Now the madness of the annual BETT show is just about fading; its time for the series of catchup posts I usually do – this year covering Capita SIMS and in the second post – Microsoft.
Voices are just about recovered; and feet too for that matter – athough I failed in my plan to have a pedometer track how far Id walked. It has to be said, less than previous years I expect, as my day job kept me very busy – which is great news.
I digress – back to the plan for this post – taking a look at what the teams at Capita SIMS were up to this year. First off has to be, as it is an area I have covered much on this blog – Assessment. Many congratulations have to be passed to Rachael and Duncan (Product Managers for Assessment and Teacher App respectively) for their BETT Award win. This one is different in my view to most awards – as generally, the big companies don’t win, so for Capita to grab this one is a real coup. That’s not saying it isnt deserved, it clearly is – as the complete Assessment solution is well thought out and implemented. That was before it got the app treatment.
It was always going to be a challenge to translate the assessment reporting needs into a clean, slick, easy to use interface for the Apps. But, they managed it – and although Ive only seen the iOS version so far, much is promised for the Windows version (which readers will know Im particularly keen on) and the Android version (which will be largely the same as the iOS one. This feature parity issue was one I challenged Duncan about, and it is something he is aware that is a cause of frustration; particularly for those who are not able to bring on board other OS devices.
The plan is, that there will be closer development releases from September.
In terms of where next for SIMS Assessment, Rachael told me that she wants to complete the formative/summative journey for Spring; and then later in the year, provide tools to allow the sharing of defined curriculums. This will be music to the ears of multi-academy trusts, and to a lesser extent Local Authorities. This is all designed to help with the sharing of best practice too. I will be catching up with Rachael in a few months time, after the Spring release to go through the Summer and Autumn plans; and then a greater “futures” blue sky thinking plan after the Annual Conference.
BETT also brought along a surprise product launch for Capita – SIMS Activities. This, in principal, takes the ideas behind InTouch and melds it with the power of User Defined Groups and Registers. Now, schools will be able to build trips lists, extra-curricular groups and clubs; and enable reporting and registers for these. If you’ve had the chance to see this, you will notice that the interface is rather similar to that of Agora; and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we see a coming together of these two at some point in the future. That is because not only is this an in school tool for logging and reporting; but it is also a parent facing tool for registration for groups, and allows all the power of parental contact that some will have been wanting in the original SIMS Learning Gateway. There is something interesting happening here; and a number of observers will wonder if there is a major coming together of a number of separate systems into one common interface. The coming months will indeed be interesting as the product settles in, gains traction and adoption; and evolves as the teams behind it take on and embed feedback. This project is learning all the lessons from its predecessor product launches and redesigns (such as the Teacher App and Assessment) – by embracing and valuing the power of customer feedback to build revisions of the product.
The aim of the SIMS Activities is simple – be able to send out invites, manage consent and keep parents regularly updated; whether those activities are before, during or after school. These might be trips, music lessons, sports matches or homework clubs. This should not only help reduce administration time for staff, but also help schools deliver activities as cost effectively as possible. Often, one of the biggest drawbacks is the management and preparation needed to maintain an activity.
Parents and pupils each have their own portal access, and are able to view activity information, sign up, provide consent as well as cancel attendance if they need. This gives parents greater control over the activities that their child is attending. Activities provides an easy way to keep track of activities for parents and pupils – including the ability to respond, schools can be confident that they are doing their very best to increase parental and pupil engagement. This also satisfies the Ofsted need for greater involvement and strengthens safeguarding in a very public manner.
Furthermore, you can set up notifications of new activities for example, and changes to existing activities. If an activity needs to be rescheduled, you can send an automatic email notification to parents advising them of the changes – which does not require the school to have purchased InTouch.
For the school, and activity supervisors, because SIMS is at the heart of this system – they can quickly access further information on pupils directly from the attendance register including emergency contact details, medical conditions, their SEN and pupil premium status. There are also built in tools to allow analysis of activities taking place across your school – in a simple graphical manner. You can also run emergency registers and analyse data for attendance levels across a number of categories including gender, year group, SEN, pupil premium and ethnicity.
We will continue to watch with interest as this new product develops – and what it means for how parents interact with the school, as this is now the 4th in a suite of products targeted at least partly at parents.