A vision for how schools’ MIS should function

By | August 5, 2013

I’m using this post to try and flesh out my own thinking about the role of MIS in schools; apologies for the dull-ness, you are welcome to slip quietly out of the back now while I look the other way.

Firstly, in case you don’t know, MIS is derived from ‘Management Information System’, the commonly used term for the overarching suite of software which carries out multiple back-office functions in schools, from hosting basic student data to working out the year’s timetable.

Every school uses one but few of us have had the opportunity to think hard about How and Why, and Whether it could be doing so much more for us.

A curious fact: since beginning my career as an NQT in the late 90s, through various middle and senior school leadership roles and time spent in the private sector & now working for a national group, the actual time I’ve spent physically operating an MIS is surprisingly small. I probably had most interaction with it as a Deputy head, with the constant need to contact parents, record behaviour events, amend the timetable and interrogate performance data. I was almost certainly my school’s heaviest MIS user though.

What I’m getting at is that, in my experience at least, MIS is often a missed opportunity. Even the worst, least functional MIS should inform every adult and child’s daily life in school, and I don’t just mean as a way to take the register, and it’s the rare school which achieves this. It should be so interwoven with our practice because it should let us understand things which we wouldn’t otherwise know, it should let us share information in really powerful and joined-up ways and it should make an important contribution to creating independent, motivated and empowered learners.

The market has shifted considerably in the UK since the government’s disruption of it via their MIS framework a couple of years ago, which opened the door to some innovative new players. However, 90%+ of UK schools are still customers of the two big companies whose somewhat lumbering products have dominated this space for twenty years.

If I were designing an MIS from the ground up, with the above ‘shoulds‘ in mind, these are the things I’d want:

  • An individual rather than institutional feel. It should adapt what it looks like and the functions available based on the person using it, foregrounding the information they need right now (e.g. what is their target for the lesson they’re currently in? What behaviour issues were recorded in the last day for the class you’re about to teach?)
  • Pushing relevant droplets of data to users – parents and students – without requiring a conscious action on their behalf. Information about their/ their child’s learning should form part of the ongoing landscape of their digital day.
  • Business Intelligence (BI) capabilities, using big data approaches to look at our current students and work out, based on holistic knowledge of the child and data about what has been proven to have an impact with similar students in the past, what should be done to best support their progress.
  • Automatically revealing things about learners that we didn’t know – uncovering patterns and relationships between factors which, let’s face it, teachers can be too overwhelmed to consider on an individual basis.
  • Providing simple and usable analytical tools for staff who want to dig deeper into what the data reveals, without the school needing a gatekeeper with a background in statistics and a black belt in Excel to process this.
  • Available anywhere and on everything, yet still meeting schools’ security and data protection needs, without VPNs, horrible web interfaces or expensive third party apps.
  • Featuring an open API so that data can be surfaced in other platforms, such as VLEs or mobile apps.

Perhaps there already exists a product which does this – I’m no expert in MIS (you’d guessed that already, I suspect) – but I’d like to think that a market as large and demanding as UK education could create it through demand in the next few years.

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