Technology that puts schools in control of their data

 A whole new world of technology that puts schools in control of their data

By Greg Ford,

The belief that the more data schools collect, the better they will understand their pupils, is not necessarily true. Too many management information systems (MIS) attempt to wrestle data into meaning something it was never intended to mean. This premise is doomed to fail but worryingly many schools and teachers remain unaware.

Teachers have the flexibility to analyse statistics from multiple sources, such as MIS dashboards, the National Pupil Database and academic performance tables. However, this potentially creates an illusion of knowledge which can lead to high-stakes decisions being made based on insufficient and inaccurate evidence.

Less can mean more

The Department for Education’s Workload Challenge survey gained 43,000 responses. With 56% of respondents citing the recording, inputting and analysis of data as the main area impacting their productivity, If we are to prevent disillusioned teachers leaving their profession and succeed in enhancing pupil progress, schools must move away from restrictive systems which merely add to already overstretched workloads.

According to influential education expert David Didau, the answer is not more data, but better data. He states that teachers are now drowning in a sea of data and the gap between what they know, compared to what they need to know, may be widening. He suggests that by embracing new cloud-based technologies, schools can reduce unnecessary administration and be alerted to fresh insights and issues they might otherwise miss.

However before information can be deemed useful, they must first consider alternative ways to validate the accuracy and precision of what is being measured to avoid rushing to poor judgements which subsequently effects the decisions and opinions of Ofsted, governors and parents alike.

What should schools be collecting and analysing?

Analysing spreadsheets can be like gazing vacantly into a crystal ball. Schools need to know how to interpret what their data can tell them but perhaps more importantly, what it can’t. If teachers are unsure what they are looking for, they should define what is ‘useful’ to them by asking four key questions:

1.    How much of what they want to measure is actually being measured?

2.    How much time are they wasting analysing what they did not intend to measure?

3.    What are the potential consequences of each of the above scenarios?

4.    What evidence do they have to support their answers to the first three questions?

Schools must be encouraged to take a holistic view of their data. If decisions are being based purely in relation to Government targets, or from the results of one individual test, it is likely that their forecasts will be wrong. Similarly making judgements based on the notion that because information is readily available, it is more likely to be accurate, also carries inherent risks.

This reaffirms the need for having intuitive systems that can take into consideration numerous influencing factors and be adapted to report on data clearly, appropriately and fairly. As a result, more realistic targets supported by an improved learner-centric approach can be taken.

Entering the brave new world with the right technology

The Government’s decision to remove levels and leave individual schools to decide how they monitor progress is a welcome step into a brave new world. Rather than being viewed with trepidation, it means that schools can now resist the accountability club and concentrate on what they actually want to know about their pupils.

There is another way. A new breed of MIS technologies now work for teachers, as opposed to creating unnecessary work for them to do so that they no longer need to ‘fit’ around a system that isn’t fit for purpose.

Integrated cloud-based solutions put schools in control of their own data, not the other way round. In doing so they support teachers in making improved pedagogical choices to enable the best outcome to ultimately be achieved for the learner. Can you say the same about the current system you use?

Flexible MIS solutions provide readily available real time information to the right people, eliminating manual processes and duplication of effort. This assists teachers so that they can concentrate on having meaningful discussions with pupils about potential knowledge gaps and identify the skills they need to further their success.

Solutions with advanced reporting functionality also provide the ability to manipulate and interrogate school information to uncover unique insights to shape future interventions and planning. This allows schools to monitor, track and evaluate individual pupils at any stage of the academic year, in addition to swiftly spotting issues and proactively working with learners to resolve them.

Helping learners progress

The new breed of MIS solutions enable teachers to increase productivity and focus on what is most important – improving pupil progress. They also provide a bespoke reporting lens to allow teachers to gain trusted insights in order to make better informed decisions.

Despite the enormous potential of modern technologies, there are limits to their power in guaranteeing that data is both valid and reliable. Ultimately, schools need to ensure that internal classroom processes are more streamlined so that teacher time is not wasted collecting statistics that are neither accurate nor useful. This then allows the MIS to turn assembled data into meaningful information that can positively shape future procedures and interventions.

Teachers work tirelessly to make a difference. This is despite facing an uphill struggle to comply with an ingrained culture of ‘just ticking the boxes’ to fulfil requirements, rather than for the purpose of bettering learners’ education. There is no quick fix. However emerging technologies help reduce time-consuming administrative tasks and give teachers the information they need to effectively plan and assist learners to succeed.

A whole new world of technology is available to schools which many are unaware of. Leading MIS solutions can play an integral role in meeting them where they are today, whilst offering them the ability to guide pupils towards fulfilling their potential in the future.


Greg Ford is Managing Director of Advanced Learning, a provider of innovative technology solutions to more than 2,000 educational institutions throughout the UK and across the world. Greg has 30 years’ experience in UK software and services gained in dynamic and results oriented environments. For ten years, he worked at Sage, as Managing Director of the midmarket division and more recently as Managing Director at business automation solution company, V1.

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