Recently I delivered an online webinar outlining how SIMS can power engagement, but when we talk about engagement in a school setting, what do we actually mean?
Normally, the term is used in connection with parental engagement in relation to how your school reaches out to families or manages interactions from parents.
However, engagement can be viewed as a much wider subject, something far more fundamental, in the context of operating a successful school and providing pupils with the best opportunities to reach their potential and achieve their best.
During my time at Capita, I’ve been very fortunate to meet and listen to many of our customers at UK schools and overseas, learning more about their challenges and successes. As I’ve reflected on their desire to inspire and build a truly engaging learning experience, where individuals or groups are involved, benefitting and fully in the moment, it sounds more relatable to spectating at a football match – where everyone is really absorbed in the action, emotionally involved in every pass and shot with abounding passion about the event and the outcome. In this scenario, every participant is more than just a spectator – they’re a part of the environment and the action, playing an important role in shaping the outcome of the event.
Unfortunately, the metaphor which often epitomises the opposite - disengagement and sheer boredom - is often education, with some students taking a passive role as uninterested participants. So how do we turn the tables on this perception?
“It takes an entire village…”
Within the education sector there are many factors that have an influence on motivation, aspiration, commitment, involvement and engagement, so sometimes it can be really important to take a step back and think about education in the wider context. How do we make sure that everyone is playing their part in supporting learners and providing the best possible environment for their development?
While living in Africa, I was introduced to the saying: “It takes an entire village to raise a single child.” Research shows that learning outcomes are significantly influenced by the experience and journey facilitated by teachers, parents and ourselves as facilitators. Students too often ask how relevant their learning is to their future.
Taking a wider, holistic approach is key to the vision of SIMS engagement solutions – engagement is not just limited to parents, but rather considers the students’ destination, their aspirations and the different pathways available to them. I believe that the quality of learner experience and outcomes are directly related to your activity, the relationships you build and the quality of the engagements you enable.
Three strategic pillars to engagement
SIMS can help bridge the gap with these wider groups by utilising existing assets and capabilities, namely: -
- Data – thinking about what information we’re collecting and how it is recorded
- Automation – how can we address the growing workload in school and make everyday life easier for teachers
- Collaboration – how do we create a cohesive and valuable network between schools and external partners, both inside and outside the educational context
Data is useless… without intelligence
We all sit on mountains of data, but to make the most of it you need to derive genuinely intelligent insights to inform decision making.
In practice, this comes down to a number of key factors: -
- Clear goals
Before collecting any data, it’s crucial to have a clear understanding of what you’re looking to achieve and how data can help that. Start any project with a clear question in mind and then make the data work for you to answering that question or disprove your hypothesis.
- Data quality
Keeping data accurate and up-to-date might seem like an obvious requirement, but in order to keep your data useful, this is essential. One incorrect digit in a phone number or an old email address can scupper your plans to optimise or use your data.
The data you collect needs to provide senior leaders with clear insight to inform their decision-making. This also requires that you have the right tools in place to turn raw, numerical data into easy-to-understand information.
Just as every learner is unique, so too is every school. As well as understanding the socio-economic influences, cohort attitude and learner aptitude, it’s important to ensure the business operations are considered including resourcing, financial impact, business decisions, safeguarding, scaling, change management and academisation.
- Appropriate sharing
It’s vital that data is shared confidentially and in compliance with data protection and privacy regulation like GDPR. While setting up data permissions for partners and stakeholders, it’s important to consider privileges and controls as part of your systems design and architecture.
Reducing teacher workload
In line with the Department for Education’s efforts in this area, we understand how technology can significantly help reduce time taken on repetitive processes and lengthy manual tasks with measurable impact. Technology in education has the potential to address some of the obstacles that currently exist, creating smarter work systems and streamlined processes. Some of the biggest opportunities in this area are: -
- Developing communication channels
- Reducing unnecessary administration
- Eliminating the entering and reentering of data
- Ongoing change and variance through flexible systems
- Cutting down on printing and wastage
Some of these challenges might prove to be bigger than others, but they certainly provide us with some tangible benefits of harnessing the power of technology in education.
