How to Prepare Your School for the New Normal
At the height of the pandemic, more than 1.5 billion children are thought to have experienced some form of disruption to their learning including 190 country-wide closures.
The reality for schools is that more outbreaks and temporary closures are possible, blended learning is here to stay and challenges surrounding health and wellbeing concerns, administration and financial management are set to continue.
Today’s typical classroom set up is under new hygiene guidelines such as mandatory masks for children or teachers, one-way corridor systems and hand-sanitising stations.
We investigated how many schools around the world are tackling some of these changes and have compiled the following tips:
- Monitoring Student Health
- Monitor, Track and Trace Cases
- Applying Social Distancing
- Adjusting Your Timetables
- Ensuring Student and Staff Wellbeing
- Ensure Cover for Staff
- Communicating with Parents
- Integrating with Cloud-Based Platforms
- Integrating your MIS with Microsoft
- Contactless Financial Management
- MIS Checklist
It’s understandable that the focus for many schools will be on retaining the good health of their students and staff members as the pandemic continues. To make sure that COVID-19 remains outside the school boundary, schools have set up temperature checks and hand-sanitising stations as students enter the school grounds.
In many countries schools are also looking at providing travel and health insurance declarations which state that you’ve not been in contact with anyone whilst in quarantine.
Recording and keeping track of these could present your school with a bit of a challenge, so it’s worth making sure you’ve got the digital infrastructure in place to reduce some of the administrative workload that will accompany these. Tools such as our HR Manager will support you by automating much of this, including uploading and storing all relevant documentation securely. This will make it easier for you to monitor the health of all your students as well as accessing this information and sharing it with relevant staff members and/or authorities whenever you need to.
If a student or staff member tests positive for the virus then steps must be taken to prevent further spread. Under current government guidance, all students and staff that have come into close contact with this person must be identified and asked to self-isolate.
This is no easy feat given the many crossovers between form groups, classes and extra-curricular activities. Several schools using iSAMS had raised this issue on our Discussion Forum and, given the urgency and importance of the task, our Reporting Services team designed a student Track and Trace report.
The report lists all students and staff that have come into contact with a selected student between a specified date range, and arranges them by the number of times they have been in the same contact group.
For students showing symptoms, it is also important to keep an accurate medical record to track both the short term and long term effects of the virus. Recording symptoms as they arise will be useful when booking a test for the student in question and determining the length of self-isolation the student must complete, with current government guidance stating:
“If you have symptoms, the 10 days starts from when they started. If you have not had symptoms, the 10 days starts from when you had the test. But if you get symptoms after your test, self-isolate for a further 10 days from when your symptoms start.”
To further try and ensure the safety of their students, schools are also having to consider how they’re going to continue adhering to social distancing guidelines. Many are looking to restructure the layouts of their classrooms in response to this, with desks to be kept a minimum of one metre apart.
Just a ‘normal’ day @KellettSenior as Science deliver socially distanced experiments to Y11 who are on campus, whilst Media teach a live lesson using ‘green screen’ to a class who are currently home learning and teachers receive training on how to use the newly installed screens! pic.twitter.com/YhrmjKVwB7
— Joe Alsop (@Kellett_JA) September 18, 2020
Outside the classroom, you’ll also need to consider how you’re going to implement social distancing in the playground and at lunchtime. Assemblies may need to be postponed or separated, so gatherings are limited by student numbers, and more creative measures put in place to ensure students follow guidelines.
Shrewsbury School reintroduced their Lunchtime Concerts with socially-distanced music-making:
How genuinely exciting to be preparing for the return of Lunchtime Concerts! And wonderful to be in the new @ShrewsburyDrama Barnes Theatre foyer. This might be socially-distanced music-making but it is close to our hearts. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/RZtE1I9NVc
— Shrewsbury School Music (@ShrewsburyMusic) October 2, 2020
Some schools have adapted their timetables to stagger the number of students on school premises at any one time, reducing the amount of contact between children in cafeterias, hallways and on playgrounds. This includes reducing class sizes and splitting the school by year groups, having different factions of the school community in school on alternate weeks or days, or by different halves of each day.
In doing so, this will reduce the overall number of students and staff members onsite each day, whilst the measures many schools have put in place for online learning will continue throughout the week. Indeed, a recent TES survey saw 68% of school staff agree that dividing the week up so that certain classes only come into school on certain days is a practical solution.
However, in order to achieve this, you’ll need to ensure your timetabling structure is flexible enough to adapt to these challenging new circumstances and any changes the coming weeks may bring. One such platform is our Timetable Manager, which enables you to create an unlimited number of timetables, each of which can be customised to your own specification and style, and accepts uploads from numerous different programmes.
It’s not just the physical health of your students and staff members that you’ll need to keep an eye on. It’s going to take time for every member of the school community to readjust to working at school and getting back into their usual routines, which is why monitoring their wellbeing is going to be more important than ever.
