Schools are being more effective at using data to improve teaching and learning (T&L), but many are being held back by lack of time to update and analyse the data.

Recent research from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), commissioned by the DfES, found that data only became effective if it was used to stimulate questions about the learning taking place. Those schools that were most successful tended to be the ones that ensured meaningful discussions with staff about how data can be used to bring about practical improvements in the classroom. This tended to occur most effectively where one person took a proactive role in using data to move learning forward, either by focusing on specific areas or supporting colleagues in interpreting outcomes.

School-devised systems and Excel spreadsheets were the most popular data management tools because they tracked individual pupils and allowed schools to input internally-generated data such as interim assessments. Schools were looking for easy-to-use systems that provided: i) useful graphics ii) year-on-year pupil tracking

iii) finer levels of detail and tracking of progress in smaller steps (for pupils with special educational needs).

Use of data

The top use to which schools put the data was to track pupil progress – identified by 43% of the 300 secondary department heads surveyed. This was closely followed by using data for deciding on pupil groupings. Nearly two-thirds of teachers also used the data in discussions with individual pupils to motivate them and encourage them to take more responsibility for their own learning. Other ways the data was used are set out in the box below.

Formal assessment data was rated most highly as the type of data most likely to inform improvements to teaching and learning (cited by 95% of secondary school respondents).

Departments with lower Key Stage 3 performance tended to be using data more frequently than high performing departments, implying that they were interrogating the data to point up ways to raise standards.

Presentations or written information to teaching staff (87%) and to the senior management team (85%) were the most common ways to communicate data analysis results, followed by meetings between class teachers. Some schools had a designated data manager to provide teachers with regular printouts of analyses of the results of their classroom data. This seems to becoming a more common practice, and one that many schools are seeing as being an invaluable investment.

Strategies for improvement

Respondents were asked to identify what strategies for intervention they used as a result of data analysis to improve teaching and learning. The top two strategies for targeting of groups or individuals for support were:

  • booster groups/one-to-one support/extra support (for individuals/groups) – 50.7%
  • holiday school/revision/catch-up lessons/after school (whole class or unspecified) –20.2%.

The top two whole-school interventions relating to improving classroom practice were:

  • review of/changes to teaching programme or curriculum, such as more personalised/differentiated teaching/learning – 25.7%
  • inform planning and/or targets – 10.6%.

The report also compares responses from three key subject areas – English, maths and science – pointing up trends that curriculum managers may want to consider to inform changes to data use at a departmental level.

Challenges to use

While 90% of heads of department and teachers said they used data to inform improvements in practice, many teachers were concerned about the quantity of data generated, which hindered them from putting it to maximum use. Many were also unsure about how to apply the data to classroom situations, pointing up the need for training in this area – for other action curriculum managers can take to improve data use, see the box above. Other challenges to effective use of data included that the data recorded was too narrow or academic or did not accommodate individual needs, and a lack of trust in the reliability of the data.

Download the report Schools’ use of data in teaching and learning by Catherine Kirkup, Juliet Sizmur, Linda Sturman and Kate Lewis via:

Action for curriculum managers

  • Raise awareness of data systems and their potential
  • Promote training in how to use the software and support on how to use the outcomes and share data with colleagues
  • Find ways to ensure staff have sufficient time to analyse data at a meaningful level
  • Encourage sharing of good practice
  • Encourage the appointment of dedicated coordinators to drive the process of interpretation and action

How data is used to improve T&L

To facilitate:

  • more effective allocation of staff and resources
  • performance management
  • monitoring the effectiveness of initiatives and strategies
  • evidence-based discussions with Ofsted, local education authorities, governors, among others
  • the challenging of expectations of staff, pupils, parents
  • transitions and transfers – particularly between key stages within schools
  • identification of pupils’ achievements and setting of targets
  • To track pupil progress
  • To identify underachieving pupils for further support
  • To inform T&L and strategic planning
  • To inform pupil setting and groupings

At classroom or student level to:

  • highlight specific weaknesses for individual pupils
  • identify weaknesses in topics for the class as a whole
  • inform accurate curricular targets for individual pupils
  • provide evidence to support decisions as to where best to focus resources and teaching
  • tailor teaching to the needs of targeted groups
  • identify individuals and groups for additional support
  • encourage pupils to take ownership of their learning goals.