Collaboration: the key to quality
There’s a quote I love from the legendary American basketball player, Michael Jordan, who despite being perhaps the greatest player of all time, still understood the importance of working together. He said: “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”
I think this says everything about what we’re trying to achieve in engagement – if we rely purely on individual talent then we may win some of the time, but to achieve consistent and regular excellence, we need to work together with a common goal in mind.
So how do we ensure that we create long-lasting, successful partnerships with organisations in the education space? Technology gives us the perfect platform for achieving this, whether that be sharing learning resources and homework tasks with pupils or communicating behaviour notices to parents. SIMS has more than 100 technical partners and we are developing and powering an ecosystem which works for schools, academies and groups globally. Some of our recent activities include our work with Microsoft to enable OneNote integration into SIMS while simplifying the marking process significantly. We are also increasing our integration with leading educational powerhouses including Learning Ladders, Century Tech and Britannica. Through this ecosystem, it’s now easier than ever before to create an engaging environment that supports everyone involved in the learning journey.
SIMS Engagement portfolio: our current solutions
As things currently stand, we try to view our engagement products as a cluster of tools, designed to either work as a combined solution or individually as satellite services on top of a core management information system. The current portfolio consists of a number of products including: -
SIMS Parent - a mobile and web app which provides families with everything they need to know about their child at school including attendance, behaviour, reports and set homework.
Parent Lite – a slimmed down version of SIMS Parent, designed to enable the updating and collection of data in line with GDPR requirements.
InTouch – our communication tool for publishing messages to parents via email or SMS.
Activities - a service enabling schools to manage extra-curricular events with control over safeguarding and reporting requirements.
Agora – our online payment solution that helps schools adopt a cashless approach for everything from uniforms and school trips to smaller, less frequent transactions.
Dinner Money – connecting with catering providers and cashless payment solutions to make the management of school meals far more straightforward.
There’s a wide range of information on our engagement products in the section of our website dedicated to our engagement solution and we are working on consolidating and improving the user experience across these services into a single solution for school engagement.
This will effectively reduce time and administration for schools through a single parental touchpoint driven by SIMS school data. Parents too would benefit from seeing everything in relation to their child on one platform.
Encouraging independent learning
Homework and the associated marking has been cited as one of the major drivers of workload. With significant change in curriculum, grading and testing there is significant work required in developing suitable learning resources. This is compounded by the time and cost in printing and chasing for submissions followed by mountains of marking.
To address this, we’re evolving our homework service with a multi-phase approach to deliver a new independent learning platform, with the first stage focusing on making it easier to deliver homework tasks and attachments digitally and remotely, so you can prepare, schedule and circulate homework securely without having to be in the school building. In the future, we aim to deliver more functionality that will automate many of the current processes – facilitating the submission, assessment and archiving of homework tasks in a digital space, reducing the need for several admin-heavy tasks along the journey.
Easier interactions for greater engagement
The over-arching aim of our engagement solutions is to provide convenient access to essential data, which has the power to inform interactions and insights to a greater level than ever before.
Our goal is to help schools achieve a situation where parents are so much more informed about their child’s progress via accessible, always-on services, encouraging a significantly improved attitude towards learning at home as well.
By bringing our services together, enriching our data tapestry and working with strategic partners to support classroom activity, management oversight and school improvement, we want to make sure that everyone involved in a child’s development can play an active and vibrant role to help us all reach our full potential.
You can access the entire webinar on the SIMS vision for engagement by registering your details here. Alternatively, learn more about our entire engagement solution here.
Learn more about the SIMS vision for engagement
Access the full webinar explaining the SIMS vision for engagement or take a look at our existing solutions.