Most MAT and school leaders see tech as essential part of ‘new normal’ education

Software that enables remote working and learning is seen as an integral part of the ‘new normal’ learning experience, research from IRIS Software Group reveals

An overwhelming majority of Multi-Academy Trust (MAT) CFOs and school leadership teams see tech as an integral part of teaching and learning as we enter the ‘new normal’, a study by IRIS Software Group (IRIS) has revealed.

Eighty-one percent of MAT CFOs who responded to the survey said software that enables remote learning among students will be integral to ensuring a quality learning experience into 2021, while almost half (49%) believe software that facilitates remote working for office staff will be integral post-lockdown.

Following what has arguably been one of the most difficult terms the sector has seen due to disruption caused by COVID-19, many schools and MATs admit they do not yet know the true extent of the financial implications caused by the pandemic.

“As we head into the next normal, there must be a continued rise in the use and technology and software across education” – Winston Poyton

Surveying more than 400 headteachers and MAT finance managers, IRIS found that while almost half (48%) acknowledge the financial impact of the outbreak, a third (32%) of respondents don’t know the financial ramifications of the virus on their institution’s operations.

For schools and MATs, the top three areas most financially affected by the lockdown were PPE/first aid supplies (36%), cleaning (36%) and signage (18%).

Those institutions with little understanding of the financial burden caused the pandemic are still taking steps to prepare for reopening, despite the uncertainty ahead. Ahead of September, one in five (20%) plan to change their institution’s financial strategy and shift to cashless systems, while 18% also plan to invest more heavily in cloud services and solutions.

This digital transition has largely been driven by health and safety, as well as the desire to streamline processes and become more efficient. A majority of respondents (83%) agreed that reducing cash on campus must be prioritise to help keep staff and students safe; while a further two in five (40%) say that paper-free office and classroom environments will also help this cause.

According to the survey, 25% of schools and MATs plan on adopting paperless strategies, boosting digital communications with parents and within the institution itself.

Almost every respondent (91%) agreed that the ability to access data (financial, student, asset, HR and payroll) and manage operations remotely will be vital for the seamless and efficient running of schools in the upcoming year.

Schools that had already integrated digital capabilities into their daily runnings were best placed to adapt and succeed throughout the lockdown period. Lorraine Reeves, SIMS/attendance manager at Langstone Junior Academy in Portsmouth, commented: “Having digital operations up and running before we went into lockdown, such as online e-learning portals and electronic news updates, meant we could cope with the immediate switch to digital learning. We could engage with staff, parents and pupils with little to no disruption to daily school life.

“Looking forward,” she added, “as we’re now equipped with the right technology and software to support moving into the next normal, we are confident that we can handle reopening and any changes that may happen to the new teaching workforce.”

Almost two in five (38%) schools and MATs plan to maintain remote working for staff in ‘at risk’ or vulnerable groups, while 36% plan to reduce class sizes, and 37% plan to postpone events such as parents’ evenings and class trips.

Following the pandemic, more than half of schools (64%) are currently reviewing their risk strategy, but nearly a third of respondents (30%) said they were unsure as to whether this crucial work was being done within their institution.

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“The education sector is preparing for a complete digital shift in operations as we enter the next normal,” said Winston Poyton, senior product director for education at IRIS.

“MATs and schools are finally seeing online tools and software as a necessity and not a nice to have. Remote working, home schooling and the closure of schools have been a real test for the sector. However, those who have invested in the tools and software to streamline the processes and maintain engagement with parents and pupils have been able to manage the effects of the pandemic smoothly.

“As we head into the next normal, there must be a continued rise in the use and technology and software across education. As our research reveals, access to data to manage school operations remotely; online and via the cloud, will play a vital role in the efficient running of schools and MATs.”

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