The blog

Data driven schools

15th January 2020 | Mike Williams

Contrary to my witty cartoon, a data driven school has nothing to do with cars! It is in fact, a school that uses data to drive it’s decision making; with an ultimate aim of improving academic performance because of those data led decisions.

"Faster!!"

The ‘data’ I am referring to might be performance, behavioural, attendance, social or financial data. All of these sources of data, when properly analysed can be used used to influence key decisions relating to the running of a school. Decisions from the allocation of the yearly budget across different departments, to the distribution of teachers to teaching groups.

Outside of education, you will struggle to find a new business that wouldn’t describe themselves as ‘data driven’. Most educational apps you will be using the classroom will also be collecting lots of data, to improve their functionality and satisfy their clients (your) needs - they are data driven.

It is important to note, being a data driven school doesn’t necessarily mean teachers collecting more data! Infact, as we know, the vast majority of teachers already collect lots data - it is bringing all of that data together and interpreting it correctly that poses the challenge.

You may also find that you are already a data driven school in some guise, but don't have a formal process for managing and tracking your use of data. In this article I will discuss the potential benefits of being data driven and steps you can take to formalise the process of decision making with data.

Why become data driven?

Becoming data driven requires a shift in culture and working practices - but with these changes come inherent advantages.

  • Personalised learning - By collecting data on student performance, a school can begin to understand what particular parts of a curriculum students are learning best. A school can refine teaching methods, alter learning pathways, reallocate resources and more.
  • Automated reporting and feedback - Having good data on student performance and attendance can create environments where delivering feedback and reports can be quick and automated.
  • Construct new teaching methods and lesson plans - Using student data a school can optimise teaching methods and lesson delivery to improve student performance.
  • Clearer understanding of performance - A school can develop a clearer understanding of progress and performance to focus resources to areas that require assistance.
  • Dissemination of data to students - Easier access to their own data can allow students to use their that data to drive their own improvement.
  • Flag potential incidents - Drastic changes to a student's progress might indicate issues outside of the education.
  • Improve accountability of students and teachers - A clearer data trial allows for a better understanding of cause and effect.
  • Greater transparency for parents - Although it is not necessarily useful having parents looking over your shoulder, or any external stakeholder for the matter - having that clear data trial allows you to clearly explain and backup decisions and feedback.

How to become data driven.

As I have mentioned, lots of schools will already be collecting lots of useful data, so the challenge is formalising the data capture so that it can used to draw useful insights!

  1. Start with a vision - What do I ultimately want to achieve through becoming data driven? That might be, to get 20% of our leavers in to a university.
  2. Ask questions - think about the questions you need answering to achieve your vision.
    • How quickly do students pick up a topic?
    • What is the best time of day to take exams?
    • How is it best to arrange seating plans?
  3. Set relevant goals and then open up to the whole school. So often, data is perceived as work for the data manager, but in reality, it can be used to help everyone.
    • I want to lower the absentee rate by 10%.
    • I want to improve the average grade in Biology by 1 grade point.
  4. Define metrics to collect to answer the questions.
    • Lateness for lessons.
    • Average grade by subject and topic throughout the year.
  5. Start collecting the right data. Move away from point in time, singular exams and collect everyday performance data, to get a view of actual progress. You might want to start in just one department and analyse the results before taking a whole school approach.
  6. Understand how to exploit all the data you are collecting. Reveiw all the data you currently collect and see if that can be used in some way to contribute to your targets.
  7. Communicate your strategy and get everyone on board. Get buy in from your teachers - they need to see that it is worthwhile and beneficial to them. Communicate to your students as well! If they can see their academic performance is being used to help improve their schooling, it can motivate them to improve even more!

Finally

Being data driven is NOT about collecting as much data as possible and creating pages and pages of tables that show the metric of the hour. Data alone is pretty useless, to get the desired information from data you need the right tools. Having aggregated all of your data a good visualisation is handsdown more useful than your bog standard table, showing students with the odd rag rating.

Remember - start small. Get a question or target in mind that you want to answer or acheive. Think about the data you need to answer or achieve it - and get going. You could do this at a management level, or teacher by teacher. Using data and converting that into useful information can create vital evidence and sway for important decisions.

As always, please get in touch if you want to learn more about using data in schools.

Best,

Mike

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