Serco's Mohamad Djahanbakhsh gives his take on the DfE MIS framework for BETT 2012 visitors
Following the Becta report: "School Management Information Systems and Value for Money 2010", which revealed that many schools are paying over the odds and that the competitive procurement process in the market could be improved, the Department for Education launched a consultation with suppliers and other stakeholders.
As a direct result, a new procurement framework is being implemented to help schools and local authorities make more cost-effective purchasing decisions, so making the MIS market more competitive. The question is: how can school senior management teams ensure they source the best product for their needs and obtain genuine value for money?
Schools currently have a variety of MIS and virtual learning environments (VLEs). However, they are increasingly focusing their budgets on essential core resources, such as MIS, and dropping non-essentials. Some schools, in particular those that have converted to Academy status, have taken the opportunity to evaluate the market and actively look for best value for money. Others, who are perhaps less sure of how best to evaluate the market, are simply renewing annual contracts with existing suppliers.
What does the new DfE framework mean for suppliers and schools?
In March 2012, the DfE will announce which suppliers have been appointed to the framework, providing schools with a variety of potential products from a range of suppliers. Yet even with such a comprehensive list, how will schools be able to compare suppliers in order to ensure they choose the best MIS to meet their needs?
More and more schools are becoming Academies, moving out of local authority (LA) control. With fewer schools in their control, it is likely that many LAs will cease to procure these services and that we will see many more schools organising their own purchasing. But do schools and Academies have the expertise in-house to evaluate a contract that would previously have been the responsibility of the LA, or will they need to employ the services of a solicitor? What are the cost implications of this? How will schools navigate their way through complex terms and conditions in order to make the significant cost savings that buying through the framework is intended to unlock?
In order to benefit fully, schools should use the framework as a starting point rather than as a comprehensive purchasing mechanism. They should meet suppliers and carry out a thorough comparison, ensuring that the terms and conditions are understood fully. It is vital to evaluate by comparing apples with apples and pears with pears, rather than picking the cheapest option or the one that is at the top of the framework list.
21st century cloud-based technology
Ask the question ‘What is the future for educational technology?’ A core theme echoed by schools, LAs and private industry alike, is the need for greater efficiency. More and more schools are looking for outcome-oriented technology – solutions that can help them make more effective decisions more quickly and more efficiently.
For example, behaviour management is high on the Government’s agenda. This will be a key theme at BETT as schools seek ways to automate the process of tracking and monitoring incidents, and their resultant rewards and sanctions, with a view to significantly improving outcomes for all involved.
Cloud-based technology will also be hitting the headlines as schools look to reduce their total cost of ownership and to operate more efficiently. Google, a company that has pushed the technological boundaries of cloud computing for more than 10 years, will also be attending BETT – a clear indicator that more and more people are recognising the benefits of reliable, robust and scalable externally hosted managed services.
Another major topic that will be discussed at BETT is school improvement and how real-time learner data can be used to track attainment and behaviour and to implement and monitor early intervention plans or to provide extra support to drive up standards. In many cases, MIS can help schools judged by Ofsted as "good" to become "outstanding".
Parental engagement will also feature, as schools continue to look to improve communication with parents. It is no longer sufficient to send parents a weekly e-newsletter. Schools need to keep parents informed about their child’s progress on an ongoing basis. To achieve this, email communications, the parental portal and MIS information need to be closely integrated, enabling teachers to push information out to parents instantaneously.
On Stand F20 at BETT 2012, Serco Learning is showcasing its own £20 million-plus investment in education – the eagerly anticipated fourth-generation, cloud-based MIS, Progresso. Developed in consultation with more than 2,000 school customers, its new and enhanced features, much welcomed by the teaching community, distinguish this system from earlier generations of MIS systems. They deliver the benefits of learner intelligence, efficiency and ease of use which are the hallmarks of Progresso.
Advanced reporting and analysis of school and school cluster-wide data will be easier than ever using the latest business intelligence technologies. For example, Progresso Analytics, shown for the first time at BETT 2012,will demonstrate the capability to extend insights into learners and help them maximise their potential.
Lastly, this year’s BETT will witness the arrival of a host of mobile devices that enable teachers to access school systems remotely, so they can view information about a learner’s assessment, behaviour and attendance anytime, anywhere. This is why Progresso is designed for use on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, as well as PCs and Macs.
Ease of use is key to the future of MIS
As the list of approved suppliers on the new DfE framework will not be announced until the end of March 2012, most schools will have already allocated their budgets for the year, so may not be able to benefit from the framework until the academic year commencing September 2012. The good news is that schools are increasingly aware of the pitfalls of some MIS systems, such as over-complex data-entry processes that prevent them from readily accessing key information. This is encouraging them to look for solutions that are easier to use, so they can minimise training costs and exploit the system benefits more quickly.
So what is the future of MIS for schools? Undoubtedly, schools will be looking for solutions that achieve real outcomes, such as saving staff time, centralising communications, reducing the cost of ownership through the cloud and improving behaviour and attainment. In order to realistically achieve such outcomes, it is vital that the systems are easy for staff to use so that they can utilise the range of features designed to help them improve standards. Ultimately, this will help school senior management teams to make more effective decisions in order to deliver 21st century education.
Mohamad Djahanbakhsh is managing director of Serco Learning which launches next-generation MIS Progresso at BETT 2012