Surviving and succeeding in the first year of teaching: Using data to monitor progress

surviving-teachingAlex Galvin, Senior Education Lead, SSAT, writes…

In this series we are sharing advice for new teachers from Geoff Barton, former headteacher of King Edward VI School on how to make a success of your early months in teaching. This latest entry gives you three tips on how to best use data to track your students’ progress, and an introduction to the key terms used when discussing data…

Every school will have slightly different systems for using data. Some will issue laptops and expect you to complete your register and to keep a mark book online so that there is central access to the attendance and progress of every student. Others will take a less ‘centralised’ approach, possibly leaving you to devise your own system.

The priority as a teacher is to have the data you need to be able to see the progress your students are making. This is essential inform your lesson planning and your discussions with students and their parents and with other staff in school.

Here are some suggestions. Let’s start with tips on using data effectively:

Don’t overcomplicate it

Data is important, but some people overcomplicate it. You don’t need to be a mathematical whizz-kid, just someone who knows what data is needed and how to interpret it. Remember that data should be information, not just a complicated spreadsheet or set of charts. Data by itself rarely gives you the complete answers to what you need to know; often it suggests other things that you might need to look at. Above all, remember the ’so what?’ factor: having collected all this information, what are you going to do with it as a result? What difference is it going to make to your teaching and to the progress of your students?

Key information

As a starting point there is some key information you need about each child before you start teaching them and this should be part of your mark book and certainly be in front of you when you are planning a lesson and assessing work. For each student you should know:

  • Do they have any specific special needs? Do they have an individual education plan? If so, what does it say about their learning and other needs?
  • Are they members of any potentially vulnerable groups? For example disadvantaged students (those who are looked after or on free school meals and for whom the school receives extra funding in the form of the pupil premium); the “more able” students (those whose attainment was high in the previous key stage assessments); and the low-attainers from these assessments. Remember that some students will be members of more than one group – for example boys who are on free school meals but who performed well at the end of the last key stage. Are they maintaining this progress or are they coasting or slipping behind?
  • What is their prior learning – what are their strengths and weaknesses in your subject? There may be things you need to help some students with before they are able to move on; on the other hand, re-teaching content that students have already mastered will not be productive.
  • What are their curriculum targets? All year groups should have challenging but achievable targets for the end of the year or key stage. Your students need to know from you what it is they need to do to help them reach their targets. Try to make this as precise as possible. For example, “work hard and listen in class” should go without saying; what are the specific things a student can do over the next few weeks to help them improve in your subject?

If you are given a pack of data and find it all a bit overwhelming, ask your head of department to go through your classes’ data with you. You might find that having key headline information about each student as part of your seating plan for each group helps you to absorb it more quickly.


We all need good feedback to help us to improve and make progress. Think about how you will share your information with each class and with individual students. You will need to follow your school’s marking and assessment policies. Make sure you know what they are and how they are implemented within your department. Mark work that it is important to mark, not just because it is there.

This can provide time for you to provide written feedback on significant pieces of work – feedback that really helps students to move on. An indication of what they have done well plus some suggestions as to how they could improve will be much more useful than a page of ticks with a mark out of 10 at the end.

Most important is that the data you record about how a student is progressing is shared with the student and their parents. At parents’ evenings, have a clear summary with you and during each term try to build in a lesson that allows you to sit down briefly for a 1:1 conversation with each student to discuss their progress.

A very brief introduction to school data: understanding key terms

Attainment, progress and achievement
Attainment refers to the final result a student gains, for example a grade 8 GCSE. This could represent either little, no or substantial progress from their starting points.Progress measures the distance a student has travelled to get to that end point.Achievement is an overall judgement based on a student’s progress and attainment.

Attainment 8 and Progress 8
These school accountability measures for KS4 were introduced in 2016. Attainment 8 measures students’ attainment in English, mathematics, 3 subjects from the English Baccalaureate plus 3 other GCSE or approved vocational subjects to provide an average overall score for a school. Progress 8 uses the same information to measure the progress that students have made from KS2 using value-added methodology.

Estimates, predictions and targets
It is very important to be aware of the differences between these three, An estimate of a student’s performance at GCSE, for example, is based on what data suggests is the average grade achieved by students nationally from a similar starting point at KS2. A prediction should be informed by the estimate but has the added ingredient of what a teacher knows about a particular student.

For example, a student with a French parent is probably going to do better at GCSE French than a student with a similar score at KS2 without that advantage. A target should build on the estimate and prediction and provide an added element of challenge. Remember, however, that setting a target in isolation is of little value – you need to be able to give students clear, short-term guidance on what they need to be doing to improve their work and to edge nearer their targets.

FFT Aspire: FFT (the Fischer Family Trust)
A charitable organisation that provides a range of estimates at student, subject and school level to help teachers set appropriate yet challenging targets. FFT Aspire also provides value-added analyses of performance at the end of KS 2, 4 and 5 showing the progress that students have made.

GCSE grades
These are in a state of transition. Current students in year 11 will be taking new-style GCSEs in mathematics and English which will result in the awarding of grades 9 (the highest) to 1. All other subjects are still using the A*-G scale. Most other subjects will award 9 to 1 grades to students in the current year 10 with a few not doing so until the current year 9 take their exams in 2019. Make sure you know where your subject fits into these changes.

Key Stage 2 Tests
These are a key prior attainment measure for performance in key stage 4. The tests are taken at the end of year 6 in primary schools. Secondary teachers will have students in their current classes in years 8 to 11 whose prior attainment is measured in national curriculum levels, sub-levels and point scores.

For example, a Level 4 (the minimum expected level at age 11) might be sub-divided into a level 4b and this has a point score of 27 attached to it. As a result of the removal of levels, students currently in year 7 have scaled scores in reading and mathematics which range from 80 to 120. A score of 100 is the new minimum expected standard and 110 represents the higher standard of performance. They also have a teacher assessment to indicate whether they have reached the minimum expected standard in writing.

Prior attainment
This is normally what a student achieved at the end of the previous key stage and, using national data, can be used to estimate what, on average, students with similar prior attainment scores are likely to achieve at the next stage.

This is a way of measuring progress that compares what a student might, on average, be estimated to achieve based on their prior attainment. If they gain, for example, a grade higher than their estimate, this is positive value-added and vice-versa.

Book your place for September 2020

SSAT NQT Inspirations is designed for everyone beginning their NQT year.

The programme includes a free launch seminar on 23 September containing energising insights and practical tips to help NQTs lay the foundations for the year ahead.

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What are your experiences of your first year in teaching? What worked for you? What didn’t work? Let us know via Twitter with the hashtag #SSATsurvive or in the comments below.

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