Musings about SIM’s

Written by admin

Topics: Education, MIS & Data

Lots of recent conversations that I have had with all sorts of people (Headteachers, county advisors, SIM’s administrators) have really opened up a can of worms regarding SIM’s – namely assessment manager, and attendance and how data can be defined and presented very differently from one school to the next.

This may not seem like an issue for schools, but it is certainly an issue for developers. SIM’s databases have grown in a very dynamic, organic way – often reflecting the people in the school and the way they work, with systems changing when personnel change. When SIM’s was conceived I don’t think Capita even thought that they would be opening access to the database to third parties. It is this lack of vision and standardisation with MIS data that is going to be an interesting challenge that developers are going to have to contend with – how can we get a solution that fits all schools when schools have very different looking back end databases in the way that they work.
From a third party developer’s perspective I can see the problems (we’ll call them challenges) that they are going to have to contend with over the next few months as products become available to present data (hopefully information!) to various audiences, including parents. Let’s start with a few of the problems that I can see straight away:
  • All schools use assessment manager in different ways to store attainment data on students. There is no set naming schema for aspects (fields) in SIM’s that schools have been encouraged to adhere to. The only pre-defined data structure, with naming conventions in SIM’s is the common transfer dataset – used by primary schools to export data from their systems which then gets aggregates by LA’s and then sent out to respective secondary schools. With developments in FROG this is going to be an interesting challenge. In effect schools are going to need a degree of control as to how field mapping is undertaken so that the right data is mapped to fields in the FROG database. This is a rather simplistic analogy but it will do for the time being.
  • Attendance codes – do all schools use exactly the same codes in exactly the same way?
  • Volume of data – providers really need to develop live links back to the database so that large volumes of data do not need to sit on their own systems. This needs to be transparent to the user in terms of access speed. I can see FROG being at an advantage here as the majority of FROG servers are installed locally and have local access to the SIM’s server. It is going to be interesting to see how web hosted solutions deal with this, they are going to need access to SIM’s data over the web – this creates it’s own set of speed/QoS/security issues.
  • Some schools set up different aspects for reporting rather than date stamping one field. E.g. reporting a subject three times a year, aspect may be coded Art7.1,Art7.2,Art7.3. The nomenclature used will vary considerably from one school to another. This is going to cause problems when aggregating data for the purposes of presenting progress data in the form of line graphs etc
  • Defining aspects, the data validation rules that schools use will not be consistent from one school to the next. When an aspect is set up, such as a grade aspect one school might just be using KS3 standard codes for levels and letter codes for things such as dis-applied etc… But other schools may be using sub-levels to give a more granular feel to progress measures. E.g. sub dividing levels into thirds (4a – top third of level 4, 4c – bottom third of level)
  • The SIM’s data you see is sometimes dependant on how it was input into SIM’s, this is down to Capita and is going to cause headaches. It should not matter the method used to get the data into the database. Whatever way you query it, it should give the same result!
  • Trying to work with the SIM’s database – self explanatory! The database has been built of a number of years without Capita stepping back, rationalising systems and doing re-writes.
Being selfish and thinking about our own platform and FROG puts a number of really interesting balls in the air. It’s almost as though there is the need for some sort of admin console that is the engine through which the school can contextualise the SIM’s data for integration and use within FROG. Am going to have a think about this before I chat to Jonathan North on Friday.

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