I agreed to pilot the POD service that the Department of Education are launching into schools this year and during the summer I spent some time trying to upload my school’s data to the service. There were a few ways to do this. The first way, and possibly the most straightforward way, was to type in every child’s details manually into the POD system through the Esinet service. It seems to take 3-4 minutes per child to do this and with almost 200 children in my school at the time, I couldn’t spare the few days that it would take to do it. Thankfully, there was supposed to be an automated way to do it using existing management information systems. We use Aladdin in our school. The problem was that during the pilot, none of the providers of these services could export the data in any other form that a spreadsheet, which I would then have to upload.
However, the problem with this method was that we had to go through a completely unnecessarily difficult step of encrypting the Excel worksheet and then upload that. Finally when I’d done that, I received an email from POD saying that the data wasn’t in the correct format and I had to make a number of changes in order for it to work and I decided to give up.
With POD now imminent, I contacted the Department of Education to raise my concerns and found that many of the MIS providers had been working on easier solutions and that the process would be much easier. As my school is with Aladdin, I asked them if I could road test their solution and see how I found it. They also gave me permission to share my findings here.
Firstly, the good news. Aladdin’s POD solution is brilliant. In order for me to make it work, I simply click two buttons and my data is uploaded to POD. It is so seamless that I can’t believe all the trouble I went to in the summer. The job was done in less than two minutes. Any pupil who can’t be added due to not having a PPS number is listed and all one has to do is fix the errors outlined on Aladdin and click a button again. It’s all done and it’s really easy.
However, it’s not all plain sailing. If I simply use Aladdin to update POD, all my information will be posted on to it. However, if I update POD, Aladdin is not automatically updated. This is a very basic function that really needs addressing. It appears that the Department of Education are not allowing information to synchronise with external services and, therefore, once you update from Aladdin, anything you write in POD is lost and overwritten with what’s in Aladdin. There are lots of other small issues that haven’t been ironed out such as rolling over from year to year and some of the ways that schools will be able to report to various agencies.
It’s all well and good if you have something like Aladdin, albeit with the problems that the DES are still giving us, but if you don’t have a service like Aladdin, the DES don’t seem to have any plans to offer help to schools for data entry. A school with more than 50 children is going to have to spend several hours inputting data and this is just morally wrong to expect. Aside from the technology problems, there are still the same issues around schools asking for sensitive information about children. These have yet to be addressed, yet there seems to be no dialogue happening. There is also the problem that schools mistrust what POD is being used for. In the last two years schools have been burned for admitting they had book rental schemes and it appears schools are going to be burned for improving their STEN scores in assessment despite the promise that these would not be used for anything other than statistical purposes. With all the data POD is collecting, it’s no great leap to presuppose that the data will be used to cut vital services from schools.
Overall, things are a little brighter for me but the system is still currently unusable due to the lack of synchronisation between our MIS and POD. This issue alone must be resolved before I would recommend any school uploads its data as they might find themselves losing all their hard work. The POD team also have to acknowledge the time it is going to take to collate this data and pay someone to do it. It is not our job to be data entry clerks for the DES and without sounding too unionised it is fairly insulting to simply assume that already overburdened schools will do donkey work for free.