‘MIS’sion possible – building the ultimate software suite for schools
Rugby School is, of course, famous for having pupils who take the ball and run with it – this ‘can-do’ attitude isn’t limited to their sporting alumni.
Take education software iSAMS, for example, which was invented after two of Rugby School’s former pupils looked at the paperwork teachers endure and decided to do something about it.
The result? A cloud-powered platform that shaped how independent schools across the world communicated with parents, tracked pupil progress and ensured teachers could work more effectively.
Although it remains a hit with independent schools globally, an evolution of the software would later prove to have massive potential in helping the state sector during a crucial time of change.
Independent schools enter the information age
In the early 2000s, independent schools – celebrated for their individuality – had one thing in common.
They had a wealth of pupil data, but it was very difficult to access and interpret; parents, including a large number based overseas, wanted better access to information about their children.
Alastair Price was acutely aware of this before he was 20.
In his sixth form years at Rugby School, he learned crucial fundamentals about coding, and during his gap year – as an IT manager at Bilton Grange Preparatory School – with the help of his school friend Greg Pakes, a plan began to formulate.
Their shared aspiration was to make the first cloud Management Information System (MIS) for schools that would provide bespoke management of all academic, administrative, HR, admissions, student wellbeing and financial information.
Having learnt all about the routines and internal pressures teachers faced, Alastair approached his old school to see if they were interested in becoming his first client.
A deal was struck to create a brand new platform in the cloud – a UK sector ‘first’.
In a league of its own
Of course, making the UK’s first cloud school MIS software wouldn’t be easy.
“We wanted to build a web app – one that looked and behaved just like a desktop application. But that meant we had to overcome some challenges,” Alastair explains.
Alastair adds, “for example, things like multitasking didn’t yet exist in web apps, and the same goes for mail merging. These days all the basic problems have been solved, so if you want to find a solution to something, you can. But, back then, we had to improvise.”
A university challenge
With a development roadmap in mind, Alastair and Greg got to work.
Alastair focused on developing the core functionality, and Greg worked on software security, as well as an update system that would ensure seamless, hassle-free improvements for users.
There was just one tiny detail: they were also attending university and, as if that pressure wasn’t enough, they also just won a second customer.
Cue some very long nights and a lot of hard work!
The result of their round-the-clock efforts: the first incarnation of iSAMS (which stands for Internet-based Schools Admin Management System).
Its multitasking was done through panels that opened in much the same way as a Microsoft operating system, leaving many to ask whether it was not, in fact, an installed desktop programme.
“At the time, that was a key point – people felt very comfortable with it,” Alastair remembers.
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iSAMS picks up pace
Because of Alastair and Greg’s ambitions, they did not stop at their two customers, and the business did not remain a two-man team for long.
iSAMS began to grow and sales director Jamie Reid joined to oversee the company’s efforts in engaging the marketplace.
Soon, iSAMS went on to earn the trust of other names, including Harrow and Dulwich, and the company went global after being approached by educators from Singapore.
This worldwide provision quickly became a new foothold, and by 2012, they had won their first international school group.
iSAMS can now be found in more than 90 countries and is used by over 500,000 school staff every day.
But the story doesn’t end there!
iSAMS joins the IRIS family
In 2020, IRIS acquired iSAMS.
It chose iSAMS partly because it recognised its power as a tried, tested and successful platform.
The former Assistant Headteacher and IRIS Product Manager, Nicholas Clark, was impressed – he had seen the positive impact the platform made on independent schools.
Nicholas explains, “iSAMS is a powerful piece of software with great functionality. About 1,300 schools work with iSAMS at present. If you’re an independent school and you haven’t got iSAMS, then that’s unusual.”
But there was another reason IRIS was attracted to iSAMS.
Tomorrow’s solution for Multi-Academy Trusts
At one time, aspects of iSAMS’ functionality, such as marketing tools to win new students, would not apply to state schools – most of them relied on a single local authority for funding and student intake.
But then, many of these schools consolidated into multi-academy trusts (MATs).
These non-profit organisations have to oversee thousands of pupils and hundreds of staff across scores of schools.
They might be competing with other MATs in their area for students, and each year they make the case directly to the Government for funding, with requests needing to pinpoint where money is required at multiple levels of their organisation.
All of this means MATs have to be competitive and have a granular understanding of what’s happening in terms of staffing, budgeting, performance and behaviour across their schools.
Enter IRIS Ed:gen, the latest IRIS product for maintained schools, academies and trusts.
IRIS Ed:gen – smarter than your average MIS
A comprehensive suite
Does this mean IRIS Ed:gen is iSAMS with a new coat of paint? Not even slightly.
“We’ve made it scalable for MATs,” Nicholas says.
“There is also a greater emphasis on meeting statutory requirements. We put a lot of effort into ensuring things like the Schools’ Census go off without a hitch, incorporating more than 100 reports. And we’ve got a great support team, with most of us having worked in the state sector.
“But perhaps our biggest focus in creating IRIS Ed:gen was on data and the ability to manage reporting – especially for attendance and behaviour. Because of that emphasis, IRIS Ed:gen has become a really powerful tool that can access the whole database; users can build dashboards to track almost anything.
“What’s unique about IRIS Ed:gen is it doesn't just use MIS data: you can incorporate financial figures, HR information and much more.”
Nicholas concludes, “IRIS Ed:gen’s the final part of a comprehensive suite we can deliver for educators. This includes HR provision with Every by IRIS, the chance to outsource payroll with Dataplan by IRIS or keep it in-house with IRIS Staffology and, of course, being able to look after accounts with IRIS Financials.
“Brought together by an MIS that is in itself data-rich, these platforms deliver a potent solution to a more complex era in state education.”
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A data-rich future for schools
Looking back at how Ed:gen and iSAMS were created only scratches the surface of what IRIS software can do for the sector.
Coming soon: in our next article, we’ll look at our vision for schools, academies and trusts – and at how our MIS and data solutions will continue to evolve and drive decision-making for years to come.