Capita SIMs Teacher App Review

We have run sitewide biometrics for registration that feedback to SIMs for 4 years now. 

The idea behind this was that we didn’t want teachers to have to worry about registration, pupils could sign in (not forget their details or their thumb) and boom, registration done.

Apart from it didn’t quite work like that. 

Pupils couldn’t move through the scanner fast enough. That was the main issue. That, and the fact that the staff are responsible for registering children. So if they don’t scan, for whatever reason, the school still needs to register then.

Staff ended up checking attendance via a web interface for the biometric solution. Ongoing costs were significant for the hardware too: if staff were going to have to check on the PC – why not just use SIMs

Well, simple answer is – SIMs is not the quickest or most user friendly of applications, something Capita themselves are well aware of (hence the new web based version on the way).

At BETT this year I paid a lot of attention to the new SIMs parent app and the teacher app, which is more established. 

We are lucky that the large majority of our staff have an iPad. Underused, but not for long – as we have just begun to roll out the SIMs teacher app.

When you are training staff on something new, you can tell in an instant if you have got them onboard. I could tell the moment I showed this to SMT and then the wider staff – that people could see the potential.

There are three main elements to the app (available on iPads, android and Windows 10)

  • Attendance – quickly mark users present, absent, late or code them. It’s all taken live and sent back live too.
  • Behaviour – log incidents in an interface that is a million times easier then usual
  • Assessment – easily add data into SIMs. It’s that simple.

You can also access info about a particular student quickly and easily, and it is all based around your timetable. Which again, is live, so is updated with any cover lessons.

It’s simple. It is well designed. These are very important points that make it so effective. Capita could have got it so wrong and spoilt it – but they didn’t. 

The setup process is all self service for schools – and it took me an hour, tops. With no need to read the instructions. 

We use Office365 to authenticate users, and, whilst the initial setup of users and devices is somewhat of a ball ache -it’s necessary for security.

Hopefully improvements to integrate with Intouch are in the future plans – but for now, our biometric units are being switched off in Easter.

The Question.

The question shouldn’t be “why should we do this?” it should be “why shouldn’t we do this?”

It feels like I have made my impact. It feels like we have all taken a huge step backwards. 

It’s not an individual school thing, it’s a mentality of education at the moment. And probably the NHS, social care and more.

These professions are being cut to within an inch of their lives. Yet the demands for them are still increasing.

I can only really talk about my sector, and how it is affecting my role. From being someone who was able to make impacts and introduce new and exciting technology (which has gone on to be considered crucial in schools and adopted by others) to not even being able to roll out a new piece of software or idea. And it’s not to do with me suddenly losing my skill set, my drive or my ability. 

Overworked, underpaid users are fearful of the impact change may have. Even if changes are being done to support them, to streamline and reduce workloads.

The ability and the appetite to introduce new and exciting solutions that move away from tradition has long gone. Not just because the budgets have gone,  but the time and the general ability to think past the current crisis has gone.

I’ve made a real try following on from BETT to introduce solutions that save cash, save time, improve workflows and engage pupils and support their learning outcomes. 

Products that use existing infrastructure in new and exciting ways. Services that users can rely and depend on. 

I want my team and I to be more than people who just answer support tickets. Because that is boring. We want to be getting excited with staff on the great things they can do with IT.

We can and should be taking our share of cuts. But you don’t need money in the schools where wise  investments in the infrastructure have left a solidly working network – you need the will and the want to introduce, and demand that we move forward.

Do not settle for something that works when it comes to IT in a school. Because in a few years time it will be outdated and then you will be getting angry and frustrated that your IT hasn’t moved forward. But ask yourself this: do you let it move forward? Do you encourage staff to be motivated for change, or do you all simply ask – why should we change – instead of why shouldn’t we?

When is a break, a break?

I am all packed up, and ready to depart on a much needed holiday. In 4 years the longest I have had off was a 2 week holiday, which involved me ultimately leaving my car in France, along with a lot of money, a dog dying and 6 hire cars amongst the headlines.

I have booked a week off with my kids and me, being a single dad now, and having a job when I am actually more busy in the school holidays left me having to risk a fine for taking my son out of school for a week.

The orders from school have been clear: have a break, switch off. I understand this, and in an ideal world I would do just that. But I’ve been doing this job long enough to know that my best option is actually to manage contact with me whilst I am off. 

