracking interventions and provision, and for individual subjects to keep on top of extra curricular clubs, evidencing special events, booking facilities and more.
It is useful, ideally once per year but as a minimum once every 3 years, to audit those systems to check what you have and what possible overlaps there are. How well are they getting used? Is that providing best value for money?
For some things, such as assessment and your MIS, it is vital that you use fully locked down systems which offer adequate protection of the data stored in them. For other pieces of information you don’t always need a system which is onerous.
Every system will have some set up requirements, often these need to be updated and checked every new school year so this can considerably add to the workload of the person (often admin staff or the IT staff or ICT coordinator) who is responsible for that system. Any streamlining you can do will assist work-life balance issues for all.
Although secure passwords are essential, schools often have so many differing systems that teachers resort to writing their passwords down somewhere as there are so many, and this can cause further worry if they are lost. Plus systems requiring all teachers and students to log on tend to also take up a lot of your school internet bandwidth and slow the system down. So getting away from locked down systems where possible can also be useful.
If, for example, you find only 2 teachers are using the homework tool to gather homework and the rest are just using it to post the homework and then collecting it in via paper methods, then could you just post homework on the school website somewhere for everyone to access?
If you use a messaging tool for parents which costs you money, is it the most cost- and time-effective one for your school? Perhaps a school app would be more useful? A one-off cost which then means year in and year out that you can send messages to parents as a whole or to specific classes, and use it for absence reporting too with a parent signature. Parents manage their own app on their own device so you don’t need to worry about every log in.
Your school website is also another great place to put notices which are for everyone. So check how often you actually send messages which are only for certain people. Could those just be general messages on the news items of your site? You could even use your school Twitter account for those messages if they can be public and then this could feed on to your school website via a social media wall, saving you from having to type the message in two places. Parents don’t even need their own Twitter accounts to read your messages if your account is public. This means you can keep everyone up to date with events such as car boot sales, world book day activities, and many more items of community interest.
It may seem time consuming but something worth doing at least yearly is checking for updates from your systems. Have any of the ones you use added new functionality? Could that help you to get rid of a separate expensive system you have?
Anything which saves money in the current climate is worth a bit of time investigating when you can. It can be tempting to ignore emails from companies you are a customer of, but often those emails contain important updates which could save your staff from having yet another system to log in to. And lastly look at solutions for SSO (Single Sign On) to save teachers from having 10 different passwords to remember!