So, a few weeks ago, I was able to catch up with Graham Cooper – for a quick discussion about “what’t hot” in the SIMS world…and before anyone asks – discussion about the Autumn Update was not on the agenda. The issues there were not yet known about.
What we did focus on what the forthcoming BETT show (www.bettshow.com), 21-24th January – and what the themes were this year. Themes is a point I will come back to in a moment, as it is a change that is going on within the Capita SIMS team.
Obviously, readers will be expecting an update on the much discussed “App Project” – so here is a quick rundown on the state of play at the moment. I will be having a further discussion with Duncan Hield (App Project Manager) before BETT; and will by then hopefully demoed a new version as well. As you may know, the App project at the moment is focusing on the Teacher, making SIMS data entry and access more convenient. So, with that in mind, built in now (and has been in use by pilot schools) are Registers and Behaviour. You can very quickly take a register for yourself (as the app knows who you are from your credentials, and which class you are with), or on behalf of someone else, by selecting their timetable. Neat. Even neater, when you think of behaviour, is that it knows when you aren’t in lessons – so say you are walking the corridors and come across an incident. No problem – search for the students, and it knows the time, location (as in not a lesson – but prompts for other locations) and that information is all automatically flagged to teachers of that student(s) on the registers and details for them in later lessons.
Coming soon are marksheets – that should be there in the demo I am awaiting. Also coming soon are the Apps for other platforms. As things stand – the 100 or so pilot schools (so yes, this is well road tested) are all iOS; but January will see a Windows 8/8.1 and Android version.
Embrace the tablet…although, in theory, there is no reason why the app wouldn’t work on any Windows 8/8.1 device – even non touch. That will be an interesting one to watch – seeing how the App behaves with a mouse opposed to gestures; and in general, could it replace SIMS.net client use in the classroom completely?
There is still lots of talk in the education sector, and the media for that matter, about Assessment without Levels. It is a real seachange in approach – and one which, sadly, is still seeing a lot of uncertainty and inequality on the ground in Schools. There is a real risk of a divide occurring here; which, at a time where OfSted are claiming more of our Schools are Failing is a concern. There is still no clear message coming from the DFE, which is leading to a lack of clear direction and development in the marketplace. Baked into SIMS now are the seeds for all core subjects, non-core are coming. Rachel and her team have been very busy on the ground with the Professional Services teams to try and build a workable framework for Schools to get started. It is very much an evolving picture, the key here is a solution (note this is a framework not a prescription) of how you could manage assessment without levels. You can read more about the way this is happening, and why your feedback is so important here http://www.capita-sims.co.uk/blog/life-without-levels-how-sims-assessment-evolving-you.
The challenge is still how to measure progress. Well worth a read is a post by Phil Neal (Capita SIMS Managing Director) discussing just this challenge http://www.capita-sims.co.uk/blog/future-assessment-and-chance-make-your-views-count. The whole Progress 8 area is quite an intriguing one, and, in the current climate – I would be interested to hear how Schools feel about being compared in such a way. We know that “comparisons” have always been there – league tables, results etc; but actually going deeper into the “value-add” perspective is one which I don’t know that we yet know the full implications of. Of course, it is a good thing that we are looking at the “development” rather than the final result – but how much will this skew in deprived areas for example? Could this have funding implications for those Schools that are already facing deficit challenges? You can join the debate about Progress 8, and find out what the Capita SIMS perspective and support will be here http://www.capita-sims.co.uk/blog/are-you-ready-progress-8 – which generated some interesting discussions.
I would expect to hear more about Progress 8 and Assessment over the coming months – and you will see more supporting features appearing in SIMS. Returning to the core product, I mentioned “themes” in my opening. The traditional 3 times a year updates process is changing. No – we aren’t getting more updates, and no, the timing will still be roughly the same. The difference is that rather than just being arbitrary “termly” releases – there is a move to “theming” the updates. Each update will focus on a particular area of workload, such as “embracing new ways of assessment” for the Level-less world. I think this is a good thing, as it will help the software update service be seen as adding value rather than arbitrary changes. Of course, there will still be some core required changes and fixes, but think about the perception. If an update is “sold” to you on the basis that some functionality is going to make your worklife easier – you are bound to be more embracing of it, than its just the Spring, Summer, Autumn update?
This is all back to a point I know Ive said plenty this year – SIMS is having to become a consumer product. The customers are changing, expectations are different now. Parents and pupils can be seen as customers too – Agora and the new SLG show this, for Teachers – the App Project. Of course, the App Project has bigger ambitions than just being for Teachers!