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Why your trust needs a data strategy - and where to start

by David Macaskill on January 18, 2019

Schools are dealing with more data in more places than ever before, a trend which is only heading in one direction. This has, inevitably, led to multiple data streams across multiple systems. It is not unusual for growing trusts of 6 to 10 schools to have dozens of disparate systems and countless applications, many of which were introduced to address a specific local need, but with no holistic vision of what the trust or individual school is trying to achieve with the data that is gathered as a result.

The need to develop a clear strategy around all this information has been bought to a head to an extent by the GDPR, but also by trusts starting to realise that the current way of doing things is both incredibly time consuming and very reactive. Trusts (and schools) have always been good at looking backwards at historical information about attainment, but a good data strategy is the first step in bringing together every valuable bit of information that is collected which could include things like behaviour, attendance and parental engagement levels, alongside information that is shared through third party software.

Where to start?

Every trust needs to do a full data audit to get a proper idea of what data they collect and where it goes. It’s worth taking some time to do this and pulling from a wide variety of sources. With a wide range of edtech products sometimes accumulating around larger schools to solve individual problems, there’s a good chance your school collects and processes far more data in more places than you realise.

There is the usual student information that comes in at regular times, such as attainment updates, attendance and behaviour tracking, but also finance and payments, HR and staff, and any and all information that is processed by third party suppliers.  

High angle view of a female student sitting against bookshelf with laptop on the library floor

It is important to map out all of this information with a clear understanding of your legal bases for processing and if you find any information you can’t explain, it’s a good time to stop collecting it or dispose of it!

By fully auditing and mapping out your data flows, you can get a full picture of the information that is regularly being transferred from one place to another, where the potential double ups are and where the potential gaps are. It will also put you in a much better positions in relation to the GDPR because you will be able to clearly explain to the ICO what you have and respond quickly to any subject access requests.  

Make your strategy work for you

Once you know where your information lives, why you have it and who is using it for what, you can start to work on a wider strategy for harnessing this information. The first major benefit is accuracy – having a better picture of your data (particularly data that is being duplicated in different places) means it is far easier to standardise data inputs across different academies, so information is being received in an orderly way.

Every trust, and indeed, every school, has a different landscape of software, systems, staff, students and ethos so it is important that you consider data within your unique environment. There is no single right way to do it, as long as you cast your net as widely as possible during the initial audit stage to make sure you consider every bit of data. You might decide that the systems are fine, but the processes need to change or vice-versa. Or, you might decide to standardise everything across the trust. The important thing is that you have evidence-based decision making in place, with actionable data available for the right people at the right time.  

Reaping the rewards

Having a coherent data strategy is no longer a ‘nice to have’ for trusts. With Ofsted consulting on a new framework that will see shorter warnings ahead of inspections and a more holistic approach to judging outcomes, having easily accessible data on a wide range of areas beyond attainment is a must.

But the benefits go well beyond Ofsted – having a full visibility of your data not only gives you more assurance with the GDPR, it also gives you the opportunity to start experimenting with data analytics and start making real changes to child development. Imagine being able to work out the times of day individual students learn the best? Or what common factors directly impact on their self esteem or attitude? Maybe you’d like to know what the patterns of behaviour are that lead to a student ‘coasting’?

It all starts with a data strategy.

Keen to find out more about developing your own data strategy to get the most out of the information at your trust or academy? Groupcall can help. 

 

Topics: GDPR, Groupcall Analytics, Data