Save time on data and spend it on teaching

I really believe that efficient data analysis that takes the minimum amount of time helps everyone.

It always depresses me when the calculator comes out for working out averages on a set of data.

Yet there is such a focus on getting the data right, that sometimes double-checking it all can take over. Yes, the system might be inefficient, but it works and gets the right answers… Our children deserve better than that. The skilled teachers in our schools are there for doing skilled teaching: they shouldn’t be wasting their time on inefficient processes.

And here is where I make my admission: I use inefficient processes. I am comfortable with spreadsheets, so I use them – I do all my number crunching and contextual analysis in spreadsheets. Yet I have a super-powerful management information system in school. I know that it could do all the number crunching I need and more. But I’m not comfortable with it. One day, I will grow up. I just know it. And on that day, I will understand databases and be able to use them to make data work even better for my in school.

But for now I’ll have to be content with my countifs and my vlookups.

I’m speaking at #WeTweetEd at BETT this Thursday. Come along and contribute to the discussion on using data as best as we possibly can.

Good data processes have an impact on teaching and learning.

You can make really efficient data processes within school that don’t actually do anything.

Some senior leaders would laugh if you came into one of our pupil progress meetings. We hold them three times each year. In each meeting the headteacher, deputy and teacher come together to talk about each child’s progress in reading, writing and maths.

Much of the discussion arises from numbers on a sheet, but it is focused on the barriers each child faces and how, as a team, we might overcome those barriers. Sometimes that might involve a conversation between a senior leader and a parent; sometimes bringing in external professionals; sometimes the tweaking of some classroom practice.

I get the impression that at some schools, senior leaders are so concerned about the ‘big picture’ of what the data shows them, that they forget about the details. But the details are called children. And a school where children are just numbers on a sheet of paper is no school at all.

I have to admit, sometimes I can get a little task focused when I’m creating my latest uber-sheet: in this one, I tell myself, the data process will be so efficient it will hardly detract from our time at all.

It’s important to remember, that each number crunched, each set averaged, is just another tool to help teachers with their job: teaching.

I’m speaking at WeTweeted at BETT this Thursday – it would be great to have you there to contribute your thoughts on data too.

Good data requires a good person more than a good process

I’m speaking for a few minutes at WeTweetEd #5 at BETT on Thursday. The subject is on data, and I’m essentially going to say three things:

  1. Processes on data are only any good if they have an impact on teaching and learning.

  2. Efficient data analysis that takes the minimum amount of time helps everyone.

  3. Moderation should be treated as data’s beautiful bride, and not its jilted lover.

However, for now I’m going muse on this thought: it is more important to have a person in your school who is a good with data, than a good process for handling data.

The reason for this is that the amount of data we have to process each year increases. RAISEOnline gets larger and the emphasis on what kind of data is important changes.

Recent changes to curricula – EYFS, National Curriculm; and also to Special Educational Needs, means that new systems have had to be developed on an almost yearly basis. Yet the core process remains pretty constant:

  1. teachers assess where their children are at;

  2. we give these assessments numbers;

  3. we use maths to analyse the numbers so we can maintain a big picture of what is going on

  4. we target school resources appropriately, both at a classroom and a whole school level.

However because of almost yearly changes to the context of most school schools, the numbers change. And the contextual data changes. So a person is needed to manage these changes and make them work for each school.

I’ll give you an example:

In our last Ofsted we knew our school was good and we had the data to prove it. Even better, the teaching in the classrooms was so good it was almost irrefutable.

Almost.

The Ofsted inspector was looking for numbers that we didn’t quite have. Instead of in-year numbers, he wanted numbers that showed progress of the last year (i.e. from February to February instead of September to July).

It took me 6 hours and quite a bit of jiggering around with formulae to make the spreadsheet do what I wanted it to: the 363 calculations that would generate the 363 numbers the Ofsted inspector required. I learnt a lot about ‘countif’ functions that night. Without that spreadsheet, though, it would have taken a lot longer, probably 3 days, and we wouldn’t have got the data done in time.

Now Ofsted is an extreme example, but with changes and more changes to how we assess things, the tweaks that are needed to keep data processes working in a school could grind a school to a halt without the right person in place.