The following post features on our new educational hub, hosted by TES, packed with tips and resources designed to improve your school processes. We’ve pulled together the opinions and expertise of senior leaders on how technology can both inform and transform school processes to facilitate the difficult business of school management. For our next look at the TES Hub content, we turn once again to Stephen Crouch, group finance and operations director, and bursar of Wellington College.
TES Education Hub – Why every school needs better business process management – and how to get it
by Stephen Crouch
A “business process” is management-speak for a series of tasks which have an element of complexity. Hiring teachers, curriculum planning or budgeting are examples of business processes common to all schools and they happen every year.
Other examples are specific to school type – so academy conversion is a business process, and so is billing and fee collection for independent or state boarding schools. In every case, applications that manage data are the key to success.
Data comes first
In a modern school, applications which manage data are the oil that enables the engine to run efficiently. With a platform like iSAMS – a management information system designed for schools – and a well-structured, cloud-based network of files, basic digital literacy and the right authorisations, you or I can find out in minutes what it might once have taken a morning traipsing around school to uncover.
Take, for example, a single pupil: in a few clicks I can discover which school they attended previously; who their tutors are; the public exams they have sat and how they did (and how they are forecast to do next year); the after-school clubs they attend; the detentions they’ve suffered; the fees that are due; where the pupil was at 9:45am today and where they will be tomorrow. A whole school life is available at a click of a button. Every process is informed by and runs on data.
The key is access. If the data is hidden away in impenetrable personal file directories with no shared naming conventions, or if only one administrator and the head of IT know how to run reports, or if the tools you use aren’t integrated, then the cogs grind to a halt and you are back to schlepping around school to piece together the bits of information you need. So technology can oil the engine of processes generally by providing access to integrated information but how it can help with specific projects?
Some business processes matter more than others. Failing to carry out the correct reference checks on a new teacher or mismanaging the process of offering places can easily lead a school into regulatory or financial difficulties.
All processes have “must do” objectives and any variety of lesser ones. For a more straightforward process, it can be sufficient that those involved understand clearly what the “must do” objectives are and how to do them. A checklist and the right culture of expectation can, for example, suffice to make sure the DBS gets done.
But some processes need more. Take converting a local authority-maintained school into an academy. From lease negotiations and contract novation to funding streams and curriculum remodelling, there is so much to be done that no one individual can possibly keep it in their head – or even on a single “to do” list.
With processes like these, project management software is invaluable in breaking down, step by step, the tasks that must be done and the sequence in which to tackle them. Having a single repository for these tasks, timelines and responsibilities, accessible by all and with clear editing protocols, can not only provide reassurance that progress is being made, but also allows those with overall responsibility the chance to check that the “unmissables” have not been missed. The flexible Microsoft Project, for example, uses a Gantt chart approach to achieve this – a bar chart that illustrates a project schedule, making it easy to see at a glance what has and has not been achieved.
Boosting the bottom line
Change starts with behaviour. One common change-resistant item in the school budget is the photocopier and printer cartridge bill that grows every year. We all know that in an era of paperless offices, the forests of paper and lakes of ink we consume is indefensible. But changing behaviour is difficult.
Yet your technology provider should be able to provide you with a breakdown of cost by networked printer, probably week by week, and person by person if you use an access key or code. Share that data graphically every month with users and let them watch the paper stack rise and the ink lake fill.
Sharing data is the kind of virtual nudge that can be all it takes to change behaviour. Sometimes a single metric, shared in the right way, makes the difference – if food waste is too high, weigh what leaves your site for landfill and show the tonnes mounting up on a screen by the lunch queue.
Business processes can be as concerned with the top line as the bottom line. Attracting pupils is becoming an issue for all schools with some independence of status – whether they are fee-paying or state-funded. We all do the same things: write prospectuses, place advertisements in local papers, run open days, process applications.
But what do you do if these activities stop delivering enough pupils? Who doesn’t even consider your school? You might be surprised to learn the answer that data reveals. Online GIS (Geographic Information System) mapping software, such as mapsdata.co.uk, can turn a spreadsheet of 1,000 pupil postcodes into searchable maps showing where you do and do not attract interest, whether that’s for open days or places.
Make your process centre on turning a “cold” blue area on your map into a red “hotspot”. Offer a school bus service to a blue area; put a hoarding on the roundabout outside that new housing development; host a sports competition for the new primary.
Data enables you to mould your school business processes to your aim. The first step is to make sure that they are well oiled with information, shifting gear and direction as needed, rather than grinding to a clanking halt.
Stephen Crouch is group finance and operations director, and bursar of Wellington College.