How can upgrading ‘back office’ technology drive efficiencies in the education sector?

Let’s not forget about the technology that’s ‘behind the scenes’, in the engine room of the education environment, which is making its delivery possible

It hasn’t just been teachers who have been placed under pressure to deliver outcomes this past year – estate management and HR teams were both thrust into navigating the unknown, and at a rapid pace.

‘But schools were closed, weren’t they?’, is perhaps what many people may be thinking. Despite campuses being shut for in-classroom lessons during the lockdown periods, the sites themselves still remained open and it was ‘business as usual’ for teaching key workers’ children and for facilities and compliance staff – whose duties to keep the premises safe and compliant did not change. And HR departments were still in charge of ensuring all personnel felt supported – managing absences, completing payroll tasks, and sharing the latest policies and training documents with employees – even when working remotely.

Across the education sector, this has been an opportunity for institutions to invest in their operations, consolidate data, and rationalise and implement more efficient systems – helping to deal with and combat historic underinvestment in technology.

Out with the old and in with the new

While the pandemic undoubtedly threw up lots of challenges for schools and their staff, the truth is that these have not gone away entirely and will continue to shape the way institutions operate well into the future.

Teachers, students, and all other personnel may now be back to being on site, but the demands on technology are arguably greater than ever before. In the case of HR staff, for instance, in establishments where traditional paper or spreadsheet-based processes are relied upon for managing staff absences, booking holidays, and updating employee records, there’s not only more room for human error, but it’s also incredibly time-intensive and does not give managers a data-driven overview of what’s going on.

Time is spent manually updating cells, emailing, and calling staff about their personal details, and chasing for updates on whether colleagues have read the latest policy or training module – as well as explaining where within the warren of folders said paperwork lives. After all this admin, there’s little time left in the working day for strategic thinking and planning – which is and should be a core part of their role.

Savvy systems which automate certain tasks and allow staff to update their own personal records not only free up more minutes in the day for HR teams to dedicate to strategy, but they can also offer greater visibility over the data. Customisable dashboards marry all the information together – contextualising it into clear, digestible segments – equipping office staff with the ability to identify trends in absences, reach out to colleagues if they need additional support completing training modules, and obtain accurate employee information at all times.

Additionally, for school business managers and facilities teams, systems with automatic triggers can alert the relevant people as to when maintenance tasks are due to be carried out, supplier contracts need renewing, or equipment needs replacing.

Being able to centralise employee and site data in one place also enables patterns to be identified and actioned accordingly – extremely beneficial for multi-academy trusts (MATs) which have many schools to run, coordinate, and allocate budgets for.

Using data to drive efficiencies

In truth, data without context is meaningless – it only turns into valuable information when it is given perspective. Once contextualised, a single or multi-site institution can use this to inform its strategy not only for maintenance, trust compliance, and overall funding, but for staff wellbeing monitoring too – to name a few areas.

In truth, data without context is meaningless – it only turns into valuable information when it is given perspective

In reality, every statistic tells a story – and one which senior leadership teams can use to make informed decisions about funding, performance, and support. However, if this insight is hidden away in multiple spreadsheets or in a filing cabinet, it’s difficult for trends to be spotted, whether working remotely or not.

This is where technology can be seen to bridge the gap between schools and the copious amount of data which they hold – and when used holistically, it can be a driver of positive change.

Ultimately, it’s a bird’s-eye view of a school, college, or university’s operations that enables staff to carry out their jobs efficiently – and arguably with a higher level of satisfaction – as they can eliminate the admin-intensive jobs and focus their attention on the things that have increased visible impact.

More data-driven decisions helps to create a more streamlined place of work, but it also contributes to fostering an enhanced learning environment for students; an environment that’s not only compliant, but one in which teachers and staff feel supported by technology and empowered to work together to ensure the smooth running of the school.

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