This case study showcases a school that uses management information systems (MIS) and data analysis to equip staff to take teaching and learning to the next level

I come from a background in scientific research, working in the field of cancer research. But two-and-a-half years ago, I made the serious step of considering a career change. When I spotted the data manager position at Serlby Park, advertised in the local paper, it seemed like a perfect position for me.

I enjoy the challenges that this position brings me and the opportunity to work with a range of people and to take on diverse roles. I support the vice-principal at the secondary phase with timetabling and timetabling issues, such as curriculum planning, and the vice-principal at the primary phase with data management and analysis. My day-to-day responsibilities involve arranging the supply cover and completing all the data returns. I also have a big role in setting up a common approach to data collection and pupil tracking between primary and secondary phases. The majority of this work requires the use of the school management information system (MIS) and, as a result, I have had to become very skilled in its use.

School context

Serlby Park is a 3–18 business and learning community in North Nottinghamshire, formed in 2005 by the amalgamation of three schools: North Border Infants and Junior Schools, and Harworth and Bircotes Comprehensive School. The school, which is near Doncaster, has 1,150 pupils, consisting of a large primary phase of 500 pupils and a small secondary phase of 650 pupils. Based in an ex-mining community, the majority of its pupils come from Harworth and Bircotes and there is a high level of unemployment, low aspirations and high socioeconomic deprivation (we are in the 80th percentile for school deprivation). A small proportion of pupils are from an ethnic minority background (1.6%). Students enter the school well below the national average and nearly one in four have special educational needs (SEN), with 22% claiming free school meals.

GCSE results have been steadily improving over the past five years, increasing to 50% of students attaining five or more A*–C GCSEs in 2006. There was a slight dip in 2007 due to a cohort difference and some social reasons but GCSE predictions for 2008 are that we will eclipse the 2006 results and reach 58%. School contextual valued added (CVA) in 2006 was 1,006 and predictions for 2008 are that the CVA will be greater than 1,005, possibly as high as 1,010. KS3 results have improved over the last three years, but they are generally 1–2% below national average, although school CVA at KS3 has increased over the last three years to 99.9.

The KS3 curriculum at Serlby Park has changed to ease transition and at KS4 to maintain enthusiasm for school. In KS3, Year 7 pupils meet with their form tutor for the first two hours of every day and follow a competency-based curriculum. We have a two-year Key Stage 3 so that our Year 9 pupils now take GCSE options one year earlier than normal. In KS4, Years 9, 10 and 11 form vertical GCSE (or equivalent) option groups, completing their courses in one year over double time, on two core GCSE days. We have a pathways tier for the bottom 10-15%, typically the pupils who cannot access GCSE courses and would have spent two years attending GCSE lessons to achieve E, F and G grades. These students now carry out a National Open College Network (NOCN) Foundation diploma, Award Scheme Development and Accreditation Network (ASDAN) Certificate of Personal Effectiveness (CoPE) and key skills qualifications, and they will leave the school with far more qualifications than they would have by going through the traditional system.

Uses of MIS
At Serlby Park, we have made sure our MIS is an integral part of our day-to-day management and that it directly impacts on teaching and learning (T&L).

When I joined the school in January 2006, I had to adapt quickly to the use of the school’s Schools Information Management System (SIMS) from Capita. In learning how to use it, it became clear to me how important and underused this system was. Serlby Park uses SIMS as its MIS because it is supported by the local authority and, although there are more powerful MIS programs available, they require a bigger financial commitment. Other MIS systems and learning environments can be set up to carry out processes in a similar way.

I have developed a rigorous assessment and tracking system in the Assessment Manager function of SIMS. I made sure that all staff now access SIMS to input grades and that they have their class information at the touch of a button so that it can directly impact on teaching and learning. Staff are able to export information from the MIS and use email to send and receive information quickly. Reports have been set up to coordinate relevant assessment information into a simple, easy-to-read sheets, summarising the current state of affairs for year groups, class groups or individuals.

Where Serlby Park differs from most schools is our use of Assessment Manager and the reporting system to link the assessment data with other pupil information. As data manager, I needed to ensure excellent data-storage, target-setting, pupil-tracking and reporting systems, so that the resulting data is easy for teachers to interrogate, so it can then make a difference to teaching and learning. Serlby Park is also unusual in that we have a primary phase. Our consistent approach to target-setting and tracking that I have been able to set up eases transition issues by ensuring that important data collected in the primary phase follows the pupils into secondary school and is used effectively by staff.