There will be times when my team need to talk to me. I get on well with my team, and know they would only contact me in critical situations. They know they can email and I’ll reply when I can, or if it is a disaster recovery situation, call. 

Of course I have used our tools to delegate roles and work and updated the rota, but even if I didn’t, I am confident the setup we have ensures they don’t need me. (At least for short periods 😉 )

This is where having a team, and particularly an admin assistant work wonders. They know how I want things to work, and they can self manage. They can handle people who want to speak to just their favourite tech and ensure they speak to someone. It’s critical to have these policies in place 24/7 to make holidays easier. 

Doing this means I know jobs won’t be missed in my absence, because I know staff are aware if they don’t ticket, it doesn’t get done – so I know if it’s a ticket it will get seen and not lost in my mailbox. Staff only have the helpdesk number, not my direct line number or my mobile, so I know calls will get answered.

Of course, some people try to get around this, or bemoan it – but I can prove easily the system works. I fact I send out weekly stats that prove it, schools with more tickets are happier – they can see us supporting them. Those with less are more of a concern, they are not using us.

So, whilst I’d love to switch off next week. I know I can be contactable to help my team mates, but not be contactable to the rest of the 7 schools. Will I watch tickets? no. Answer helpdesk calls? no. Emails? Only from team when I can. Why? It helps me relax knowing things are doing okay. And I look forward to returning refreshed and energised knowing where I am and what I need to do. 

Besides, I have no wifi and just a tablet and an iPhone, and I’ll be 3 hrs away. I won’t be able to do to much anyway 😉

Leading out first TED day

Thursday was an important day. I’d been telling my team this for a couple of months. But in a short term where we have battled staff unexpectedly leaving, unbelievable pressure, our highest ever ticket numbers and organising the biggest network rebuild we have ever done in the biggest middle school in the UK – I was nervous if we had the chance to prepare the day I was hoping for.

Right now teachers and management are under more pressure then ever before. Results, finance, staffing, recruitment and retention and many are finding their ways at some point in a conversion or life after conversion to academy.

Indeed, in all of our own schools these issues are being faced.

ICT is, now it’s working effectively in our schools, taking a back seat. This is fine, we can deliver and manage a robust network with support that impresses and cheers up with fast response times. (And I have the figures to back that up – 96% believe we deliver a fast and efficient service. 60% strongly agree we do. )

So Thursday was a TED day at our home school agreed in place of twilight and volunteer sessions. It’s the last day of term and staff were tired and counting down hours.

With these in mind the aim of the day was simple- excite to innovate. Remind staff of the huge resources we have in terms of equipment and staffing. Hands on sessions that provided useful help and allowed time for staff to get to try it and learn it. Nothing too complicated.

Starting the day off with Disney tunes – on the preface of it was different and made people smile = we entered into a 1hr intro. Get the important info in before breaking off, network and staffing update, survey responses.

Then, into Twitter for staff – real CPD opportunities and support for staff already working above and beyond was, I hoped welcomed. No action required but an insight to possibilities.

Followed by three sessions, with groups divided by ability.

WordWall and tablets.

We have had wordwall for 2 years and use is very low. We have since rolled out at first schools and deployed 400 tablets, so a whole new angle to come at. With tablets in classrooms instantly available – wordwall is THE solution to integrating IT into lessons easily. Collaborative working and sharing materials again lessens the burden on tired staff.

OneDrive, OneNote and Skype for classrooms.

 All our teaching staff a TAs have iPads. We have 110 for students. The ability for onedrive to to now simplify the sharing and editing of documents across platforms and the offer of free office for staff and students really went down well with staff. Combined with a demonstration of OneNote staff could see the future, now. Collaborative anywhere working to suit them with minimal hassle.

Skype for classrooms was as simple as a video introducing the possibilities. And the offer of us doing everything else to set it going for staff.

And then came our final session: minecraft edu.

Minecraft edu is a future learning tool. There are no clear, quick and easy uses at a middle school, but there are exciting possibilities to use the tool within existing scopes of work now staff are at least aware of it.

An easy session, where you can easily see those open to possibilities and those who hide behind a shroud of “it’s beyond me”

The thing is – in our school ICT is integral. And I reaffirmed that our support team, 7 strong with 3 tiers is theirs for use.

