Finding the value in school data

How much data do you easily have access to about the pupils you teach?

We collect a colossal amount of info about, and from, our pupils every year. A rough estimates indicates that we store 34 pupil attributes that are fixed (DOB, gender, student cohort, CAT4 scores and predictions etc.) and collect approximately 900 additional individual pieces of data per pupil per year at my school. These 900 pieces of data are comprised of:

  • Reports – 6 cycles per year x 10 subjects x 5 attributes (1 x attainment, 4 x effort) = 300 pieces of data per pupil + 20 report comments per pupil per year (2 full comment report cycles x 10 subjects) = a total of 320 pieces of data per pupil per year.
  • Registration – at the time of writing only morning registration data is included in the PowerBI data model. This equates to 180 days per year, so that’s an extra 180 pieces of data per pupil per year.
  • Behaviour tracks and rewards – this will vary by pupil, but looking at some data for year 10 from last academic year averages at 33 tracks or rewards per pupil per year. For each, we record whether it is a track of reward, the category (e.g. excellent contributions in class) and a comment. So that is 33 x 3 = 99. But let’s call it 100 pieces of data per pupil per year.
  • Pupil survey – this survey asks pupils to give feedback on their lessons based on 28 statements, plus they can add 2 comments. It is completed 2 a year and let’s say 5 subject teachers complete it. So 30 x 2 x 5 = 300 pieces of data per pupil per year.

There is additional data which I have yet to add to the PowerBI model, but may well do in time. These include results from annual language and well-being surveys.

I believe that all of this data, if utilised effectively, has the power to offer valuable insights from pastoral, academic and strategic perspectives. The problem is, that more often than not, this information is siloed in various locations (e.g. on individuals hard-drives) is hard to access ( e.g. hidden away on a school information system) and is disconnected. The results are that gatekeepers of the data come to exist, those who have the skills and requirement to process data will do so independently of others, whilst others won’t engage with it. Data inefficiencies and data ignorance become commonplace.

The use of a well-designed PowerBI application for use in education has the potential to change this. The various sources of data can be pulled into a single platform. It can be refreshed automatically and on a scheduled basis, whilst creating data visualisations that make analysis easy. Most importantly the app can be shared with all relevant users in a school creating efficiencies and a ‘data democracy’ which ultimately can be used as another tool to help improve outcomes for pupils.

To illustrate, the below graph shows example report attainment grades for all subjects over three report cycles vs. CAT4 verbal scores for pupils by gender. By putting it all together, it is easy to see who the high achieving students are (top-right section), who are potentially under-achieving (bottom-right section), who are doing better than we might expect based on their CAT4 verbal score (top-left section) and those who might require additional intervention (bottom-left section). Based upon this, we might conclude that a focus on improving attainment with boys should be a whole school focus.

CAT4 scores vs. attainment track (report grades) by gender

I like to think this chart is relatively clear and therefore it is straightforward to draw actionable conclusions. However, this is only possible due to the ability of PowerBI to aggregate and combine multiple pieces of data. Each dot represents a pupil which have the fixed attributes of name, gender and CAT4 score (which might change when pupils take the test again). But each dot also contains the average attainment for 11 subjects across three report cycles. So that is 33 + 3 pieces of data per dot. Multiply that by 66 pupils for a total of 2,376 pieces of data in this one chart. Not only that, but with a few clicks, we could look at different year groups, specific report cycles or drill down to certain subjects. Imagine pulling that together in Excel for analysis.

The use of PowerBI in schools has the potential to bring the masses of data we hold about, and collect from our pupils into better use. It can reduce the workload for Heads of Department, teachers and pastoral leads who can now spend their time actioning insights rather than trying to find value in the data.

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