Alex George explains how his school's creative use of MIS data help them with teaching, learning and anti-truancy strategies
Ask anyone about Falmouth and they’ll mention sailing and beautiful landscapes. But the picture postcard holiday images are a world away from Falmouth School's reality.
Yes, our area is beautiful and attracts a lot of wealthy families, but there is also seasonal employment and consequently many are without jobs for much of the year, leading to real pockets of deprivation and a lack of ambition. Driven by the desire to change the course of destiny for each and every student at Falmouth School, we decided to tackle the issues facing us head on.
I arrived at the school three years ago and, buoyed by the school’s positive attitude, made it my mission to put information at the heart of raising the attainment of all our students, and to take Falmouth into the top 10 per cent of schools in the UK. It’s an ambitious target, but it is now ingrained in our school’s culture.
To gain an understanding of what we’ve achieved as well as our strengths and weaknesses, I spent a considerable amount of time poring over our Capita SIMS management information system (MIS), analysing every aspect of the school: from attainment and behaviour, right through to lateness. We identified areas in need of improvement, and put in place a series of procedures to address these issues.
Colour coding help teachers keep students on track
Let’s take attainment. We’ve placed an emphasis on using the value-added lines built into our MIS which allow us to determine what each child should be achieving in every subject. Everything is colour coded so a teacher can instantly spot if a student is on track or not. We do that right through to sixth form.
We also use the performance analysis tool to calculate upper quartile grades so teachers can see what is expected of them, and it is not just subject teachers who have access to this information. Faculty heads, tutors and even students themselves can check their progress and spot where any changes need to be made.
We have also introduced a practical means of both capturing the imagination of our students and raising attainment. A Star Points system is used to reward students who exhibit skills that will help them on to the path of success. The message we want to instil is ‘I’m (a) Star’ - innovation, motivation, self-awareness, reamworking, achievement and being responsible.
We have a house system at school and every term qualifying students (they must exceed a certain number of points) from each house are entered in to a prize draw to win an iPod. It is a simple idea, but one that has had a remarkable impact on student motivation.
Detentions managed through MIS have 'virtually eradicated' lateness
Behaviour is another issue we’ve addressed. If an incident occurs, a member of staff enter the details into our MIS and the student automatically receives a detention the next day. We have just one detention room for all subjects, which is staffed on a rota basis.
This has had an immediate impact on negative behaviour at Falmouth School as students know that any misconduct will not be tolerated. Our approach has significantly reduced the number of incidents over the past year - and the figure is still falling. In fact, it’s been cut down to a core group with other complex issues. More important, students no longer face any disruption to learning from their peers.
A similar procedure for tackling lateness has been introduced. Anyone who is late twice receives a specific detention which is managed through our MIS. The protocols we’ve put in place have reduced lateness over the last three terms. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that lateness to lessons has been virtually eradicated.
One of the most powerful strategies we have introduced sharing the data with our students. We give them details of their progress from our MIS and we encourage them to discuss achievement targets with their teacher and each other. This allows students to work together to help identify how they can progress to meet these targets. We also ask students to mark each other’s work. Although assignments are still moderated by a teacher, students are able to suggest marks and where improvements can be made in their peers’ work.
This new approach has teased out a competitive spirit among students, which acted as a compelling motivator for change. Students take responsibility for meeting their targets when they have ownership of them. Interestingly, our approach has had a tremendous impact on white working class boys, a notoriously difficult group to reach.
Ambitious targets and constant monitoring are key to success
What we have discovered is that information has been a key component in the continued success, and further improvement, of our school. By having a holistic picture of every aspect of the school, collectively we are able to introduce measures to tackle any areas of weakness. Our GCSE results speak for themselves.
In 2005, 41 per cent of students achieved an A*-C grade, including English and maths. In 2009, the figure was 52 per cent. Last year, it had risen to 66 per cent. But what’s even more important is that we don’t rest on our laurels.
At Falmouth School we continue to monitor the progress of both students and staff. Yes, there is no foolproof method of tackling low attainment, behaviour or even lateness. Yet by addressing these issues head on, setting ourselves ambitious targets, and closely monitoring progress towards them, we can be assured that every child leaves our school with the very best possible start on the next stage of their journey.
Alex George is assistant headteacher of Falmouth School