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Technology as an Investment for the Future

by Terry Freedman on April 25, 2017

As in any organisation, the biggest single expenditure for schools is on staffing costs. Not only teaching staff, but non-teaching staff as well. Technology can help, although we are not suggesting that the school office staff be replaced by robots.

Even if that were possible (and several reports have suggested that office administration jobs will be at high risk of automation over the next decade), schools will always need the human touch.So how can investing in technology help? By reducing the amount of time taken over routine or repetitive tasks, technology can free up school admin staff to be more 'customer facing'. That is, they will have more time to help staff, pupils and parents achieve what they need.

For example, in one school, the school office was run so efficiently that the office staff had time to run a computer room and equipment booking system. Before that, a member of staff was in charge of the keys, and the loanable equipment such as digital cameras was available only when the teacher responsible wasn't teaching.

Technology also helps to reduce errors. For example, even in a simple spreadsheet, the inclusion of a drop-down menu from which to select a teacher's name is far quicker and less error-prone than having to type it in each time.

A good principle to bear in mind is WORM: Write Once, Read Many. The acronym originally applied to CDs, but can be applied to any kind of administration technology. What it means is that you enter the data into the system once, and then use it many times over, in different ways.

In a school context, the school already has a management information system, or MIS, which contains essential data on each pupil: names, address, parents' names and address(es), date of birth, parents' contact details by phone, text and email and so on.

With all that information already in the system, it makes sense to utilise it in several different ways. For example, pupils' assessment data can be entered and accessed, the register taken, and school meals requirements through Emerge. Parents can be contacted quickly and easily via Messenger. And parents can pay for school trips and other items via third party additions, in this case, Pay Our School (PoS). Each of these applications draws on the same central database for their data, which is why it makes sense to invest in the technology. In essence, what you're doing is spending money in order to make more use of a relatively fixed asset: the pupil database.

There are a few factors to consider when deciding whether or not to invest in more technology.

First, will it enable the staff to be more efficient? You need to look at the economic costs to work this out. In the case of PoS, for instance, how long does it usually take a member of the office staff to process parental payments? If it takes an average of an hour a day, then each week the school is 'losing' a day's office time in effect.

Secondly, what is the marginal, or extra, cost of the investment? If the school has already invested £10,000 in an admin system, the marginal cost of an add-on that will help to get even more use from the system is relatively low.

Thirdly, how financially efficient is your school now? One way to find out is to use the DfE's School's efficiency metric tool. This is a spreadsheet that you can download from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/schools-financial-efficiency-metric-tool. All you do is enter the school's URN, and you'll be told how efficient your school is compared to statistically similar ones. The metric is based on how much progress pupils make relative to the income it receives. If your school comes out rather low, it may be worth considering investing in technology in order to take advantage of the facility to inform parents of their children's progress, or to 'nudge' them into asking their kids about homework.

Ultimately, the school's job is to educate its pupils. It's worth spending money on technology that can help to do so more efficiently.

Topics: Groupcall Emerge, Groupcall Messenger, Pay Our School