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Data at the heart of the classroom enables you to control your direction of travel

minsthorpe-with-datapeter-atherton-finalPeter Atherton, Data Manager, Minsthorpe Community College, writes…

In 2012 the college embarked upon a fresh whole-school data strategy that put classroom practitioners at the centre of data analysis. This followed consultation with teachers to find exactly what information they required in order to help them operate effectively, both on a daily basis and over the school year.

The resounding messages that came back were that the college needed to help enable its staff at all levels to become less reactive and more proactive in their use of data. Staff also wanted greater consistency, and the ability for the data analysis to be engaging, visually appealing and have a more intelligent application.

So we moved towards creating easy-to-use and effective data analysis at classroom level that was fair and equitable to all staff.

The college gave the newly appointed data manager the freedom to evaluate existing processes and, where appropriate, to create and embed new ideas. These ideas were then developed over time into a suite of analysis tools that all staff in the college could relate to. We did aim to become proactive with data and make the solution no longer a case of “here’s a system, make your processes fit it”, but instead “here are our processes, these are the outcomes we are looking for, how can the analysis best help give us insight and be used to ask informed questions?”

The college also improved and embedded the existing ‘intelligent accountability’ process into these new analysis tools, providing a direct link between the data and where action points are recorded. Teachers were then able to access a single document for review and intervention.

The data analysis cycle now seamlessly supports self-evaluation and the whole-school drive for improvement from the classroom up. It allows information to be analysed from student level up to whole college headline figures, with a single, interactive document.

The four main data analysis strands are visually appealing, and all the analysis of any particular item prints to a single A4 sheet of paper. They all in some way reference and benchmark against national data such as the national subject transition matrices; and they are all driven by buttons and dropdown menus that are intuitive to use and navigate. New teaching staff and visitors to the college often comment that they are “blown away” (or words to that effect) by the simplicity and the power of these tools – and the fact that they are so well used in the classroom and beyond.

The four main data analysis strands are visually appealing, and all the analysis of any particular item prints to a single A4 sheet of paper. They all in some way reference and benchmark against national data such as the national subject transition matrices

Detailed information that enables appropriate strategies

Leading up to to these developments, staff had gathered detailed information about the students in their classes, so as to devise appropriate strategies for them. This led to the creation of a class profile; staff could choose their class from a dropdown menu, and the tool would automatically pull in a raft of contextual and prior attainment information about that class.

Initially this was an important timesaver which allowed more time for planning. After a short time the class profile was significantly enhanced to include target information about not only student targets but also the proportions of students who would typically make 3 and 4+ levels of progress in a similar class nationally. After the first year, in time for September 2013, a seating planner was created and integrated into the class profile. This then enabled teachers to plan strategies for their groups and seat them appropriately at the same time. Teachers could use prior attainment, gender, or other information such as pupil premium to organise their classes and plan early interventions from the start.

While the class profile has revolutionised the planning process at the start of the school year, the other side of the coin was to create systems that provided strong opportunity for review of data and accountability. Initially this was described as a mini-RAISE, but in reality it is no longer that. Assessment point analysis (APA) tools were created that put progress (transition) matrices at their heart but also contained the ability to filter down to classes, pupil groups and interventions. This is all done on a single page which all staff can access. The accountability process has then been built in, to allow staff to make comments on their classes electronically, which are then discussed with their line management up to SLT level.

Assessment point analysis (APA) tools were created that put progress (transition) matrices at their heart but also contained the ability to filter down to classes, pupil groups and interventions. This is all done on a single page which all staff can access

The final piece of the jigsaw was to create physical folders called student and class information files (SCIF), which teachers populate with their class profiles, seating plans and other relevant information. This gives them, and visitors to their classroom such as supply teachers, an instant picture of the class dynamics; it can be used to identify targeted students easily yet discreetly.

In 2014 Ofsted inspectors were impressed with the data analysis systems they saw at Minsthorpe , stating that they were “the best example of a data system with widespread classroom use we have ever seen.”

Shift in staff mindset

The most important hurdle to overcome was the initial shift in mindset so staff would become proactive with using data at all levels. The college’s transformation in its attitude towards data was brought about by making the analysis as user-friendly as possible – having it all in one place without losing the ability to use the data to ask informed questions. In addition, staff were no longer required to remember passwords and sets of instructions on how to get to the reports, so the burden of researching information was greatly reduced and the benefits of using the data much more evident.

Finally we had transparency and consistency across all departments, and a real sense of data ownership. In turn, this softened the barriers to data use that may have existed and enabled staff to work proactively with the data. Crucially they could now assess how their professional judgments in the classroom and the starker quantitative view of data linked together, enabling them to ask their own questions with greater immediacy and impact.

Crucially [all teaching staff] could now assess how their professional judgments in the classroom and the starker quantitative view of data linked together, enabling them to ask their own questions with greater immediacy and impact

While education policy and the data used to measure it continue to shift, education itself will change little: essentially, for a teacher in a classroom, there will be little change. Students in the class will have some sort of starting point; they will probably have targets, either as a minimum, an aspiration (or both); and the teacher will be tasked with progressing them from the starting point towards and beyond the target.

Our message from this experience is that it is important for schools to ask how proactive they feel they are being with their data; how much (if any) unnecessary data practices exist; and whether school leaders feel they are effectively getting the data into the hands of the right people at the right time. Data ownership should always begin with the classroom teacher before moving to different levels.

In a time of relative curriculum and assessment freedom, schools should evaluate and, if appropriate, develop their own in-house skills. Only then can they adequately measure in the way that they want to so that they can follow their curriculum ideals through quantifying them. By building a platform of skillsets within their support staff, schools can more readily ‘future proof’ themselves against shifting goalposts and enable themselves to take any direction of travel they wish.


This is the second article of the school year from SSAT members Minsthorpe Community College – read the first piece here. Find out more about SSAT membership here.

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