Voyage Education Partnership is a Lincolnshire-based MAT made up of nine primary and secondary academies. Operating across 10 sites, plus a central head office team, the MAT employs over 500 people – and future growth is on the horizon.

Wayne Oldfield joined as Chief Operating Officer (COO) in August 2020, with the ambition to improve the partnership’s HR functions to serve employees more effectively. Using Every’s HR software, the team have been able to transform Voyage’s HR away from an admin-intensive department to one that provides rich support for its staff.

Now nearly two and a half years into his post, Wayne sat down with our Director, Adam, to explain Voyage’s ambitions – and how Every HR’s driving the achievements.

Wayne, introduce us to how Voyage Education Partnership’s HR operations have changed since using our HR software? 

Every HR has really helped us to restructure our HR team. Previously, it felt like we had a team having to focus more on HR administration than being able to provide higher quality support and guidance. The richness of the work that we now do has completely flipped – before using Every’s HR software, the ratio of admin to valuable support felt like 2:1. It’s now the opposite way around.

Every HR engineers low-value admin tasks out of the HR system.

What’s one of your core needs from your HR software?

We definitely wanted – and needed – something to replace our previous applicant tracking system (ATS). The process was document-heavy, making it time-consuming for our HR team. We also wanted to improve on our approach to unconscious bias, looking for a system that supported us in reducing the opportunities for unconscious bias to affect the recruitment process.

We had already implemented the core modules of Every HR so we’d got to grips with the main functions of the system. When the Recruitment & ATS module was released last year, it was great to have an integrated process that makes the pathway from applicant to candidate to employee really smooth.

One of our main aims with Every HR was to empower organisations to consolidate and streamline every aspect of people-management. How does this impact daily HR operations at Voyage? 

We’ve gained so much consistency in our processes. By managing everything centrally, we don’t need to manually serve, say, our interview panels. We do all the shortlisting electronically, on Every HR, meaning panels can access the appropriate information they need for the next stages of the recruitment process. 

And once we’ve chosen the successful candidate, transferring them into employee status is seamless. Plus, this information complies with the Single Central Record (SCR) as their personal data is logged and tracked throughout Every HR from day dot.

And in terms of having that central management – how’s that made HR tasks more efficient?

Well, we’re operating out of one place – not five spreadsheets and a filing cabinet! We’ve got a completely paperless HR department. Everything is stored in Every HR, which is key for us in keeping activities secure and with an audit trail. 

There’s nowhere for sensitive data to be left lying around, no chance of a SCR spreadsheet being emailed somewhere it shouldn’t. Employee information is in a single, well-controlled environment – it’s supported by the granular permissions we can set to determine who has access to what which really works for us.

Working in an organisation like this is a real privilege.

Change management challenges are common when an organisation looks to move away from a paper-based HR system and embrace technology. How do you navigate this?

With any change, there are elements of discomfort. And there’s always going to be people that take comfort in paper records! That said, we had such a strong mandate to make the change – generally, all our headteachers and managers wanted HR to be slicker. Before implementing Every HR, everyone recognised we lacked richness in support. One option was to employ more people, but that wasn’t the most viable solution.

From a value point of view, the change to Every HR ticked every box. We’ve been able to focus our HR team and get twice as much technical support for HR matters, without having to increase the charge to schools. Paying for Every HR for our entire trust is financially better value than employing more staff. 

And given what the software’s done, we no longer need to increase our HR headcount – the system takes a lot of the administrative load off, meaning we’re able to demonstrate a better HR service to our schools and people.

Where’s this vision for Voyage Education Partnership’s digital transformation come from?

 The role of COO was an entirely new post when I joined Voyage, so I had a pretty blank canvas to start with. Developing the wider digital strategy for the trust is a work in progress – we know that we want to link everything into one environment. We want to move forwards with a limited number of information systems that do the things that we need them to, and give us resilience with our core, trusted partners.

Digitisation – it’s what the sector is doing, but I don’t think enough is made of what this digital transformation is about. Improving accountability, making interventions proactive, and helping to get service levels right. It’s a brilliant thing for the sector.

Were you ever on the frontline as a teacher? 

Yes, I was in the classroom for about five years before I ended up in a leadership role! So I think I’ve got a good understanding of how our organisation’s staff react to things like the concept of digitally transforming processes. And now, when I try to implement something new, I use my experience of being on the ground to help me make things as easy and as accessible as possible.

Time in a school day is tight – the focus for me now is on streamlining processes so they're transparent and understood by our staff.

We’ve touched on recruitment – are there any other of our HR software modules that have really changed the game for you? 

On the ground, the Absence Management module has made the biggest difference. Historically, schools were returning spreadsheets detailing staff absences to the HR team at the end of every month. It could take 6-8 weeks for records to be updated, so by the time any intervention meetings took place, it was up to a couple of months later.

Now, absence records are updated by 11am every day in every school. We’ve got a proper trail of return to works, and that process has become far easier to manage. We instantly know who’s hit an absence trigger, and it’s also encouraging staff to take more accountability for their attendance, too.

It’s a positive that staff are always talking to us about the heat map that’s on their absence profile in their Every HR portal. Their attendance is visible straight-away when they view their attendance record, so there aren’t any unexpected conversations.

What are the three key areas the Absence Management module has made a difference in?

  1. Transparency – employees know where they’re at, all the time. There aren’t any surprises because they get to own their absence. And they can view documents, like completed return to work forms, in a few clicks.
  2. Access to ‘live’ information – when managers are having 1-1s with staff, for instance, about performance, they can pull up absence records and see if they need to be discussed as part of the meeting as well.
  3. It feeds us, rather than us feeding it – previously, analysing the data was time-consuming because it was all done manually. Now, we get it literally in the format that we want it. And, we’re able to break it down using categories such as time period, school, and role, allowing us to interpret the impact of absences on education.

We’re also able to have more open conversations with our teaching and support staff on the impact of absences – i.e. lost days of learning for our students.

Important parts of the absence process, like return-to-work meetings, don’t get lost – they actually happen because Every HR tells us they need actioning. So they get done.

It helps leaders to ask the right questions about the absence more easily.

What’s next for Voyage Education Partnership?

We’re working on embedding Every HR’s Performance module this year. And we’re actually going about recognising performance in a completely different way that’s actually been inspired by Every!

The way we manage performance isn’t by telling teachers that they have, say, a set number of targets. We’re using Performance from Every HR to say ‘these are the standards’, and our expectation is that you need to be great at what you do. And that’s it. 

Any support or targeted continuous professional development (CPD) will come from these standards, and we’ll then set more specific targets outside of these. Our staff measure themselves against the standards, and then we can refocus the support we’ve got in place to help develop our staff or intervene when standards aren’t being met.

Finally, let’s go back to your agenda to have systems that synchronise and work to achieve the bigger picture – what’ve you got in place so far?

We want to be more resilient to disruptions, like what happened during Covid-19. For example, we’ve just commissioned IRIS’ Ed:Gen as our MIS across our entire MAT, with the view that our systems can talk to each other and do what they need to do. We’re already with Dataplan Education by IRIS for Payroll, so we’re looking forward to getting this integrated with Every HR soon.

We’d like to express a huge ‘thank you’ to Wayne for taking the time out of a busy day to talk about how Voyage Education Partnership is benefitting from Every HR.

If you’re interested in learning more about what our HR software can do for your school or MAT, let’s talk!