We live in a data-rich age where almost every aspect of childhood is quantified! School improvement partner, Dave Weston, helps you see the wood from the trees

Almost every aspect of school life is now measurable and headteachers are overloaded with statistics. The analysis of what is ‘important’ and how to use this information is a key management skill of the primary school headteacher. However, schools must only use data as one aspect of school achievement and attainment. The width and quality of curriculum experiences and social development should always be maintained and cherished.

Why effective use of data is so important

The consistent use and analysis of school data can promote effective self-evaluation and high standards of teaching and learning by:

  • informing professional discussions with key partners (LA, Ofsted, governors, parents and staff)
  • identifying pupils’ achievement and informing target setting
  • monitoring the effectiveness of initiatives and strategies
  • supporting the allocation of staffing and resources
  • challenging the aspirations of staff, pupils and parents
  • contributing valuable evidence towards the regular updating of the school SEF.

Primary headteachers should develop a good understanding of the range of data available and this understanding will give them the confidence to plan for continuous school improvement and negotiate with key partners. The effective use of school data will contribute towards a school’s capacity to improve and therefore it is important for key members of staff (and governors) to understand how data can be used to evaluate and improve the performance of a school.

What data is available?

The range of data is very wide in most primary schools and it is important to note that there is both formal and informal data which should be used for effective self-evaluation and for school improvement. The formal data includes SAT results, attendance and exclusion data and Family Fischer Trust data, for example. There is also a considerable amount of relevant ‘informal’ data such as parental surveys and pupil consultations.


The new RAISEonline reports are the key documents for school improvement. It is a very valuable tool in setting the context of any school and in indicating its achievement and attainment. The basic characteristics of each school are indicated and this information can be used to set the context of how the pupils enter the school system. This data shows which percentile each school is in as compared to national averages. This section gives headteachers the local and national context of their school and provides important information for part A (section 1a) of the SEF. The census information in table 1.1.4 can also be useful in showing the social and economic background of the families of pupils attending the school. Headteachers can use this data in the SEF to indicate social deprivation and any English as an additional language issues at the school. The CVA (contextual value added) data showing progress from KS1 to KS2 is extremely important and schools should of course aim to be in the top 50 percentile with a CVA score of over 100. CVA scores for core subjects also indicate significant improvement or otherwise and immediately identify priorities for development or areas to celebrate. The graphs for specific pupil groups should also be analysed carefully to identify vulnerable and underachieving groups for support and targeting. Many schools are now finding that such groups as boys or FSM pupils often perform significantly below the average and this information should link into the SEF and school development plan and match with strategies to enhance their progress and attainment. The remaining sections cover attainment at KS1 and KS2, with raw scores, percentages, APS (average points scores) and comparisons with national averages. Several of the tables include ‘significance tests’ and where scores differ significantly from the national value a ‘sig+’ or ‘sig-’ is noted. These are key indicators that Ofsted will immediately pick up on. These tables also identify changes on previous years’ attainment in terms of progress or otherwise. Table 3.1.18 is a key part of RAISEonline as it identifies the progress and attainment of specific groups, including FSM pupils, SEN pupils and ethnic minority groups. Information from this section should be carefully used to target support and to review the impact of the use of resources in the previous year.

Family Fischer Trust (FFT) data

The FFT data is another important source of information and it provides estimates of likely attainment and these estimates are calculated for each pupil and from these, school and LA estimates are calculated. It is important to note that FFT data are estimates, not predictions or targets. This is because they provide an estimate of what might happen if pupils make progress that is in line with that of similar pupils in previous years. FFT estimates are, for the most part, based upon prior attainment in core subjects. FFT data comes in a range of estimates to enable a variety of comparisons to be made. Types A and B are based on progress made by all pupils nationally in the previous year. Type A (PA) is based upon pupils’ prior attainment while type B (SE) takes into account prior attainment and the socio-economic context of the school. Two further estimates provide an indication of what might happen if pupils were to make better progress than in previous years. Type C is based upon what you would need to do to achieve either national or LA targets. Type D (TQ) is based upon the progress made by schools in the top 25% percentile of value-added scores nationally. To use the FFT estimates effectively look out for differences between subjects and trends across groups. Significance is shown by light green highlighting, which indicates ‘above estimates’ and dark blue highlighting, which indicates ‘below estimates’. If the FFT data confirms findings from in-school assessment, this can then be used to validate points in the SEF.

How to use data in evaluating school performance

With regard to the use of school data, ‘good practice’ results from the smart use of data rather than the use of any specific systems or IT tools. Data is only useful if its analysis has an impact on the teaching and learning process and leads to school improvement. The challenge in the busy primary school is to use the data effectively and to find the time to update and analyse the information.

Who should be involved?

School accountability has an impact on all members of a school team and therefore everyone should be aware of a school’s data. This is a key aspect of distributed leadership. All of the teaching staff should have an understanding of how well the pupils of the school achieve and how this compares with similar schools and national averages. All teachers should be involved in individual and group target setting and in the regular assessment of pupil groups. Teaching assistants should also be aware of their target groups and their key role in helping individual pupils achieve significant improvement. The school leadership team (including the assessment coordinator) has an important role in maintaining a focus on school improvement and in using data to set targets and priorities. Success should also be regularly celebrated, and pupils and teachers should be encouraged and praised appropriately. The primary headteacher needs to manage the whole process of school improvement and have a comprehensive oversight of all school data. Governors should also be fully involved so that they have a complete picture of a school’s achievement and attainment.

Working smartly with school data

While the key focus on school data should be maintained regularly, all primary headteachers need to keep up to date on achievement and attainment in their school. The important role of the LA statistical staff and school office staff should be acknowledged and headteachers should develop their skills in analysis and synthesis, rather than in number crunching and the administration of school data. The data should be used to update the school SEF and to validate the impact of policies from the school development plan and resource allocation.

What it might look like in a primary school

As part of a school development plan an annual review of standards is an important planning tool. During the spring and summer terms internal data is gathered by the use of formative and summative assessment. Formative assessment could involve the careful monitoring of pupils’ work and lesson observations would be recorded on tracking sheets. Summative assessments could be gathered half-termly or termly in the core subjects in the form of short and relevant tests or tasks. Formal assessments would be carried out in the form of entry baseline assessments, Foundation Stage Profile information, optional SATs and formal SATs. This information should then be collated and analysed. The leadership team should identify trends, under-performing groups, set aspirational targets and review overall standards. In the autumn term, once this analysis has been carried out, it should inform future planning, identify development areas (for the SDP) and be reflected in future resource allocation. The SEF should then be updated to ensure that the evaluation is thorough and looks at the impact of policies such as quality first teaching and intensive group support. The data analysis should then be made available to staff, governors and parents to provide information on standards and to give it whole-school ownership. Individual staff can use the specific assessment data to set targets for groups and individuals. The important point is that the data should be useful and should inform future planning.


The effective use of a wide variety of data can promote teaching and learning by clearly indicating areas for development, identifying under-performing groups, the better use of staff and resources and for closely monitoring the effectiveness of initiatives and strategies. It should always be remembered, however, that formal data provides only one part of the wider picture of the achievement of any school.