With schools preparing for the new academic year - and some in the UK having started back already - it's a busy time for School Business Managers and other support staff.
There are new timetables to publish, classrooms to refresh, staff to induct - and of course the latest risk assessments to update (version 16 anyone?).
For those of you who have quietly carried the responsibility of health and safety for many years, it must be quite a change to see it at the top of everyone's agenda. From classroom ventilation to hand washing, everyone has a view on how it should be done.
Of course what they don't realise is just how much work has always gone on behind the scenes in this important (and highly litigious) area. Add onto that a global pandemic and it's no surprise that many school support staff are seeing their workloads increase massively!
Why is the start of the school year already difficult?
Communicating with parents about the start of term has always been a challenge. Whilst many staff are on holiday, there's always someone left to worry about whether reminders about uniform changes have been sent out.
And which School Business Manager hasn't had the recurring nightmare about all the students turning up for the Inset Day because someone forgot to send out a message about the start of term dates?
Often there are new systems or apps to introduce and set up. Not to mention all those last minute changes to timetables (does no one realise the domino effect of that late, 'tiny' change?)
And of course many schools haven't been able to run their usual series of transition activities - meaning there are entire year groups of students (and parents) who have to be introduced to the way things work in their new school.
How has Covid testing created an additional admin burden for schools?
School leaders have got used to the last minute announcements from the DfE and are adept at drawing up new plans at short notice. But that doesn't mean it hasn't been challenging.
Whether it's gaining consent for Covid testing, getting communications out quickly when a positive case and close contacts have been identified, or booking students in for their first test before term starts, there's no shortage of admin jobs - and that's on top of all the usual start of term work.
What is the impact on School Business Managers and other staff?
Just a few months into the Covid pandemic it was reported that SBMs were working more than 11 hours unpaid overtime per week - an increase of more than 87% on the proportion working this amount of overtime before the pandemic!
Many staff went above and beyond what was normally expected of them, pulling together to get their school community through these unprecedented times.
Working in the holiday has become the norm for some staff, as they try to ensure their school is safe to return to in the new school year. This often means setting up new systems, sending out lots of communications and having to handle lots of data.
How can schools use technology to ease the pressure?
We have been working with schools to come up with innovative ways to make their lives easier - and sometimes the ideas have come directly from our customers.
Nikki, a Communications Manager in a multi-academy trust, said:
"We have really appreciated using the automated messaging tool in Weduc, to send twice-weekly reminders to parents about getting their kids to take Covid tests at home. Once it's been set up, you can just forget about it, meaning it's just been one less thing to worry about."
Whilst other customers have taken advantage of the integrated Parents Evening System (provided in partnership with School Cloud) to manage booking students in for their first Covid test before school starts.
And of course many schools have chosen to use our integrated cashless payments system to ensure that students and staff are no longer handling money in school.
Our smart technology has so many uses, which include:
an online template for the DfE consent form (free with Weduc);
online capture of all parental replies - including a digital signature;
unlimited in-app messages to all your parents alerting them to the consent form (with email and SMS texts too if you want it);
electronic storage of all consent replies - to download as a .csv or Excel file;
online booking system for Covid test appointments;
an online tool for parents to upload a photo of their child's Covid test result and send direct to the school;
easily sort your students into groups (eg. close contacts of a positive case) so you can directly message just their parents;
online tool for parents to quickly notify you of student absences;
ability to write-back all communications with parents into selected MISs;
news alerts so you can contact your school community instantly - and replicate on social media instantly.
Whatever the future brings, it will be busy!
If we've learnt anything over the last 18 months it's that we're not great at predicting things! School life has always been a rollercoaster, with every day being different. But this coming year will undoubtedly bring challenges we haven't even imagined yet.
That's why we'll be listening to our customers, to find out what problems we can help them with. Our team has strong roots in the education world and appreciate that smart and cost-effective solutions are just what schools need.
SBMs were working more than 11 hours unpaid overtime per week