My principal have me the best compliment the other week- “you are not like normal network managers”

Gone are the days where we can hide in our offices. We are part of the learning system, our systems enable – and we can’t deploy and expect we should teach and develop.

The techs were well out of their comfort zone doing these sessions – but now relish the opportunity of seeing their ideas help pupils learn.

I’ve never been prouder to see the ideas I planted 4 years ago on Monday reach this stage. The impact we have is immense, the success rarely celebrated – the failures thrust into us and remembered for much longer.

Am I proud I’m not a normal network manager? You better believe it. My staff are not normal technicians. We pick the people and train the tech because the people are what you can’t train. That’s why celebrating success with them is very enjoyable and as good as when we rally around each other when we fail.

Budgets, or the lack of…

For lots of schools budgets are being squeezed like never before.

IT expenditure, like all departments are being cut, in some cases obliterated and in some cases were never a lot to start with.

The thing is, you don’t have to spend all your budget on new kit, on new software to make IT work for your school.

First things first – rationalise that budget. Look at the whole picture. You will probably find there are many hidden costs to your IT expenditure – what websites do subjects buy a sub too without telling IT? Can they be combined into one platform offering multiple subjects at a cheaper whole school rate? Do purchases go via your network manager to check for cost, compatibility and whole school overview feedback?

What about departments buying hardware? Does it fit into your whole school plan? Did 5 classes or departments buy headphones last year? Why not buy a whole school set and place them on a booking system?

Spending on CPD just because the head of computing fancies finding out more? Have you asked your network manager for their view? Can then provide expertise or experience, or know a school that can cheaper then the CPD? 

Are staff even using what you have? Can you measure usage? Can you see impact on outcomes because of that spangly new kit? Have staff been trained? Was it relevant? Did you combine a technical overview and a t&l overview of benefit?

Did you buy kit according to a budget plan? Being ahead of the curve of failures reduce the spend on repairs – increase usage and means staff don’t loose faith in old kit. If someone has told you to replace but you still see the kit still working, don’t assume it’s fine. 

When you do buy kit – do you have suppliers who know you and your school? Do you know your schools needs? If you have no one onsite, do other schools? I have saved schools thousands by knowing the right suppliers.

Do you fall for sales pitches? Most educational software is crap. Most sales people know the words to use. 

Does it replicate something you already have? Does it integrate well? Does it force another username and password? Does it require Staff time to migrate data where another product imports existing data? How does it role out? Does another school need it? Can you combine and get a better price? 

Can you lease? Lots of schools I work with are having their eyes opened to flexible ways to buy kit and have it updated. Its not always the answer – but consider it.

Lastly – do you use your biggest IT cost? Your IT staff? Do you trust and involve them? You never know, they might have the answer you need. 

Tools of the trade

I have been trying to work out how we are going to keep in touch with people off on 4 different sites a day if not more and the logistics of not missing issues across 8 sites now. It’s so important we continue to work as a team. This is for a number of reasons:

  • So if someone is off we can cover
  • When people call up the helpdesk we sound like we know what is happening
  • So that nobody feels isolated when off site
  • Professional development

And probably a whole load more that I have forgotten. So I have decided to write a blog about the tools we use, or will use from January.

Helpdesk: Web Help Desk

We have been using WHD since I started, other then Impero, it is the only thing I have kept. I wont lie, I probably would have switched to another by now (FreshDesk is my favourite) but cost has been an issue, and how to purchase for a UK School. WHD is not cheap (Its about £450 a seat) and then a yearly support cost.

However, it does what it says it does. It copes with the different locations, and allows us to sort people by their email TLD, which makes life a bit easier. It’s not that easy to use – but the ability to write tech only notes is very useful. We work on a strict ‘no ticket no help’ policy. We have too. We support 2300 people, so our helpdesk is a critical tool, and the one thing that keeps me using WHD, is that it hasn’t let me down yet! 

Call Handling

We use several tools for the phones. We all have mobiles, nothing fancy – but it saves us having to phone school receptions and have them find a techie on their site.

Obviously the phones can also pick up emails, and the helpdesk has a mobile version as well, although I may be the only one who uses it!

We have a physical landline dedicated to us at the school, which is piped through the PBX to call all our desk phones – but we don’t give out this number – we use Switchboard Free, which ironically, isn’t free for us, to distribute calls if the landline is not answered. They give us a 01527 number as well, so nobody knows.

