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Podcast | Season 1 | Episode 25: Relieving the Admin Burden Through Technology

In a context where schools are asked to deliver more with less, technology can be used to support staff and learners - maximising the efficiency of the back office, fostering collaboration and managing change across the organisation, so that educators can focus on what really matters: teaching.

๐Ÿ“Ž Freedom to Deliver Outstanding Education

EdTech can proactively support staff and pupil engagement, allowing teachers and school business professional to focus on richer learning experiences and their own personal and professional development.

  • Maximise the efficiency of back office functions in schools and academies
  • Use technology to support collaboration and communication across sites
  • Proactively manage change across your school management infrastructure

๐Ÿ’ก Donna Parry, Head of Sales for Education, Access UK

๐Ÿ“˜ The episode is sponsored by Access Group

๐Ÿซ This session was recorded live on 15th November 2019 in the Business & Finance Theatre of the Schools & Academies Show at the NEC in Birmingham.

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Donna Parry

Good morning, everyone. Thank you very much for taking the time out of your very busy day to come and learn how technology can give you the freedom to deliver an outstanding education. Now, pressure on budgets and resources is forcing schools and academies to look at new ways to deliver more, but with less so embracing the possibilities technology can offer requires a solid foundation on which to service both staff and pupils.

Donna Parry

Now edtech can provide efficiencies to proactively support staff and also pupil engagement, allowing teachers and school professionals to focus on richer learning developments and their own personal and professional development. So over the next 20 minutes or so, we're going to be exploring how to maximise the efficiency of your back office functions in schools and academies. And we're going to look at how to use technology to support collaboration in schools and academies, and proactively manage change across your school management infrastructure.

Donna Parry

Pressure on budgets and resources is a huge issue and research by teachers unions suggest that four in five state schools in England will be financially worse off next year than they were in 2015, making efficiency even more of a priority. So therefore, schools and academies are having to look at ways to do more with less and then add to this the strain is placing on teachers and the impacts of their wellbeing alongside the unpredictable change and the result could be catastrophic. So there are some things that you can't control. But there's some things that you can and being prepared for and being able to respond to the unknowns will be essential for for schools and academies to be able to survive, grow and be successful. Now, we all know that that costs are tight, and budgets are stretched, and we know that the vast majority of your expenditure is on your staffing. But there are things that you can do to maximise efficiencies across your back office functions. Now, we've worked with our customers to look at how they can optimise their efficiency and increase productivity to make more informed financial staff and strategic decisions. So first of all, don't drown in your paperwork. Now, it used to be the case that capturing data was the challenge and now that isn't necessarily the problem and we know that you know, schools, academies and multi academy trusts, even local authorities, you have data and whether that's in single or multiple systems, but actually analysing that data and using it to help inform your school's financial people and business planning is the key.

Donna Parry

Now you need instant access to relevant data and you need to be able to see the right data at the right time, but also be able to analyse that data and use it to make informed decisions. Now for multi academy trusts that might be shared platforms across multiple sites, and for single maintain schools or academies. And it might be the ability to benchmark against similar schools that are in your location. With staff costs taken that the lion's share, manual processing shouldn't be the norm and keeping processes as as simple as possible and avoiding manually inputting data should be avoided at all costs. So invisible technology in the background, can you ensure that your data is accurate and up to date, it can help to to simplify processes by eliminating redundant or duplicated tasks which the draining staff resources and that they're hindering productivity. It gives you the opportunity then to complete, purposeful but otherwise maybe on achievable tasks such as you know, managing your budgets, or maybe putting a bid in for some extra funding stuff that you may not necessarily have the time to do. Now, effective planning, so schools academies, multi academy trusts need a comprehensive view of the complete organisation to make informed decisions. Now, this includes finance staff and processes and the ability to be able to look ahead and have all the data that you need to plan, model and make informed decisions is essential when when funding and spending can be so unpredictable.

Donna Parry

Now without this data decision making, it can be painfully slow because of the time it takes to model the impact of different scenarios. And by the time that you've actually done that, things might have changed again. So you need to ask yourself, whether the processes that you're you're currently using and can adapt and change and if those decisions are based on strong and consistent data to be able to model the outcome, because you want to make sure that you're continuing to maintain or even improve standards within school. Now, when we work with schools, many finance teams tell us that they feel anxious when they're creating accurate budgets because of the changing school ecosystem. So we give them the ability to create accurate five year forecasts that can be modelled and adapted as and when necessary. So whether that's your your change in pupil numbers or expenditure or staffing resource, it means that stakeholders whether that's your SLT team, whether it's your governors, can access that data and continue to make key up to date decisions and prepare for different scenarios.

