Prior to my application for the post of EVC at Queenswood School I did some online research into the availability of electronic database systems that could automate and co-ordinate the mass of paperwork that I knew existed at Queenswood School for running outside visits. I knew that in the staffroom alone there were at least half a dozen different forms that needed to be completed and approved by various levels of management, just to get a visit off the ground, and that a complex overseas visit could end up as a series of folders the size of several telephone directories!
the EVOLVE system delivered by eduFOCUS appeared to be the only robust and comprehensive piece of software on the market
It quickly became apparent that apart from one or two quirky systems run by one or two education authorities, and some internal database systems that had been developed in independent schools, the EVOLVE system delivered by eduFOCUS appeared to be the only robust and comprehensive piece of software on the market that might be able to meet the individual needs of Queenswood School.
In addition to a full range of normal sporting and PE activities with an average of 25 to 30 sporting trips going out every week locally, across the country and for weekend overnight stays, Queenswood School has about 12 tennis scholars who make individual journeys to local training and then across the country as teams, pairs and individuals to competitions.
Almost every week about 250 boarders out of the total school community of 440 pupils take weekend visits to shopping centres, cinemas, theatre and the full range of cultural and social activities. There are also departmental excursions that take place: on average 5 or 6 a week, plus music related activities that involve different choral and instrumentalist groupings going out to perform mostly in the London area, but also further afield.
I realised that in order to make the role of EVC manageable into the future, we would have to adopt an electronic system that had the flexibility to adapt to our independent boarding school model of management, delegation, and control which places equal emphasis upon the pastoral/boarding and academic aspects of the school. We needed a system that could adapt to the eccentricities of our system, and that would also allow data to be imported and exported from the iSAMS management information system that we use.
After viewing all the material available online and after a brief demonstration of EVOLVE by Mark Falkingham (Hertfordshire Educational Visits Advisor), we decided that EVOLVE would probably be our best solution, provided the flexibility that seemed to be promised by the system could be delivered in reality.
We visited the eduFOCUS’ offices in the summer of 2011 and had an in depth demonstration of how EVOLVE operated, and how it might be tailored to our needs with an outline permission system operating so that all proposed trips could be sanctioned in the first instance by a panel of senior staff representing academic, pastoral and welfare interests plus cover organise and EVC. Once initial approval had been given, the organiser would then have time to complete the remainder of the visit documentation including itineraries, risk assessments and documentation for parents and pupils.
I feel that EVOLVE has quickly been assimilated into our school administration culture, and now seems a natural part of Queenswood School’s processes.
The system was prepared for us in a very short period of time. We populated it with staff and pupil data for the forthcoming September term and it has run continuously ever since.
I believe that the strength of EVOLVE is in its robustness, and the software has run without problems since its inception. Maintenance is relatively painless; we have since purchased additional modules that allow us to automatically update the pupil roll, and staff changes are updated manually, which in many ways is the best solution, as often staff leave for retirement or promotion reasons but may return on subsequent occasions to support a visit or activity.
EVOLVE has a very useful main screen which is personalised for Queenswood School, and gives a running news and messaging feature to advise of trip and safety related issues. Lists of essential documents are available as hyperlinks, and the coloured tabs at the top provide direct access to the various applications of the software. EVOLVE is very intuitive and the majority of staff find it very easy to use.
We provide annual refresher courses on the use of EVOLVE: in house, and special sessions for new staff at the beginning of every academic year. The feedback that we receive from staff using EVOLVE is very positive, and staff appreciate all records being held in one place and the ease with which they can access data relating to current and past trips. They also appreciate the ability to append notes to a form and use this as a recorded messaging system with respect to a single visit.
At present, only a little use has been made of some of the extended features that are available in EVOLVE. We are looking towards greater integration of EVOLVE and iSAMS as there still is some duplication of tasks, in particular, setting up a custom contact group in iSAMS which repeats the group list in EVOLVE and also providing a general notification of staff of trip details since it cannot be counted upon that all staff will access EVOLVE for the information. In meetings with EVOLVE we have also asked for thumbnails of pupil images to be included on the pupil register lists as there are many occasions when staff running trips do not know all of the pupils in their care.
I feel that EVOLVE has quickly been assimilated into our school administration culture, and now seems a natural part of Queenswood School’s processes. This is a tribute to the way in which the software of EVOLVE has been developed in collaboration with the real needs of its users and an understanding of the day to day processes of schools.
Written April 2015