We have two major systems that operate outside of SIMS:

  • a swipe card system called Sentinel that monitors attendance; analysis of this data
  • is carried out by our home liaison worker who has the responsibility for improving pupil attendance
  • a program called Sleuth to monitor pupil behaviour, which is used by non-teaching heads of year, and TLR1 staff that are assigned to each year group.

Any interventions that result from this data are documented in SIMS by creating quick notes and attaching relevant documents to the pupil records. Pastoral staff can access assessment, SEN and pupil timetable information. When coupled with data from Sleuth and Sentinel, this gives a clear picture of each learner so they can quickly deal with problems or inform parents of issues as they arise.

I am responsible for all the MIS analysis so I liaise very closely with, and form the data interface between, pastoral staff, class teachers and the senior leadership team.

When I started at Serlby Park, it was a real leap in at the deep end because I had never worked in a school or seen a school MIS before. The first thing I was asked to do was to complete the spring school census, so I had to quickly learn how to use SIMS. Looking back, this helped me to understand how SIMS can coordinate information. The power of SIMS comes from all the stored information being ‘joined up’. For example, when you select a pupil, as well as being able to see all their personal and contact details, you can link to a range of other information about them – attendance, assessment and exam data, SEN, timetable and curriculum. By coordinating all this data, it is possible to make interpretations about different cohorts and use this to inform practices and interventions to improve all aspects of school.

Role of Assessment Manager
Assessment Manager is the key part of SIMS that can be used to benefit teaching and learning and ultimately your school results. As well as being able to customise this system to store, analyse and summarise data, you can also use it to report this information back to staff, pupils and parents.
I find a lot of my time is taken up with trouble-shooting tasks where I am preparing information for staff and the senior leadership team (SLT). However, one of the more enjoyable projects that I am working on is setting up and formalising the assessment and tracking of pupils, using SIMS as the basis for data collection and storage. Previously, a lot of information was stored on network drives or individual teachers’ computers, in programs such as Microsoft Excel. This meant it was tricky to find, and if a computer developed a problem or a member of staff was absent or changed jobs, that information was lost. I realised it was essential for us to make use of the data storage capabilities of SIMS and this meant familiarising myself with Assessment Manager.

At that time SIMS used Assessment Manager 6 but this has now been superseded by Assessment Manager 7, which opens up directly within the SIMS interface, rather than as a separate program. Any data that you input in Assessment Manager directly links to each pupil and can be viewed when looking at that pupil’s record. Assessment Manager links with the timetable and allows you to input and organise data by teaching groups and other school groups, such as by special educational need, as well as registration and national curriculum (NC) year groups.

Data collection and storage
The first key thing I did was to ensure all the prior attainment data for our pupils was stored centrally in SIMS. This is vital because it is this data that determines a pupil’s expectation as far as the school is concerned for measures such as CVA.

This required setting up aspects in Assessment Manager for the storage of key stage results and the calculation of value-added targets so that staff could then view this data in their marksheets. Pre-prepared templates do exist in SIMS for the recording of key stage, National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) and cognitive ability tests (CAT3) data. These can be imported from Assessment Manager and Performance Analysis Resource Kit (AMPARK). Assessment Manager can be set up to correlate national points equivalence for each of the national curriculum levels, so you can convert these into a numerical scale. This means you can then compare each student to the national average. Using a numerical scale rather than NC levels allows mathematical calculations to be applied, based on, for example, a pupil’s KS2 results, which can only be achieved in Excel using look-up tables.

The key stage base data is available online from the DCSF key to success website, where it can be searched for by unique pupil number (UPN), and also from your local authority. All electronic data can be imported into your MIS very simply, but if teachers struggle with the MIS, it is possible to export marksheets directly out of SIMS to an XML file, which can be opened up in Excel. When these marksheets are imported back into SIMS, the data is automatically linked to the correct pupils and into the right aspects. Using this importing method instead of entering data by hand reduces the risk of incorrectly entered data.

