For this reason, making a sound purchasing decision is absolutely essential when it comes to upgrading an SMS. After all, this software tool will impact every facet of your school community, informing the day-to-day operations of your staff, students, and families. We spoke to leading SMS companies this issue to find out about the latest functionalities and key purchasing considerations for schools.
What is an SMS?
Centrally, an SMS is a management tool schools use to coordinate schedules and communication between faculties regarding students. However, as our industry experts later explain, SMS do much more and have evolved greatly over the last decade. A few SMS functions include simplifying information tracking for parents and administrative staff, managing timetables, subject information, important dates, and grades, centralising student data accurately and securely, streamlining assessment and other internal school procedures. At the classroom level, an efficient SMS allows teaching staff to track students’ progress and performance easily, create summary records for individuals and whole classes to compare tracking data with previous year groups, for example. Different systems offer different functionalities and interpretive tools; some offer school administration packages that include teacher planning, assessment, live reports, notifications, mobile apps, and more.
Having an easy-to-use mobile app is often favoured by many students and parents for the immediacy of receiving text updates, removing the log-in to a ‘portal’, where the modern-day issue of password amnesia can be both an irritation and a barrier to use. An e-portfolio may also allow students to record their work, goals, and achievements, reflect on and share their learning, and receive feedback. These enable students to present information in different formats and, depending on the software, take the information with them between schools. E-portfolios can be a great way to record non-traditional assessment, cultural learning experiences, and project-based learning too. The creation and management of an e-portfolio also provides students with opportunities to build digital fluency, using technologies to create, select, organise, edit, and evaluate their work. Being an e-record, technology enables the use of a range of media – video, audio, and images – as well as text, to show both the learning process and final products.
Don’t forget to factor in training with your SMS upgrade so that all staff are on the same page. Canvas your community to find out what additional features will best suit your school’s needs—what aspects of your current system are causing the most issues? Allow these to guide your decision-making process for a solution-focused upgrade.
Industry Experts Share Specialist Insights for Schools
Antony Mawer, Co-Founder and Head of Strategy at Sentral, spoke with us about how school management systems have evolved to meet new needs in an ever-changing educational landscape.
He pointed out one key change has been “the journey from multiple on-premises products to fully integrated cloud-based solutions”.
He explained: “The traditional student admin system landscape historically was focused on the back office. Back in the 90s, the back-office admin staff were the only ones that used a School Management System. The game change was when they became focused on teachers; thinking about how teachers would fill out forms and then hand them to the admin staff to enter manually. Now, teachers can enter information digitally and have that information flow efficiently. So, that was the first paradigm shift in how a school management system was used.
“The next shift is happening right now, which is the inclusion of parents. Originally a school management system was inward focused but now it’s really about that eco-system around the school, the parent, the community, and realising the operational complexities and overheads and managing that is really hard for a school. That’s the next horizon for how we can streamline the overall school community. Features like instant messaging, push notifications, homework management, and frictionless payments are all part of this.”
Dr Kiki Tanousis is the CEO of Xuno School Management System, specialising in student mapping and reporting software.
He stressed to us that “a good SMS must be flexible; whether tailoring end-user screens for parents; customising report designs or allowing schools to create different types of tests to record outcomes.”
“Teachers are consistently required to test students and record outcomes but unless those outcomes are used to inform the teaching direction for individual students, the collection of assessment data is not being utilised to its full potential.
“Effective data mapping tools should allow schools to centralise, organise and analyse all assessment data collected, either external assessments like PAT or NAPLAN, or classroom-based assessments. It is critical that they can bring together assessment data, attendance data, incident data etc., into one view, giving staff a single place to enter and analyse this data. When using student maps, teachers can easily identify students falling behind or moving past their expected achievement levels, and can track student progress and growth over time.
“With reporting, a picture really does paint a thousand words. Graphic functions provide next-level sophistication in the visual representation of student outcomes. Savvy schools realise that student reports are the most enduring form of communication that they will have with their community and spend a good deal of effort building their brand. So, it’s important that their reports are as professional looking and informative as they can be.”
Civica Senior Product Manager, Education, Hayden Gyles spoke with us about the benefits of cloud-hosted storage.
She said: “Legacy on-premise, application-based solutions are out and cloud-hosted web-based solutions are in!”
More specifically, she explained: “A good SMS will have the flexibility to allow schools to configure records and fields to suit their particular needs. Every school uses different languages and runs different programs, so the flexibility to be able to make changes to the system to suit the school’s needs is imperative.
“Communication is key to the running of a school. For instance, the ability to send communications through the SMS removes the strain from email and paper. Using built in communication capabilities opens new channels to engage with the school community via a mobile app push notification or the SMS.
In terms of training: “Schools have varying needs when it comes to support. A train the trainer model is often employed to train key staff members to allow them flexibility on when training is delivered to all staff. It also helps to have some knowledgeable people on staff! Digital adoption platforms can also be a key tool in delivering training and support. These allow a user to be guided through the platform at their own pace in real time. Further, a comprehensive online help knowledge base is essential to assist users with understanding more complex parts of the solution.”
For Robert Radley, Executive General Manager at Nelnet International, establishing a chain of contact protocol is one of the most important capabilities of a SMS.
“For example, who does a student with separated parents live with? Who is the primary contact for general day-to-day communication, emergencies, school fees, attendance/absences, behaviour issues, parent-teacher interview invites, etc.? These different options need to be clear so that a classroom teacher sending a reminder to caregivers about an upcoming excursion or the attendance officer chasing unexplained absences knows who to contact. Providing different communication methods also makes sure all options are covered, whether the preference is for an email, text message, or a push notification, it’s important to ensure that there are robust tools that allow communication data to flow through secure integration channels.
“However, the SMS isn’t just a place for data to be entered! The real key is the ability to provide information on this data in a meaningful way. From analytics on student attendance to being able to track poor attendance rates, to longitudinal analytics on students’ academic and personal progress during the life of their enrolment; the collation and presentation of this data is vital. Reviewing trends in behaviour, coordinating counselling referrals, and collating extracurricular achievements are also important function. An SMS should be able to provide this information seamlessly so that schools can seek more advanced solutions in a particular area.”