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  • Writer's pictureRoyden Gothelf

The Importance of Data

Updated: Feb 9, 2022

School’s manage an abundance of data; it’s used to teach, capture progress, provide a financial overview, improve efficiencies…the list goes on. As management information systems improve, independent IT adviser Royden Gothelf says artificial intelligence will play a greater role in school management

Having a joined-up approach is important – but ICT in schools is often managed in silos with school business managers, teachers and IT managers buying the solution best-fitted to their specific needs – for example, ICT for the teaching of computing, ICT subject-based applications for use in the classroom, the IT used by staff – typically Word, Excel, PowerPoint, email – as well as the IT used for student performance management such as registration, student progress in homework, tests, data drops – plus the IT used for whole school management which includes staff performance, payroll, catering, premises management and financial management.

Usually, each of these IT systems will have a database of some sort and some of these will have source data for the statutory ‘data drops’ which feed into the school management reporting system. Some of these systems inter-operate, providing opportunities to make smart use of the data to manage across the school – correlating data in order to answer questions and make informed decisions and enriching data with external sources – such as Department for Education benchmarking data – to effectively compare schools.

Collating sets of data As sets of data are collated they provide individual student and year group results – informing teachers, heads of department, school leadership teams and students about how they’re doing and enabling effective interventions to be made where improvements are required. The information provided by reporting and statistical tools can be applied to our decision-making and used to identify appropriate actions.

With machine learning – artificial intelligence (AI) – and increasing amounts of data, technology could assist school leaders with insights that will improve all aspects of the school. For this to work best we need to identify what we want help with beyond simply making data management more efficient.

A data revolution So, ICT is not just a tool to use to get things done – it’s a tool which generates a rich set of data that can help school leaders understand the school and action plan for improvement. When harnessed, the data becomes information and the information becomes knowledge which can be applied to every aspect of your school.

However, school management is more than number crunching; it is about leadership and governance. With the billions of pounds being invested in education technology (edtech), and the UK government looking to technology to revolutionise UK schooling – as noted at the World Economic Forum 2018 – there will need to be technology systems available to specifically support school leaders.

From the classroom to the office The current edtech focus is on teaching and learning – making assessment more effective and efficient – and on innovations to reduce the burden of non-teaching tasks; these changes will impact the ways in which schools are managed. To ensure that school leaders can continue to manage effectively they need to work with the edtech experts to ensure they get the best tools to manage in this digital world.

Consider how technology can help in teacher recruitment and performance management; is it possible to get reliable insights about a teacher from objective student performance data? Best to leave the research on what makes good teaching to others, I think, but it’s a question worth considering. Just as technologists need to understand pedagogy in order to design solutions to improve teaching so they, the technologists, need to understand school management and governance beyond the realms of the statutory reporting of performance. Leaders should be setting out the types of workflow systems and knowledge assistance – or AI – needed to manage schools in order to get the best that edtech can give.

This article featured in the November issue of Education Executive.

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