Castle Phoenix is a multi-academy trust founded in 2013 on the success of the Caludon Castle Teaching School. It includes 3 secondary schools, 2 primary schools with over 4000 students and 40 governors.
Over the next few months, you'll be hearing firsthand our experiences of building an edtech strategy that works across a MAT, aims to centralise all our tools, reduce teacher workloads and improve parental and governor engagement.
Passion for edtech
My background in technology came from the fact that at my previous school I had rolled out a VLE as part of the edtech strategy and it had gone very well. I have been an Assistant Headteacher at Caludon Castle School for 8 years and have line-managed the ICT team throughout this time. Then about 2 or 3 years ago I also became a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert and an Apple Teacher and took on the role as lead for Blended Learning. Part of this new role was to manage all the digital literacy as well as drive blended learning across all of our Trust schools. For us it was important to ensure that the structure of our IT would allow for learning and technology to work seamlessly.
Searching for the right digital tool
I absolutely loved using the VLE from my previous school and we were getting really great usage out of it. However the problem I found, which may have changed, is that this provider grew very quickly. They would do some updates but the updates didn't seem to improve it. Furthermore the quality of the customer service seemed to be going down. However all businesses and schools do change and when I first came to Caludon we used Kaleidos, which now no longer exists.
Essentially it was Microsoft's attempt at a VLE and they developed it as a student focused version of SharePoint, which is great as a file storage system, but not a great VLE. It meant that it didn't get used at all.
So when I changed roles we conducted an audit of our edtech strategy and invited people to come in and tell us what they could offer. However it wasn't an easy process, almost all the sales representatives weren't able to provide help regarding specific questions we had on how the product could work for our school. They would instead mention that once we signed up, as part of the onboarding process, we would be provided with all the details. We much preferred having a tech person there from the beginning.
Getting the right people involved in the edtech decision process
During the process we always had a room full of a couple of people from the leadership team and then the people who were going to be doing the day-to-day admin. We would always ask how easy is it to build a page? Can you quickly show us? They would always give us lots of shiny brochures. Firefly were the only ones that actually sent an expert and showed us how things could be done. We were impressed by how easy it really was to use.
Centralising all the tools
For us the main challenge is trying to keep everything in one place because there is so much tech out there and staff get overwhelmed by having to log into various different edtech tools and then figuring out how they work. We are trying to centralise the way that we access documents to make it easier.
For the governors we want to have something that is easy for them to access. They are busy people with lots of priorities, so you have to make it as easy as possible if you want to engage them. Many of the governors are parents at the school, so what we liked about Firefly is that they could use the same parent login for their son or daughter and access all the information they need. However the challenge is in getting the design of the dashboard right so that it is streamlined for everyone. It is something we are currently looking into with the Firefly support team.
Want to find out more?
Stay tuned for the next Castle Phoenix diary blog which will be on finding the budget and where Alex Handy sees Firefly providing the most impact for their schools. In the meantime, if you would like to take a sneak peek of Firefly and see how it can support governors and centralise your tools, feel free to book a demo here.