It also means we can work remotely, so great for DR if Bede’s is down for any reason because the switchboard also redirects to mobiles if we are busy on the phones or  out of the office – we have also just increased our capacity to have two incoming lines on the same number as well. If nobody answers, calls are sent to mobiles in a specific order. It also helps us in the holidays, allowing us to all be out of the office.

The great thing about Switchboard Free, is there is an IOS app (even works with my apple watch), a webpage which allows me to see live incoming calls, and more importantly, those we have missed and much more.

Live Chat

We have live chat for our clients, via livesupporti – just a chat option on a page (which will also pipe up via a windows client)- but today I also wanted to set something up for the team, with some many people in so many different places, including me now being in a different office – I wanted to make it as easy as possible to talk, banter, ask questions and a moan if required!

I found a great tool – that is free to boot! Hip Chat allows unlimited amount of people to join your private chat area, create rooms and more. It comes with Windows, iOS and Android apps as well as being web based, and allows file and link sharing. For a small month amount of $2 each, you can even share screens and more. I can’t wait to launch this with the team on Monday, and see it being a great tool in keeping the team as one. Possible uses outside of the team exist as well, for example we could allow each school to have access to a room where they can pop in and out for chat, probably more for admin staff, but lots of possibilities.

Professional Development – Wiki

The great thing about the team is we have people with different strengths and different ability levels, we also have 8 different networks that are constantly evolving, we don’t sit still! It’s therefore a real challenge to ensure any staff member (and any of them could answer a call for any site) can quickly get the answers they need, without having to bother someone else.

So I downloaded Media Wiki, and installed it locally – which I plan to open up shortly, when I am sure it can be protected – and the team can create their own pages or edit others with additional information to ensure all our notes are in one place.

The critical thing will be making sure all the team add to it, so thats my job to make sure it happens, and I have made sure I have followed that up with targets for the team.

1620372_10153208794816691_3405208158670381271_nAll of these tools help us work together better as a team, and I have now got most of them reporting to me live on my TV screen which is great for me too! What do you use? How can we do this better?

Moving day

When I turned up at my latest school I was shown to a cupboard, which housed the central switch, stock, spares and paperwork and all the servers. No desk, and no space for a computer. No air con.

I had seen it briefly on the walk around, and hadn’t thought much about it, but in reality, on my first day, when I couldn’t place a laptop on the desk, I went to my new headteacher and highlighted the issue. Luckily for me, he agreed, especially as I was about to appoint a technician, and within a few months I had a server room, with aircon (and now two!) and an office fit for two, with a handy repair area.


saying goodbye to the old office
I know how lucky I was, especially when the office was air conditioned last summer. 

Back in the day the office was made for two, te team grew to 3,4 and now 7 of us. Bar our weekly meeting, we won’t all be there at the same time – but still the office was cramp. Whenever anybody came in, it knocked the poor person at the end desk, meetings were impossible, and the ability to be able to concentrate with everything a Helpdesk serving 7 schools brings was not possible!

So, with this in mind we have moved over Christmas, to the old caretakers bungalow. It certainly has more space, we can now fit 5 desks, I get my own office and the techies don’t have to work on a chair with their laptop and no desk! 



 We had to increase compactly from a 1GB UTP link to a 10GB backbone extension, upgrade power and phone lines coming in (we use an online switchboard but we only had one incoming line, we now have 2 lines to handle extra calls, and from 2 internal lines to 5 before calling out to mobiles), but new furniture was also needed with the extra people!

It’s not all roses, we will have to share with music rehearsals daily, but hopefully that is a temporary thing.  It’s been great to get the support now we are supporting so many schools, and the recognition that  any investment to the team allows for extra benefits overall for the home school. 

Stop. Collaborate and listen.

I’ve been following reaction to a blog post on Twitter, by Mark Anderson the problem with technicians (@ictevangalist) and a subsequent follow up from @jonwitts in defence of technicians.

Mark’s post describes the infuriation of teaching for staff when IT seemingly block their desire to embrace new technology. Jon agrees with parts of the post, but outlines difference and issues techs face in education today.

This isn’t a reply to either. More of a personal journey where I have been guilty of both doing too little and doing too much. Finding a balance, and a system that works. The main point however is one of mutual trust, and the impact that can have.

