Every now and again, I ask Gerald Haigh to write up the stories of some of the schools that we work closely with. And a few weeks ago, he mentioned what's happening with data at Marsh Academy, and how they are using SharePoint and Office 2010 to aid better understanding of their school data. I'll let Gerald pick up the story…

A  retired head tells me,

“When I went into my first headship, I found that the staff were regularly giving the children published tests the results of which were put into a filing cabinet and forgotten. And I don’t think this was the only school where that happened.”

The arrival of ICT should have seen the end of that. Data is now more manageable, more visible, more open to examination and analysis by a wider range of people.

But it is really like that? Or is the data still sometimes under-used? Quite possibly. Making data accessible and intelligible doesn’t of itself ensure that it’s studied and acted on. The missing link is how it’s managed. That’s why I was so interested in talking to Lin Burrows, Vice Principal of Marsh Academy in Kent. She described to me how she and her colleagues use SharePoint and Office 2010 as a foundation for effective leadership of the school’s improvement programme, and pupil intervention.

Marsh has a school year of six terms, each of six weeks. Pupil performance data across all subjects is collected and stored at the end of each term by the SIMS Management Information System.

Next, though, comes the important bit. First the data is extracted by the school’s data manager from SIMS and displayed subject by subject on a series of Excel spreadsheets where the progress of individual students and selected groups is shown numerically, supported by “traffic light” colour coding. The whole is available to all staff on the SharePoint-based Marsh Academy Gateway (MAG)

The Marsh Academy GatewayThe  Marsh Academy Gateway

Lin has kindly written to me with a clear explanation of key parts of the process.

 

The Cohort Overview and /Student Progress sheets track every student in each year group for every subject they are taking.  As soon as a data entry is completed in SIMs the data is exported into this sheet - which will immediately calculate the current progress against whole school, group and department targets.  The data is used by the senior leadership team to identify trends and put in place interventions on a whole-school level. The Student Progress Sheet tracks each student in each of their subects against their Fisher Family Trust (FFT) data, and their 3 Levels Progress targets.  Excel then adds Red, Amber Green (RAG) indicators to indicate the current situation. We then draw up specific interventions. For example we recently used data to identify KS4 students who were underachieving.  We then drew up for each individual an action plan, to try to ensure that these students reach their potential targets. 

All staff can access all of our data through the Data Portal on our Gateway.  There are specific links to each type of data we hold, as well as a calendar so that staff are fully aware of the reporting and assessment timetable.  There are also “video” tutorials demonstrating how to access and analyse the data.  No data is now printed off for staff, as everything is now available for them on the MAG.   All Key Performance Indicators (KPI) are also easily reached from this page.  The KPIs themselves are based on the Cohort Overview spreadsheets.  The KPIs therefore automatically update as soon as a new data entry is completed and the spreadsheets are uploaded to the MAG.

I hope this is of help.

 

Yes, Lin. It certainly is. She further explains that the process of examining the data and deciding on interventions involves a series of meetings at which graphical versions of the data are collectively studied by teachers, with set questions asked and answered, and proposed interventions recorded.

Following departmental meetings which involve every teacher, heads of department produce summary documents, in a form which also calls for trends and middle-leader interventions to be identified. These summaries are then studied at a meeting between heads of department and their respective line managers in the senior leadership team.

The final level of scrutiny of the data comes at a senior leadership team meeting. Lin Burrows says,

“We have all the progress data from departments but I can also cross reference because I can look at year groups, across all subjects and across our pastoral “Mini Schools”.

Completing the picture, data on attendance and behaviour is also cross referenced in.

The process was devised in Office 2007, but the arrival of Office 2010 has added some useful features, such as 'Sparklines' – mini graphs – which provide additional visual alerts on where an individual or group’s progress is headed.

The tracking sheetIn the screen example above, conditional formatting has been used to make trends and patterns easily identifiable. Instead of staring at pages of numbers alone, you can easily spot patterns for particular data points, or particular students - for example, it is easy to spot the column showing underperformance, with a line of red bubbles. Or the absence of data items, with the black bubbles.

For me, it’s clear that while Lin’s clever use of Microsoft software to make data intelligible and available is crucial, what’s at least equally important is the way it’s all put before staff. Everyone, classroom teachers, middle and senior leadership, is brought into contact with the data.

“The main thing,” says Lin, “is that data is presented in a way that is easy to understand and therefore easy to analyse. This would not be the case if the mark sheets came straight out of the MIS.”

Importantly staff aren’t only left to absorb the data at leisure. It’s actually “pushed” to them, to use the term in its ICT sense, in a formal meeting environment, in a way that defines and highlights areas of concern. Along with that goes a series of pointed questions about what interventions are being proposed and undertaken.

Subject Tracking Analysis sheetThe example above(click for the full-size version) is the Subject Tracking Analysis, and shows some of the data and questions asked)

Put together the various cross-references, identifying each child as a member of a year group, a teaching group and a mini-school, and Lin is well justified in saying,

“No child here can slip through the net.”

What Marsh Academy has in place then is an impressive combination of ICT expertise, up to date software and data enabled strong leadership, and it’s not surprising that other schools are increasingly asking Lin to visit and tell them how it’s done.