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Arbor and ScholarPack lead the way as MIS switching accelerates

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Arbor remains the fastest growing MIS and gained 96 schools, followed by ScholarPack in the #2 spot gaining 46.

72.5% of schools that switched chose one of The Key Group’s MIS products. And with 1,453 schools using ScholarPack and 1,163 schools using Arbor, we are now serving 11.9% of English state schools.

The demand for a modern, cloud-based MIS has been accelerated by the incredible challenges that schools have had to manage during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Schools are seeing the benefits of switching to an MIS that is accessible from anywhere, responsive to change, and seamlessly integrated with their other systems.


Here are four other takeaways:

1. More maintained schools are switching, as local authorities embrace choice

For many years academies and MATs have been the main driver of MIS switching. In January 65% of academies were still using SIMS, compared to 77% of maintained schools.

Academy switching is not slowing down, but the most notable change this year has been the increase in maintained schools that are choosing a new MIS.


So, what’s going on?

Historically almost all local authorities have had bulk purchase agreements that included SIMS as part of a bundle with other systems and support.

Schools in these local authorities still have the option to switch MIS - but this is not an easy choice to make, and could even involve continuing to pay for a bundle that includes SIMS, despite taking up a different MIS.

Even now, there are still around 40 local authorities where every maintained school uses SIMS.

But as cloud-based MIS providers have grown in popularity, local authorities have responded. Many now encourage choice, or have framework agreements which offer a range of MIS options.

As an example, the North Yorkshire / Schools ICT framework agreement was introduced in April 2017 and includes five different MIS options. Since it came into effect, SIMS share has fallen from 91% to 47%, with the majority being picked up by ScholarPack.


Watch out for this trend to accelerate. Many local authorities are actively changing their approach, updating their framework agreements, or tendering for new MIS providers.

We may also see some impact from SIMS leaving the wider Capita group, which was integral to many of the existing bulk purchase and bundle agreements.

2. Arbor is now matching Bromcom in winning secondary schools

Just as academies have switched faster than maintained schools, so it has been with primary schools switching faster than secondaries.

The latest data shows 85% of secondary schools still using SIMS, compared to 69% of primaries.

But it looks as if the tide is turning on secondary school switching rates, and this is being driven by the growth of Arbor which is now neck-and-neck with Bromcom. Both suppliers added 13 secondary or all-through schools in this census period.


3. SIMS isn’t the only MIS with retention challenges

While the main story here is the growth of cloud-based providers, it is also worth keeping an eye on churn.

SIMS lost 744 schools in 2020, making for an annual churn rate of 4.5%.

But every provider faces the challenge of retention, and the rate of churn across all the main suppliers makes for interesting reading:

Supplier Schools in January 2020 Lost since January 2020 Churn rate
Advanced Learning 346 37 10.7%
SchoolPod 131 8 6.1%
RM 2,103 105 5.0%
SIMS 16,449 744 4.5%
Bromcom 498 9 1.8%
Pupil Asset 445 5 1.1%
ScholarPack 1267 14 1.1%
Arbor 698 4 0.6%


The performance here matches our recent survey of schools’ satisfaction with their MIS. We were delighted that ScholarPack and Arbor came out as the most loved systems, and this is reflected in the retention numbers.

4. And finally… switching rates have accelerated further since January

This analysis is based on the data collected from schools five months ago in the January census. It shows the MIS being used on census day - including where schools have signed to a new provider, but not yet migrated.

(There is often a significant gap between choosing a new MIS and actually switching systems.)

A lot has happened since then, with more schools switching and signing up to a new system.

In January, 2,616 schools were using Arbor or ScholarPack. Looking at our latest figures today, over 3,400 schools have now switched or signed to Arbor or ScholarPack.

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