Note: the following is based in the UK market place only. It may be relevant to other market places but I cannot comment on them.
Educational establishment's will typically run two networks. An Administrative network and Curriculum network. Technically and infrastructure wise the two are (usually) one in the same. From a perception (throughout all levels of staff from NQT's through to SMT's) point of view the two are distinct and never meet. The sanctity and security of the "Admin" network goes without saying and all hell will rain down before it is not so - or a student gets access and then stuff starts to rain down!
Admin Network: What it holds and does
The "Admin" network is everything that the students can't/don't (need to) use or see.
The reason for the paranoia and endless repetition of "the kids cant see that can they" is because like a HR department in any business, the data and information held is of a personally identifiable nature to all staff and students within a school.
For example, a student file will hold not only names, medical conditions etc but information such as whether that child is in care; if so the care authorities identifying data and where geographically they are in care. Another example would be the student identification number (UPN) that each student has. Like a National Insurance or social security number this is (meant to be) unique. Again their are rules about when, and who generates these numbers, when they expire and so forth.
Alongside the personal data/information of students and staff, is the day to day information that runs a school. From calendars and contact information, to reports, forms and finance information. The areas and staff that should be covered are no different than those of a SME.
Note: a reoccurring theme is "like a SME or business". This similarities between a school and an SME of around 100 staff are almost identical.
Admin Users and Their Roles
Like any business there are levels of function/status/responsibility within a school. The proverbial food chain, as it is in business, is ever present within education. At the top of the food chain are Senior Management Teachers (SMT's). After secretaries, SMT's will be the biggest user of the "Admin" network. SMT's usually full-fill one or more of the following positions:
- Head Teacher - top dog
- Deputy Heads - top dog when the above top dog isn't
- Department/School Co-coordinators - in charge of policy for say IT. may be a different SMT than Department Head
- Department Heads - Humanities, Sciences, Languages, Design Technology
Additionally you have non-teaching staff:
- secretaries - Similar responsibilities as in business, but a lot sharper and on the ball. if you've skipped school before you'll know what I mean!
- support staff - may work with teachers in lessons or on specific tasks e.g. tracking down absenties
Admin users, while fitting into categories are going to be no two in the same. The granular, multi function requirements of a school and its staff are big. The amount of daily information that flows between users is vast. The integrity and security of the "Admin Network" is critical and the expectations at all levels of an admin network are easily the highest of any part of IT in a school.
This is reasonably simple in terms of today's software and technology.
HR (student/staff database), office (OOo), reporting (drawing on HR and curriculum data), and financial (multi-million pound budget) programs make up 99% of the admin requirements.
Additional niche applications include:
- Timetable planning/generation
- Admin/Author access to curriculum resources e.g. admin/author access for Moodle
The Incumbent: Capita SIMS
Needless to say there exists an incumbent provider of school management software within the UK. SIMS.
Other software may exist, but it isn't comparable as a complete solution. Before people jump up and down and scream SchoolTool, go away look at the SIMS demo's and take on board and accept the fact that just about every "can I do this with SchoolTool" question will have arisen from the fact that for the last 10 years the user asking will more than likely have been doing what their asking of SchoolTool in SIMS.
SIMS rivals Windows/Office (in comparison) for market share. Its the de-facto (perceived) standard within UK education. However you rate SIMS either technically or in its user friendliness is irrelevant. For however long IT has been in education, schools in the UK have been paying for Windows, SQLServer and SIMS.
Today SIMS.net incorporates MSOffice integration, school dinner money modules, e-registers, a learning platform and more. It has moved beyond the HR, reporting and even financial applications that it started out as. SIMS is the benchmark school admin program SchoolTool, or any other similar app for that matter, needs to aim for (in the UK at least).
Additionally the sheer volume of data and information that SIMS stores means that there has to be a migration plan/path of some sort. Capita charge for "keys" to access the program though. Whether you use "keys", csv file, xml file or an ODBC connection to migrate data is irrelevant, as long as you have a migration path.
Addressing the SIMS question is key to widespread product adoption in the UK. It is a show stopper if you have an incomplete or no answer. SchoolTool doesn't have to copy SIMS pixel for pixel, but it must stand toe to toe on the fundamentals at least.
The wider issue of having a functioning, solid, reliable and secure Admin network is the cornerstone issue here. Address SIMS directly, aggressively and technically. SIMS is as much about perception as anything else.
Readers might like to read the June 2005 report (PDF) from Becta, the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, regarding MIS in UK schools, which voices concern over the lack of competition in this marketplace. One of the report's recommendations is to develop a UK version of the Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF) which is designed to allow different school MIS systems to work together. By SIF-enabling SIMS, any other SIF-enabled application could easily be kept in sync with the SIMS database.
Ideas for developing a FLOSS SIF for use in UK are currrently being discussed at Schoolforge-UK.