Contingency Planning for School Data Managers

Sarah Brown from Juniper Education highlights why contingency planning is a lifesaver for school Data Managers. She shares practical steps for identifying and prioritising risks, and creating and maintaining plans to keep school operations running smoothly, no matter what.


Showing my age, "I love it when a plan comes together!" Planning and preparation are crucial for a good Data Manager—just as they are for a team of commandos. 

The role of a school Data Manager is diverse and exciting, which is why we offer workshops specifically for those New to School Data Management. These workshops provide a valuable overview of what to expect, as the learning curve can be steep and sometimes isolating. 

My name is Sarah Brown, and I'm a Data Consultant at Juniper Education. I spent 14 years as a Data Manager in schools, and I absolutely loved it. In this blog, I am going to discuss what it means to be a Data Manager and 4 steps to effective contingency planning in schools.   

The role of a Data Manager 

The role of a Data Manager has developed beyond recognition in recent years and there are even calls for it to have its own formal qualification. In a school, alongside invaluable IT Technicians, admin staff, and the Headteacher’s PA, the Data Manager is often one of the first reliable ports of call for a myriad of questions. The Data Manager oversees the collection, analysis, and utilisation of data within a school to support decision-making, improve educational outcomes, ensure compliance with regulatory requirements and contingency planning.  

The importance of contingency plans 

Contingency plans, much like insurance policies, are measures we hope never to need but know will save us a lot of time and pain if the worst happens. For examinations, the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) requires schools to have "a robust contingency plan in place." Quite often, the responsibilities for exams and data are held by the same person. 

Preparing for the academic year 

With this in mind, it's a good idea to have a contingency plan in place at the start of the academic year and especially ahead of exam time. 

Step 1: The risk factor 

For any school contingency plan, the first step is to identify potential areas that could cause problems. Consider the following possibilities: 

  • Only one member of staff is aware of key role tasks, associated deadlines, has access to systems, and is trained. 
  • An unplanned long-term absence. 
  • Unplanned absence on a key day in the school calendar. 
  • IT systems going down. 
  • Problems with the school building. 

Step 2: Prioritise the risks 

After identifying potential risks, prioritise them based on their likelihood and impact. Major school building issues have been in the news this past year, but a common issue we regularly see as Data Consultants is when only one person is trained in any given role. 

Step 3: Create a school contingency plan 

With prioritised risks in mind, create a detailed school contingency plan. Consider the following: 

  • What are the key tasks and deadlines of the Data Manager role? 
  • Is the current Data Manager the only one who knows how to use/access the Assessment, Exams, Cover, Census, and Timetable parts of your MIS, Sisra Analytics, or any other school software? 
  • Who would be a suitable emergency cover? 
  • Ensure the chosen contingency person has the correct level of access to the systems required (or knows the process for each system to request this). 
  • Are there guides readily available and easy to access? (For Sisra Analytics, check out our HELP section.) 
  • Does the school have a third-party support contract for your MIS? Put the helpline number up on the wall! 
  • Is there an available calendar of key dates in the academic year? Census Dates/Assessment Cycle/Tables Checking/Options/Reporting, etc. 
  • Is there an accessible list of useful contact names and numbers, including internal staff and the areas they’re responsible for? 
  • If you are part of a Multi-Academy Trust, would one of the other school Data Managers be available to advise/train someone? 
  • Check that GDPR requirements are being followed. Information should be stored on a shared school drive in secure areas according to required access permissions. 
  • Is there an easy-to-follow file structure? 

Step 4: Maintain the contingency plan 

Finally, ensure the plan remains relevant and up to date. 

  • Don’t just write a plan that never gets looked at. Ensure you check and update it as you do other policies in school. 
  • A couple of times a year, arrange for the identified contingency person to spend time with your current Data Manager to observe and carry out some of the key tasks. 

Contingency planning can also serve as excellent Continuous Professional Development (CPD) for staff, especially those looking to expand their knowledge of other areas within the school. 

By following the steps outlined above, you’ll likely avoid emergency situations. 

Rely on Juniper’s Data Management Team for support 

However, if you do encounter a problem and feel like no one else can help, remember that you have support in place. You have Juniper’s Data Management (DM) Team!

Get in touch today and find out how we can help your school!  

Our experts are available to provide advice and solutions as your trusted progress partner. The DM Team Superhero Image