At the recent SIMS Conference for Local Authorities I spent some time chatting to Phil Neal, managing director of Capita SIMS and one of the original creators of SIMS. I was keen to understand how Assessment Manager and SIMS Discover would evolve over the next couple of years.

SIMS Discover is very much a flagship product for Capita, winning awards and enthusiastic reviews from schools, and not suprisingly that’s where Capita will be concentrating a lot of their development time. New functions and features will include:

Last Three Years’ Data.  From this summer’s release schools will have the ability to see this year’s data alongside last year’s and the year before (mirroring the DfE’s interest in the data for a school over the last three years).

Integrated Exam Analysis Graphs. From the Autumn of 2012 schools will have access to a range of pre-configured graphs that give new ways to access exam analysis data (see screenshot below).

The new exam grade distribution graph in SIMS Discover. (Note that this is just a mock up of the final graph and subject to change)

New graphs. Popular with Early Years practitioners, spider (or radar) graphs will also be introduced to mirror the graphs already provided by Raise Online

Staff Data Graphs. Also in the next 12 months, expect to see a range of graphs that interrogate staff data, showing behaviour points allocated, homework allocated, cover done and other useful stuff.

However SIMS Discover is not the only focus for Capita this year. A homepage redesign will give a sleeker, more modern look but importantly provide for a more flexible display of attendance and assessment data. The teacher view of pupil details will get a similar re-design.

A new interventions timeline will graphically plot assessment, attendance and behaviour data over time. Arrows will indicate the timing of interventions, the effect of which will (hopefully) be visible in the improves attendance, assessments and behaviour points.

Fischer Family Trust data will be integrated into a new (but chargeable) module for secondary schools using Assessment Manager. Instead of restricting schools to a range of just 12 GCS estimates, the integrated module will give access to over 90 estimates – allowing to schools to provide accurate estimates for all their GCSE subjects. (Unfortunately it doesn’t completely automate the FFT download process – hopefully a future version will tackle this tricky area!).

Over the next few years Capita see a bright future for SIMS Discover. Feedback from schools has been very positive. SIMS Discover appeals to a demographic that includes teachers and staff who traditionally didn’t ‘do’ SIMS perhaps finding its interface too old fashioned or unintuitive.  More importantly it provides genuinely insightful analyses in areas that previously couldn’t be reached by SIMS.

Talking to Phil it’s clear that he remains an educationalist at heart – a genuine desire to help drive school improvement is a prime motivation – and he remains the driving force behind SIMS development. But he’s pragmatic, education remains a volatile area where the only constant is change. Let’s hope that he and Capita keep up with the pace of change and remain competitive.