The 163 schools operated by the Catholic Education Western Australia (CEWA) are spread over a land mass equivalent to half the USA.
Ensuring equity of access to education, effective communications, and sharing of best practice teaching and administration insights has been a significant challenge – especially given the diverse array of technology used in individual schools.
Aidan McCarthy, CEWA’s head of digital transformation, explains that it was also hard to establish the sense of belonging that was so important to the organisation for all of its teaching and learning community.
“We had no way of bringing people together and sharing our identity. We wanted to get a system whereby we could harness the strengths and best teaching and learning and share that good practice and understanding of how children learn.”
CEWA was also driven to achieve true equity in terms of access to quality teaching, learning and content. “For the Gibb River school out in the desert in the Kimberley, where there are nine students on a pastoral lease – those kids should have the same access to the same resourcing, same teaching and learning as anyone else in the system.”
School leaders needed a system that would streamline operations, inject efficiencies and deliver rich data to inform planning and decision making.
Working with Microsoft, CEWA developed the LEADing Lights platform using cloud computing and an array of technologies from the Microsoft ecosystem, which is now being rolled out state-wide. This provides access to the most up-to-the-minute administrative tools through Office 365 and Dynamics 365 along with rich analytic capability.
As it is deployed, school leaders are able to secure an aggregate view of what happened in the past, what is likely to happen in the future and recommendations about what might be done in the future according to CEWA’s head of digital transformation learning, Dr Cathy Cavanaugh.
Using Power BI, school leaders can interrogate the system or create reports that support better decision making.
“It’s a well-received facility,” says Cavanaugh; “Every time we talk about the possibilities of the platform and see it more concretely they have new ideas about what they would like to see from the platform -so we have probably got about 100 different scenarios and we are really just beginning.”
Aidan McCarthy, CEWA’s head of digital transformation, says that in the past the data existed however was difficult to access. The cloud platform and analytics tools literally put rich insights at school leaders’ fingertips.
McCarthy gives an example of how that manifests. “In WA, there is a test in year 10 literacy and numeracy – and if the student doesn’t pass they can’t graduate year 12.”
Principals were looking to find ways of communicating the problem to the broader community by telling the stories of students who had struggled and how they were performing in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 to see if there were any markers that could be identified to help rein in the issue before it became a problem.
But the data was so hard to access, and so opaque even that wasn’t possible.
With the LEADing Lights platform, Office 365 and new Administration of Schools services leaders have access to a single integrated platform enabling access to real time data on everything from student performance to attendance, graduation and wellbeing.
That can be benchmarked against other schools, past years, system averages or WACE and NAPLAN and other external assessment statistics as an important ally to drive school improvement.
According to Dr Cavanaugh, the insights available would be enhanced over time as machine learning and artificial intelligence was deployed to provide notification to school leaders. This will also have systemic benefits she notes; “If there was a shift in some factor related to a student but that transcends the school then it would be really difficult for one school to note that pattern – but the platform could – if family issues or community patterns could be detected sooner.”
The LEADing Lights platform also supports school leaders seeking to bridge any digital divide. As a cloud based solution, the platform can be accessed from any device at any time.
Schools can choose which device suits their needs best based on a combination of financial aspects and learning outcomes and CEWA will support the school in vendor negotiations to ensure the best deal for the community with no compromise of impact.