Taking control of data: How Trafford College used data analytics to drive actionable change

The primary focus of any educational institution is to do just that: to educate. The education sector is filled with data, from exam results, to staff performance, and there is a lot at stake; it’s not just about ensuring students can achieve to the best of their ability, but it’s also about meeting Ofsted and other regulatory requirements, which in turn has an impact on funding, recruitment and enrolling future students.

At the start of 2015, Trafford College, one of the leading providers of education and training in Manchester, was admittedly unsophisticated in its use of data. Whilst its strengths stood in reporting on aspects such as funding or learner numbers, when it came to other aspects such as curriculum performance, particularly around areas such as retention and achievement, the College was unrefined, leaving numerous areas unreported and therefore without the necessary visibility or transparency to make changes. Additionally, Trafford College had become heavily reliant on a very small number of people in the MIS (Management Information Systems) team to produce reports responsively, without any form of real-time data to keep the reports immediately actionable.

After an unfavourable visit from Ofsted, a change in the complexity of its study programmes and a restructure of its management team, Trafford College knew that something needed to change. James Cook – Vice Principal Curriculum & Quality, Trafford College Group, explained: “We needed to put more ownership and accountability on people within the organisation to understand exactly where they were in terms of their performance, their data for certain areas and what was needed to fix it. We were confident that access to real-time data would help us move forward and address the challenges we were facing.”

Following a successful product demonstration to the wider team, Dynistics, the business intelligence software provider, was selected to implement its Active Dashboards solution, a data visualisation tool. James continues: “The Dynistics team could easily demonstrate the value and reliability of the tool, which made it an easy sell to the Senior Management Team (SMT). We all knew it would help us to make sure we were getting actionable insight from the right data, at the right time, to really inform the decisions we were making.”

The bread and butter of Further Education

Before implementation, the College needed to decide which areas to initially focus on. “We decided to start at the beginning and focus on the basics of running a Further Education (FE) college, which at the start was learner numbers,” James describes. “It was about getting better access to applications so we could quickly spot trends better than we had done previously; then, we could move on to elements such as attendance, retention and HR. There were so many aspects that we were quickly able to look at on the dashboard, which gave us the information we needed very, very quickly.”
Insight was gained rapidly for Trafford College as the SMT had the ability to drill down into the data set and see where potential areas of concern could be. When looking at attendance, for example, leadership could not only see attendance for all 16-18-year-olds but also look into specific cases such as students with different needs or plans in place. “We could easily drill into different categories of learners, which was becoming more and more important to be able to answer specific questions from Ofsted about different students or needs,” James explains. “With a touch of a button, we could see how they were performing and if there were any curriculum areas where we could see a clear gap, which enabled us to have the right conversations about actions to support improvement.”

Sparking conversations

The dashboards are also used by middle managers as a prompt to question the accuracy and validity of the data itself. The SMT have regular performance meetings with middle managers, discussing issues such as attendance and achievement numbers. As James adds, in some cases, these discussions would prompt the middle managers to realise that the data being analysed wasn’t actually correct.
“Bringing the aspect of ‘wrong’ data into the light was actually very useful for us, as it then enabled us to discuss why we thought the data was wrong – was there an issue, was there not, what needs to be done to fix it? Before using dashboards, we simply did not have visibility of this data so therefore could not have these same conversations. And by using the data and interrogating the data more, we actually drive up the data quality, promoting stronger trust and buy-in for what we were trying to achieve.

Early benefits

Areas including high-grade achievement, progress and attendance across the College have shown significant improvements as a result of having the right conversations, at the right time, with the right people. Early benefits of the solution were seen in relation to Maths and English attendance. As James explained, one of the drivers for choosing to implement a dashboard solution with Dynistics was because curriculum performance was becoming more complex, in terms of what the College had to deliver and what they were being judged against.
“Using dashboards helped us to very quickly see an improvement in our Maths and English attendance,” James explains. “We could see which data wasn’t accurate due to student churn, duplicated registration or miscommunication of students who didn’t need to be in the class at all. By looking at our data properly, we could quickly get a handle on it and make sure everyone who needed to be in the classes were attending, and those who didn’t were off the registers to avoid future confusion.”

A look to the future

Taking one step at a time, the College has been able to successfully focus on getting accurate data for learner numbers and funding, and then accurate data on attendance for study programmes at a variety of levels. “We’ve now got a really good workable dashboard on student progress, so we can immediately see where every student is in the college against their target grade,” James continues. “Additionally, we’ve been able to focus on top-end students; we had previously been successful monitoring students in the middle tier, and the students underperforming, but we weren’t paying enough attention to our gifted and talented students.”

The College also made the decision to roll out the use of the dashboards across the wider organisation, meaning every member of staff will ultimately have access to it. “At the moment, the data is only accessible to the SMT and middle managers as we focused on getting the usability and accuracy right. However, now that we’re confident in the data itself, we will enable an enterprise-wide rollout.”