We store on SIMS the key stage results for each pupil as a decimal. You can obtain this information from Fischer Family Trust data. Otherwise, it is possible to calculate the decimal scores from the grade boundaries and a pupil’s raw scores. For example, if the Level 4 grade boundary was from 50 to 84, a student scoring 67 would be a 4.5.

We also carry out CAT3 on our Year 7 pupils. This data is imported into SIMS, but from SIMS we export this into a program that has been created in Excel that plots the scores for the verbal and non-verbal batteries against each other. This then shows the learning style of pupils, with a graph plotting the learning style profile of the group.

These CAT graphs influence teaching and learning because a teacher can then make use of the most effective teaching materials for each class. When coupled with the fine grade SAT data, it gives a good picture of the range of abilities and learning styles of each group. We also carry out reading and spelling analysis tests called Wide Range Achievement Tests (WRAT) – see: www.pearson-uk.com These tests give baseline reading, comprehension and spelling ability of a pupil and they are out-of-context tests. There is also a maths WRAT that assesses basic mathematical computational abilities. Our MIS is the tool that marries all this data, SAT, CAT and WRAT, together so that class teachers have a rounded picture of each pupil’s strengths and weaknesses and whether there are any particular educational needs.

Target-setting and tracking data
It is important to have a clear target-setting procedure at pupil level. I store targets for all students in all subjects on SIMS so they can be looked at easily, added to reports and discussed where necessary. We are leading up to the point where all students will know their own personal targets and they will know what is expected of them in each subject – see the box below.

Pupil tracking

Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3
From entry national curriculum levels and target national curriculum levels, I use SIMS to calculate the expected progress of pupils towards their targets and to calculate yearly milestones. We collect KS2 and KS3 data termly and track pupils against their milestone and end-of-key-stage targets. Recently, I have improved the milestone model so that there are now upper and lower milestones. Pupils need to lie within these values to be on target for their end-of-key-stage target, and flight path graphs can then be drawn to show a pupil’s progress towards these.

Key Stage 4
At KS4, we collect tracking data monthly as GCSE grades or equivalents based on a teacher’s prediction from classwork, coursework, homework and attitude in class. It is important for us to collect this data regularly given that Years 9, 10 and 11 are completing GCSE options in one year. When I set these aspects and templates up I ensure that the GCSE points equivalence of each of our courses is linked to the tracking data, so that I can use this data to calculate individual pupil and whole-school value-added and to estimate whole-school CVA measures.

The CVA measure was developed by the DCSF to ensure that every student is seen as important, not just the A*–C pupils. This measure compares a pupil’s capped points score, determined from the sum of their top eight subjects, with their value-added target from prior attainment. The contextual part takes into account socio-economic factors and adjusts the pupil’s target accordingly. We use the ‘Max’ function in SIMS Assessment Manager to estimate the capped points score. Pupils with low value-added scores can then be targeted with intervention measures.

Data analysis and feedback
I prepare a number of different reports for staff in SIMS or Excel – see the box below.

Feedback reports

Traffic-light group reports
Traffic-light group reports highlight the progress of pupils in all subjects and can be created for a teaching group, pastoral/year/registration group or a defined group of pupils (for example, based on SEN). Pupils are tracked based on progress towards targets or milestones and these tracking grades are coloured in accordingly, depending on whether pupils are above, on course or likely to achieve below their targets. These reports are emailed to all staff and colour printouts given to the senior management team (SMT) and relevant subject leaders.

Individual pupil reports
Individual pupil reports highlight the historical progress of a student in all their subjects through that key stage. We use Assessment Manager individual reports as our formal reporting process for interim reports and mentoring information. A typical mentoring report for a Year 11 pupil would contain KS2 and KS3 results, KS4 subject targets and tracking information. It is also possible to write letters home to parents using the Assessment Manager reporting system because you can merge assessment information that needs to be highlighted to parents. This year we used the system to put together letters about our Easter school, which is a booster event open to all Year 9, 10 and 11 pupils, and made the letters more personal by merging a student’s details into the letter, rather than sending the same bulk standard letter to all parents. These individual reports are sent to relevant staff, mentors, pupils and parent depending on the content.

