Identifying & Meeting Student Needs Is Getting Easier With lookred

After spending a day with Microsoft Innovative Schools and before visiting BETT, I toured Cornwallis Academy, a K-12 school outside of London and managed by the Future Schools Trust. The leadership team demonstrated lookred®, an information system key to their approach to “personalise” learning and “pastoral care.”
Almost two years ago, Susan Patrick from iNACOL introduced me to lookred founder and CEO Chris Poole; so, I sent him some questions.
TVA: Chris, it looks like lookred is built on SharePoint.
CP: Yes, lookred utilizes Sharepoint and other Microsoft business intelligence tools. We’ll be moving on to Office 365 shortly. lookred has designed and built integration technology to schools management information systems, user interface customisation for education, and a services layer to bring education specific functionality such as electronic assignments, lesson reporting and grading. The architecture follows the principle that Microsoft use for Office365, utilising a multi-tenanted approach that ensures data segregation, performance optimisation and the ability to scale.
TVA: Where did this idea come from?
CP: With our backgrounds we are bringing what we know about how other sectors (retail, banks, police. Government, etc.) have been using data etc to change their business models and contextualising that for education. We have been interested in how supermarkets have used data for some time. Indeed our provocation is “What if we knew as much about learners as Amazon and Tesco do about their customers …”
TVA: Right, back in 1993 when I was in retail I had detailed item and customer information daily. Then in 1994 as a superintendent I had no information on anything. 
CP: That’s because education (all stakeholders) don’t have the right tools to help them turn the challenges and pressures of urgent need to raise standards, student engagement, accountability, transparency, “do more with less” — into opportunity.
TVA: What specific functions does lookred handle for schools?
The products are lookred® Spaces and lookred® Insights.
lookred® Spaces allows personalised anywhere, anytime access to all aspects of teaching and learning. Spaces is a platform that allows seamless integration with all educational services from library management to careers service information. Social enterprise features engage the user through blogs, wiki’s, tags and notes, and powerful search capabilities across content and people.
lookred® Insights provides analytics and trends, with compelling visualisations of the data. Education systems are not short of data but they are short of information. The striking benefit in the lookred® solution is being able to find individual slices of information scattered across a number of systems, bring them into one view and then interact with it in a meaningful way to make better decisions.
TVA: What does that mean for education leaders?
At a local authority, state, or national level, leaders can access aggregated information from multiple source systems to understand holistic issues and assist in making more informed decisions on policy.
The school leader and senior leadership teams are empowered by free and timely access to pertinent information on school performance, levels of intervention success, and alerts on student behaviour and achievement. Through simple to use tools and familiar interfaces questioning the information is straightforward to understand. For example, why attendance has dipped, what contributed to the rise in Maths attainment, or which staff members are displaying good practice, and why.
Students and staff are presented with personalised dashboards of their own school history and information. Staff can see information for their tutor groups or classes; see where pupils are tracking well to targets or where behavioural issues may need to be addressed. Students can see their own progress and information on where they are expected to be, and when.
TVA: Are you just focused on education now?
CP: Along the way in our three years we have been (positively) diverted back into other sectors namely corporate learning and more recently the travel industry. Perversely they have seen what we are doing in education and said ‘we need those tools, meaningful information and imagination’ to help our business have better insights and make more informed decisions.
We have a handful of reference sites at different stages in both secondary and primary. We have also focussed on building a few key partnerships with Dell, for exampleand other smaller vendors. From that position we are now finalising commercial discussions that will take us beyond 100 schools!
TVA: What is the Dell partnership?
CP: The work we are involved in with Dell is to develop an “education as a service” proposition. Essentially we are the ‘managing partner’ in the development of that proposition.
We are even working in Russia! I spent last week in London with Microsoft Russia scoping out the next stage of our involvement there. In simple terms over the last 2 years we have been involved with the Government and now 12 regions to design their school modernisation programme. They called that “new school” initially and going back a while on the back of some very successful workshops that we ran in Moscow for key stakeholders, lookred won a competition to take the ideas forward to scale….which is what is starting now. There are 15 million students in Russia and schools at varying stages of development! Like everywhere else they know how important the reform of their school system is — and they know technology and data is going to be at the heart of a modernised experience for learners and educators. lookred(r) solutions look good in Cyrillic!
TVA: What do you mean by “new school?”
CP: “New school” was the headline of an initiative that Mehedev and others used to describe the priority they were giving to modernising their schools system. In terms of the approaches we presented, and in very simple terms, this is the interrelationship between ‘smart’ technology, people and curriculum and space, but considered at scale. I guess what you may well refer to as blended learning, but how to bring to scale. Far too often each of these elements is considered in isolation and then people act surprised when the type of learning experiences intended for students are inhibited by the design of space. lookred® are unashamedly in the ‘smart technology’ space but the conversation needs to be about learning. There are strong educational reasons for looking at the inter-relationship between these elements. There are also strong economic arguments and on the back end of the BSF programme we did a lot of work with architects, town planners and financiers to consider a range of possibilities.
TVA: As you showed at the BETT seminar, you’ve got a pretty good story now. 
lookred® now has a story that goes all the way from national level down through federation of schools to single school to teacher and learner. The insights that can be derived once you turn data into meaningful information are significant and, in my view, are set to accelerate change in education.
This blog first appeared on EdWeek.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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