As time goes by, more and more early years settings are choosing to make the switch from paper-based management, to a digital nursery management system that provides a helping hand with their day-to-day work.
As the demand for effective software continues to grow, so do the options. Solutions like Connect Childcare, eyLog, Baby’s Days, Blossom, First Steps, Parenta, and (of course!) Famly, are all competing to provide an experience which makes life easier for staff and parents in the early years.
So how on earth are you meant to choose?
Well, it’s important to bear in mind that no two systems are the same. While many might share similarities, sometimes those small differences have the biggest impact on saving you time, improving parent partnerships and helping every child to thrive.
That’s why we’ve compiled this summary of what to look for when choosing software to use in your setting. Whether it’s the first time you’re moving away from paper, or you’re simply looking for a change from your current system, we hope this guide can help to narrow down your choice.
What sort of basics does the system need to truly make a difference, rather than just get in the way of what you currently do?
These are what we think are the core elements of what a digital system needs to help make your setting tick, as well as some of the things parents might expect and what can help you with Ofsted.
Bear in mind that having a system in place to help you with these tasks should make things significantly faster and more straightforward. If you find that the system is actually eating up more time than ever even once you’ve got used to it, it might be time to look elsewhere.
- Child development – Being able to quickly record observations, learning journals, and any necessary checks or baseline assessments is one of the key reasons you might choose to take your setting digital . Further analysing this through in-depth cohort tracking can give you a ‘bird’s-eye view’ of the children’s progress.
- Parent communication – Gone are the days of sifting through a hefty address book to call or email parents – easy contact via direct messaging is now considered the norm. Sharing photos, videos and other updates throughout the day is also a great way to keep them engaged.
- Invoicing and public funding – We’ll admit, sending out invoices isn’t the most enjoyable task and can also be one of the most time-consuming elements of running a nursery. But it it has to be done. Look for systems which can quickly generate batch invoices based on the childrens’ booking patterns and any public funding which needs to be accounted for.
- Ratios and room planning – Getting staff-to-child ratios is a vital responsibility when working in the early years. Letting a digital system take care of the heavy lifting here can help you more easily plan staff rotas and free up your time to be better spent elsewhere.
- Accident reporting – Software can be really good for collecting, analysing and reflecting on accident and incident reports to get an overview of events happening within the setting and make the necessary changes.
- Daily child logs – All the happenings in the life of a child at your setting such as nappy changes, meals and snacks,and nap times can be recorded much more quickly on a digital system.
- Cloud-based – Working across devices where information is updated in real time through the cloud helps staff and parents to see a consistent picture of what’s going on at the setting, without the need for messy double-data entry.
- Customer support – When you’re unsure about how to do something within the platform is there someone to turn to for help?
- Document storage – Access to important files, with different access based on role can help you to work collaboratively and share policies, procedures, and training materials.
The ‘nice to haves’
What extras could the system offer to help you gain even further insight into your setting and make improvements to your processes?
While some of these features are likely to come at an extra cost, they are often the ones that can save you a great deal of time, give parents an even better experience, and streamline your processes. That’s why it’s worth doing a proper analysis of these features and what they could do for your setting before you make any final choices.
- Customised reporting and analytics – Be it advanced debt and revenue reports or occupancy analysis to predict and improve future capacity, this is the ‘big data’ that can help you to make more informed business decisions.
- Enquiries and waiting lists – When you have frequent interaction with new potential parents from the community it’s great to have a centralised place to manage relationships, communicate, and plan ahead for the children that may soon come into your care.
- Sign-in screen – Registering children can easily be one of the most busy periods of the day, and,letting parents check them in with a straightforward screen can speed up and secure the process.
- Parent-requested care – Ad-hoc additions are a great way to increase revenue and fill up vacant sessions at your setting, letting parents quickly and easily do this in-app is a sure way to boost that occupancy.
- Holiday, sickness, and permission requests – Requests and notifications from current parents for holidays and sick leave come in left, right and centre. Managing these in a centralised way can ensure both the nursery staff and parents don’t miss any important information.
- Payment handling – Provide an even smoother experience for parents and avoid handling cash, bank transfers, cheques and reconcilliation by having payments integrated into the platform.
- Automation – Some of the more basic tasks you complete on a daily basis are also the ones that are a big drain on your working hours including things like room moves and debt collection. At the click of a button, these simple tasks can quickly and easily be automated in some systems.
What features are (in most cases) actually unnecessary and can complicate the running of your setting for yourself, staff, or parents?
It could be tempting to go for the system which seems to have significantly more options, settings, and customisability than competitors. We’d argue against this though due to the confusion, extra costs and reduced frequency in updates to what’s important. Some of the things to look out for are included below.
- Next step suggestions – Every child is unique and will be following their own developmental path. The staff working with that child should instinctively know best what the next logical next step should be for them, rather than relying on a system to tell them this.
- An excessively bulky platform – Even though it might seem nice to have endless features, the reality is mess and confusion. Whichever system you choose should have the flexibility to do what you need, but not be so expansive that it confuses your staff or parents.
- Locally stored data – Systems which aren’t cloud-based end up meaning data is not consistent for all users. There’s also the risk of accidental deletion, data loss or unwanted access due to damage or theft.
- Separate apps or systems – Instead of one, unified system, some providers offer different apps for different people or specific use case. This complicates the way the system works together as an integrated whole, leading to double data entry, slower updates and launch of new features, resulting in an incoherent experience for staff and parents.
- Large upfront costs – These are there to tie you in and make it harder to leave if you’re unhappy. In reality, training should be included, or it should be simple enough that you can handle a lot of it yourself.
Learn more about Famly
Find out below from Neil Leitch about the impact of Famly at the Early Years Alliance, and see what we can do for you in a personal demo.