South Australia Department for Education reshapes the future with forms

Students using laptops

By Adobe communications team

Posted on 11-10-2020

The South Australian Department for Education has set its sights on making public education world-class at its 900 schools and preschools across the region within the next 10 years. It’s a lofty, yet attainable, goal for an organisation long committed to ensuring growth for every student, in every class, in every school.

To support its mission, the department is reimagining everything from teacher development and the types of classes offered to students to how to best improve everyday administration.

“Our aim is to lift the entire system in terms of outcomes for children in every academic and social respect,” says Alison Back, director of business improvement for the South Australian Department for Education. “A key component of our efforts is alleviating the delays and lost productivity caused by department processes. We want to be sure that school staff can focus their efforts on excellent leadership and education.”

One of the biggest complaints that Back’s team heard was that processes were slow and overly complex. The schools relied on in-house built systems that had become outdated, leaving staff to deal with paper-based administrative tasks that required hours of manual entry.

Easing the pain of paper

Realising it would take time to move schools from outdated systems to modern platforms, Back and her team looked for quick wins where they could immediately address staff frustration – and getting rid of paper was a priority. They turned to Adobe Experience Manager Forms, which integrated with the systems already in place, to help transform paper-based processes into seamless digital workflows. For example, Experience Manager forms integrates with Microsoft Outlook for sending and receiving forms.

“Adobe Experience Manager Forms provides a level of sophistication and flexibility that we didn’t have previously,” says Back. “It brings a lot of efficiency to our processes, reduces errors, and decreases the amount of misplaced forms. It’s had a huge impact on our efforts to improve administration.”

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The application’s scalability has also made a difference in how the Department for Education has been able to streamline processes. The School Card program – which allows lower-income families to apply for and obtain an exemption from paying public school fees – receives around 70,000 applications per year. Historically, the schools would send paper applications to families, who would then fill them out and return them to the school. The school staff, in turn, would enter all the information into the system.

Now the form is available online, which means parents can complete it anytime at their convenience, and the information collected on the form flows directly into the system. Not only has this saved an immense amount of time for the administrative staff who had to manually enter data from over 70,000 forms each year, but there has also been an increase in application accuracy because data is validated as it is entered on forms, and subsequent data-entry errors have been reduced.

Simplified school selection process for families

Another example of where Experience Manager Forms has had a significant impact is on the form that families need to complete when a child transitions to secondary school. In South Australia, children attend primary school through year seven, and in year eight they transition to secondary school, typically within their zones of residence. In advance of year eight, families are sent a form that tells them which local school they are zoned to, and gives them the option of providing a first, second, and third choice for which secondary school they would like a child to attend. Previously, the department sent out approximately 14,000 of these paper forms annually. The parents would fill out the form and send it back, and the administrative staff would manually enter data.

Using Experience Manager Forms, the department can now send a prepopulated form with personalised zone information via a unique link to each family. The family can confirm their school preferences with just a few clicks, simplifying the entire process while reducing the administrative burden and errors associated with manual data entry.

In addition, data validation improves overall integrity of the applications by ensuring each school preference entry is unique, as opposed to multiple entries of the same school, which was previously seen on paper forms. Ensuring better accuracy at the point of data entry on forms results in less time spent on data cleansing on the back end.

“The reductions in costs across the system in terms of admin time, paper use, and postage certainly add up,” says Back. “Just by automating processes for the School Card and Transition to High School forms, we estimate we’re saving upwards of a year of manual data entry across our schools.”

While the savings are significant, Back adds, “Giving parents the option of filling out forms like School Card anytime they want is the way the world is going. It also reduces the stigma of submitting the School Card form in person by enabling parents to go online and just click the link, which is an additional bonus.”

Providing paperless privacy and trust

In addition to cost savings, Experience Manager Forms adds an extra assurance when it comes to privacy. Where there are issues such as domestic concerns, there are flags in the system to put control in the hands of the department so that a human makes decisions regarding who it’s OK to contact.

“Parents expect the highest level of privacy, and we have demonstrated that we can build trust in this system,” Back says.

The benefits of using Experience Manager Forms extends to internal Department for Education employees as well. For example, as soon as a department employee submits an expense for reimbursement through the system, the manager can approve it and it goes straight to payroll, whereas previously it might have sat on a manager’s desk for a week or two for approval. And because Experience Manager Forms is integrated with back-end HR systems, it recognizes employees as they are filling out the forms so they can only submit claims in respect of expenses they are entitled to, by virtue of their roles or locations.

“Many of our HR forms are now close to being 100% processed digitally,” says Back. “It’s made work easier for staff and their managers.”

Looking ahead, the South Australian Department for Education aims for continuous improvement as it rolls out even more forms as part of its business improvement efforts. While the team has seen impressive results with the initial forms transitioned to Experience Manager Forms, they are always looking for ways to refine their services, such as translating forms into other languages to make it easier for families with English as a second language to apply for key programs.

“Opportunities for improvement are vast, and we’ll continue to enhance experiences for our families and our department and school-based staff by reducing administrative burden across the system,” Back says. “These efforts add up to a real impact, including much faster form submission and processing, fewer errors and lost forms, and more satisfied families and school staff. Adobe Experience Manager Forms will keep playing an important role in our business improvement efforts moving forward.”

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