As most schools have already adjusted to an online environment, for many this has included digital tools to support them with monitoring and addressing any wellbeing concerns.
As Dave Hopley, Director of Student Services at Stoke on Trent College, found, being forced into an online environment actually increased the accessibility of their wellbeing services to enable them to support over 200 students and their families. Because this has worked so well, they intend to continue complementing their face to face processes with their online platforms in the long term – thereby getting the best of both worlds.
It’ll continue to be particularly important to focus your wellbeing care on those who have suffered a serious loss during COVID-19. Using a platform that records life events and highlights the most critical concerns, such as in our dedicated Wellbeing Manager will be advantageous. Helpfully, you can share these concerns and any onward actions with relevant members of staff and/or the student’s parents, so everyone is kept notified of any important updates and your students remain protected.
As some schools continue face-to-face learning, there will inevitably be times when teachers and students have to self-isolate at short notice. To avoid further chaos for students and admin staff it is advisable to plan ahead for this eventuality.
Our Cover Manager module gives staff the power to create and manage supply agencies and teachers using a special agency management section, complete with contacts system and booking calendar. Staff can be notified of cover changes via email or SMS and once confirmed they can be published to the Wizard Bar and teacher timetables.
Tools such as Cover Manager, that integrate with your MIS, are likely to become increasingly important to minimising disruption through the academic year.
Throughout the school year, it’s vital that schools retain a clear line of communication with all their students’ parents and/or legal guardians. Understandably, during these uncertain times, parents are warier than ever of their children attending school.
In this delicate situation, the best you can do is keep parents abreast of key updates and be open and transparent with them surrounding your plans. Most importantly, this will include the measures you intend to put in place to keep their children safe and healthy.
Moving forwards, Mark Steed of Kellett School in Hong Kong is expecting many parents to be much more invested in their child’s education, having assumed the role of teacher at some point during the pandemic. To prepare for this, we would recommend establishing some clear communications guidelines across your school to support your staff members with handling all onward parental queries.
There are a variety of platforms you can use to keep in touch with parents, the details of which we’ve collated in our dedicated guide for teacher-parent communications.
However, we’d recommend using designated Apps and/or Portals as an ideal way of sharing important updates. Not only do they enable you to upload and share real-time insights in a variety of formats, but they can also be accessed by parents directly, wherever and whenever it’s convenient to them.
As schools adjust to this ‘next normal’, there is a growing acceptance that school life is likely to face further disruption until a vaccine is developed and rolled out worldwide. Students and teachers will at varying times be forced to self-isolate to protect the school population. What this time has demonstrated more than ever is the value of truly cloud-based platforms, which are able to support students and teachers with managing school life, wherever they are.
Now you’ve had experience using and integrating with these digital solutions, it makes sense to keep this as an ongoing exercise – particularly as the process of reopening may involve a combination of face-to-face and online learning in the near future. For your finance, admissions and administrative teams, in particular, this will be hugely valuable as it means they’ll be able to keep the backbone of your school community running as seamlessly as ever; even if they’re in a position where they need to work remotely.
Microsoft offers its tools at comparatively low costs, including their School Data Sync. It’s therefore unsurprising that they saw a huge increase in popularity during lockdowns as staff adapted to home working and teaching.
As your MIS already holds all your school’s essential data, it would save huge amounts of administrative time if you could synchronise your MIS with Microsoft to easily transfer a snapshot of the important data.
Thankfully, iSAMS does exactly that. You can read more about how to synchronise your MIS with Microsoft in our guide.
Something many schools struggled with when initially moving their school’s core systems online was managing their finances remotely. To try and combat the impact of school closures, some schools invoiced parents for school fees early and are now looking to offer them credits at a later stage to account for this where necessary. Some have also seen members of their finance teams furloughed during the lockdown, as they’re unable to access financial management systems remotely.
To make sure they’re better prepared to work under any circumstance, more and more schools are looking to invest in cloud-based financial platforms which will allow their finance teams to keep your school’s finances running and up-to-date wherever they’re based. Being exclusively digitised, these systems have the added benefits of reducing paper waste and saving your finance team time by automating core processes (including PO and workflow approvals). Not only this, but it also means this information can be seamlessly integrated with your school’s other important data. For example, our iFinance system fully integrates with your MIS so parents can view their full invoicing history and make payments directly online through our Parent Portal.
All in all, by moving your school’s finances online you can make sure only the most updated information is available across your school in real-time, improving the accuracy of your financial forecasting and better informing strategic decision-making at SLT level.
We’ve prepared the below Management Information System (MIS) checklist for our schools to use and adapt as they wish, to view this list please click here.
To find out more about our web-based management information system (MIS) and how it can support every member of your school community, both during and outside of school closures, please get in touch and we’d be delighted to help.