Today I interviewed Al Kingsley. He is a man of many roles, including the Managing Director of NetSupport and visionary of ReallySchool. ReallySchool is brand-new solution from NetSupport that offers a fresh and intuitive approach to capturing student learning experiences. In this interview he explains the journey and future of ReallySchool.
First tell us little about you and NetSupport.
NetSupport have been on the go for 30 years next year, and as a business we have always been involved at the core of IT skills in schools and education as well as in the corporate space. We started out developing remote control tools for early DOS and Windows for workgroups PCs.
What we realised very quickly was the kind of things we can do one to one in an IT setting also translate quite nicely to what we can do one to many in a classroom setting.
In 1995 we released the first version of classroom management and instruction software at NetSupport. Since then we have worked with schools to ensure they get the most out of technology in the classroom and that our technology supports both staff and students. Whether it’s in terms of classroom tools or instruction tools that support good pedagogy in the classroom.
How did ReallySchool start and why?
As well as running NetSupport as a business, education is something I’m very heavily involved in. I’ve been a school governor for 15 years and I’m the chair of a multi academy trust in Peterborough. I also work very closely with and lead the governor group of the county. I know from spending time in schools that not everything is about the IT suite or the IT structure. Particularly in Primary settings, it’s much more about the assessment and support that goes on in the classroom.
When we develop our products they are either born from new innovative ideas or we see things being done, look at them and think, we can do that better. ReallySchool falls under the latter category. We know there are teachers and teaching assistants in schools that are technology enabled, keen and focused but need the tools they are using to work more effectively. ReallySchool was born from the concept of existing tools in the market place that have been reworked to be more efficient, so they reduce teacher pressures in the classroom. This is centered on two strands; reducing teacher and TA time when capturing observations, and encouraging greater parental engagement.
We pulled those concepts together to make something really helpful, really cool and hence ReallySchool.
How would you define ReallySchool’s USP?
Sometimes people look for this one big feature that is the defining point of the product, but often most improvements come from marginal gains. Basically, we are not trying to reinvent the wheel, instead we are shaping technologies around what teachers are asking for. We are trying to produce a frustration free zone, which may or may not be possible, and we’re doing that by improving on existing practice.
The USP really is making it easy and flexible for teachers to use.
What do you want schools to gain by using ReallySchool?
As a business with a moral compass we want to make it easier for teachers to identify those children in the class that need extra support, so they become more secure on their understanding and we want to optimise the amount of time spent teaching.
The best way to optimise teaching time is to minimise the amount of time spent evidencing that you have succeeded in your endeavors and that’s where we can help.
How has ReallySchool developed since it started?
It’s developed a long way, but the starting concept was always very clear. teachers and teaching assistants need to be able to capture and record observations more easily and flexibly. From working with teachers on our product, we realised that those things can have the most impact.
We started out with an early years focus, and that is at the heart of the product, but actually as we grow, and evolve the parental collaboration tools, these can be developed in to functionality that is suitable for student collaboration. ReallySchool is evolving from the early years upwards within the primary setting.
The problem we have as developers is that there are thousands of ideas we could use, so the skill is being able to prioritise those. We also understand that the best products are not the ones that do the most, the hardest task is adding more features but still keeping the product simple and flexible. This is a skill we have developed over the last 30 years and applies heavily to ReallySchool. We needed to add more flexibility in functionality without adding extra clicks of steps in the process.
Like our other products, I hope it will have at least another decade’s worth of development to shape with the way education is constantly changing.
What upcoming developments are you excited about?
Our next landmark, which will be ready in Spring term, is an update that will improve parental engagement in a way that is right for schools, where teachers choose how and when they have that communication with parents, in an informative and helpful way.
The team and I believe it is important to celebrate success in student learning, so we’re adding in badges and rewards. These could be for commitment, mathematical skills, somebody that’s putting their best foot forward or many other reasons to celebrate. We’re also extending, in line with praise comments, the flexibility with reporting. Making it easier to drill down and spot those key students that need extra support.
I certainly hope BETT, our main education show of the year, will be a useful platform for us to gain a lot of feedback from teachers about what our next step is in the product.
However, so far, the feedback in EYFS has been outstanding.
Why is ReallySchool being offered for free to Peterborough schools?
Fundamentally we are a Peterborough business and we are Peterborough stake holders. I’m not unique in NetSupport in terms of my commitment to education. In fact, our ReallySchool product lead was a Peterborough teacher.
Supporting our local area is part of NetSupport Group’s broader responsibility and we want to see standards in Peterborough raised at all levels. We’re in a fortunate position where we can afford to do that.
What does the future of ReallySchool look like?
The simple fun answer is the future is purple, like our ReallySchool branding colours.
I think like most things in education anybody who claims to have a clear picture of where the future lies is probably a better man than me. We have a clear idea in terms of the extra functionality. Particularly in developing KS1 and KS2 flexibility and extending the kinds of tools for communicating with parents.
Ultimately the future shape of the product will be dictated by the needs of schools and changes in educational requirements.