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Building Back Better


When all children do return to school our attention will be on rapidly evaluating gaps and identifying where our key areas of focus need to be. And in doing this, it will be vital to make sure our data management is the best it can be. Karen Bolland, our Trust Assessment Data Manager, explains how her responsibilities have helped support schools in understanding the impact of the first lockdown and how it will help shape support moving forward.


My main focus is in ensuring that all of our data is entered into our Insight database, and then producing reports for the Trust and head teachers which show how Schoolsworks and individual schools are doing. One of the key areas of emphasis is to show progress from previous data points, identify movement towards targets and so on. Although my data role is the equivalent of one day per week it’s a very flexible approach and I’ve been known to answer a query whilst walking along Pagham Harbour or having a coffee in Chichester! And some weeks are of course busier than others, especially around the usual data collection points.


Together with our Director of Teaching and Learning, we take time to review the reports together, identifying trends, checking progress and framing questions. The reports then pass to our Heads, Maths and Literacy Leads, Assessment Leads and finally the Academic Standards Board. If there are any unusual results, or areas which might need some more research, I delve deeper into the data and take a look at, for example, how many children were absent for a test or how many Pupil Premium children also have SEND which may have impacted progress. Part of this process sometimes involves contacting the schools and chatting through any anomalies with the Assessment Lead. Sometimes this is as detailed as discussing individual pupils; every piece of data relates to a boy or girl who may have specific reasons for a poor result – from whether their hamster died or if they were just back at school following an illness.


The second element of my role is to offer support to our schools about anything which is data related. Despite the fact that I’m well-known for getting ridiculously excited about new data or new features on Insight or STAR, it’s actually this part of the role which I enjoy the most. It’s a real privilege to work closely with each school, providing training or talking data either with individual teachers, small groups or sometimes the whole teaching team.  


Schoolsworks has three main data collection points during the year, one in each term, although individual schools are able to add more data into Insight if they want to and many do – especially for data such as the STAR tests in reading (which help set children’s next steps with Accelerated Reader) and STAR Maths. There’s also an entry data drop for maths and reading where we ask for the results of the first STAR tests of the year to be entered into Insight. This was particularly important earlier this year as it allowed us to see how the first lockdown had affected children’s learning in these areas. Across our schools we saw children suffer not too badly in reading but quite significantly so in maths – as we’d expect given parents were likely to have found it easier to encourage children to continue reading than engage with maths. Children also seemed to be struggling with the effort needed for any sustained writing and we saw a significant gap between their capability and their end of year targets in most schools and most year groups.


These results are in line with the picture nationally, with the NFER suggesting that children lost around three months of progress and Ofsted noting that children had lost stamina, finding it hard to concentrate for extended periods. The added concern is that disadvantaged pupils were hit disproportionately hard, even though many were able to be in school for much of the first lockdown.


Autumn term was a challenge especially with two-week self-isolation periods which year groups in some of our schools had to endure. This also made collecting data difficult, but it’s a credit to our schools that we managed an almost complete set of data from each one. We did decide to push back our first data drop from October to the end of November to give a bit more time from the entry data point to see if there had been an improvement in results. Generally speaking, and encouragingly, there was a modest ‘bounce back’ in most year groups between September and November.


As we work through this latest lockdown, and hope for a return as soon as is safe, our attention is on a rapid data collection and evaluation process as soon as all children return. This will help form intervention plans and curriculum planning for the remainder of the year. It almost goes without saying that this will be a strong focus with schools using, among other things, the Instructional Planning reports which STAR tests provide to help create bespoke interventions for small groups or individuals. 


The use of the STAR tests which are adapted to each child’s prior attainment, and of the Insight database, which provides a range of ways to analyse the data, provide a consistent approach to formative assessment and create a climate in which we can discuss our data at both school and Trust level very effectively. They are also both easy to use, and almost more importantly over the coming months, relatively light on teacher-time. And, for those of us who love nothing better than getting under the skin of the data they are great fun too!