MAT profile

The Eastern Learning Alliance (ELA) was created from a merger of two smaller trusts and currently has ten schools and colleges, with expertise across primary, secondary, sixth form and special settings. The organisation’s IT is planned and managed centrally. They first engaged with Overnet Data back in in 2019; all secondary schools have already implemented Edulink One and the newly on-boarded primary will be rolling it out next academic year.

We spoke to Alasdair Perrin, Director of IT at the Trust, who talks about ELA and how Edulink One is central to the Trust’s operations.

“Originally, we had a Moodle learning management system setup in school and had a parent tool tacked on, which wasn’t great. We were looking at different options for portals to improve communication.

“We looked at Edulink One and thought ‘Well hang on, it does parent portal, it does pupil portal, it does teacher portal, it syncs timetables to Outlook calendars. Just those things alone make it worth the money. Then we consider the room booking and parents’ evenings systems; we consider extra-curricular club management. It’s a ‘no brainer’ from a financial perspective.’”

“When we merged the two trusts, I was asked to review and present a new digital strategy for the ELA. Our strategy, from a user experience perspective, is to have a common digital toolset. We’ve developed a strong set of systems that work really well for the users and for the processes of the school; so we’re going to deploy these everywhere. This means that when you have staff meetings together, they’re all talking the same language. As a growing Trust, with new schools joining and opening all the time, it’s important to have a consistent approach. All schools will have Edulink One, just as they will have SIMS, Office, and Teams.

“With Edulink, the fact that we’ve got multiple installations means it’s greater than sum of the parts, because everyone can help each other out. By standardising on one system, we are facilitating Trust-wide peer support. Even if each school is different, the tools are the same, and someone from another school within the Trust can drop in to help out. We don’t need myriad systems with staff trained up in each. Because Edulink has so many tools within it, we can do most of the common operational tasks in one system and deliver one set of training. ”

Have you made any cost savings?

“In the infancy of the Trust, our schools had a variety of software applications doing different jobs. We have saved significant amounts of money by standardising our tools. In the first year at Downham Market Academy, we wiped around £18,000 off the bottom line simply by rolling out Edulink One!

“From my perspective, it represents great value for money. It’s not cheap, because in my experience cheap would mean it’s bad. It’s really good value for money, because it does all the things that sound complicated, in one place.”

“Edulink One is an essential operations package. It’s all the things you didn’t realise you needed to do.”

Alasdair Perrin, Director of IT, The Eastern Learning Alliance

“It’s vital. SIMS is a massive database and we don’t want to silo it and make copies of it, because we don’t want anything that takes away from that one true record. Before I buy any system, I also consider the exit process. I need to ensure I have all my data in one place and we can get it out easily when we want to.

If a product doesn’t write back to SIMS, it’s a no-go. A lot of other systems make getting your data out impossible, but with Edulink One, we can install it and have it running within 10 minutes and turn it off if we want to. That’s vital for data integrity. It’s simple – there’s nothing held in there

“I describe Edulink One to people as ‘a better SIMS than SIMS.’ It’s so easy to use.”

“Compared to the legacy system we had in place, Edulink One has been really successful. I think Edulink achieved in about two weeks what the previous one took us six months to do terms of getting people to log on.

“When we get all the new CTF files sent through from other schools for the new intake every year, the data quality can vary. It used to take us several days to manually inspect the files. Now, with Edulink One, I can just go and make an unregistered invite and get them onboard to update the data directly. People don’t appreciate how quick it is to get the parents engaged – it’s so easy!”

How did teachers handle the new system? Was it easy to get them onboard?

“The other big success relates to teachers. They can be resistant to change, particularly with new technology, because they’re rushing, and they haven’t necessarily got time to learn how to use a new platform – even if it will make things quicker and easier. As such, my measurement of take up by teaching staff is when I know something works. The teaching staff absolutely love Edulink. It’s easy to get their phones out to take a register.

“Having contact data a few clicks away on a mobile is brilliant: from looking at the face of a student, you can just tap on them to bring up contact details and call their parents.  It allows us to be immediately responsive and it would be a nightmare to use SIMS to find that information quickly.

“When we invested in Edulink One, we also started working with Overnet Data and fed into their product development process, which led to helpful improvements. For example, when Teams was linked to homework it was an absolute game-changer!

“Our secondaries are a mixture of ‘one to one device’ and ‘bring your own device (BYOD)’ schools. We no longer print timetables. They’re all on Edulink One now.”

Did you have to do much training?

“In the first instance, we did quite a lot of training. We now have a strategic IT link in every school.

“We all meet regularly and update each other on what we’re doing from both the IT and education sides, so we’re all in alignment. We talk about strategy; how useful new features are and how to implement them. So, we engage in dialogue constantly about Edulink One, ensure the strategic IT links are appropriately trained to support their schools, and then we collaborate across our family of schools.”

“Edulink One is an essential operations package. It’s all the things you didn’t realise you needed to do. Like data forms. We collect data throughout the year now, not just once a year.

“It’s a hugely beneficial administrative and operational tool. The educational benefits are there, although they’re difficult to measure, but children get a better education because education works better with Edulink One.”

“The educational benefits are there, although they’re difficult to measure, but I’m confident children in our schools get a better education because education works better with Edulink One.”

Alasdair Perrin, Director of IT, The Eastern Learning Alliance

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