October 2018

The know zone

  • Data unbound
    ASCL's latest project is helping schools to extract deeper meaning from their data and do it in a much more timely fashion, says Duncan Baldwin. More
  • Focus on curriculum
    With so many schools having to find increasingly innovative ways of stretching their budgets, Julia Harnden says the key to their ability to manage their money well is by keeping the curriculum at the heart of their financial planning. More
  • Hand in hand
    Suzanne O'Farrell highlights some key pointers to ensure your curriculum and assessment are properly aligned. More
  • What lies beyond?
    Kevin Gilmartin explores the findings of a major House of Lords report on Treating Students Fairly that looks into the economics of post-school education. More
  • Dear newly qualified teacher...
    What is the one piece of advice you would give to encourage anyone about to embark on their first teaching role? Something to inspire and instil in them the same spark or passion of teaching that you share - here ASCL members share their views. More
  • Leaders' surgery
    Hotline advice expressed here, and in calls to us, is made in good faith to our members. Schools and colleges should always take formal HR or legal advice from their indemnified provider before acting. More
  • Superheroes*
    It's time to make job adverts for headship more realistic, down-to-earth and honest - to ensure that the candidates are, too, says Carl Smith. More
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ASCL’s latest project is helping schools to extract deeper meaning from their data and do it in a much more timely fashion, says Duncan Baldwin.

Data unbound

In January 2015, ASCL published Leading the Way: Blueprint for a self-improving system (www.ascl.org.uk/blueprint), which set out some principles for schools and government to further the development of a school-led system.

One of its key ambitions was for schools to take ownership of accountability, including defining their own performance measures and building the capacity to use and interrogate data. At ASCL’s Annual Conference in March 2015, delegates at a seminar on big data were keen to get involved in ASCL’s work in this area.

The first ASCL project failed to take off but in 2017 we began working with SISRA Analytics in a data collaboration exercise intending to estimate Attainment 8 averages directly from schools. The headteachers of schools using SISRA were invited to share their data anonymously and more than 1,100 schools agreed, generating a sample of more than 180,000 pupils – a third of the cohort of pupils in Progress 8 nationally.

The estimated Progress 8 figures produced by the schools were very close to those subsequently produced by the DfE but, crucially, they were obtained within a few days of GCSE results being published, rather than six weeks later.

‘Cleanliness’ of data

Besides turnaround speed, there were a number of other positive effects, including feedback to schools about the reasonableness and ‘cleanliness’ of their data and early access to national level data to help understand system-wide change. For example, ASCL has suggested to the DfE that it may wish to publish the figure ‘Percentage of pupils achieving a positive Progress 8 score’ alongside Progress 8, as this is easier for the public and other stakeholders to understand.

The collaboration is being repeated in 2018 with the ambition to produce subject-level performance with value-added lines and transition matrices. Subject level value-added is not routinely published by the DfE, other than as the English and mathematics components of Progress 8. The DfE does produce transition matrices after it has finished work on headline accountability and they are useful but they would be even more powerful during the autumn when schools need to reflect on the performance of subjects and teachers, rather than later.

ASCL uses the pupil data checking file that the DfE produces in late September as a component in two data toolkits. The first gives schools insight into Progress 8 and Attainment 8 that Ofsted has flagged as helpful as it fills a gap for those schools inspected before Analyse School Performance (ASP) and inspection data summary report (IDSR) are published but using robust data.

Quick evaluation

The second toolkit combines the same data file with the DfE subject transition matrices. By comparing the cumulative percentages of grades achieved by different prior attainment bands, schools can evaluate quickly how well individual subjects have performed.

In 2018, we have worked with the provider SMID Report to make these toolkits much more powerful. In addition to the various analyses provided in the original toolkits, the ASCL Collaboration Toolkit offers school data managers the opportunity to check aspects of the data file more easily by running a set of reports, considerably reducing their workload. This toolkit is available free to schools with ASCL members. To sign up, please visit: www.smidreport.com

We believe we have proved the following:

  • Schools of all types will collaborate with one another in large numbers to obtain information when they trust the partners providing that collaboration and when they see a clear purpose behind it.
  • Working together, schools can deliver summative and analytic data that is accurate enough for the time it is useful.
  • Using the expertise available by commercial providers, schools can reduce workload without increasing cost.

The last stage in this project is to return to the initial vision and connect schools directly. The ambition is to create a school-led forum to oversee how this data will be used and to safeguard it.

We will be working with a number of pilot schools, Microsoft and another partner, AskEddi, to extract the data, store it securely and construct dashboards to give real-time feedback about any data held in schools’ management information systems (MIS).

Benefits should include instant regional and local feedback on school attendance, better formative assessment opportunities and support for schools’ development of meaningful performance indicators in line with the aspirations of the ASCL Blueprint.


Duncan Baldwin is a keynote speaker at ASCL’s Getting to Grips with Accountability Measures, Leadership of Data Autumn Conferences. Book your place at www.ascl.org.uk/gettingtogrips

Duncan Baldwin
Deputy Director of Policy