Contingency Planning for School Data Managers

So contingency planning – that’s a bit boring, isn’t it?

Well yes, it is but it’s also really important.  

So why do we need a contingency plan for the role of a school Data Manager? 

For the same reason, we need any contingency plan for any organisation. To ensure everything can run as smoothly as possible in the event of an emergency/unexpected event. This past year has certainly taught us that life can be unpredictable and that we need a flexible proactive approach to life, including our work life. Many of you had to walk out of your school office in March 2020 and not return to it for many months, yet, you still had to offer the same levels of support to your leadership and school teams working from your kitchen (whilst homeschooling/dog barking/baby crying)!

Those of you with responsibility for Exams have had to have a contingency plan in place since June 2016 to minimise ‘risk to examination administration and any adverse impact on students, should the examinations officer be absent at a critical stage of the examination cycle’ (JCQ Notice to Centres), so why should it be any different for the other parts of a Data Managers role? I would argue that it shouldn’t be.

Having a contingency plan makes it more likely that your school will bounce back from an emergency situation. One of the additional benefits is that it prevents people from panicking or responding erratically in times of stress. Making decisions in a high-stress situation often leads to oversights. Whilst the big stress days for Data Managers are around the Results Days in the summer it is equally worth planning for the general academic year.

With that in mind, here is a four-step process you can use to prepare a contingency plan for your role.

Step 1: Identify the Key Risks.

You’ll need to identify which potential areas in your school could cause problems but here are some possibilities to consider:

  • Only one member of staff is trained to carry out key tasks
  • An unplanned long-term absence
  • Systems going down on Results Day 
  • Problems with the school building

Step 2: Prioritize the Risks.

(You’ll know the top priority in your setting)

  • In my experience, the highest risk is when the only member of staff trained to carry out a role is unexpectedly absent for an extended period

Step 3: Create a Contingency Plan.

A few things to consider:

  • What are the key parts of your role?
  • Is it just you that knows how to use the Assessment/Exams/Analysis/Cover/Census/Timetable part of your MIS/other school software?
  • Who would be a suitable emergency cover?
  • Ensure staff have the correct level of access to the systems (or know the process of each system to request this)Are there guides readily available and easy to access? (For use with SISRA Analytics then the answer is yes!)
  • Is there a calendar of key dates in the academic year? Census Dates/Assessment Cycle/Tables Checking/Options etc
  • Is there an accessible list of useful contact names and numbers? 
  • Are you storing information on a personal drive that should be in a shared (but secure) area?
  • Do you have an easy-to-follow file structure?
  • Who holds the spare keys to the office?

Step 4: Maintain the Plan.

  • Don’t just have this as a plan that never gets looked at. 
  • Revisit it at the start of the academic year and make any necessary adjustments.
  • A couple of times a year get your emergency cover to sit alongside you and observe/carry out some of the tasks.

Why do I feel so strongly about contingency planning?

Well, it did happen to me, the only member of staff with the training (me) got hit by a car on A Level Results Day 2016… A contingency plan is just like an insurance policy, you hope you are never going to need it, but it is in place for that emergency…so I advise you all to get that plan in place!