It's how schools analyse the data they collect that makes the difference to improving pupil performance. Dorothy Walker talks to Martin Ripley (right) and Ken Dyson (far right)
Johan MacKinnon is reflecting on last year's GCSE results at Parrs Wood technology college in Manchester, where monitoring and assessment of individual pupils is at the heart of a highly successful school improvement strategy. "Wonderful," is her immediate verdict. "We began gathering data years ago, but it is only in the past five to six years that we have become better at what we do with the information - turning it round to make a real impact. It is now helping us personalise what we do for the individual student."
Dr MacKinnon is deputy head at Parrs Wood, which has more than 1,900 pupils. "It has one of the most comprehensive intakes you could possibly find, academically and socially," she says. Not only has the skilled use of management information had a huge impact on exam results - in the past four years, the proportion of students gaining five good GCSE grades has risen from 47 per cent to 63 per cent - it has also nurtured a much closer working relationship between teacher and pupil.
After a baseline profiling exercise, each pupil works towards individual targets. Progress is reviewed every term, with subject teachers discussing with students their progress, areas of concern, and how best to move on.
Teachers enter the data into the MIS (management information systems) database, and an individual report is produced for each student as the basis for discussions with parents and pastoral staff on review day.
Academic review days, which have replaced parents' evenings, are attended by mothers and fathers who can follow their children's progress on the school website. "Faculty leaders can determine the support needed for pupils who are having difficulty with a subject," says Dr MacKinnon, "and pastoral teams can pick up on students with a particular issue that runs across subjects.
"The leadership team also uses the data to identify trends and inform leadership decisions. For example, two years ago we began setting up alternative provision and college courses for the key stage 4 children we believed the conventional GCSE route wasn't going to suit."
She says that technology has helped the school become much more responsive.
"We can turn round data rapidly, using live information to show children where they stand. And we can take snapshots of a year group - for example, in October we make a hard estimate of Year 11 grades, which we re-visit in January and March so that we can identify students who need individual mentoring, motivational courses or help with personal organisation.
"In a school this size, it might be easy for a child to think 'Nobody knows who I am'. It is wonderful how many staff can now say to a student in passing 'That result of yours was really good', or 'Do you want to come and talk about this?'. And the students are becoming much more active in their own learning. Increasingly, we find they are coming up and asking 'How am I doing?', and 'What do I need to do to improve?'," says Dr MacKinnon.
Parrs Wood technology college runs courses in the use of assessment data for schoolsTel: 0161 445 8786; www.parrswood.manchester.sch.uk