An additional development will also be the introduction of a lecturer KPI dashboard to take a closer look at lecturer performance, judging on outcomes rather than observations. “This is a subject becoming much more prevalent in FE at the moment to drive further improvements. Ultimately, lecturers will be able to see student performance for everything they teach, student attendance, overall retention, progress, achievement and satisfaction all in one place. We’re confident this will be a positive step for the College moving forward.”

As James concludes, the College has learned a lot through its data journey. “One of the most important takeaways we have from the experience is to get buy-in from the entire organisation and make everyone really serious about data; over time, we had our whole team on board with using the solution from Dynistics, which in my opinion is the best. We’ve done a lot of work to get where we are today and there are still many things we want to look at in the future, which we’re extremely confident Dynistics will be able to help us achieve.”

The Working Class – alternative voices on education, poverty, inclusion and class – one year on, how are we doing?


One year on from the publication of this groundbreaking book, it is incredibly sad that working out how to close the widening gap in attainment between the haves and the have-nots is still one of the most intractable problems in modern education. Unfortunately successive governments, both in the UK and abroad, have gone about solving it the wrong way.
Exasperated by the claims of government to be working in the interests of families in poverty, yet whose actions have exactly the opposite effect, Ian Gilbert sees the purpose of his groundbreaking book, The Working Class, as being to challenge the prevailing narrative – a ‘neoliberal’ one, the book argues – that all that is needed for children from poverty to do as well as their more affluent peers is a ‘level playing field’. If they fail to seize the opportunity bestowed upon them, then they deserve what they get among the ranks of the ‘feckless poor’.
With child poverty in the UK at its highest level since 2010 – affecting almost a third of all UK children, two-thirds of whom are from households in work – this book is both a timely commentary on the impact of current policies and a valuable source of practical advice on what can be done to better support disadvantaged children in the school system.
‘In the UK, for example, there is no accurate figure for the number of food banks, but what no one is denying is that their numbers are increasing significantly. The sociological and neurological effects on children born into families undergoing such hardship are as indisputable as they are ignored by policies that focus on equality of opportunity and social mobility, not fairness of society,’ Gilbert says. ‘This book is our way of trying to reveal the bigger picture and the fact that there is always another way.’

Using his influential educational organisation Independent Thinking, a company he founded over twenty years ago, Gilbert put out a call for contributors via social media and by appealing to the many Associates – educational practitioners and innovators – who work under the Independent Thinking umbrella. His frustrations with policies that favour ‘no excuses’ and ‘compliance’, and that ignore the bigger picture of poverty and inequality, were clearly shared by many others across the sphere of education – leading to a book with over forty high quality contributions covering many aspects of education and poverty both in the UK and abroad.
What emerges is a number of controversial but important claims that challenge the current view on what’s best for children from poorer socio-economic backgrounds, including:

• It is not and never has been a level playing field
• Poverty is a neurological issue too
• Inclusion is as much about adapting the school to the child as it is about adapting the child to the school
• The purpose of education is not to make everyone middle class
• Never trust the results of a school that excludes more than it includes
• Resilience in the face of adversity is important, but so is changing the causes of adversity
• My culture may not be your culture, but it is still a culture
• ‘No excuses’ for all means ‘No chance’ for some
Furthermore, there are two themes that come through strongly in the book when you take into account the wealth of research that Gilbert draws together, combined with the personal and professional experiences of the contributors:
• It is more complicated than anyone says
• There is always another way

The Working Class is a unique book and its subject has never been more relevant! It assembles voices as diverse as those of academics, teachers, school leaders, performance poets and educational specialists, and has been edited and curated by award-winning writer Ian Gilbert. He was driven to put the book together after observing growing inequality and the effects of divisive capitalist policies not only in the UK but also in countries such as Chile, the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong, in each of which he has lived and worked in recent years.
Written for policy makers and activists as well as school leaders and educators, this book has the potential not only to influence what goes on in individual classrooms and across schools in areas of poverty, but also to impact national policy and approaches in the UK and abroad.

Edited by Ian Gilbert with contributions from Nina Jackson, Tim Taylor, Dr Steven Watson, Rhythmical Mike, Dr Ceri Brown, Dr Brian Male, Julia Hancock, Paul Dix, Chris Kilkenny, Daryn Egan-Simon, Paul Bateson, Sarah Pavey, Dr Matthew McFall, Jamie Thrasivoulou, Hywel Roberts, Dr Kevin Ming, Leah Stewart, (Real) David Cameron, Sir Al Aynsley-Green, Shona Crichton, Floyd Woodrow, Jonathan Lear, Dr Debra Kidd, Will Ryan, Andrew Morrish, Phil Beadle, Jaz Ampaw-Farr, Darren Chetty, Sameena Choudry, Tait Coles, Professor Terry Wrigley, Brian Walton, Dave Whitaker, Gill Kelly, Roy Leighton, Jane Hewitt, Jarlath O’Brien, Crista Hazell, Louise Riley, Mark Creasy, Martin Illingworth, Ian Loynd, David Rogers, Professor Mick Waters and Professor Paul Clarke.


