2020 is a year that none of us is going to forget in a hurry. It might feel like the year passed in a bit of a blur, with little progress made, but it’s important to take stock and remember what you did achieve, both personally and professionally.

Certainly in 2020, we were proud to be able to support the fantastic efforts that everyone in further education was making. We all understand that education was affected but that didn’t stop some very determined people doing their utmost to minimise that impact wherever they possibly could.  So, as the new year gets underway, we have reflected on our positive achievements and – perhaps unsurprisingly – note that they can be categorised under two clear headings.

Pivot and Respond

Like everyone, we could see the writing on the wall so even before ‘Lockdown 1’ was official and colleges closed, we had identified and shared a number of key functions that our software offers which would really facilitate remote delivery and monitoring.  For example, eTrackr-ILPs ‘Action Plan’ tools are a great way to set tasks for learners and allow them to set and review their own targets.   (Read all our eTrackr-ILP remote tips here: https://vlesupport.co.uk/2020/03/19/using-etrackr-ilp-to-support-the-remote-delivery-of-teaching-and-learning/)

A few weeks later, when exams were cancelled, eTrackr-ILP also came into its own for evidencing teacher assessed grades. We were in regular contact with colleges to understand how they were using it so that we could, for example, tweak parent and learner screens to make forecast and actual grades easier to understand.

As colleges began to reopen to students, it quickly became apparent that our eNotify customers were taking full advantage of the ability to customise it by adding in absence options such as “Covid-Self-isolating” or “Covid-Positive Test”.  We are always happy to learn how our software is being useful so delighted to be able to share this good practice with other clients too.  (Read that article here: https://vlesupport.co.uk/2020/11/02/enotify-tracking-covid-cases-for-colleges/)

We were proud to support colleges in the use of all our products to meet the changing needs and requirements during the pandemic.  In 2020, that included offering extra online training to provide support during this challenging time.

As a business, many of our staff have worked remotely for a number of years so making the shift to all of us working from home wasn’t too big a deal; we achieved that (we believe) with no loss in service.  What was different for us was not being able to go and deliver product demo’s or installations in person.  That did require a bit of a mind shift at first but now, our ‘virtual onboard’ process is working well (although that’s not to say we aren’t looking forward to seeing people in person again, of course!).   (Missed our tips for homeworking? https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/you-now-working-from-home-mark-trinick/)

All of this additional remote activity demonstrated how well our systems hold up with increased traffic and simultaneous usage, especially for some of our larger customers, like Newcastle College Group (NCG).  As a software company, you’d expect us to have planned for this so it was good to see our planning work out.

BAU – Business as usual

 We believe it’s important to continuously develop our software, as we know the education landscape constantly changes (even in a ‘normal’ year!). Therefore, we were keen that the need to respond to the pandemic wasn’t going to impact on that process.  We are pleased to say that we ticked off quite a few development targets during the year.

Those targets included designing and launching the new ‘Action Centre’ function within eTrackr-ILP which brings together actions and notifications on one screen, for both staff and student users.  eTrackr-ILP also got a new unit sign-off facility.  We also started planning what the mobile/app’ eTrackr-ILP interface will need; watch this space for our ongoing progress on this as 2021 unfolds.

We know that many eSpirALS customers rely on it for all their learning support management needs so planned updates are essential there too.  The most significant of those in 2020 was implementing the functionality relating to Local Authority funding bands, to allow LS Managers to track income more effectively, incorporated in the release of Version 15.  We followed the release with a series of online workshops in November that explored how eSpirALS can help manage EHCP reviews, Local Authority Banding, equipment loans, reduced class sizes and much more.

As well as developing our existing products, we are also responsive to customer needs so developed and launched a brand-new piece of software during 2020.  eSignUp is designed to both streamline apprenticeship recruitment for colleges and providers, as well as handling apprenticeship funding calculations, OTJ hours and so on.  It has been well received by those who saw it demonstrated at the end of 2020.  (Find out more at https://esignup.co.uk/)

Finally, as if all that wasn’t enough, we were very pleased to be invited to become a Collab Group Partner in 2020.  The Collab Group is a national membership body of FE colleges and college groups. Members come from across the UK and include some of the larger colleges in the country, including LSEC and NCG. Being a Collab Group supply chain partner places us alongside other respected organisations in the fields of recruitment, education technology, assessment, awarding and more.  In the coming year, we hope this new relationship will not only add value for Collab Group members but provide an opportunity for us to further refine the capability of our products in line with the needs of our clients.

Happy new year: let’s see what 2021 brings!