IE Editor Stephanie Broad gets a peek at how schools make the most of their MIS at the SIMS Independent annual conference
Sporting the theme ‘Collaborate, Educate, Celebrate’, Capita’s SIMS Independent and International Schools conference 2016 saw over 300 delegates gather at the Beaumont Estate, Windsor to explore both the SIMS product and wider issues in edtech.
Julie Booth, Head of Independent Schools, opened the conference as the crowded room of teachers tapped on the conference’s very own app – the event has been paperless for several years. Julie highlighted schools’ involvement in developing SIMS products through their focus groups, the largest of which are in the South East UK and in Dubai. SIMS has also formed relationships with the ISC, are involved in SHINE teacher awards and have won a Bett award for their assessment software. It’s been a big year.
Next, Simon Noakes, CEO of Interactive Schools, set the context for the conference by exploring the increasingly ‘online’ world – not just in the education sector but in all aspects of life. In fact, schools are behind the curve and a certain amount of transformation is needed in teaching so that schools are providing children with the skills to face jobs that don’t exist yet. At the moment, said Simon, we teach for the ‘known’ but now we must educate for the ‘unknown’.
So what does the school of the future look like? A short video of children’s views of future possibilities in the classroom made it very clear – technology is absolutely central to future teaching in order to correlate with the outside world.
Technology has transformed the way we do things – from a ‘virtual desktop’ to social networking to gamification, today’s students are well-connected. Even architects are designing ‘smart schools’ whose fabric and positioning provides optimum environments for learning. The huge amount of content uploaded to the internet every day can lead to ‘content shock’ so schools should be conscious of how they relate the data to learning – Simon advises teachers to ‘publish once, tag and integrate’ into other channels.
There is a growing need to develop common sense around technology use, to minimise the data overload and develop appropriate behaviour. We do so much online that it’s easy to become absorbed – schools must create an appropriate time and place for use. “We have to lead with the human side,” Simon advised delegates. Start with the behavioral approach and the environment in which tech is used, then add the technology itself and finally the content that it shares.
Suitably inspired, we then heard from Bedford Girls’ School who use the SIMS Learning Gateway (SLG) to maximise parental engagement by sharing real-time information. Using this software is important to the tech-conscious school – “We want to produce girls for tomorrow, not for yesterday.” The school consulted with parents before launch in order to gauge needs and ensure they knew how to use it, to check pupils’ progress and administrative tasks. They recommend appointing a designated school contact to liaise with parents, and making it as easy as possible for parents to use.
SIMS can also add value for the senior leadership team (SLT), we learned in Truro School’s presentation. With one platform, the team can manage recruitment, absence, cover, timetabling and reporting. Principal of Ruthin School, Toby Belfield, manages a wealth of assessment data with the software, which is especially helpful for parent communication in a school with 65% overseas students.
Director of ICT at Perse School Cambridge, Fraser Robertson, puts the spotlight on inspection data. When ISI come calling, Fraser says, SIMS can provide a large amount of data in just a few clicks – including core school information, behaviour and sanctions, EAL and other special needs, curriculum and personnel. Finally, Doha College uses their system to track attainment in KS3 and KS4 – as well as a ‘Russell Group tracker’ for recording sixth form students’ university applications.
It’s clear that schools can use their MIS for a range of tasks, to complement other systems or as a one-stop shop. But throughout the day, the team demonstrated that the product is constantly developing and moving forward, largely driven by parent and school feedback.
Bredon School in rural Gloucestershire and Sir William Perkins’s School in Surrey explained how they each shaped successful marketing strategies to achieve two very different aims.
Bredon School launched a campaign to boost the school’s profile in the local area and at the heart of this was the May Day Country Fair & Festival of Shooting. “Offering a spectrum of exciting activities – from raft building and racing, visiting the school’s farm, clay pigeon shooting, horse-riding and music – the event helped to create a real buzz around our hidden gem, Bredon School,” explains Gemma Doyle, head of marketing.
Previously quiet social media channels became a hub of activity and this was central to attracting the several thousand visitors who came along on the day. Interactions on the school’s Facebook page increased by a staggering 1400% as people shared their comments, experiences and photos afterwards.
The success of the campaign has seen much of the print advertising the school previously invested in scrapped and social media is now used much more effectively every day. “Our marketing around this special event more than achieved the ultimate objective, which was to put Bredon School firmly on the map,” says Gemma. “Clinching Marketing/Communications campaign of the year in the TES Independent School Awards 2016 was the icing on the cake.”
Located in a highly competitive area, the marketing activity at Sir William Perkins’s School must be focused where it will have the greatest impact on getting the right pupils through the door.
“We record information at every stage of the admissions process – from the first enquiry through to a pupil joining the school,” explains Sheila Hallsworth, Director of Communications and Admissions. “This means families get the communications they need, at the right time. Knowing that a child enjoys ballet or their parent requires wheelchair access also helps us to build a relationship with the family from the very first point of contact.”
All marketing activity is tracked too, so the team can see the impact a particular marketing campaign had on pupil numbers and, for example, which feeder schools generate the most admissions or how many families who came to the open day applied for a place.
Until 16 years ago there had been no marketing and it was initially regarded as something of a ‘dark art’ at the school, but this targeted approach has been central to ensuring the school is consistently oversubscribed, while maintaining its enviable reputation as an academic school for girls aged 11 to 18, ‘with a human face’.
Product Development Director, Simon Smith, gave an overview of how SIMS is developing over the coming year. He explained that we have “new expectations about what software is and how we use it,” as life moves to the cloud and schools are increasingly tech-lead. So, with a range of devices and parent expectations, software needs to be ‘device agnostic’ and integrated with other apps like Google and Office365. SIMS Activities, launched at the conference, is a tool for managing extra-curricular activities to minimise administration and improve parental communications.
The future is bright for management information systems such as SIMS Independent. As we become more dependent on technology in work and leisure, tools such as these will continue to streamline administration and add value to school life.