School value-added prediction reports

School value-added prediction reports are prepared from the KS4 tracking data and are used at a strategic level by SMT, the special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) and by myself to highlight pupils that are affecting school value added so that we can then look to offer support, for example by offering extra courses, such as key skills, to boost their scores. This data is also shared with relevant staff, such as mentors, so they are aware of pupils that need extra motivation or support.

To allow simple visualisation of a pupil’s progress, I export the data into Microsoft Excel to add colour to the analysis. It is possible to add colour within Assessment Manager using a ‘nested IF’ command, but it is not as versatile as in Excel where you can use conditional formatting or macros. When exported into Excel, the marksheets can be manipulated and the layout and formatting made much more userfriendly than the SIMS printouts or exports.

Another important feature is to analyse the performance of different groups of pupils. This can be achieved directly in Assessment Manager by adding extra columns of information such as gender, SEN, ethnicity and home language. You can then right-click on the name column and select which additional columns you want from the long list of options, and then order a column by right-clicking on it and selecting either ascending or descending. This is really useful, allowing you, for example, to order a column by the student’s target grade, making it easy to spot pupils who are above or below target. You can also compare groups such as those with SEN or English as additional language (EAL). This can also be achieved when data is exported into Excel, by ordering columns or by filtering the data to only show certain groups.

For subjects taught in sets, I make sure one of the data entry columns is the set. This then means that a year group can be ordered by set for each subject, allowing a department head to compare the progress of each set. It also means teachers can be compared and different teaching practices can be evaluated, particularly from an assessment-for-learning point of view.

All staff access SIMS using their laptops to input data into Assessment Manager, which gets them used to using the school MIS. In the process, teachers also see other data on their pupils, such as their expected targets and prior attainment. Indirectly, it allows them to have a better picture of students that are making good progress and those who are stalling without having to seek that information out. I also make sure that pupils’ prior attainment is on the tracking sheets so that, if staff want to look at KS1, KS2 or KS3 prior results, they are readily available. The good teachers are proactive at finding out information. At various intervals, I email summary data to individual staff or subject leaders to ensure they are properly informed.

Effective usage
The major danger in SIMS comes with the misuse of Assessment Manager. My knowledge of Assessment Manager is all self-taught. In hindsight, I would have saved time if I had had some formal training on the functions available. I could then have got straight on with mapping out how to set out our datatracking, storage and manipulation, using the relevant expert in our local authority for advice on how to achieve this. Our local authority made available generic tracking sheets, which I used in the first instance and then customised to our needs as the system developed.

One of the dangers is mistakes in formulae in Assessment Manager. It is too easy to think you have set everything up accurately without properly checking things through, so always pick a few extreme cases to check that all formulae work as you intend them. I err on the side of caution when reporting results based on teacher assessment grades and ask staff to use the lower of the two grades for pupils that are on a borderline so that they are the worst-case scenario. It means the reality will always be better.

Heads of department are ultimately responsible for the exam results so they need to have a good handle on the data and ensure that their department uses it effectively. I find myself relentlessly hassling departments for data but also supporting them in understanding data issues, which then highlights to me which staff need more support.

For top tips on effective usage, see the box right.Using MIS in these ways have brought many benefits – see the box below.

Core benefits

  • More accurate analysis of data through regular collection of accurate data allowing earlier identification of any underachievement
  • Timesaving, achieved by linking the important data together on simple easy-to-read summary sheets for individuals or groups and also by linking important information to individual pupil records stored in the MIS
  • A proactive approach to pupil tracking and mentoring that is underpinned by accurate regular data
  • More communication between pastoral, teaching staff and the SLT because there is a central focus on raising attainment based around accurate data that is stored in the MIS, and more staff have asked questions as a result of the data

Future plans
As the curriculum changes, data systems need to evolve. At Serlby, we are
changing our whole KS3 curriculum to a more competency-based system and so our target-setting and tracking system needs to change to accommodate it. We do not currently involve pupils or parents enough in the process, and this is a major goal for the future. We need students to direct their own learning and be more self-aware of their skills and where they need to improve. In the future, if a member of the SLT were to stop a pupil in the corridor, that pupil should be able to say where they are in each subject, what their targets are and what they need to do to achieve it.

Dr Phil Palmer, Timetable and Data Manager, Serlby Park School, Bircotes, near Doncaster

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