In a previous post I talked in general terms about the changes to assessment in SIMS Next Generation. In this post I’m going to focus on assessment and what the changes to assessment manager will mean for those of us who develop systems in SIMS.

Results will migrate

Its important to reassure SIMS users that no results will be harmed when schools migrate to the new version. Your data is safe! Its also nice to know that aspects, resultsets and gradesets will also transfer to the new system and will gain extra functionality as they do so.

Templates will migrate (but…)

The data transfer progress will also bring across your existing templates but (and here’s the catch) the formulas within those templates will not transfer. On the face of it that could be a major issue: most assessment systems worth their salt will make extensive use of formulas to calculate targets, measure progress and add colours, but (keep reading) there are mitigating reasons why the absence of formulas in the data transfer might not be a bad thing.

Resultsets, but not as we know them

Re-christened ‘assessment periods’ in SIMS next generation, result sets will no longer be just labels that we apply to aspects. Instead they will be aligned directly to curriculum years and will include a concept of frequency (termly = 3, half termly = 6 etc.). Results will also be actively tied in to academic years. So for example, SIMS next generation will be able to identify all the assessment periods that are currently active, or all the assessment periods that run over the spring term 2016/17Imagine being able to run reports that pick up all the spring term results, regardless of year group. Or imagine being able to filter a marksheet to only show spring term columns.

Gradesets become ‘result types’

Most of us who work with gradesets are frustrated by their inflexibility. Imported gradesets are read-only, so using gradeset created by Capita, or even just sharing gradesets between schools in a local trust can be difficult (why, oh why do no two schools ever want exactly the same grades?). So the new gradesets will include more flexibility: we’ll be able to equate new grades with existing grades and turn off individual grades for certain schools – making it much easier to create tailored systems.

Aspect stay as ‘aspects’

No change in terminology for aspects (phew!) but a lot more intelligence built into them: an aspect will now be categorised according to phase (eg KS1), subject, and type (effort, prediction, target etc). Importantly we can use these properties in an ad hoc manner on marksheets. If a user can filter on marksheet columns by aspect type, subject or phase we can make big marksheets easier to navigate.

Formulas, formulas, formulas

The biggest change for many of us will be the way formulas are handled. Capita have addressed some of the more long standing problems with the previous system:

  • Excel-style: Imagine an excel formula but with the cell references replaced by column names and you’ll have the right idea. So all our excel skills will be transferrable to SIMS. Time to brush up on our Excel formula skills!
  • Cut and Paste: formulas can also be cut and pasted between columns (no more laboriously re-creating a nested-if-then-else formula from scratch multiple times on one template).
  • Shareable formulas (a central repository of formulas for every eventuality anyone?)
  • Conditional formatting via gradesets. Define the colours right next to the grades. At last!
  • Conditional formatting via formulas, as per Excel.
  • Formulas will be available to use across programme of study curriculum columns
  • A new ‘formula builder’ to help assemble formulas
  • We also be able to reference pupil data in formulas (eg if pupilpremium=true then x else y)

Ad Hoc Reporting and Reports to Parents

Development of these tools is advanced but Capita haven’t released many details yet…

What does all this mean?

These are fundamental changes to the way our current systems are built. Teachers and senior managers will need time for initial overview training sessions or role specific updates. Data managers will need to spend time learning the new techniques provided by the SIMS Next Generation – which will probably be a mix of formal and informal training.

Migrating from SIMS 7 to SIMS Next Generation will involve an adjustment to existing practices and an initial investment of time to update any bespoke assessment resources with desired formulas or required ‘intelligence’. 

But the new features in assessment manager will mean that the task of updating resources job is much quicker than it would have been, had we been stuck with SIMS7. So short term pain for long term gain.

Remember SIMS Next Generation won’t be released till the Spring 2018 and even then there will be no immediate pressure to migrate, so no need to hold back on any development work at the moment. But keep in touch with Capita and your local SIMS support team and make sure you stay in the loop.