Gerald Haigh welcomes a new online service for 14-19, Capita's Partnership Xchange

Changes to the 14-19 curriculum – not least the arrival of the new diplomas – mean that schools and colleges can only provide the full spectrum of choice for their students if they band together in consortia or “collaboratives”. Each institution works to its strengths, and students travel to find the courses they need. How, though, does the ‘home’ school or college keep track of its young people, making sure they’re in the right places at the right time, making the right level of progress? An effective school currently uses its MIS to provide teachers and leaders with accurate real time information about each of its students on performance, attendance (including lesson-by-lesson attendance) punctuality and behaviour. Having achieved that level of care for its students, no school should have to see it compromised because some lessons are being taken in another place. Neither, too, should teachers with students from other schools in their classes have to accept a lower level of information about them. Phone and email - let alone bits of paper - aren’t going to come anywhere near doing the job properly.

Not everyone involved in setting up collaboratives saw this challenge coming. One who did was Phil Cumming, head of Stafford Collegiate, which brings together six schools, an FE College and a Sixth Form Centre. In a case study for Capita, he explains his initial concern like this:

“My first fear for the Collegiate was that we’d create something with holes in it that students might fall through. We need to know where the students are, what they’re doing and how they’re progressing in their work. It’s as simple – and as challenging – as that.”

The problem, then, is to provide the MIS with enough “reach” to keep teachers and students on board wherever they happen to be – but to do that securely, with live data moving only between people who have the right to it, and without adding a layer of complication for teachers.

Phil NealPhil NealCapita, supplier of the (almost) ubiquitous SIMS management information system, claims to have come up with the answer in the form of their “Partnership Xchange”, which, according to Phil Neal, director of SIMS, describes like this – “...allows schools to share attendance, assessment, behaviour and other data from all institutions pupils attend so they can remain on top of their conduct and achievement on a constant basis.”

The system’s been successfully piloted by the Stafford Collegiate and also by the Kingswood Partnership in Bristol. Phil Cumming, in Stafford reports that, “It works and does exactly what it says on the tin.” And according to Kingswood’s Data Manager, Kay Purnell, interviewed for the Guardian newspaper, it’s also easy to use: “It’s all done behind the scenes on a ‘need to know’ basis – there’s no need for an administrator to sort it out.”

That said, neither Kay nor Phil found the process pain-free. The problems were not with the technology, nor with Capita’s service, but with management and administrative policies and practices in the partner schools. Before Partnership Xchange can do its job, systems across partners have to be tight, accurate and working to the same parameters – and achieving that takes a lot of hard work and determined leadership. It’s clear that collaboratives looking to achieve effective data exchange would do well to talk to Capita and the pilot collaborators about management and administration as well as about the software.

Bett stand D20