How up-to-date is your back-office IT? How could it be improved? We spoke to SBMs about recent improvements to their back-office tech, and the advantages they’ve seen
It’s notoriously difficult in any busy organisation to implement wide-scale back-office changes – this is particularly true for schools, as data processing is constant and, for SBMs, the work never stops. Additionally, funding is a sector-wide issue, and cash – for obvious reasons – tends to get funnelled into the most pressing matters at any given time; this often means that upgrading back-office IT systems gets left behind, even when it’s sorely needed.
However, as the world goes ‘paper-lite’, and digitalisation of data has moved from being a luxury to a necessity, improving school IT systems behind-the-scenes is now one of those more pressing matters. SBM Maggie Duncan has worked at her current school for five years now, and has seen it shift from a paper-heavy environment to one that is almost paperless – and cashless – in a very short space of time.
“I say ‘almost paperless’, as there is always work to be done that requires a hand-written signature or physical form, but we’re working on it,” she says. “Any and all advances in technology that we have adopted not only save money and time within the office, but we make sure these benefits are felt across the entire establishment.”
In Maggie’s time at her school, it has:
- moved from paper registers to an app, saving time in the office and reducing human error during inputting. It also means that the children – who used to deliver the registers to the office – are able to stay in class;
- moved to a digital dinner module which links to the electronic register, allowing the catering team to get accurate dinner numbers at the beginning of the day, reducing waste and effectively tracking any pupil debt;
- implemented a comms system for speaking with parents; 99.5% of parents can be contacted through this system via e-mail, text or through an app. This saves the school money and means it can track all communications easily;
- implemented a cloud-based system for recording accidents, ICT and website issues, managing policies and more. All staff have access to documentation at the touch of a button, and the office can see who has read which policies. This has saved huge amounts of time and money.
Broader needs in MATs
For a MAT, the issue of an efficient back-office system can be far broader – especially when it comes to ensuring that all schools within that MAT are able to communicate. Nicky Gillhespy is an SBM and COO of a primary MAT covering six schools; this year, the trust became fully centralised for the first time.
“We were moving towards it for a year and gradually centralising some of our services,” says Nicky. “The biggest change was becoming cloud-based. This was needed because the services we were using were all coming to the end of their lifespans, and we needed to either replace or upgrade them – something that costs thousands of pounds. That forced the change, really, rather than us choosing it, but we’ve saved time and money by making that change.”
As well as moving to the cloud, Nicky’s trust also shifted to a cloud-based finance system; up until September 2018, the trust was running six different accounts across seven systems, and staff had to manually amalgamate these to create their end-of-year accounts. A lot of time was wasted – especially since staff had to physically visit each school to collect the data – and there was plenty of room for error.
After a failed attempt at knocking together a hodgepodge solution, making the leap to the cloud was what worked best for Nicky’s trust. “We now have a single accounting system for all of our schools. This change, plus the wider shift the cloud, were very stressful to deal with at the same time for anybody who worked in finance and on the admin side but, the long and short of it is, it means we can be much more streamlined and that we can have full access through the cloud – whether at the desk or from home.
“Anyone in business is probably used to doing this, but it was transformative for us – especially as a group of primary schools,” she adds. And, while it always takes a while to get used to such systems – especially for those members of staff who have been established in an organisation for a long time – it’s always worth upgrading for the benefit of saving time, money and, ultimately, future stresses.