Trying to produce detailed and accurate reports for every pupil in your school is always tricky. But it is an especially daunting task when you need to provide reports for more than 1,500 pupils three times a year.
Featherstone High School in Southall, west London, faces the additional challenge that 80 per cent of its pupils speak English as an additional language. Many of their parents find it even harder to talk with teachers. The school was keen to find a better way to share information with families without overburdening its staff.
About three-quarters of schools in Britain are believed to use Capita's Schools Information Management System (SIMS) to record details about their students, often because their local authority has chosen it. However, some schools have made more advanced use of the program than others - and when it comes to using it to turn data into reports, Featherstone High is an innovator.
The school's deputy head, Neil Bradford, has taken the lead on finding ways to open up information from the system to parents. He began in 2007, using free assessment tools within SIMS to set up a system for reports. Then, in 2009, he started trialling the SIMS Learning Gateway, which allows parents with an internet connection to view information about their child online.
Now, parents get automatic reports three times a year. The reports, covering two sides of A4, provide straightforward information about how the child is progressing in each of their subjects, and record poor behaviour and outstanding work.
Realising that national curriculum levels can often be opaque, Bradford programmed in a range of standard automated comments to explain to parents what the results mean. "So if a pupil goes from a level 3 to a level 6 in a subject, the report won't leave it at that - there will also be a short written statement explaining that this is exceptional progress."
Those with nostalgic memories of school may lament the passing of handwritten personal reports on each student, but Bradford says that pupils and parents appreciate the clarity, detail and impartiality of the reports, as well as their focus on individual progress.
Last year's GCSE pupils at Featherstone included several who had arrived at the school with a level 3C in maths and English, putting them in the bottom 5 per cent in the country. Yet more than half of those then gained a grade C or above at GCSE. Bradford says that the successful students regularly received encouraging reports about their progress.
Tips from the scheme
Make use of existing systems and do not be afraid to adapt them. Bradford says that the school saved time by putting all of its information into one system - in this case SIMS - which was paid for by the local authority.
Giving parents more data may lead to teachers facing more questions. According to Bradford, parents are now more likely to ask, "Why has my child gone down two levels?" So the school has to make sure it can explain why.
Evidence that it works?
A survey by Featherstone High found that 98 per cent of parents strongly agreed or agreed with the statement "The school informs me about my child's progress". Featherstone believes that its data systems are part of the reason it has repeatedly been rated outstanding by inspectors, and that the extra cost of the SIMS Learning Gateway - approximately #163;5,000 for a school of its size - was money well spent. Bradford has been invited to other schools to explain the approach.
Approach: Using an automatic system to produce reports and give parents instant access to data recorded on the school's SIMS
Leader: Deputy head Neil Bradford
Name: Featherstone High School
Location: Southall, west London
Pupils: About 1,500
Age range: 11-18
Intake: Co-educational, predominantly of Indian, Pakistani and African heritage. Around 80 per cent speak English as an additional language
Ofsted overall rating: Outstanding (2009-10 monitoring report).