School environments are more complex than ever before, particularly in terms of the information and data that is recorded, collected and stored through all stages of pupils’ learning journeys.
Although this data-rich environment provides powerful insights for school leaders and educationalists, collating and analysing the information effectively is increasingly difficult – and can feel overwhelming.
To add further complication to the rising tide of big data, the evolution of artificial intelligence and machine learning means that many repeat tasks have become automated with advanced algorithms determining how, when and in what form many actions take place. While this is a convenient and efficient way of managing our daily lives, knowing that you can trust these processes – and the data that informs them – is vitally important.
Surviving the data deluge and selecting the right information from which to develop relevant insights has become a serious challenge, but it needn’t be if you have a clear idea of what you want to know and how to find it.
Painting a clear picture of performance
A great example of how this can work is parental engagement.
This might not initially seem to be a natural beneficiary of effective data management. Looking for ways to encourage parents to become more involved in education often involves building relationships and strategies to help support their children with homework tasks, revision or reading – all very interpersonal activities built more on subjective approaches than cold, hard data.
However, with more and more aspects of pupils’ school life being recorded, monitored and measured, it is now possible to create a clear picture of how an individual is performing and how they are adapting in comparison with their class and age group peers, both in their current cohort and in relation to historical data.
But how do we get anything meaningful from all this data?
Mind the gap
One of the biggest challenges in managing all the data created in a school setting is the variability that comes from operating multiple systems. Data captured from different age groups, attainment sets and for different measures can make the school data ecosystem look more complicated than a city’s public transport map, with its different touchpoints in different locations all intersecting along the way.
As the ecosystem adds new systems, it becomes still more complicated, with data created in one format and transferred to another for analysis or presentation, at which point it often needs to be translated and displayed in a different format or protocol.
For instance, data captured and stored in a school’s central management information system might be migrated to an external tool used for a specific task, such as monitoring safeguarding. To ensure the highest levels of security and reliability, this information needs to be presented consistently and with any updates applied as soon as possible, so that any school users are seeing the most up-to-date and accurate details.
As data shuttles between the different systems, each touchpoint presents a risk of either failing to be transferred correctly – and therefore becoming incomplete – or potentially being reformatted incorrectly, meaning that more complex structures need close attention to avoid breaks in the chain.
This alone is a compelling argument for limiting the number of systems involved where possible and instead opting for a centralised approach, where a single solution operates at the heart of the school data network and dictates the format and relationship of the other processes involved.
By operating a central hub for all other data to flow into, schools can efficiently cross-reference information from a wide variety of sources, ranging from digital classroom tools capturing daily attendance or behaviour information, to communication solutions providing parents with up-to-date and relevant insight on their children and their education journeys.
New solutions for a dynamic landscape
But it does not end there. Using that same central hub with its easily presentable data, you can begin to shift parental communication to more accessible platforms.
Research into parental engagement conducted by Capita SIMs has shown that scarcity of time is a major factor in parents not being able to dedicate as much energy as they would like to in their child’s education, with busy families being pulled in all directions.
Traditional methods for engaging parents, such as one-off parents’ evenings or letters sent home in school bags, are no longer effective for everyone and run the risk of alienating many parents and families.
Making sure that school information is readily available to parents in an easy-to-understand and instantly accessible manner, via their phones or email, without impacting on the delivery of education by adding to the workloads of teachers or support staff, should be a key objective of all edtech providers.
If schools have access to the most pertinent information and easy-to-use tools, they stand a great chance of surfing the waves of data created every day rather than struggling to stay afloat amidst the rising tide.
Abdul Ghafoor is head of engagement and finance products, researching effective parental engagement and developing solutions for Capita SIMS