By Gerald Haigh
If you are looking for a priority for your visit to the BETT show, you could do a lot worse than exploring ways of making the most of your pupil data.
I don’t mean gathering more data. In all probability you’ve got more than enough of it already. What you need to be sure of is that the data you already have – performance, exams, grades, attendance, behaviour -- is being made to work for its living.
It does that best, of course, by showing you exactly where and how to focus your teaching and pastoral care. You want to know which individual children and groups need more learning support, in exactly what areas, and which subject areas are behind the improvement curve.
Attendance, too, throws up a cloud of statistics with hidden patterns – children who are absent together on certain days, or whose apparently occasional and random absences add up to a significant percentage.
Then there’s behaviour, which also shows patterns when you start to look closely at when and where the incidents happen. All of that is increasingly important, especially now there’s renewed emphasis on value for money. To be confidently on top of your data and – equally important – to be able to show Ofsted or any other scrutineers how you go about it, is to be well-armed for your school improvement campaign.
Over time, management information systems have got better at helping you with this. They’re providing more analysis tools that are easier to use, and there’s a distinct move to “front end” pages and features that are more accessible, particularly for busy classroom teachers who have one eye on a screen and another on the lads at the back.
'Getting data out of silos and into the hands of teachers'
So your first call at BETT 2010 is to your current or any prospective MIS supplier, to ask them exactly how easily and quickly your pupil data can be brought into play and turned into useful information. If you’ve had an Ofsted lately, put to the MIS people some of the questions and issues that emerged from the inspection, and see if they can point to ways by which your MIS might have helped you with them.
Don’t get too settled on an MIS Stand, though. Go off and look at one or two of the “add-on” products that are specifically designed to dig into your MIS data and squeeze yet more information out of it. Two suppliers in particular are well worth your time.
One is TASC Software, a company which for a long time now has been producing a suite of tools, such as PARS and TARGET, that use MIS data – grades, attendance – to bring out patterns in the form of easy-to-understand graphs and tables. They’re well established, and highly experienced.
The other is New Media Learning whose 4Matrix is a very sophisticated and well- developed tool for examining “Within School Variation” (WSV). It’s been well known for some time that a high level of WSV – performance differences between subject areas – is highly damaging, and yet is often difficult to pin down. 4Matrix provides hard evidence that’s proof against myths and misconceptions (such as the common belief that standards will automatically be higher for an optional subject than for a compulsory one)
4Matrix is already in use in 150 schools, including every Essex secondary. Mike Bostock of New Media Learning, a former school effectiveness adviser, who has brought years of experience of school inspection and advice to the project, says, "What we are dealing with here is a long-sought approach to evaluating the impact of teaching as a bottom-up developmental process rather than for accountability... We have a long way to go in using data diagnostically to underpin professional judgement. Our development is a small contribution to getting performance data out of its concrete silos and into the hands of teachers."
January 13-16, Olympia, London
You can find out more about the developments in this article at the BETT show on the TASC stand at BETT. Stand B55
TASC Software Solutions Ltd
New Media Learning's 4Matrix