Using data effectively


Using data more intelligently is no longer an optional extra for secondary schools. Paul Charman from FFT gives examples of how some of their schools are using data effectively.

Since 2004, FFT has been processing the National Pupil Database for the Department for Education. Between April and November last year 60,000 school users visited the FFT website to access data and benchmark where their school or subject sits against local, regional and national peers.

One of the most important roles of data is in setting predicted grades and targets for pupils. Via FFTLive, school leaders access data about their school, using the estimates to support target-setting at pupil, department and whole-school level up to five years ahead.

Brynmawr Foundation School in the Ebbw Vale in Wales breaks down its data into sub-levels, to evidence a more detailed route of progression for all pupils. 

Alison Edwards, the school’s deputy headteacher, explained: “We have an in-house system of mapping and tracking whereby we further break down the data. So instead of just having a ‘C’ grade you’ll have ‘C1’, ‘C2’, ‘C3’. Detailing progress in this way is helpful for motivating students, as while moving up a whole grade may be a slow process, moving through the sub-levels is much faster and more encouraging.”

Similarly, Springfield School in Portsmouth uses data to focus on pupils’ progress alongside their achievement of targets. Assistant head Collette Kilgallon said: “Our use of data is built into what we call our ‘Individual Pupil Progress System’ which records performance at several points during the year. This is all done with respect to school targets benchmarked against FFT estimates.”

However, benchmarks created using data are by no means set in stone. In fact, we encourage schools to set themselves more challenging estimates.

Drilling down into the data when benchmarking allows Brynmawr to cluster students into focus groups. Ms Edwards gives the example of their year 11: “We’ve got a group that is completely safe in terms of their targets, and we’ve also got vulnerable groups that we know need our additional support.”

The way the school’s senior leadership team uses data has changed as well. They now use data more proactively to drill down into the focus groups, and to speak to pupils on a one-to-one basis when they are identified as needing help to meet their target grades.

At Springfield, reviewing and analysing data has become a daily habit. Ms Kilgallon says not only does the process encourage the school to engage in self-review, departmental review and discussions with governors, parents and pupils, it is also an important tool when preparing for Ofsted inspections.

At Kingstone High School in Hereford, data is used to benchmark grades for every pupil, and this has been particularly useful when preparing for Ofsted inspection, as well as when engaging with parents. Parents are provided with access to FFT’s data through teachers’ reports, which include suggested grades for their children.

According to Springfield’s Ms Kilgallon, sharing this data with parents can be an incredibly useful tool, “Of particular interest is a small group of underachieving boys in year 8, where the data becomes most useful in showing parents what pupils of similar prior attainment tend to go on to achieve.”

Brynmawr is also increasingly recognising a growing importance for sharing data with parents. Ms Edwards added: “We are on the road to sharing more with parents. We are becoming a school that regularly shares data with parents and carers.” 

Most of this sharing occurs at the school’s parents’ evenings, where it is crucial to help parents understand the data: “It’s all about open discussion, and often taking away the fear of data from parents, as most of them are not familiar with it or how to interpret what they are given.”

Data-sharing is not just occurring at a teacher-parent level, every term Brynmawr presents a detailed whole-school data analysis to its board of governors. This incorporates teacher assessments with direct links to the data. Assimilation of the data is a theme that is just as important with governors as it is with parents, as Ms Edwards explained: “Again it’s about breaking down those boundaries between understanding of the data and seeing why it’s a useful, and indeed a necessary tool to inform progress.” Similarly, Kingstone shares a detailed data report with governors three times a year.

Schools recognise that both comparison and collaboration with others is a fantastic tool for their own improvement. All three of the schools that were interviewed compared themselves to others by using FFT data at some level.

Ms Edwards described Brynmawr’s “closure day” in which they work with other local schools to compare data and share good practice. This is a process that they are looking to increase in their school improvement planning. Ms Edwards is clear about the benefits of collaboration: “It’s helpful for sharing good practice and strategies, and if something isn’t working you can change tact and try something that has been piloted in another school.” 

Kingstone also collaborates with a local academy of a similar size. Deputy headteacher Lee Butler said that it is a partnership that they have happily formed as they are not in direct competition, and can therefore learn from and support each other to improve the outcomes for both schools and all students.

  • Paul Charman is managing director of FFT, a not-for-profit organisation founded in 2001 which provides data and analyses.


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