Back-of-house efficiencies

Technology’s changing teaching and learning – enhancing delivery and encouraging engagement; it’s also streamlining and optimising the day-to-day running of schools. There’s a whole new world of software available to make back-of-house functions more efficient – after all, the secret to a high-performing school is its supporting foundations. In the September issue of  sister publication EdExec, they explored back-of-house efficiencies

Having the correct procedures and processes in place at your school can be a very satisfying feeling – but it takes a whole lot of operational ingenuity to ensure your school operates like a well-oiled machine; well-managed back-of-house functions are the cornerstone of a high-performing school.

As in all other areas of school-life, technology is playing an increasing role in school management and ensuring that administrative tasks are run more effectively and efficiently – two of our favourite adverbs! Essential to success is that technology is well-integrated with school business and management functions – from HR and financial management to monitoring and safeguarding students – which, of course, takes careful planning. The technologies adopted must complement existing processes, aspire to support your organisational vision and demonstrate financial and operational efficiencies. No mean feat!

Developing digital archives

Schools are already migrating their information management, business applications, data storage and retrieval, for example, to the cloud. “The ability to capture paper-based information digitally, and to store it securely on your school network, or in the cloud, helps to speed up the capture of correspondence – such as permission slips, catering requests, HR material, etc. – and eliminates the delays, errors and costs associated with manual, paper-based workflows and filing,” Andrew Cowling, business development and channel marketing specialist at Fujitsu, explains. Digitising data enables you to better manage it – in terms of both organisation and also who sees what and when.

The move to digital has, more recently, been propelled in part by the advent of the general data protection regulation (GDPR) which necessitates the careful management of information – from storage to retrieval – for compliance reasons. “Paper-based documents are more prone to human error – scanning, digitising and operating online means that you have control of data and, once scanned, it can be filed on a network, in the cloud or on a local PC,” Andrew says. The objective: to have data which is secure and easy to access.

Supporting exchange and analysis

While schools will find it difficult to leave paper completely behind, they have been adopting systems to record and manage information – HR, finance, student records, etc. – for some time; it’s just a matter of, ‘What next?’ “More than eight in every 10 schools in the UK now use digital management information systems (MIS) which help make information easier to access and analyse,” Frazer Whitehead of Brother UK, tells us. He adds that, to take this to the next level, it’s essential that schools consider the data capture and input process – while scanners are an established feature in schools, it’s now about how documents are scanned, saved and managed to improve efficiency and eliminate human error. Digitally filing and managing student records in your MIS creates a level of interoperability which means that, not only is important information stored, filed and shared safely, but it’s also easier to access and analyse.

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As the volume of student data required continues to increase – as well as the importance of understanding it – the benefits of digital record keeping cannot be underplayed. To tap into this, Frazer advises investing in technology that’s compatible with, and easily connected to, other IT applications used by the school, as well as the mobile devices used by staff – both on-site and remotely.

A platform for communication

This coincides with another innovation that is streamlining processes. As schools evolve and grow, platforms for collaboration and communication are valuable tools – for both teaching and school management. The current ‘big-wave’ being reported is the move of real-time communications to the cloud. “Through cloud-based productivity and collaboration software staff, students and parents can now communicate and collaborate seamlessly in a single secure environment, ensuring efficiency and consistency across the board and optimising the smooth running of the school,” Ian Fordham, director of education at Microsoft UK explains. Office suites – such as Microsoft 365, Google Drive, or Zoho Office – make it possible to access important documents anytime, anywhere, and enhance communication and information-sharing – avoiding endless trails of email and paperwork.

Working via such platforms allows you to more easily connect with staff across the school, and also with parents and other external stakeholders, such as governors. Sharing is instantaneous and there are features which allow you to share only with particular individuals, groups or ‘teams’, via a specific URL or invitation sent by the administrator or owner. Plus, innovative providers are working to develop digital solutions that facilitate workplace needs – some specifically tailored to schools – by including features to manage meetings, organise data, track diaries and ensure people have up-to-date information on any project.

Analyse everything

However, all this is something that most will be familiar with – we’re looking for the next step! “When thinking about more complex leadership and management of institutions – such as the leadership of federations of schools, multi-academy trusts or multi-agency projects – up-to-date data is vital to making smart, agile decisions,” Ian says. With so much information stored on these platforms it’s not surprising, then, that providers are developing apps that connect it all, so you can analyse the information that’s stored.

For example, Power BI, which is built into Office 365, allows you to monitor various elements of school management such as finance, attendance, behaviour and teacher performance, all in one place. “Using the analytics built into office suites, SBLs and other school leaders can take a holistic and insightful overview of each school in real-time, helping to identify areas of success, performance of departments and to focus energies on those areas requiring more development,” Ian explains.

As workload continues to increase, it’s the efficiencies that can help to lessen the burden which need to be considered. While changing tactics and adopting something new come with their own challenges, sometimes the short-term work can lead to long-term gain!

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