I am guessing that some of you may work in schools where data is used by every member of staff, and is the basis of effective intervention and strategic planning. However, some of you may work in schools where data is just looked at by the Head, or perhaps the wider SLT, and maybe a few eager beavers around the school. Are you struggling to get your staff engaged, and to really see the benefit of the use of your student data in the wider context in school? In this article I will take a look at some of the negative attitudes to data and data analysis that I have seen, and how they can be changed through good, well planned and targeted training.
Attitudes to data
Let’s have a look at some of the attitudes I have come across towards in-school data:
“I don’t know what it’s used for”
“It’s just paperwork and admin that gets in the way of teaching”
“I’m not a ‘data person”
“I haven’t time to look at it”
“I am here to teach, not produce data”
“Data is boring.”
What do we want to change these attitudes towards data to?
“My assessments inform intervention and action”
“Data supports my teaching”
“It is intuitive and accessible”
“It is interesting because it tells me so much about my class, my qualifications or my year group”
“I don’t produce data, I use it.”
In order to do this, we need to show staff that the analysis of their data is not just a box ticking exercise. We need to ensure that they know what the data can do for them and what the value of it to them is.
Time your training carefully
How do we start? Well, through working with schools in my capacity as a data consultant for SISRA, I have learned that it is easiest to engage staff when they are shown recent, relevant data about the actual children they teach.
Data is worth nothing on its own. Its value comes when it is considered together with the back story. When looking at these numbers and charts, we need to remember that this is all about children, about students and about lives. When teachers are able to relate the data to the students that they know, that they teach, they understand the point. It also needs to be fresh data. There is no point trying to interest a teacher in the situation last term, or last summer. You have to work with fresh assessments so that something can actually be done with the knowledge the staff take away with them, and so that the exercise of training the staff can immediately lead to impact in the classroom.
For example, when the History teacher sees that Courtney, who they see as a problematic student, is currently actually achieving about a grade higher in their qualification than she is on average across all her subjects, or conversely that Kurt, who they thought was doing just fine, is working at over a grade lower in their qualification than he is overall, they start to get interested.
When that same History teacher sees in black and white (or possibly red) the gap between the students on pupil premium and the students that are not on pupil premium in their class, they start to ask questions.
I have led staff training in schools where I have had to stop talking at a certain point and let the teachers run with it for a while. While I want to move them on to the next report, they want to have a good discussion with their neighbour about the students in their class, about what the data is telling them about those students, and about what they’re going to do about it.
If the teachers are looking at old data, or data about students they don’t know, they are not going to be engaged. Where’s the ‘hook’? What’s the point?
So, make sure that you set the training dates just after an assessment point, when the data the staff are looking at is fresh and relevant.
Make it interactive
This also leads into another point, which is to make it interactive. This is the only way to ensure the staff you are training are looking at data that is completely relevant to them. Make sure you have enough computers for everyone. Either hold the session in an ICT suite, or ask everyone to bring their laptops. Each member of staff needs to have access to their own data on your chosen analysis system and to be able to look at their own students. This way, they can all look at the same information at the same time, but each teacher can look at it for their own qualification, class, or year group. There’s no point in all of them sitting looking at a whiteboard showing reports about the Maths department, they are going to be way more engaged if they are looking at their own department or class. Also, don’t make it a ‘speech’. Once you’ve shown them what can be done, set them tasks, give them quizzes, and create discussion.
Target your sessions carefully
The next trick with training staff is to train small groups, not the whole staff at once, and to tailor each training session to a specific group of staff. Let’s have a look at who these groups could be:
- Subject Leaders
- Class Teachers
- Teaching Assistants
- Heads of Year
- Form Tutors
- Support Staff
Each group only needs to see the information that is relevant to their role. Tailoring training to their specific needs will avoid your trainees losing interest, ‘drifting off’ and checking their email. Run a variety of training sessions to cover your entire staff, but do it in role-specific groups.
Continue the discussion
Now, at this point all our staff are trained in how to analyse their data and how it can be useful for them, so we can sit back, relax and wait for it all to lead to school improvement. Right? Wrong. As with any learning, if the learners don’t actively practise what they have learned, they will promptly forget it. And it would be oh so easy for everyone to forget about actually using the data and carry on with the way things were, entering assessment grades into the MIS once per half term and forgetting about them. So, the next job is to make sure the information resulting from the data is being accessed, discussed and used; that it leads to intervention, to differentiation, and has an impact in the classroom. Otherwise, there is no point in collecting it in the first place.
This is where what I call the ‘Informing Improvement’ plan comes into play. This is going to involve allowing ‘faculty time’, but if we are all in agreement that the point of collecting the assessments is to lead to intervention and impact in the classroom, then it is time spent well. What I am proposing is a regular programme of discussion and action, after each assessment point.
Following each assessment point, at each departmental meeting, your school’s data analysis system should be opened up and shown on a whiteboard, and the teachers teaching a particular qualification will be expected to discuss the data they can see, and what it tells them together with the Head of Department. Discussion could be centred around a short questionnaire, but the point of the meeting would be to identify problem areas and formulate a plan of action and intervention. Heads of Department would then take this intervention plan to their SLT link for agreement.
Similarly, Heads of Year could also meet with tutors to discuss any students who are falling behind across all or several of their qualifications. They can then decide on some suggestions for pastoral support for those students, which again should then be agreed with the relevant SLT member.
The last ‘pathway’ on the plan is the SLT themselves. It would be the SLT’s job to look at any high-risk groups in their school and check progress, formulating a plan for student support where relevant and necessary.
So it is important to embed the discussion about data into your staff meetings, ensuring that the data that is going in is being accessed and is leading to action. All put together, the aim of this is to ensure that each and every student is learning and progressing.
Lastly, we can’t assume that because they came to your training all of the staff are going to remember how to find the information they need. There needs to be an ongoing programme of support, to ensure that nobody is left struggling.
I visited a school recently where the SLT data lead is doing this very well, using SISRA Analytics as her data analysis system. Firstly, she regularly goes along to staff meetings and presents ‘what Analytics can do’ in 5 minute bitesize chunks. Alternatively, after an assessment has been uploaded, you could let staff know it’s there via email, and at the same time give a ‘hot tip’ for which report to look at, which filter to use, something specific to investigate. Next, she has set up ‘Data Friday’, a regular drop-in support session – she very sensibly bribes staff to come with the offer of food and drink. Lastly she has a prize of sweets for the most regular user of Analytics every month!
You can use your own strategies, but the aim is to make sure the teachers know what they’re doing, or if they don’t, they know where to find help.
The collection of student data is only worthwhile if it leads to something. The data needs to lead to information, which leads to insight, which leads to impact. A cliché perhaps, but true. In order for this to happen, your staff need to understand it and know how to use it. To help you make sure your staff are engaged with your in-school data you could:
- Choose a time for your training when you have fresh, relevant data
- Make it interactive, so each teacher has access to their own data
- Do it in small, role specific groups
- Continue the discussion, making sure the data is leading to action and impact
- Ensure that targeted ongoing support is offered