When I started supporting IT in schools 10 years ago, I was the bottom of the bottom of the rung for staff. Valued only in a brief moment when I fixed something, but only in a bit of pity. My £14k a year didn’t make me feel valued. I was young, and eager to please, and progress. I worked long hours,  but suffered at the hands of a work place bully in a system which didn’t allow for anyone to progress unless you were a teacher.

As is often the way, when I decided to challenge myself and leave my comfort zone, the school I was leaving panicked. Perhaps they realised what they were losing, a passionate, determined individual, or perhaps they just couldnt bare the hassle of retraining someone else. Suddenly, the offer of money was no longer an issue, a £4K a year rise to keep me couldn’t keep me. My new school matched an improved offer and off I went. 

Excited to develop myself from working in an atmosphere where I could do what I wanted when I wanted but not get appreciated, I was promised big things.
Sadly they didn’t materialise. Whilst not the worst move, the school I moved to valued staff even less, and crucially there was no ability to deviate, under my then manager, from changing toners.

At both schools, the result of not being engaged with or trusted was the same, staff not listened to nor given  The opportunity to interact with those higher up to harness the incredible power of IT to affect so many parts of a school. Those in higher places with responsibility for IT were not interested.  Those I worked with were overworked and demotivated from years of pushing and getting nowhere. To the point even when new leadership came in they were no longer prepared to fight and engage with new visions, but became locked into downward spirals of protectionism and mundane day to day task. 

Deviation from their set tasks led to worries about who would get blamed, or, who would do the additional workload as no additional TLR structures exists for support staff.

After 4 years, and a time where I concentrated on my own business and family life, it was clear, with a baby on the way, that it was time to move on. I am a confident, not easily scared individual who doesn’t get put off target. This pees off a lot of people who don’t like change. It excites me.

I left my job on a whim for no more money, just a title. But I was now network manager. The boss of the network. I landed with a headteacher who harnessed my passion, trusted my vision and developed my skills. Huge budgets, school wide changes. Instant impacts and overwhelming changes followed. That was 3.5 years ago.

Today, I am a member of SMT. Probably something I am most proud of and most shocked at. It’s not the title anymore, but the recognition that somebody in my role can make an impact and should be involved from the start in the decision making progress. That experts in their fields can and should be listened to despite the fact we are not teachers.

Teams have different strengths. Our SMT and separate SLT structure are ideal in that the leaders can lead (SLT) but the enablers are there to support them (SMT). We have teachers, but support staff are represented with the Senco, business manager and myself. None of the positions are token roles but are in place to enable teaching and learning to be the best experience it can be by harnessing the knowledge and passion of a wide range of staff.

In IT sometimes we have to say no. Mostly we say yes, all the time we should offer encouragement and ideas and workarounds if given the opportunity. And that’s the key thing in this debate that has been going on for years, that I experience even to this day across the 7 schools who sat down and listened to me. Who now rave about their support, but also the impact engaging wth us has made.

One thing I always insist on my team is the need to be professional, and treat others, no matter how hard that is after they insult you and your professional judgement, how you wish they would treat you. In any job that is the same I am sure, but sometimes I wish people could spend a day in our shoes, as much as I would love to spend a day in theirs. There should be no divide in professional respect between me and a teacher. 

We both have hard, demanding, complex, ever changing roles with constant pressure and changing goal posts. It’s not a completion to see who fails first or who we can frustrating the most. It should be how can we be inclusive and work together for a solution that propels our core business, learning for young people forward.
 I can’t teach. But I can do IT – you can teach but you don’t know the impact on your software or your idea on a bigger picture. Let’s work together and learn a solution.

Crazy times

This month has been like no other I have experienced in my role. In fact, there are days when I don’t even remember my role from a few months ago.

On January the first we start supporting our seventh school. Walkwood are a large middle school and we have taken on their technician. We have also taken on an additional apprentice as an admin role.

To add to this fast moving expansion (we only took on another first at half term) we are moving to a new office as well to house our ever expanding team. Organising this has been quite a complex task on top of everything else.

I have also been at the forefront of designing and creating life without levels mark sheets in SIMs for three schools, and then adapting parents reports to take he new data. The mark sheets I have developed started with the assistant head at my home school, and we have quickly been outsourced to other schools looking for similiar. 

