The question of who owns and controls our data has featured heavily in the media in the last few weeks. But while Cambridge Analytica and Facebook both have serious questions to answer, in other sectors – including education – data harvesting is empowering organisations.
Of course, schools and higher education establishments are no strangers to data management. And with schools facing growing pressure to raise standards from Ofsted, governors, parents and local authorities alike, accurate reporting – and the need to self-evaluate – has never been more vital. Institutions simply must have accurate, up-to-date data to assess how they’re performing and where they can improve.
But data can also give teachers a more holistic picture of students and their learning needs. It can enable staff to better assess student performance and make it easier to spot which children are most likely to struggle. Access to data means staff can focus their attention on those students most likely to require their time, see which lessons need more focus in terms of meeting curriculum and Ofsted targets, and help determine how processes such as enrolment can be streamlined. Ultimately, data empowers staff, helping the workforce to become more effective at their jobs.
However, for this to be truly successful, all data must be connected and accessible for all.
Many schools and colleges work with numerous different data sources, which creates data silos. This makes data-driven education very hard. When information is spread across multiple departments, buildings, or campuses, it can be difficult to maintain one version of the truth and get a comprehensive picture of performance. In addition, the responsibility for this data analysis often lies with heads of departments or school office staff who are already overstretched and working to very tight budgets. In Ireland, for example, the quality of teaching of its 350,000 pupils is being put at risk due to the ever rising, more complex workloads. The pressure is mounting on teachers in the UK, too, with as many as eight-in-ten teachers considering leaving the profession because of the workload crisis, according to a report by the National Education Union.
“Any technology focusing on simplifying data analysis and creating actionable intelligence should be a top priority for schools and colleges looking to improve their productivity and performance.”
However, relegating data analysis to one department is perhaps the biggest mistake an establishment can make. Everyone can and should use data, but it needn’t be such a laborious task. By decentralising a school or college’s data – taking this power and insight away from the hands of a select few and encouraging individual perspectives to be brought forward – data is treated as a strategic asset. It makes data available to all staff, leading to better decision-making, as well as improved performance and, crucially, productivity.
But for data to be truly valuable and remain accurate, education establishments need ways to present data more dynamically and easily. Thankfully, visualisation tools have changed the way education establishments leverage data. All departments can pull a range of data sources together to ensure there are no discrepancies and create visual dashboards and reports. These reports can be used to show only the information teachers need, minimising time wasted on irrelevant data.
With data so easily accessed and analysed, business intelligence is no longer just for senior management, but gives staff across departments and sites a better understanding of the school or college in its entirety, with the added functionality to drill down to specific details. This not only enables all staff to see quickly and clearly how their establishment is performing in real-time, but also to take the necessary actions to prevent small issues becoming bigger problems. They can then predict and harness opportunities to achieve the best future outcomes for the establishment as a whole.
In this way, decentralising data is also a core catalyst in driving productivity. Staff are under increasing pressure to work more efficiently, but most are unable to measure productivity; this means it can’t be managed, and staff can’t know what their productivity expectations are.
“Ultimately, data empowers staff, helping the workforce to become more effective at their jobs.”
Visualisation tools provide staff with a way to view their own performance and see how it relates to their school or college as a whole. This creates a culture of accountability and motivates staff to be more proactive, making informed decisions based on real-time data. In addition, by defining expectations, individuals are made to feel accountable and establishments will see a significant cultural shift. While some teachers may not feel that they have the technical know-how to create data analysis reports, these tools can make them as clear and informative as possible, so anyone – regardless of technical ability – can access, understand and take action from data.
Establishments can even print their personalised dashboards or reports – or elements of it – exactly as they appear and export them to various formats according to end user needs.
Accurate information can easily be accessed and embedded into any document, regardless of format, with the simple click of a mouse or tap of a screen. This makes reports, which can be tailored to the audience – whether Ofsted, school governors, SMT or department heads – more compelling. Reports can be branded, too, so that school or college colours, fonts, and emblems are consistent.
The bottom line? In today’s pressured learning environment, which includes tackling the joint challenges of Ofsted and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), any technology focusing on simplifying data analysis and creating actionable intelligence should be a top priority for schools and colleges looking to improve their productivity and performance.
Robert Dagge is Managing Director of Dynistics.