Less paper equals less stress and more value

While schools are more likely to invest in technology that supports and enhances students’ learning, something that is quite often pushed down the list is using edtech resources to improve teachers’ own experiences and reduce their workloads

As a starting point, changing traditional administrative processes to a more seamless paperless system not only means schools can streamline their admin but also allows them more time to focus on what really matters: teaching students.

Leigh Adams, former deputy head at George Abbott School in Guildford, and now headteacher at The Costello School in Basingstoke, was concerned about the amount of time his previous teaching staff were having to spend on administrative tasks such as creating seating plans; reporting on each student’s performance, behaviour and attainment; tracking grades and test scores; and making a note of students’ specific educational needs. He believed that in order to simplify this process, ‘going digital’ was the solution and so he set about working alongside a team of tech developers to create a tailored solution to meet the school’s needs.

During his time a George Abbott, Leigh explains how he combined his knowledge of the problems teachers face on a daily basis with digital expertise in order to develop a paperless, time-saving tool for schools.

In the lead up to the new academic year and each new term, teachers undoubtedly spend a significant amount of time on planning, evidence building, reporting, and lesson preparation. I knew for us as a school, there had to be a way to make our administrative processes more efficient in order to give our teachers more time to focus on their students.

While planning time is of course precious, we were challenged with traditional paper-based methods. Teachers were spending hours on end manually creating, revising and recreating seating plans for each class, so I wanted to make this process more time-effective to free up our teachers’ time to teach. I knew the current system was neither effective nor productive so I set about looking for a solution that would digitise these tasks and meet our needs.

Finding the right solution

While there were plenty of digital resources offering various features that included some of what we were looking for, the challenge we faced was that most of them provided far more functionality than we actually needed. We wanted something bespoke: a resource that gave us exactly what we needed, nothing more, nothing less.

So following some research, I began working with Minted Box - a team of tech developers – and proposed my idea for a solution to the problem our teachers, and undoubtedly teachers in other schools, were facing.

We discussed the issue and between us, sketched out a tool that is now being used in 400 schools across the country, including The Costello School. The digital seating planner, which also brings together the plethora of student information from various content management systems so teachers have easy access to it at any given time, was developed and brought to market in just four short months. And, because Minted Box recognised the commercial viability of my idea, they developed the product at a very low cost meaning that, as a school, we were able to effectively solve our problem without putting pressure on our budget – so we have been able to save time and money. The resultant paperless seating planner has turned jobs which used to take hours into jobs which take just minutes!

Collaborative efforts

While I was acutely aware of the problem we needed to address, and had even gone as far as to develop my own idea to solve this problem, I lacked the technical know-how to bring this idea to life. And this is where the tech developers played such a vital role; we were able to combine our knowledge to create a solution built with schools in mind.

As nothing like this digital seating planner existed before, we were able to tailor it around our school’s particular requirements.
Furthermore, as a result of the team’s technical skill and flexibility, they were able to adapt the product to benefit other schools, for instance by adding additional layers of functionality such as performance monitoring an assessment reporting, as and when required. In my opinion, this tackles the challenge that many schools face when it comes to buying technology.

Schools are aware that digitising their processes will save them time and money in the long run but, as they don’t always have a solid enough understanding of the technology to decipher between the multitude of products on the market, they run the risk of being convinced to buy solutions which go above and beyond what they need – so they’re paying for flashy extras which are, ultimately, redundant.

Going paperless

Having a digital system that streamlined our processes wasn’t the only benefit; not having reams and reams of paper detailing student information and needs, as well as scribbled seating plans was also a bonus. With all the data managed centrally, teachers are able to simply and automatically arrange and rearrange students as many times as required throughout the year, without the headache of having to redo plans from scratch as soon as, for example, a new student joins or one leaves.

Furthermore, as the planner is linked to SIMS, our teachers don’t have to look up the pupils’ names or photos, it’s all done for them.

Not only did this reduce the amount of time spent on administrative tasks, but going paperless provided a great deal of value for money too.
For instance, it takes approximately 30 minutes to create a seating plan, including initial set up, which, once you’ve done this for 10 different classes per teacher – with around 70 at our school – it works out to about 350 hours initially. Then taking into account the updates throughout the year, it equates to over 1,000 teacher hours over the course of a year.

Return on investment is almost immediate when taking into account the cost of teachers’ time.

This instantly gives teachers more time for planning and marking. The integration of the SIMS write back for attendance and behaviour also prevents the need to login twice to separate systems, which again provides ongoing time savings as well as reduced network traffic which subsequently helps speed up data transfers etc. so all in all, a worthwhile investment!

Looking ahead

Making the move to digital has definitely cut the planning time that is traditionally associated with seating plans, while still retaining its effectiveness.
It started with a frustration that only we knew how to resolve.

Combining that with the expertise of a tech team to bring it to life, resulted in a tailored solution that exceeded our expectations and was far superior to any ‘off the shelf’ products we looked at.

Opting for a paperless system has provided a better way of working for our teachers, easier access to manage and view student information, and has allowed us to position our pupils effectively, to ensure they’re getting the most from their learning.