Donna Parry

Now, as well as identifying potential future issues and scenario planning, effective planning technology can also look to link things like your budget to your curriculum resource, and helping you better understand the financial viability of your curriculum. So you can quickly assess the impact of changes and deploy staff more efficiently and maximise your resource. Now, the added benefit of this is ensuring not only is your curriculum affordable, and but also providing key information such as things like your class average sizes, and also pupil teacher ratio. And you want to make sure that you've got the best curriculum for the pupils with the available funding and also the resources that you already have in place. Academies who are part of a multi academy trust can really benefit from the culture of collaboration, and we know that this can promote things like shared subject expertise and best practice, with schools creating things like learning communities to support staff development across all areas and all experience levels as well, as well as delivering better outcomes for pupils.

Donna Parry

But centralised technology can work in the background to make sure efficiency is as high as it can be and and schools can can benefit from that economies of scale as well. So things like customisable user profiles and applications for specific tasks can be shared across the sites to help you drive engagement and increase visibility of stronger areas and activities. Now, the trust capacity fund is a key initiative to help trust to grow and to improve and centralising your resources to make sure that every penny counts and and making sure that the best elements of your school and staff is shared and celebrated is only going to be beneficial in the long run and if you can make things for easier for your staff in the process, and I'm sure that they're going to thank you for it. Technology is really at the heart of developing collaboration and delivering that excellence. Nearly three quarters of teachers and 84% of school leaders now describe themselves as stressed and more than a third of education professionals have experienced a mental health issue in the past academic year, and almost half believe their workplace is having a negative impact on their mental health and wellbeing. So in the midst of trying to do more with less and maximum levels of accountability and an ever increasing workload, it means that school teachers and leaders and support staff are under immense pressure and suddenly, the staff burnout is a real possibility. Technology can help to ease that burden so it can identify trends in your staffing results and individual or collective performance and this can allow you to maximise different skill sets and help staff to support and learn from each other and it can give your staff a voice to whether that's, you know, a voice to share with their peers or with their leaders as well.

Donna Parry

Technology, it can age communication, and particularly across different geographical locations. Maybe you're in a multi academy trust, where you've got sites across you know, different areas of the country, and breaking down that traditional barrier that logistics can put up. And it can help you start to reduce that admin burden and burden as well. And technology can monitor your finances and identify positive and negative trends and it can help you to manage change and overcome the challenges that the growth we're seeing in the sector. While we don't profess to, to think that technology alone can change the system, it can help you to manage the huge amount of change that is evident in the sector and ultimately accrete increase efficiencies. Collaboration isn't something that just happens. It does require commitment and planning and time and with the latter being something that that schools and education professionals struggled to find enough of.

Donna Parry

So even in the absence of time and the barriers of logistics when you staff might not necessarily be able to be in the same place at the same time, collaboration is still an option and with the right software, it can be done seamlessly. So when we talk about collaboration, and we don't just mean data collaboration, we also mean people collaboration. Firstly, data collaboration and this has been incredibly important in recent years. So schools, academies, multi academy trusts are able to blend different types of data and sometimes from different sources and different systems and to be able to analyse it and reach meaningful conclusions. And as I said earlier, it's not enough to have lots of data that doesn't offer you any value. And the value comes from being able to interpret it. This is much easier to do when you're using things like cloud based solutions and while technology can, can be an initial outlay, the insights you get far outweigh the costs and brings huge efficiency across the establishments. Now, we encourage our customers to engage with data in a more interactive way. And we promote the idea of transforming schools and academies with a single version of the truth. And what we mean by that is having all your data in one place, and being able to model that data and test it and tap into it whenever you need it. Employees who can easily collaborate and can use their time more effectively and accomplish more and and staff can learn from each other and implement best practice. Now, collaboration and communication can have a direct impact on productivity. So we conducted some research into productivity, and we found that 71% of those working in education said that they find productivity in the workplace considerably or extremely challenging, and 44% said collaborative data in one place is the most important aspects of software. And 40% said improving productivity is crucial to the success of their establishment educators are under immense pressure. There's never been a better time to use technology and to support an increase in productivity and deliver a return on that investment which is the outcome to the pupils.

