Using data to lift the lid on your school


By lifting the lid on your school’s data and ensuring it is owned by everybody, rapid progress can be made. David Hilton explains.

Schools are teeming with data. Too often though, the information collected is used solely for annual reports when it should be the basis of day-to-day activity, referred to by heads and teachers, and made central to raising standards.

Data should be “live” – allowing not just changes in progress and attainment but also the impact of behaviour for learning strategies across a school, all helping to ensure the pupils are at the centre of everything we do and our work is bespoke and focused.

One of the first steps in improving standards in a school is to get a grip on the data, to have a clear view of the current position, and not just in broad terms – which never gives a real picture – but broken down by individual pupil, allowing for personalised teaching and learning. 

An issue in struggling schools tends to be that data is only used to explain that “something’s wrong” or as a general snapshot that only reinforces complacency. Detailed data should be used by teachers as a starting point, to inform what is taught and how, and in order to work with others on raising standards across subjects. 

Trends, impact and real differences to performance can be identified and when using a “joined up” data system there can be a real diagnosis as well as a focused plan for intervention, support and challenge.

 Any system for using data – how it is going to be collected, who will do the analysis, and how it will be reported – needs to be based on a clear idea of what the data is to be used for, and how.

Yes it’s for raising standards, but exactly how? For example, a school might want to focus on the quality and range of teaching and the resulting learning; the impact of different approaches such as teaching boys and girls in separate classes, or schemes to encourage “stretching” or more independent learning; addressing specific issues such as helping pupils with low verbal reasoning skills; or patterns in structure and content of the curriculum being delivered and the results. 

Staff need to feel confident that the use of data is not just “reflective” but also “active’ – it has a purpose and reason that will lead to an improvement for all involved.

Alongside the analysis needs to be the real decoding – in all of our schools we have half termly progress meetings that not only look at the data and the outputs of focused analysis, but more importantly focus the teachers and departments on the teaching and learning needs of the individuals and groups. 

Teachers are expected to come to the meetings with the range of strategies planned, the outcomes and impact of previous interventions and also the “story” behind the data. This raising of expectation across staff and schools makes these meetings active, engaging and pacey. There is no longer a “lag” in schools – data is used as a powerful tool to identify, plan and focus all of the school’s energy on supporting the progress of all pupils.

Schools need to make decisions on which performance data are most important – and not just rely on single measures. Identifying patterns and trends within individual performance and progress can enable several areas of support to come together rather than just looking at individual subject progress. 

Planning for support through the use of the adults in the classroom and also the crafting of bespoke teaching and learning for individuals and groups. Schools need to be able to communicate “the story” behind the data – clearly explaining trends and relationships between subject, progress, attainment and behaviour and attendance. 

One data set looked at is not enough, it is essential you “lift the lid” and investigate the full dashboard, only then will you be able to tell the whole story.

An inevitable barrier is the sheer scale of the data potentially available and the way it is presented for teachers. There might need to be some training involved, but ideally it should be a matter of routine that data is collected, analysed and provided to staff in a form they can use – creating a live data set, easily accessible by both teachers, parents and pupils, keeps the focus real and relevant. 

At Neale-Wade Academy in March, a member of the Active Learning Trust, the use of GO for Schools as the “backbone” for monitoring, tracking and reporting on pupil progress has enabled the vision of a transparent system to become a reality. 

There is no longer a wait for reporting times within the year for parents and pupils to “see how they are doing”. Targets can be adjusted, behaviour and attendance data analysed alongside progress to create a clear picture each pupil. 

This package will develop across the Trust schools and a primary version will further aid the transfer process. As we know, quality data underpins the transfer process, making sure teaching and learning can be tailored for new intakes of key stage 2 and 3 pupils and to help with predicting on-going performance.

Benchmarking is another important part of using data effectively. Looking externally helps a school better understand their current position – we think we’re a good school, but where’s the evidence? – and to set targets and aspirations for matching the best. 

Current school data can be compared with national standards and against similar types of schools as a basis for setting targets for the future, and to better pinpoint areas where attention is needed, and where resources and attention should be focused. 

By “lifting the lid” on a school’s data, making sure everybody understands that it is owned by everybody, schools can then start to progress at a rapid rate – developing data literacy across all staff and understanding the role they play in analysis, target-setting and pupil progress is key. 

Without this clear understanding of purpose and role then the data becomes a static tool that is purely reflected on rather than used to target, action and focus everybody.

The head in one of our schools has set up a “War Room”, covered in the latest lists of pupils and their progress towards targets. It means that when they come across young people in the corridors, the head can ask them “how’s the maths?”, give them some encouragement, and give them a reminder that the school is genuinely interested in them and wants them to do even better.

Sharing this with the teams around pupils also allows support to be tailored, monitored and focused in a transparent way on the “real needs” of individuals. 

Parents are also involved in the process – they are clear in the use of data and are able to understand how their child is doing and also what the individual plans and support are. 

This enables and clear line of communication that – like the data – is “live” meaning there are no surprises and the partnership of school and home is working towards one transparent goal.

  • David Hilton is head of standards and curriculum with the Active Learning Trust, which runs five schools in the East of England, including Neale-Wade Academy in Cambridgeshire. Visit:


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