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Phil Neal worked as a teacher and invented SIMS in 1989, revolutionising the school management information systems landscape and used by the majority of schools in England and Wales.   Although now retired, Phil retains an active interest in new technologies for schools and teamSOS caught his eye.  teamSOS is an “on-call” app that manages both emergencies and everyday incidents.  It uses new technologies to route incidents to the right response team, speeding up responses and capturing evidence as it goes.  Phil had heard reports that teamSOS was having a transformative effect on behaviour, attendance and student and staff safety in schools and was keen to see it in action for himself.

I arrived at Sybil Andrews Academy in Bury St. Edmunds on a bright crisp winter’s morning. Five years earlier it was overshadowed by a failed Ofsted and a need to improve. However, upon on my arrival, I was immediately struck by the calm atmosphere in the school. The most recent Ofsted inspection had awarded a ‘good’ rating, a testament to its remarkable transformation. Somewhat tongue in cheek, I asked James Mason (Assistant Head for Behaviour and Culture) if teamSOS had been the catalyst for such change. With a chuckle, he credited a collective effort, yet acknowledged the significant role played by teamSOS in achieving the turnaround.

I was taken around the school by Carrie Bloomfield (Pastoral Officer) to see teamSOS working in practice.  Carrie was on rota as part of a team of designated “on-call” responders. It wasn’t long before her iPhone chimed with an alert – a student needed to be removed from class.  The student’s teacher had requested help through their desktop version of teamSOS. We quickly collected the student and escorted him to the sanctuary of the ‘calm room’.

Carrie explained that prior to teamSOS, a teacher in need of support would send an email to the Office who would then radio the on-duty responder.  When dealing with student misbehaviour, the radio system often added to the disruption as other students could overhear the dialogue, and despite the staff’s best efforts to codify their conversations, students could work out what was happening and would engineer a way to join their friends.  The introduction of teamSOS swiftly acted as a deterrent enabling faster response times as teachers could directly (and discreetly) contact the on-duty responders. With the response teams being co-ordinated automatically, teamSOS had an added benefit of reducing workloads in the Office.

As we continued our patrol, Carrie was notified that a student had failed to turn up at their lesson so we started to check out the likely places that they would be.  After 5 minutes teamSOS delivered the good news—the student had arrived, and with a tap, the incident was closed. Carrie explained that cases were kept open until resolution so all responders had a complete picture of incidences in the school and could view the incident timelines which captured what happened, where and when.

A few moments later, teamSOS alerted Carrie that another student had Googled something inappropriate.  The message had been fed into teamSOS from Smoothwall automatically.  I was impressed how teamSOS was providing the school with a complete behaviour management solution and could certainly see why it had been a significant driver in the school’s rating turnaround.

I also spoke to Chris Handley, Head of Humanities, who had implemented TeamSOS at Sybil Andrews.  “How difficult was it to get the solution adopted?” I asked, “Remarkably easy” he replied.  He had intended to start off with a trial with a few staff but found it so simple to setup and use that they launched it for the whole school following a single training session.  He had also explained the system to the students who had responded to it positively, aware that everything was actioned and recorded. He remarked that the school was “definitely calmer”.

I had been accompanied at the school by Lawrence Royston, the founder of Groupcall, and now creator of teamSOS.  As we talked to the staff, they made simple suggestions about improvements they would like to see.  I suspect that by now Lawrence, ever innovating, has already started incorporating them into teamSOS!  I came away from the school impressed with what Lawrence had achieved – and Behaviour Management is only a small part of what teamSOS can do.  I saw more of the platform’s capabilities in action when Lawrence demonstrated to Carrie how using the broadcast mode would allow all staff concerned with an event to talk to each other – with the conversation recorded and converted into a text stream for future reference.  This feature is so much better than a traditional radio and renders them obsolete.

teamSOS’s innovation is set to bring schools’ on-call management into the 21st Century. I’ve never seen a system that provides functionality like this, and it’s clearly having a positive impact on behaviour management in schools.  So far 60 forward-thinking schools have taken up teamSOS, but I suspect that as the word continues to spread about what it is achieving, many more will follow.

Phil Neal
@Phil_Neal

Watch Phil’s Q&A with Sybil Andrews Academy below!
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