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How can schools benefit from digital technologies?

Digital technologies continue to be as ubiquitous in the workplace as they are in our personal lives. The use of IT in curriculum delivery has long been championed, but how should schools or colleges be using IT in administration and management? Over the last 5 – 10 years, there has been increasing opportunity for automation and centralisation of these functions. Indeed, evidence indicates that digital technologies not only enhance office efficiency but, ultimately, positively impact attainment in the classroom.

Schools already use IT systems in a variety of ways to facilitate communication, administration and management: PowerPoint presentations to deliver in-house training to staff; Zoom to host team meetings; emails to communicate with parents/carers about their children’s progress; electronic record-keeping systems (for medical information, attendance registers, performance management, etc).

The sustainable option

Indeed, as indicated in academic studies, IT-led systems can bring with them a variety of benefits. From an environmental perspective, of course, they are far more sustainable than paper-based options. Copies of student and staff records can be kept digitally in one secure location, reducing the need for storage of cumbersome and costly paper equivalents, and making information instantly accessible.

Reducing workload

IT systems can also save time and reduce unnecessary teacher workload stress, as highlighted in the DfE’s ‘Realising the potential of technology in education: A strategy for education providers and the technology industry’. Of course, the stress associated with heavy workloads is a pressing issue for the education sector; a Teacher wellbeing survey published by NASUWT in 2022 reports that 90% of respondents had experienced an increase in work-related stress throughout 2021, and 52% said that workload was the main factor for this.

Shaping policy

Having a setting’s information within one easily accessible and retrievable single central system seems to be the growing norm. In its blog, ‘Why we need effective education management information systems’, UNESCO argues the case for the education management information system (EMIS) as an effective way to collect, store, process, analyse and disseminate information about a setting, and use data to inform policy planning and management. UNESCO also underlines the fact that an EMIS can help settings achieve the sustainable development goal of equality and accessibility in education.

Benefits for MATs

Obviously, information management systems can facilitate the huge task of centralising essential support and management functions within multi-academy trusts (MATs). As more schools join MATS in the run up to the government’s 2030 deadline, it is likely that more and more will be able to take advantage the dual benefits of partnership working and automation, in terms of achieving economies of scale and freeing up teacher time for teaching.

Perceived barriers

Perceived barriers to implementing digital technologies in schools remain, however. Accessibility to suitable IT equipment is dependent on a school’s budget, and staff must be suitably trained and competent in using systems, so that the technology can deliver maximum benefit for the setting.

The rise of the app

Teachers are increasingly turning to apps to aid in organisational tasks such as recognising student achievement, recording attendance and parental communication. A growing variety of apps are available that aim to reduce teachers’ workloads by performing administrative tasks for them. This might, perhaps, convey a slightly conflicting message if blanket mobile phone bans are already in place for pupils, and yet teachers are being encouraged to use their own devices, albeit for legitimate work purposes.

The shift towards the digitalisation of systems continues apace in the education sector. Indeed, the DfE’s ‘School resource management: building a stronger system’ states its intention to continue to launch more technology standards for schools not only to support learning, but also “intelligent procurement practices, sustainable, long-term investment in technology, and sector-wide efficiencies”. As digital technologies and tools continue to be used effectively and creatively in teaching and learning, it’s only natural that they should be also used to transform management and administration.