/ Pete Atherton
A couple of weeks back, I saw an interesting School Management Systems (MIS) article in TES. Some of you will remember that many years ago, TES used to cover a great deal about EdTech and even used to publish a termly supplement. Let’s hope this is beginning of more EdTech coverage as it’s something that is rapidly becoming a big part of school life.
The article referred to several large MATs that had switched their MIS to cloud. One of which was Oasis Community Learning, a Trust with 52 schools. I decided to do a bit of digging and came across an interesting presentation by Jim Gardner (former Head of Strategic IT Projects at Oasis Community Learning). It got me thinking about some important questions that can have a significant impact on a school’s success in relation to MIS:
Jim’s presentation has provided excellent answers to the above, as he had to tackle them head on when he worked at Oasis. His mission was to replace their old, clunky system with a new, super-efficient version. In their case, Bromcom was the best fit and now they’ve been through the process of switching MIS, they’re not looking back.
There were numerous problems within the trust that Bromcom needed to fix. For example, MIS updates were generally a bit of a nightmare, often leaving users with limited access to their system. When a school’s MIS has technical problems, response times need to be very fast. The reality, though, was that support was often slow or difficult to access.
If a system is less efficient, it becomes far more expensive in the long run.
The legacy MIS needed to manage all of the diverse areas of each school’s data management, such as assessment, communication and attendance. There was little standardisation across the Trust and therefore quality control was lacking. That meant that how well the systems worked was inconsistent across the 52 schools.
Now that Jim was clear about the nature of the problem, he could start the process of finding a solution. To do that, he had to be clear about the advantages of a single MIS across the entire MAT.
One of the main benefits of migrating to Bromcom MIS was bringing all of their school to data into cloud. Giving them access from anywhere with any device but also creating a central data source as a single point of truth. Data would be more accurate, timely and a managing it became a less complicated task, therefore less expensive. The right hand would now know what the left hand was doing, as it were. A single system would mean less reliance on data extractions and transfers via expensive and sometimes silos of bolt-on third-party solutions such as School Comms, Parent Pay, Target Tracker and so on.
A major challenge for MATs can be attracting, redirecting and keeping the right people to do the job in hand. Jim is highly capable but he couldn’t do this on his own. It became clear that the MIS Manager would become one of the most important roles in the MAT . They would be responsible for standardising data practices across the entire trust. It would involve a great deal of staff training, to ensure that the level of expertise was consistent across all the Academies. This way, the entire organisation would be able to communicate a more coherent strategy and vision.
With the right people in place, Oasis could make sure that staff knew what to do when things went wrong with the system. Jim states that the support he gets now is night and day when compared to his old system. Oasis were fed up with long waiting times and inexperienced staff from their old supplier, so the move to Bromcom was highly refreshing.
One of the crucial ways that Bromcom minimised disruption at Oasis was by making sure that they were communicating well. All the academies in the MAT would be informed when updates would be taking place (out of hours). Good communication is, of course, essential to getting people on board. Cloud systems are far easier from a School’s perspective as there’s nothing to carry out at your end.
No, not the defunct boy band, I’m afraid. The MIS Manager’s role would help the MAT move in one direction. She would take on responsibilities like compliance, which would manage areas of risk across the entire institution. She would also oversee legally required submissions, attendance, assessment and statutory returns.
Training was also key to this singular vision. If Bromcom was going to feel accessible and easy to use, this would necessitate ongoing staff training. This was crucial after Oasis had migrated to Bromcom. Data leads in each of the schools in the MAT needed to be known about management of data related to exams, assessment, attendance, behaviour timetable, MCAS (parental engagement) and so on.
Jim helped to roll out the new cloud-based Bromcom system across an entire multi academy trust – that’s 52 schools. It took 6 months to complete and the level of complexity involved ensured it was no easy task. The result? Everyone across Oasis Community Learning is now able to access a single, cloud-based MIS system. A system that can successfully house, manage and administer all data, for example assessment trackers, payment systems and all the aforementioned features.
So what does this mean for teaching & learning? I’ll save that for the next post, where I’ll look at the impact a change of MIS has had within Oasis. How has it affected senior leadership and how they operate? Can the benefit gained in switching to cloud transform into benefits in teaching and indeed children’s learning? Does it help improve standards and school performance? I have fixed myself a chat with John Barneby who is the Chief Operating Officer of Oasis, I’ll do some digging and we’ll see how it’s turned out!