East Riding of Yorkshire Council's Curriculum and Data Manager, Jayne Wilcock, explains their need for a management information system (MIS) that would give their staff the knowledge they needed to drive decision making, and by how moving to UNIT-e has helped the local authority harness its technology to boost learner recruitment and retention.
East Riding of Yorkshire Council provides adult and community learning opportunities across a thriving rural area spanning tiny villages in remote locations and large market towns. At any one time, the local authority’s four main adult learning centres are attended by between 800 and 1,000 learners enrolled on a range of courses from community learning to Level-3 accredited. With a large catchment area and a wide variety of courses on offer, learners often travel long distances to take advantage of the opportunities available to them. So, the local authority wanted to streamline administration and get a firm grip on the facts and figures it needs to deliver the best provision for its learners.
Making the right choice of MIS
East Riding of Yorkshire Council wanted a management information system (MIS) that would give their staff the knowledge they needed to drive decision making, as Jayne explains, “With our previous system it was difficult to track attendance levels for each of our courses, or to keep an eye out for high rates of absence which can be an early indicator that a learner is struggling and might withdraw from a course. “Without reliable data and early interventions, we may miss the opportunity to step in and help a learner to keep studying. What we needed was a way of getting the right data to the right people at the right time so they could make timely, informed decisions and take action when needed.” The local authority chose the UNIT-e management information system.
On the right course
By moving to UNIT-e, the local authority has harnessed its technology to boost learner recruitment and retention. “With UNIT-e, our potential learners can browse courses and make enquiries online if they need more information about fees or how we can support them to return to learning. This way, learners are engaging with us before they enrol. They can see our offer and take the time to choose what they want,” says Jayne.
“Back at base, we can see when someone is interested in a particular course. This has helped us to put in place new information, advice and guidance interviews to help learners ensure the right level of study for them in their chosen subject. Online applications and enrolments don’t just speed up the process, and it’s not just about cutting the cost of producing and posting paper-based course information – this is a bonus.”
Keeping learners engaged and motivated
Since implementing UNIT-e, the local authority has achieved much lower withdrawal rates than in previous years, in part because learners are better informed. “During the 2016-17 academic year, retention was boosted by 4% on the previous academic year and we achieved a 6% rise over a 3-year period. Our overall achievement rates rose by 4% in the same 3-year period too,” Jayne explains.
The authority has also moved from paper to electronic registrations, which makes it easier to identify attendance issues early. “Being able to view the latest attendance figures alongside achievement data helps us to focus on ensuring quality education is being delivered across the authority and that learners benefit from the best possible learning experience. If a learner is missing classes, we can either help them find another course or give them the support they need to keep going.”
Enhanced teaching and learning
Having access to learner data helps the council get a clear picture of the make-up of their learner body. “We wanted to ensure that we were continually improving and attracting a diverse group of learners to our courses,” explains Jayne. “Now we can analyse the data we have on our learners and use this to inform our strategic and operational planning.
“Having done this, we can investigate the reason for any emerging issues and demonstrate what we are doing to address this through our governance and to Ofsted. Being able to access data in a timely way helps us ensure the right information is available to support managers to make informed choices across all of our four centres.
“Tutors rate their learners using a traffic light system, where red indicates high risk and green low risk, through Staff Advantage directly into the MIS software. Managers can then see how many learners are on track to achieve by their planned end dates and, if there are any concerns, we can provide the support the learner needs to gain their qualification, enhance their skills or achieve their personal goals. “Previously, we could take a reflective view of our data and in-year statistics, but we could not always do this in a timely manner. However, with UNIT-e we can see real-time, up-to-the second data that allows us to intervene early; not only improving the chances of success for our learners but also ensuring that, as a team, we can make informed choices and strategic decisions that have an immediate impact on our success.”
Shaping the right provision
A clearer insight into the community is having a positive impact on course planning too. “The rural nature of our location poses some challenges, particularly when learners are travelling long distances to one of our sites,” says Jayne. “The data from UNIT-e can be analysed easily by our Data Observatory team allowing us to see how far our learners are travelling. If we see a lot of people are taking the same route, and covering lots of miles, we can consider putting provision in place at a location nearer to these learners’ homes to cut down on their travelling time and reduce the risk of withdrawal.
“The Education Software Solutions (ESS) consultants really understand our specific needs as a rural learning provider. Unlike other providers, we don’t always have enough learners to deliver an entire class focused on one level of a qualification. This is especially true for English and maths functional skills courses, with a variety of levels and stepping-stone qualifications available. ESS has worked with us to tailor UNIT-e to allow us to deliver flexible learning courses that allow for roll-on roll-off enrolment and offer a range of up to three qualification levels in one classroom. In a typical English, flexible-learning, entry-level class, we could have learners taking one of three qualification aims. Both the tutor and managers can now track and monitor this through the UNIT-e system effortlessly, helping us to spend less time on paperwork and more time helping our learners to learn and develop.”
Clearing the paper trail
Automating routine tasks has also helped save time at the local authority. “Previously, our tutors filled in a pay claim sheet on paper, each week, for each of their classes and this would go to the Payroll team for manual data input. Now, our tutor contracts are linked to the marking of a register; if the tutor has ‘signed in’ through the registration system, they are automatically added to the payroll report for appropriate payments to be made. Not only is this a much more efficient use of time, it is also much more effective as it eliminates the scope for human error by automating a previously manual system. “UNIT-e has revolutionised the way we do things, freeing up our staff to spend less time on paperwork, and more time helping and supporting our learners.
“The move to UNIT-e has been more than the installation of a new piece of MIS software; it has been an entire culture shift for our teams. We have re-evaluated every process to see if there is a more effective and efficient way of working, and, with the support of consultants, we’ve customised the software to meet our specific needs. By doing this, we have saved both time and resources. Recently, we automated our room booking system so now when we need to book a room for a meeting, we don’t have to call up each of the four centres in the hope that someone can find us a space; we just look at Day View and book it directly through the system. “The support we have had from ESS has been phenomenal. They have listened to what we needed to achieve and worked with us to make it happen.”