Getting a grip on data

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With levels disappearing and performance benchmarks changing, data is becoming ever more vital to school leaders. Paul Grubb looks at using data as a tool for long-term school improvement.

If data is not high on your school’s agenda yet, it soon will be. Changes in assessment levels as secondary schools move from the five A* to C benchmark performance measure to Progress 8 and APS (average points scores) will make tracking and monitoring crucial. 

From 2016, schools will need to raise attainment across a broader range of subjects than ever before and pupils will be assessed on their progress relative to their starting point, which will require consistent monitoring throughout their school career.

No matter how the details of Progress 8 transpire, the overall message is clear: all teaching staff and school leaders need to be confident in recording, accessing, manipulating and using data.

This suggests a clear need for robust and accurate data to benchmark standards, set targets, track and monitor progress, target interventions and then, crucially, to evidence their impact. What is less clear is how to achieve this data-driven nirvana. 

Where to begin?

The first step in getting to grips with your data and using it as a tool for school improvement is to ask yourself the following questions: 

  • What measure are you going to use: APS or national curriculum sub-levels?

  • How do you want to set targets?

  • How often will you input data? A “data afternoon” half-termly or termly?

  • How will you train and motivate staff? With an element of competition?

  • What about your stakeholders – what do you want to be able to show them? What will your outputs look like?

Tracking progress and attainment

Once you have an idea of the type of data profile you want to achieve, you can consider your software and reporting options; spreadsheets simply aren’t going to give you the level of insight you need.

Your ultimate goal should be a paperless system which can be accessed anytime, anywhere by anyone. Websites like RAISEonline, FFTLive and TheSchoolBus, as well as the Ofsted school data dashboard offer a range of data tools that can help deliver greater insight into your data.

When it comes to reporting, it is worth looking at Microsoft Office Reporting Tools, Classroom Monitor and Pupil Reward Points. Again it depends on what you need to share with whom. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution but exploring the options will give you some ideas.

Sophisticated software can help you define cohorts and view their data separately, which makes it much easier to track progress and interventions; you can also quickly extract the data in different ways to identify trends and spot anomalies.

Once data is coherent, consistent and in one place you can start setting targets. Again, you need to decide which metrics will best suit your school and students. Whatever route you choose for tracking and monitoring, the key is in knowing what you are going to measure, how you are going to record it, and how you will maintain consistency when recording data.

Meeting Ofsted expectations 

Data is not just a tool for monitoring and tracking individual attainment and progress, it can also be a powerful tool for whole-school improvement. Once your data on individuals is consistent and accurate, you can take a step back to see the bigger picture, using hard data to get to grips with high-level issues.

Ofsted will expect schools to know their data and be comfortable extracting and manipulating data to inform interventions and then to evidence their effectiveness.

Hard data is a fantastic tool to support your case when the inspectors ask you about your school improvement plan. Here’s our take on what Ofsted is looking for when it comes to school data:

  • Progress is the key word – you need the right data to prove all pupils are progressing at the same rate, whatever their background. 

  • Being comfortable with data – teachers need to know their data and be comfortable extracting and manipulating it.

  • Really using data – evidence that it is data, not guesswork, behind your plans.

  • Data-driven interventions – identify vulnerable groups so that interventions can be targeted and evidenced regarding their impact.

  • Pupil achievement – demonstrate that the gaps are narrowing between the performance of different groups of pupils, both in the school and in comparison nationally.

  • Behaviour – to what extent the school ensures the systematic and consistent management of behaviour, pupils’ attendance and punctuality at school in lessons.

  • Quality of leadership – school leaders will be expected to accurately evaluate the school’s strengths and weaknesses and use their findings to promote school improvement. (These last three are taken from the Framework for School Inspection, Ofsted 2013).

Using data for school improvement

Although it can feel like a mountain to climb, once you are at the top of Mount Data, the reward is a clear view of your school’s achievements that you can easily share with others.

You will be able to see things you never knew were there, giving you a whole new context. You can share information quickly and easily, prove trends you thought might be true, and develop a clear vision of where to go next. And crucially, you will be able to demonstrate your achievements and make a clear case for your decisions. 

So, while getting to grips with your school data is a challenge all schools will need to face, at least it is one with real rewards at the end.

  • Paul Grubb is head of school management solutions at RM Education.


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