A Year Like No Other: Q&A with iSAMS Managing Director, Alastair Price
We were delighted to be the Exclusive Sponsor at the BSA Annual Conference for Heads in September. At iSAMS we’re proud to be working with over 45% of BSA member schools to support their teachers, enhance parental engagement and empower student learning.
It has been a monumental year for the education sector and the world at large as the outbreak of COVID-19 forced huge behavioural changes on the global population, shifting education and events online. During this time, we turned 15 years old.
- How did iSAMS approach the outbreak of COVID-19?
- How can schools effectively manage the mental health effects of COVID-19?
- How have you helped schools with admissions and registrations for the new school year during COVID-19?
- How would iSAMS respond to a live case of COVID-19 in a school?
- What is your vision for iSAMS in the future?
BSA: COVID-19 turned the education sector on its head, forcing schools to close their doors and quickly adapt to online learning. How did iSAMS approach the outbreak of COVID-19?
In many ways we were in an advantageous position when the pandemic hit because as a business we were already working remotely and therefore – from an operations perspective – we could carry on as normal. That included our support team, so we were still offering 19 hours of support a day to schools throughout the pandemic. We received more than 27,000 tickets between March and September, with an average resolution time of just over an hour. Having developed iSAMS as a fully web-based MIS, school staff could still use the complete suite of modules whilst working from home without the need for a fidgety VPN.
We did however recognize that schools were going to have to change the way they operated pretty quickly. To help out, we offered several products to schools for free including our iParent, iStudent and iTeacher Apps, Parent and Student Portals, Admissions Portal, SMS Messaging Service and API Integrations.
Our goal was to ease the burden on schools by offering products that aid communication between staff, students and parents and enhance integrations with online learning platforms such as MS Teams. By offering the Admissions Portal to schools we also helped them to keep an eye on the coming school year.
Alongside these free products, we also set about developing new features that would be helpful in lockdown. We released Student Self-Registration which allows students to register their attendance remotely, via the iStudent App and Portal, removing this task from the ever-growing list for teachers. We also added functionality for parents to submit leave requests, pay invoices and view student test marks online, allowing them greater oversight of their child’s wellbeing during a stressful period.
BSA: The process of schools closing and reopening is thought to have had a significant impact on the mental health of students. How can schools effectively manage this new challenge?
COVID-19 has been in many ways a global, collective trauma but each student’s experience has been an individual one. Many students have spent months at home when they would usually be boarding with their peers, and some reports suggest that more parents are considering boarding as an option to protect them from the virus. Whilst there is no silver bullet to solve the problems caused by the pandemic, we think that approaching each student as an individual with differing levels of needs is crucial.
Managing the wellbeing of students even under normal circumstances is no mean feat and this is why we think our Wellbeing Manager module could be really helpful for schools. The module was developed to support logging safeguarding concerns and issues for students. It gives schools access to the vital information needed to provide proactive, preventative pastoral care.
Within the module, staff can record concerns and related actions against single or multiple students, identify moments which significantly impact a student and highlight more serious concerns via the Raised Flag feature, which allow you to log the severity of safeguarding concerns or life events.
BSA: How have you helped schools with admissions and registrations for the new school year during COVID-19?
The pandemic has clearly caused a lot of uncertainty for schools in terms of students enrolling or returning for the new school year. Dealing with admissions and registrations – including holding virtual open days – was yet another task for schools to keep in mind whilst transitioning to online learning. We’ve been helping schools to move their processes online for 15 years now, so this is an area we knew we could streamline.
As schools rarely have leftover budget in March, we made access to our Admissions Portal free for schools between March and September. This measure allowed schools to embed our bespoke enquiry forms within their website to allow parents to make enquiries quickly and easily from home. We also expanded our payment gateway options, allowing parents to pay registration fees directly through the Admissions Portal.
The Portal feeds into our Admissions Manager module, giving schools an accurate idea of student numbers for the new school year and highlighting any outstanding invoices when completing the budget for the coming year.
There are a number of helpful features in iSAMS that can be used to tackle a case when it arises. For example, teachers can mark students absent which automatically links directly to Government codes to identify and report on COVID-19 cases. This includes identifying specific scenarios such as awaiting a test result, tested positive, self-isolating and so on.
Furthermore, schools can use our Medical Centre module to track and record students with symptoms. By using the severity feature it then triggers a medical flag, which then enables other staff members to monitor these symptoms.
In the situation where a student is self-isolating but still learning remotely, schools can use our Wellbeing Manager module to highlight this information to other staff members when taking registration.
It’s important for schools to ensure they are notifying the relevant staff, students and parents in the case of a positive test. This can be done using our Daily Bulletin Manager module which can be used to inform staff through iSAMS (or students and parents through our online portals and apps). Filters can be applied so only certain divisions or individual year group cohorts are informed.
If a staff member is forced to self-isolate, our Cover Manager module allows bespoke COVID-19 absence reasons to be created, and contains functionality to assign cover for lessons – be that from available internal staff or using the external agency manager function. All of this information can then be recorded in our HR Manager module for future reference.
BSA: The epidemic has ushered in new ideas about how schools and businesses should be run. What is your vision for iSAMS in the future?
We’ve already done the hard yards that other MIS providers are having to put in now because iSAMS was built to be fully cloud-based. That means we have the luxury of focusing our efforts on delivering a roadmap of new and exciting modules such as the upcoming Gradebooks and Curriculum Manager modules – both of which will supersede current modules and offer far greater functionality.
We have, however, pivoted our focus slightly to allow greater integration with remote working tools like Microsoft Teams. It’s clear that remote working is likely to stay well beyond coronavirus, and the work we’re doing now will give schools more flexibility to offer blended learning (face-to-face with some online) and allow non-teaching staff to continue working from home. We’re currently looking to further integrate our Gradebooks, attendance and dashboarding systems into Microsoft Teams – this will be the next big iSAMS project.
The Boarding Schools’ Association (BSA) is the United Kingdom Association serving and representing member boarding schools, training staff and promoting boarding education in both independent and state boarding schools. For more information please visit www.boarding.org.uk.
Please get in touch if you’re interested in learning more about how iSAMS can help schools to meet the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.