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Headteacher workload – How EdTech can save you time

March 3, 2021, 9:00 GMT+1
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  • Gary Spracklen looks at ways automation can cut down the daily grind...
Headteacher workload – How EdTech can save you time

A Rube Goldberg machine, named after American cartoonist Rube Goldberg, is a ‘chain reaction-type machine intentionally designed to perform a simple task in an indirect and overly complicated way’.

Sometimes as a school leader, technology in schools feels like a ‘Rude Goldberg Machine’. Simple tasks can become overly complicated.

My favourite example has to be the Victorian contraption used in Chitty, Chitty, Bang Bang to make the Potts family breakfast! With it’s carnival-like egg wheel, and self-delivering sausage arm, the breakfast machine (Breakfast Machine #1) sure seems like a lot of work for a simple meal!

A recent case in point would be the Department for Education’s ‘Educational Setting Status Form’ - this non-statutory daily form asked educational settings for information about pupil or student attendance and setting closures or partial closures during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. For many the form became a daily grind, transporting information that was already available within the school’s management information system (MIS).

Many were left asking… surely this process could be automated? In my own role, I have now automated a number of simple tasks through the use of tools like:
An online appointment schedule which works directly with Google, iCloud and Microsoft cloud calendars. Connect with your calendar and only share the times you want with your users (staff/parents/ governors/guests) - they book straight into your calendar. Users get their own notifications, reminders, calendar invites and more.

Otter turns your voice conversations into smart notes that you can easily search and share. You can use it to take notes at your meetings and interviews, capture your thoughts and ideas while you’re driving in the car, and transcribe your existing recordings and podcasts.
IFTTT derives its name from the programming conditional statement “if this, then that.” What the company provides is a software platform that connects apps, devices and services from different developers in order to trigger one or more automations involving those apps, devices and services. This is perfect for capturing records of press coverage of your school or for saving images shared via your school’s social media profiles. The possibilities with really are endless.

My own experiences are developing but already I can see signs of how automation could be used to support me further in my role as a school leader. With this in mind, I was pleased to receive a recent invitation to take part in a pilot to automate the daily collection of attendance data from the Department for Education.

The Department is currently working with a small number of management information system (MIS) suppliers on a pilot to investigate the potential of automating the flow of attendance data directly from school management information systems to the Department for Education.

The aim of this pilot is to ‘reduce the requirement for manual data submission and reduce the burden on schools and is in line with the governments ‘Use Cloud First’ policy’.

This all sounds very intriguing and I look forward to taking part in the trial. Whatever the outcome, it’s clear to me that automation is at the heart of digital transformation for school leaders and I look forward to exploring further examples as new technologies become available.

Gary Spracklen is headteacher at The Prince of Wales School, Dorchester.