Last October, PM David Cameron announced that he wanted every school in England to become an academy. This plan was confirmed by the chancellor George Osborne in his Budget on 16th March, with a deadline of 2022.
It’s a move designed to transfer power away from local authorities and give head teachers or principals control over how schools are run. The new academies will be overseen by academy trusts, who will provide advice and support, while giving schools more freedom to innovate.
This controversial proposal has been met with suspicion from some quarters, with sceptics suggesting it’s a move to privatise the education system. Be that as it may, I firmly believe that where there’s change there’s opportunity, so I thought I’d assess whether the academy approach would better position schools to go paperless.
The government claims “academisation” is about introducing innovation, so it stands to reason that academies and academy chains will be encouraged to adopt new technology to improve collaboration, increase efficiency and enable them to go green.
A Document Management System (DMS), whether hardware, software or cloud-based, would allow academies to streamline their workflow processes and manage a vast number of documents more effectively. Documents pertaining to HR and admissions, student records, Ofsted reports, syllabus information and course work, health and safety, and facilities management can all be captured, indexed, validated and stored for delivery or retrieval by department and throughout the academy chain.
Not only would a paperless system be more efficient for teachers, it would also engage students more effectively, which should lead to better results across the board
More advanced systems would allow teachers to issue assignments to students digitally, then monitor their progress and provide instant, in-depth feedback interactively. Parents would also be able to access their child’s records to see their work and monitor their progress electronically.
Greg Hughes, Vice Principal of The de Ferrers Academy, writing for Academy Today, notes, “As a school, we are incredibly conscious about reducing our carbon footprint and instilling this sense of responsibility in our students, however, we didn’t realise just how much using technology to achieve this would actually improve teaching and learning.” Not only would a paperless system be more efficient for teachers, it would also engage students more effectively, which should lead to better results across the board.
A Cost-Effective Solution
Traditionally, academies have received a modest funding increase from the Department for Education to assist with the conversion, and in some cases, have had their budgets topped up by 10% for support services. This would more than cover the cost of implementing a DMS with advanced features, such as version control, audit trails, access privileges and disaster recovery. Academies will have full control over their admissions process and can even opt out of the national curriculum, so it’s vital they have a secure, compliant and fully accessible system in place.
Converting to an academy, with greater autonomy, provides an excellent opportunity for schools to relaunch as paper-free or paper-lite organisations. Computers and tablets in the classroom (rather than paper and text books) and digital workflows in the back office (rather than printing and photocopying) are all steps in the right direction.
The potential cost savings and increases in productivity across the board can be significant. As Greg Hughes points out, “By introducing paperless communication, our teachers are able to reinvest the time they’re saving back into the task that matters the most: teaching their students, and as a result, our students are really flying!”
The concept of the paperless school was put forth over a decade ago, but has yet to achieve widespread adoption. It’s hard to say whether this has been due to practical reasons or if the current education system presents too many obstacles.
At the very least, I expect the academy approach will give forward-thinking head teachers more freedom to decide whether paperless communication is the right choice for their students and teachers. It’s certainly working for The de Ferrers Academy.
Richard Shaw is the owner of Margolis Business Systems.