The St Margaret Clitherow Catholic Academy Trust is a collection of 17 schools of mixed phase from across the Diocese of Middlesbrough. As a high performing and respected Trust, they are willing to break the mould for the benefit of their students and local community. They have high aspirations and are building strong foundations to achieve their goals.
We spoke to Jane Luxton, the Head of Data and Information for the Trust, about how data and their management information system tie into this strategy. She explains in her own words
I’m the Head of Data and Information for the trust and have been in post since August last year. I’m in the process of putting together an overarching trust data strategy, with an emphasis on making sure the schools have got the tools they need to make their own autonomous decisions and strategies, then we intervene where necessary.
There’s quite a big focus, obviously, with the year that we’ve had, on things around assessment, attendance, exclusions, behaviour. Safeguarding is the other one that’s a really big element, but my role doesn’t just deal with the systems, it covers the other elements of quality as well. For example, we’re going through all of the teacher-assessed grades at the moment, reviewing the processes that schools are putting in place, and just making sure, from a quality assurance perspective, that everything is well thought out, it’s methodical, and there’s clear guidance.
We’re helping with the implementation of a recruitment system as well, which will hopefully go hand in hand with what we’re building in Bromcom HR. It’s a master plan really, with a long-term vision.
The main aim is to have access to data without having to pencil push, and just trying to avoid unnecessary administration. The more that we can automate or utilise things like API links, then the better it will be for us as a whole, because we can focus on the things that are important, as opposed to the things that aren’t but need to be done.
The big piece of work is lots of little working parties and process reviews, because we’re using this as an opportunity to bring together all of the different processes that we have within these schools around assessment and safeguarding, behaviour, attendance, and bring them into one overarching trust strategy.
We’re just about to sign off on the assessment strategy. We’re also working on things like our behaviour and safeguarding strategies and policies. It’s all very mundane things, but the idea is, if we do that now, we can put the tools and the reporting in place within Bromcom for September so we start the year on a really strong footing.
We’re already live with nine primaries on Bromcom. We’ve got six primaries left to migrate at the end of July, and then we’ve got one secondary, which we’re due to migrate in August. The other secondary is already using Bromcom.
When we came back from Easter, we went live with the nine schools that were previously on SIMS. We had fully prepared ourselves for chaos on day one. As a central team, we provide that direct line support to the schools. Then, if there’s a fault or anything like that, we report it to Bromcom.
We’ve got our own support page that we built into Google, with how-to guides and things. We provided them with lots of resources and we were fully prepared for it to just be floods of emails and phone calls. I think on the first day we got about two emails to say, ‘I can’t seem to log on,’ and it’s because they were using the wrong browser. We thought, “Is something wrong? Are they using it?” We had to phone every single school to ask, “How is it going? Is everything okay?” They replied, “Yes, it’s brilliant, just cracked right on this morning.”
It honestly couldn’t have gone better. We didn’t have a single bit of negative feedback, which blew my mind because I was expecting absolute turmoil. We were on a really fine timeline to get everything set up. I think we had about three days between the two of us, so the fact that it came back without a single issue was just mind-boggling. Still, even now, they’re just cracking on with it.
Growth is a huge topic for us. We want to grow as a trust. We want to take on additional schools. Everything that we’re building now is built to be scalable. It’s built to be able to just add in another school. We’ve got all of these processes already clearly mapped, so that process of bringing in another school, from a technical or system perspective, should be fairly simple. Hopefully, they’re just a jigsaw puzzle piece that we slot in. That’s the idea.
We needed a HR system where we could hold all HR information – salaries, leave requests, everything, top and bottom – but we couldn’t afford one quite frankly. It would be another very large, very expensive system. So we said, “Okay, let’s do this in Bromcom.”
Obviously, Bromcom isn’t designed to be an all-singing, all-dancing HR system, but I think we may have moulded it into one. Or certainly we’re getting there! Our desire was that all information, for all staff throughout the trust, was held and administered in Bromcom and that we would then work towards building a link to the North Yorkshire County Council HR and payroll system, because they process our payroll for us.
We currently submit returns in Excel which is very clunky as it’s all done manually. The idea is that from the point a member of staff has been recruited and they start on their first day, that’s where the data capture point starts from in Bromcom, all the way through to payroll submission.
