Data poses a unique problem for schools. On the one hand, data is now easier than ever to collect and gives useful insights into student performance, attendance and behaviour, however, collecting and managing this data significantly increases teacher workload. In order to collect the data without giving teachers an unrealistic workload, schools now need to assess their data management and ensure that it benefits students, teachers and school management.
As Chief Executive of the Education and Skills Funding Agency, Eileen Milner, states, “This is not about collecting more information, but about collecting the right information, understanding it, discussing it and using it to inform your actions”. This is the approach we should be applying to data collection, one that values quality over quantity and usefulness over sheer volume.
How do we ensure that data policy is efficient?
1. Decide exactly what it is you want to know
Efficient data management relies on decisiveness. To ensure that no excess data is collected, decide what you want to know. Do you want to see attendance statistics based on each year group? Homework hand in percentage? The number of detentions each class has been getting? Before you begin to collect any data ensure that you have set out clearly what you want from the data collection.
2. Determine what kind of data you need to collect
Next, you’ll need to determine which data is necessary for the kind of statistics you want to see. It can be tempting to collect all the data you have at your fingertips, but taking into account the effort that teachers have to make to collect this and input it into your database, and the time that will be spent wading through the numbers in order to make sense of it all, it’s best to be as frugal with your data collection as possible.
Types of data:
- Attendance and exclusions - Any data that might give insight into the level of attendance across the school, or detail the total number of exclusions there have been.
- Attainment and progress - Assessment data that gauges where students are in terms of academic progression.
- Behaviour - Behaviour data is quite self explanatory it details any detentions, discipline, praise points or special commendations that students have been given.
- Financial management - Data that concerns the school budget, spending and teacher salaries.
3. Analyse the data
When it’s time to analyse the data you’ve collected, look for trends and patterns that you can use to assess your area of research. Working with other schools in the area (or other academies in your MAT) might also give further insights into the performance of your students and staff, as well as giving you the benefit of seeing another school’s data processing technique.
After analysing the data it will also become clear as to whether or not there is data missing or if more data needs to be collected in order to find a real trend or pattern. Consult with SLT and the teachers concerned to ensure that everyone is happy to carry out this extra data collection without impacting their workload too heavily.
4. Set goals based on this data
After analysing the data, consult your school improvement team and work out an improvement plan, detailing specific goals that you want to reach as a school and the actions and you’ll need to take to reach those goals. Finally, decide how you’ll measure school performance and how regularly data will be taken to track this progress.
5. Look into data management software
Consider using an integrated system for behaviour, attendance and attainment progress data. It may be that you decide to use an integrated system that uses your school’s MIS to collect data more easily. However, this still comes with the risk of staff being pressured into collecting more data than is really needed. Even when using automated data management software, remember to consider teachers’ workload and whether the data you ask them to collect is necessary.
6. Consider Ofsted during data collection
Ofsted does not require a set amount of data to be recorded, nor does it specify exactly which data is required, in fact with the new framework’s focus on teacher workload Ofsted are actually discouraging the collection of data. Now, instead of looking at internal data collected to assess progression and improvement at a school, Ofsted will be using public data that’s readily available to them and in turn will begin scrutinizing the additional data schools do collect - asking how necessary it is and what it’s purpose is. This means that if you want to better align your data policy to improve your Ofsted rating, you should probably look to reduce the amount of data you collect!
By assessing the relevance and value of the data you collect, you can better tailor your policy to suit the school and stop collecting data that is either unusable or unhelpful. Ofsted inspectors will look for signs that the school is serious about its use of data and that no excess information is being collected or stored when it isn’t necessary. Taking a simpler approach to data could see you reap the rewards in your next inspection.