Donna Parry

Collaboration and communication can be done seamlessly with the use of different platforms and different applications and technology can identify what works and maximises the benefit of shared expertise and mutual learning. So not only that, but being open about it and sharing what works in one school can also benefit staff and pupils in another school. Working together can help staff form important professional but also personal relationships as well and teachers can draw support from each other to learn from one another and delegate tasks and support productivity and increase effectiveness and collaboration between teachers contributes to school improvement and results in student success. Collaboration gives teachers more time to focus on the teaching as well as being able to benefit from shared experiences and learning and for example NQTs can bring new ideas and you know, energy and being able to work with and partner with other teachers from different schools academies, multi academy trusts, even within the geographical location, and it's only going to benefit the school, enhance the pupils learning and advanced the teachers personal and also professional development.

Donna Parry

Technology gives staff a tool to aid that communication and teaching and non teaching staff of all levels and across all different sites can create learning communities and support staff well being across the range of schools in an economically efficient and a more effective way. So every school is different. Every multi academy trust is different. The staff are different and and pupils are unique. So there's no such thing as one size fits all. So, technology needs to be customisable and to be able to support multiple users or a range of different times for a range of different purposes and public funded bodies need to share data internally and externally, whether that's with leaders, governors, and auditors. So this ability must be supported at the most basic level to make sure that the technology is actually aiding the school and not hindering.

Donna Parry

Schools should be demanding, reliable and instinctive technology that's easy to use and can adapt to a range of circumstances. Now, change is inevitable. And in an uncertain world schools, academies, multi academy trust needs to ensure that they've got the tools in place to be able to grow and evolve and also ensure that the correct systems are in place to acheive the vision of the of that school or multi academy trust. Now just like change is inevitable, so is growth that's whether your your schools growing because of pupils whether it's you know your multi academy trusts growing with schools joining, access to a central hub of information and being able to easily on both schools and pupils and staff isn't something that you want to be worrying about and your technology should scale and change with you just seamlessly in the background.

Donna Parry

Technology should help you be the same, but different. Processes and procedures needs to be scalable and flexible to cope with the demands of an unpredictable sector to and the technology you're using should make that easier. Managing talent in times of changes is absolutely crucial. So maintaining a positive culture where staff can focus on ways of developing the school and enhancing the learning opportunities for the pupils can provide a sense of ownership and working towards a shared commitment to help children learn rather than focusing on things like admin tasks and paperwork is going to ensure that teachers can focus on the issues that really matter which is teaching. Now, HR tools that centralise employee records can help to easily spot any trends in staff performance or absence. So, for example, high levels of sickness due to stress related issues can be highlighted and addressed earlier on and the basic premise can help you tackle a problem before it can spread and ensure that your culture remains intact, positive and particularly in times of change. Empowering staff by giving them access to the right tools and support will help alleviate the admin issues and freeing up more time to focus on on the pupils.

Donna Parry

Now, leadership and effective communication is crucial in times of change. One of the building blocks is having the right data at your fingertips to aid decision making. Data lead insights gives leader the confidence of knowing that they're acting on accurate data and can visualise that change. Allowing technology to take the heavy lifting out of the data analysis allows teachers to focus on on where the time is needed and that is with the pupils. Technology can promote engagements with stakeholders at all levels. And keeping the right people on side and informed is crucial. So whether that's your funding bodies, whether it's your SLT and management teams, whether that's teachers, parents, or even pupils, and everyone needs to be engaged to create lasting change. Now communication involves listening to stakeholders as well as discussing and engaging with them and technology can ensure there are a number of paths and available to support that communication. A strong planning tool will help quickly and accurately model multiple scenarios which can be significant in the wake of change. Inevitably change can bring more complex budgets. So planning allows you to anticipate future influences to help you become more resilient in the face of change. And whether that's things like you expenditure, whether it's staffing or whether it's a whole host of other things. You can monitor the impacts of change and ensure pupils and staff are getting the best support possible and you can allocate support where needed and foresee those potential issues. A strategic process and a consistent approach across your planning and analysis delivered by strong technology foundations can help you to successfully manage change, and be at the forefront of it. At the end of the day. Every parent, every teacher, and every educational professional has the same priority and that's helping our students grow to be happy, healthy and productive and deliver an outstanding education and it goes without saying that every pupil outcome is the priority for education professionals.

Donna Parry

Having data at your fingertips is crucial to achieving that goal and not just having that data but being able to interpret it and and customise it to meet your needs at the click of a button and whether that is monitoring your staff and whether it's, you know, looking at your expenditure. These insights need to help you to be more productive and having access to accurate and up to date information ensures that you know exactly what is happening in your schools and helps to continue to make improvements in a changing and unpredictable sector at schools, academies, local authorities, multi academy trusts need to remain agile, and efficiency using technology needs to become a priority. Thank you very much for listening. Thank you very much.


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