I enjoy collaborating like this, knowing I have made a sizeable impact by implementing these systems, but I can’t say I enjoy the setup. In our current office we are all in one room in a noisy building, making concentrating very difficult. Leaving me to work late on into the evening when quieter or even at weekends. 

Further hassle has been in the form of getting a lease of a SAN, our second. First was trying to understand the entire hardware setup which would enable us a higher throughput from our hypervhosts – we are experiencing lots of issues with our Veeam backups, impero and sometimes even file access. We are also coming close to our 4tb limit, so we could do with some more space. All this in addition to the 60gb SSDs in our standard machines filling up and needing some new, making the order quite important. But having to understand and triple check a legal document for the lease is slowing it down. Still, better safe then sorry.

At another school, we are working on social media campaigns and purchasing more and more hardware, hopefully tonight we will have a budget agreed!

At our first schools we are redesigning websites, finding solutions for aging projectors and looking at tablet solutions for them. Infact this Friday we have a couple of suppliers coming over to showcase a range of tablets to our schools. 

To top it all off tomorrow is a chance to use our new LED lights for the first time for the Christmas show.

All this on top of the daily grind. Around 160-180 tickets a week. 

So it is all go. And there is a little update.

Long time no blog! Let’s start from the start…

  It’s no surprise I haven’t kept to my blogging, I moved into my own house in September, I have been trying my best to help my 2 kids fit into new schools and nurseries and on the rare occasion I am not working or being a single dad I have been testing out dating websites. They suck, by the way.

Anyway, personal stuff aside, what have I been up to?

Team expansion

We were a little worried when one of the middle schools we support decided to become an RSA Academy, however because of how happy the SLT is there we actually got another first school which now shares an executive head with the middle school and now run the IT for them both!

This was really exciting for us as it meant we would have the challenge of piggybacking the new school onto one of our current networks. 

 Challenges included using a single exchange, two sims installs on one network, setting up smooth wall for both sites and quite a few more.

Pleasingly it went very well. No major issues.

We then heard from a larger middle school that we had approached, and come January we will be supporting them, taking the total to 7 schools. We will also be employing more staff and other exciting changes. There could be more in the pipeline as well before Christmas. But 7 is enough for now…!

There have been lots of other exciting work stuff, and some in the pipeline but won’t mention them all now as I struggle to blog as it is! Safe to say a new SAN is on its way and lots more Windows tablets. But also details on upgrading to Windows 10 at 7 schools! As well as other stuff I cannot disclose yet! 

Apple Watch and iPhone 

  So I bought an Apple Watch. And I upgraded to an iPhone 6 as well. Despite the upgrade via Carphone warehouse being one of the worst experiences of my life, I am really happy with both.

I have never been an Apple fanboy. I find their products over priced and missing features that other phones have as standard. 

However I was across Eco systems, Windows phone, ipad, Windows laptop, Apple TV and it just wasn’t working for me. 

I decided that being able to sync usage from my iPad and my iPhone was more important then these devices being able to interface say with my laptop. I would never edit documents on my phone or tablet, but I would like to share purchases between my mobile devices and my Apple TV. 

The biggest thing I missed on my Windows phone was apps. And the quality of apps. In no small part, the main reason I left Windows phone was how shite the Facebook app was.

I love the Windows phone OS and Windows 10 on phones will be great, but there are not enough apps and those that are there simply don’t work. 

So anyway, I got it. And after being disappointed initially win the the battery, I am sat here writing this post on it. Turning off some of the background tasks has meant battery can easily last a day now.

The Apple Watch is an indulgence for me. Let me be clear, it serves no real purpose. I could do everything better on my phone then on the watch.

But that doesn’t mean I want too. I enjoy having the notifications on my wrist. It saves me time, it stops me checking my phone all the time and it looks pretty cool.

There are some nice features on there which I will review in the future as well. I was looking at android wear and an android phone, but I am glad I made he choice to apple. It costs me nothing extra a month, infact I get more, for less!

The watch did, however leave a nasty burn on my skin, I presume it was a bit too tight but I am still surprised at the state of the burn. Something I am defiantly keeping an eye on!

Anyway, that’s the end of my short update. Hopefully now I have the app on my phone I may well post more. Maybe.