Guest blog post by Gerald Haigh

The Knowledge Network provides innovative technology products and services which help schools to focus on the core functions of teaching and learning. In this study, with the help of Technical Director Matthew Woodruff, we see how The Knowledge Networks use, and enhance, the functionality of Office365 for education by providing a suite of applications – ‘Ki apps’ -- for the management of administration, leadership and learning. The first of these, KiHR, for supporting Human Resource management is now available in the Windows store. KiHR, and other Ki apps are initially developed and trialled by academies within the Bright Tribe Trust.

People who work in schools, like all employees, take it for granted that they will be paid correctly and on time, that their right to sick leave and pay will be respected, that there will be a known channel for their grievances, and that if they are disciplined a transparent and legal procedure will come into play. Making all that happen – and more – comes under the heading of human resources management – usually called simply ‘HR’ (or what was ‘personnel management’ when I worked in industry)

It’s not an easy area to lead and administer, not least because errors can be life-changing for those affected, and damaging in every sense for the organisation.

At the same time, schools exist to educate young people, and as much of the budget as possible has to be spent on that, so while efficient HR management is essential, it’s important to keep it lean, smart, cost-efficient and well supported by technology.

And that’s where the new KiHR app scores. Built specifically for Office 365 for education by The Knowledge Network who specialise in tailoring technology to learning and management, the KiHR app brings into one place all the essential elements needed to support HR functions; personal details, job roles, contracts, salaries, PRP, discipline and grievances, holidays and absence, controlled access to confidential information.

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Together with other related Ki apps such ‘KiData’, which links to the school MIS, and ‘KiFlow’ which supports HR workflows with customisable and interactive templates, standard notices and letters, it adds up to a powerful, cost efficient and reassuring HR support network. And, of course, all of it is presented in the familiar Office 365 user-friendly and highly intuitive style.

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Matthew Woodruff, The Knowledge Network Technical Director says,

‘We’re delighted to be able to support Bright Tribe Trust with their requirement for easy to use HR tools that can support flexible anywhere any time access, bring together data from multiple systems, and report key metrics across the whole estate. This not only supports academy trust compliance objectives, but now provides a springboard into better understanding the strengths of the workforce, tailoring continuing professional development opportunities, and focusing on Return On Investment (ROI). ‘

The KiHR app, though important in its own right, is part of a whole suite of applications and features built on Office 365 by The Knowledge Network and developed for and with the Bright Tribe Trust. They include, for example, KiPathways, also for Office 365. which will be trialling with Bright Tribe in September. KiPathways directly supports leadership of learning by enabling teachers, tutors, coaches or mentors to build personalised pathways of learning, with content, assessments and dialogue, assigned to identified groups or individuals. The pathways can be adjusted in real time, with extension activities or reinforcement, to respond to individual needs.

As Matthew Woodruff says,

‘KiPathways directly supports the Bright Tribe Trust’s aim of providing personalised learning pathways for every learner’.

Matthew also mentions the importance of KiData. As he points out, although management information systems harbour huge quantities of data, turning it into information which can be presented, understood and shared is often difficult.

‘The ability to turn data into meaningful information which will support sound decisions, is critical in all aspects of school leadership and management, whether it’s HR, finance or teaching and learning. At the Knowledge Network, with KiData and Office 365 we take on the job of finding, aggregating and coherently presenting and sharing data, in the form you want (typically in Excel). KiData takes automated, scheduled and timely, copies of information from the MIS, finance system and other important sources, builds these into an education data model, and makes the results of the analysis available in highly visual ways that make the information easy to understand.’

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Crucial to this ease of use and understanding, he says, is that this and the other Ki applications sit within Office 365.

‘We can point out to users that this is the same Office 365 environment that you use for communication and collaboration, so sharing is easy and secure. Because the information is presented using advanced Excel based features (such as Power View and PowerBI), if you want to use Excel for further analysis we think that’s a great idea – and your data is available directly to you – no reports, no extractions, no reformatting, it’s ‘out of the box!’

These are exciting and groundbreaking developments, making creative and innovative use of the coherent, integrated and familiar characteristics of Office365.

‘We see KiData and KiPathways forming the backbone to effective teaching and learning if you are using Office365 for Education,’ says Matthew. ‘In fact they can be a sound reason to sign up to Office 365 for education sooner rather than later. Together, they deliver a rich set of experiences for education institutions, from Nursery through to Higher Education and corporate learning, helping them manage their businesses and contributing to improving outcomes in teaching and learning.’

There’s more to come, too, as Matthew explains,

'In addition to these core components, our team is also working hard to bring on line other, ‘single feature’ apps focused on careers, such as a learner CV builder and employer ‘Job Board’ sites.’

The Knowledge Network’s continuing project at Bright Tribe Trust is another excellent example of how Microsoft technology can readily be adopted and used by innovative third party suppliers to meet real world challenges efficiently and cost effectively.