We fully intend to use the HR self-service that Bromcom have developed with our input. It’s absolutely brilliant and staff will have the facility to manage their own data. I think it’s really important that we’re not relying on administrative staff to update things manually and go through forms.
It’s involved a lot of work on our side. There is a lot of data mapping that needs to take place. It’s probably the most ambitious project that we are currently trying to undertake, because it’s not a circle in a circular hole. It’s a triangle, with a square hole. It’s very, very difficult, but we will get there. We’ve thought it out and have really vetted the logic behind all of it with Bromcom. The only issue that we have is that the Local Authority don’t use a system with an API.
To get around this, Bromcom are creating very bespoke, high-level reports that export out to Excel. So, you still manage all the data in Bromcom, but it exports out in the required format for North Yorkshire County Council to process.
The big thing for us is that we don’t want the system to dictate how we quality control our schools, how we report, how we assess. It should really be the other way round, which is the purpose of all these process and strategy reviews that we’re doing at the moment. Having done this before, I know that the worst thing you can do is just try and create something out of thin air. It really needs to be thought about. By going through these motions, the reporting can be effectively used for accountability measures, strategy and intervention.
We can use it with full confidence that we’ve consulted everybody, that everybody knows that these are the measures that we are using. Hopefully, that will further help with pending Ofsted inspections, as well, to be able to demonstrate that not only have we thought about it but can measure the impact of what we’ve done.
Funnily enough, I’m writing a detailed report at the moment. I’ve just done everything that I need to do in Bromcom and pulled it out within about 10 minutes, but now I’m on the systems that have not yet migrated. It’s taking me about an hour per school to get the data out, so it shows the difference it makes.
The way that we’re presenting it now is going to be totally different next year. For now, we’re just sticking to the same format that they’re familiar with, but next year they don’t need all of these figures and numbers. We’re trying to make sure that the story behind the data is clearer than just some numbers and graphs as that doesn’t mean anything to most people.
The majority of my schools are looking forward to the online payments through MCAS (Bromcom’s Parent Portal and App). We didn’t want to do that at the same time, because it was just too much to launch all at once, so we’re hoping to launch all of the MyChildAtSchool features included in the app, around October half term.
They’re most excited about having an online payment system. Currently, it’s your little cash box with your £10 notes and your 50p’s for school trips, and school dinners, and all of the other bits and pieces. They’ll actually have somewhere that they can easily take online payments, and parents can pay through the app for trips. It’s easily managed.
They are really, really looking forward to that, just because, I think, it’s a bit chaotic. I know it’s the way we’ve always done things, but I think a lot of parents now expect schools to be in the 21st century and take online payments and card payments. So, yes, that’s going to be a big winner.
The Parents’ Evening module is the other one they’re really looking forward to. Likewise, our IT team are also gearing up for the equipment-booking features for the secondaries, predominantly because we’ve just had lots of new Chromebooks. They can actually keep track of the bookings, the assets and things like that.
The development team at Bromcom have been brilliant. I’ve never worked with a development team within a software company that have just been so amenable to what we want to do and really do see our vision.
That’s so important to us. They see what it is that we’re trying to achieve, what on paper seems quite standard and basic, but it has just never been part of the culture in primary and secondary. Schools on their own just don’t have the capacity to deal with all of these extra bits and pieces, the extra reporting, the payroll, the HR recording.
They’ve been in their own little bubble, looked after by the Local Authority. I think that’s just the way this country is changing in terms of education now. There’s such a push for Multi-Academy Trusts. They’re just growing and growing.
I think what we want for ourselves is to show that we’re a trust that is ambitious. We are successful, not just in progress and attainment but in all areas, and that we are able to provide a level of service that they’ve never experienced before.
I think our schools have seen that we can make things happen and that it’s change for the better. So, for the majority of them, they’ve been very flexible and just say, “We trust you. Do what you need to do.” We’re not taking over. It’s guidance, it’s monitoring, it’s quality assuring, but it’s not telling them what to do, it’s giving them the tools to actually be able to make those guided decisions themselves.
Bromcom is such a massive part of that big idea that we’ve got in our head. I’m keen to just perpetuate that forward, because the product itself, it’s all there. The vision is there. No joke, no pun intended!
Thank you to Jane Luxton and the SMCCAT team for providing their valuable time to being part of this discussion. If you would like to know more about how we can help your school or MAT, please get in touch.