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How technology can unlock back-office efficiency

27th March 2024


How technology can unlock back-office efficiency

As Strictly Education marks its 20th birthday, managing director Heather Marchbank assesses the key challenges faced by schools now and in the future.

For schools and trusts across the country, running their organisations more efficiently means that more money goes to the frontline of supporting the children and making sure that outcomes for children are met.

And it’s down to businesses like Strictly Education – we’re celebrating our 20th anniversary this year – to support and help them to make their back-office systems run as efficiently and cost effectively as possible.

For us that's about looking at the part technology can play. For example, in today’s challenging recruitment climate which is leaving trusts and schools with support staff shortages, ensuring the staff they retain are more effective and efficient is critical. Rather than working on time-consuming manual administration, they need systems that will help them to add value and focus more on the strategic aspects of their role.

    Strictly Education’s EduPeople – an HR, payroll and pensions system that assists schools and academy trusts with their people strategy and streamlines HR and payroll management – was developed to give them the opportunity to actually reduce that administrative burden.

    I was in a meeting with the leader of a growing MAT a few weeks ago. They are planning to grow their trust from two to 25 schools over the next three or four years. Their greatest fear is losing control because they currently do every payroll, HR and admin task manually. They know that the workload for their greatly expanded MAT will become huge and they can't just keep expanding their back-office team to cope because they can't get the people. They’ve realised that they need to work in a different way, which is why we’re working with them to introduce our EduPeople system.

    That MAT is one of a growing number who are realising that one of the keys to tackling the challenges they face in areas such as recruitment, stress and workload lies in a reassessment of their back-office systems so that they work more efficiently together, saving time and resources.

    That said, there is still some way to go before every MAT and school in the country feels able to do the same. Strictly Education’s last annual MAT leaders survey revealed that 40% of respondents did not have a people strategy or written people plan in place. These are increasingly important to the future of our education system and have been cited as a major element of robust schools in a recent Confederation of School trusts (CST) report.

    I think our finding that just six in 10 MATs and schools currently have a people strategy is less about resistance from schools and trusts and more about capacity and time. However, the building blocks to create the systems that will deliver a meaningful people strategy are there. Every school and trust will have a management information system (MIS) which help them meet all of their statutory reporting requirements. Management of people and their data is just as vital – it helps inform schools and trusts on how to plan their people strategy – and if it is efficiently integrated with the rest of the back-office systems this can be achieved with little or no additional workload for back-office staff.

    Once this element is integrated into back-office systems schools and trusts will have far easier access to information about their workforces and will be able to use this data in their decision-making. It will be easier to, say, spot staff absence trends and determine if wellbeing measures can make a difference. That visibility of data should help in long term planning and strategy in areas such as recruitment and retention.

    The clever integration of a school or trust’s MIS with an HR system can lead to quantifiable savings in time and resources.  If, for example, payroll and HR systems remain separate then employees’ details will need to be entered into separate systems. That duplicates work and creates the potential for error. When the MIS and HR system ‘talk to each other’ there’s a single point of data entry and this gives school leaders and support staff peace of mind.

    The time saving aspects of this cannot be understated. So may staff members now have multiple roles. They're not just support staff or finance staff. They might be covering finance and office management, as well as dealing with unforeseen issues. They just don’t have the time so integrating those systems and making them work in a seamlessly efficient way wins back precious time that can be directed to other areas. A large MAT we are working with has managed to save more than half a working day a week, in each of its schools on absence management administration alone.

    Over the 20 years since the birth of Strictly Education it is clear that the education sector has changed profoundly.

    More and more schools have been given the freedom to run themselves, but they find themselves today in a very different, altogether more challenging climate. Back in 2004 our schools were better funded and issues such as staff recruitment and retention and stress were far less pronounced.

    Strictly Education has grown over those two decades because we’ve worked in close partnership with educators, listening to their changing needs and creating innovative products and services that help.

    In the next 20 years it will be for government and policy makers to make the big decisions that will ensure a healthy future for our education system. And Strictly Education will be there, making sure that schools and trusts have the systems and hands-on support from education experts they need to operate as efficiently and effectively as possible.

    Heather Marchbank is Managing Director of Strictly Education.

    How Strictly Education can help…

    Get in touch on 0330 123 2549 or at we are happy to answer your questions. Alternatively, organise an EduPeople discovery call or contact us by email to find out how EduPeople can help you to improve efficiencies.