Four ways efficient school management can improve outcomes for pupils

Comment by LORRAINE SMITH, Divisional Managing Director at Civica

In every school, the back office provides the administrative backbone to the teaching and learning experiences of pupils. However, lack of efficient processes can mean that too much time and money is spent on financial, HR and catering tasks. So, how can schools leverage technology to automate school management and help improve pupil outcomes?

• Financial transformation Having more efficient financial management processes frees up budget and time that can then be spent supporting students. Specifically, cloud software can help automate financial administration by: • Streamlining purchasing processes, resulting in fewer errors, queries and adjustments.

• Reducing cost per order • Accurately predicting future income and expenditure, facilitating better budget allocation

• Assisting with statutory and legislative reports Multi-academy trusts stand to benefit the most. As centralised

purchasing is easier to manage across multiple sites, schools can get bulk- buying discounts, and consolidate finance data using a single database.

• Better catering Through an effective cloud-based cashless catering system, schools can help to increase take-up of school meals (by reducing queues) and give pupils valuable social time during lunch hour. Cloud also enables better access to data on pupils’ dietary requirements

Is AI setting your evidential

alarm bells ringing? Comment by DAN SANDHU, CEO, Sparx

In April 2019 the Department for Education’s fanfare launch of its Edtech Strategy was generally perceived as a positive signal that government was finally taking a more strategic view of learning technologies. However, underneath the headline- grabbing promises and pledges it seemingly failed to address a key issue; the need for evidence and rigorous research into the impact of edtech in the classroom. In the months since there’s been little to suggest that this evidence-deficit is being filled.

The Varkey Foundation, whose report ‘System Failure’ released in

November 2019 cast a critical eye on the government’s approach to education technology summed this up: “There is still little to no evidence that learning technologies have had a

positive impact on learning outcomes at the national level.” For educators the government’s failure to put evidence of impact at the

heart of its edtech strategy along with the distinct lack of evidence-based research available should sound alarm bells. Take one highly hyped area of edtech – Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI has undoubtedly been the edtech buzz word of 2019. From

ministers to media, AI is being heralded as the answer to any number of classroom challenges from poor attendance, to personalised learning, to workload management. There certainly are impressive, innovative AI solutions breaking new ground in education. However, for every


and eating habits, safeguarding those children who have allergies. Parents have more visibility over what their child has eaten leading to healthy eating conversations at home. Schools can even use data from their own canteens to bring the curriculum to life, making health education relevant and relatable.

• Engaging teachers Staff retention is an issue faced by all schools. In 2018, reports showed that the five-year retention rate had dropped for the fifth consecutive year, to 67.7%. In addition, research from The Education Policy Institute found that 70% of school budgets is spent on staff costs, reducing the amount that can be spent on pupils. Implementing effective HR and payroll cloud-based technology can

therefore have several benefits for schools: • Improving training and performance monitoring, such as tracking CPD development objectives

• Reducing the need for supply teachers and upskilling existing staff – both of which can improve pupils’ experiences

• Spotting trends and patterns in staff absences to enable early intervention

• Reduced administrative burden Integrated online payments can help reduce time spent chasing debt for meals, trips, and uniforms. Sophisticated online systems can now accept payments in multiple ways and set top-up limits so that children don't run out of funds, resulting in fewer delays and avoiding embarrassment at lunchtimes. Parental engagement can also be improved via the cloud, reducing the

number of calls and visits and allowing staff to focus on tasks which deliver more value to pupil outcomes. While Edtech tends to focus on technology which directly enhances

teaching, these points are just a few ways in which technology outside the classroom can help make school management much faster, better, and more innovative. With technology innovations happening all the time, it’s easy to see

how improved school management can have a positive impact on both employee workload and pupil outcomes. Taking advantage of the cloud now can make it easier and more cost-effective for schools to adopt new technology in the future.

legitimate AI success I’d argue there are plenty of others hanging on the coat-tails of success. The reality is that some companies are using AI not as a technical

description of their products but as marketing puff. They may indeed be using sophisticated data science involving complex technology but that doesn’t mean they are using AI or machine learning. Wherever there is ‘AI’ I’m afraid there must be a healthy amount of

scepticism. As Axios reported, Frank Chen, a partner at Andreessen

Horowitz lamented, there is real difficulty in spotting real AI, “Investing in a purported AI startup requires detective skills…We have to figure out the difference between 'machine learning that can deliver real competitive differentiation' and 'fake ML that is a marketing gloss.” The problem is that the hype around AI encourages educators to

overlook the need for robust evidence of impact and more readily accept that AI is the future, and it works. The AI stamp immediately lends a legitimacy that has not been earned through an evidence-based approach. As the CEO of an edtech company, we are continually looking for new

ways to help schools understand the impact we have in the classroom. We’ve developed and run randomised controlled trials and adopted an evidence-based methodology to ensure everything we give to teachers and students has a positive impact. We regularly share our research and our thinking about evidence at conferences. You can also read the results on our website, where we publish our evidence for all to scrutinise. Though there are others taking a similar ‘evidence- first’ approach, this

is not the case across the board. Reports like that of the Varkey Foundation make an important assessment of edtech and the sector’s score card is poor. It can be hard to see through the edtech hype, but I’d encourage teachers and school leaders to be bold in their scrutiny of any edtech that catches their eye. Interrogate the research, demand evidence and give voice to your concerns.

January 2020

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