High quality gymnastics from British Gymnastics trained coaches is being brought to primary schools the length and breadth of the country thanks to a partnership between Premier Education and British Gymnastics.

Never before has the demand for gymnastics been so great. The sport is going from strength to strength with more and more young people inspired to try their very first roll and leap. To meet this ever-growing demand, a partnership between Premier and British Gymnastics has been formed to offer every primary school child the opportunity to enjoy high quality gymnastics coaching in their own school hall.

Dave Marshall, participation director of British Gymnastics, says: “The popularity of gymnastics in the UK continues to grow and demand to take part in gymnastics currently outweighs supply. We are delighted to have Premier come on board as a partner. Our values align well and we support their vision that participation in sport and activity leads to greater confidence and improved personal development. We know this partnership will have a positive impact benefitting young people and help to bridge the gap between demand and supply.”

Premier has been delivering schools, children and parents innovative sporting programmes and initiatives for 20 years and this partnership makes it the only nationwide delivery partner of British Gymnastics in primary schools across the UK.

David Batch, CEO of Premier, says: “We understand and appreciate that even with the best will in the world the expertise and resource for teaching gymnastics might not be available in your school, which is where we step in. Last academic year Premier taught gymnastics to 22,000 children in the UK providing a wonderful opportunity to those children who may otherwise be on waiting lists. This partnership aims to raise that figure to 43,000 by 2021.”

Premier will bring British Gymnastics standard delivery to your school hall via an extensive network of fully insured, DBS checked British Gymnastics certified coaches, all with Child Protection and Emergency First Aid certification. Plus, the partnership plans for an additional 250 gymnastics deliverers to be trained each year to ensure the continued success in the delivery of the programme.

There are options for classes before, during and after school hours and sessions can even be held in school holidays, plus courses can be tailored to any level of in-school equipment.

Dave continues: “It’s easy to understand why there’s so much interest in gymnastics. Gymnastics is a ‘foundation sport’ because it’s all about teaching children the fundamental movement skills such as agility, balance and coordination that they need to lead a physically active and healthy life. Its positive impact physically and psychologically is life-long, as a result of participating in such an accessible, fun and engaging sport.”

Making sure your school benefits from this partnership couldn’t be easier. There’s a free taster session to take advantage of. All you need to do is register your school’s interest by visiting www.premier-education.com/gymnastics.

UK Heart Safe Awards 2019 launches with new headline sponsor!

The 8th annual UK Heart Safe Awards has been launched as of 1st April, with this year’s new online nomination platform with new headline sponsor Philips.

Philips is represented by their official Distributor ProCardio and AED360

With 14 awards up for grabs with categories ranging from Community Responder, Emergency Services, Not for Profit, Large Businesses to Professional Services – companies from all sectors across the UK have the opportunity to be a part of the most prestigious awards event of the year. The awards hosted by Hand on Heart, a dedicated children’s charity committed to saving children’s lives and raising awareness of sudden cardiac arrest in the young.

The UK Heart Safe Awards will take place on Friday 4th October at the Principal Manchester Hotel.

The award evening is an emotional and heart-warming night with stories shared from survivors and their families of children and adults of cardiac arrests, highlighting that sudden cardiac arrest can happen to anyone at any time. That the importance of having defibrillators and the need for bystanders to perform CPR whilst waiting for the emergency services to arrive can make a huge difference.

Lesley Appleton Fundraising Coordinator for Hand on Heart commented “We’re delighted to have Philips as our new headline sponsor this year and so excited to be working with them on the awards. With a new venue The Principal Manchester Hotel and a new online nomination platform this year’s awards will encourage many to enter. Last year’s awards were attended by over 350 guests from all around the UK with people travelling down from the Trossachs in Scotland down to guests coming all the way up from Cornwall to Manchester.

The Awards are a true national event that comes together to celebrate the achievements of the many individuals, organisations and companies for having ‘heart safe environments ‘(i.e. having a defibrillator on site). We are delighted to be working with one of the charities founding partners, having the Philips brand and support as headline sponsors to the 8th annual awards mean a great deal to us. We wish everyone who enters good luck!”.


This is Engineering campaign works with young engineers to compile a list of engineering wonders as research shows misconceptions about the profession could be preventing young people finding their dream career

• Young people asked to identify engineering wonders of the 21st century in a bid to highlight the breadth of the world of engineering
• Cutting edge innovations such as YouTube, Gore-Tex, the iPhone and Dolby Atmos cinema sound are among products identified as engineering wonders
• Over 95% of 11-18-year-olds surveyed are unaware that engineering jobs exist in the arts, healthcare, fashion, beauty and hospitality
• More than half of teens use Facebook and YouTube, yet fewer than 16% were aware that these have been created by engineers
• Over half of teens correctly listed famous construction projects such as the Eiffel Tower, London Underground and The Shard as examples of engineering, less than 20% were aware that social media apps such as SnapChat and Spotify have been developed by engineers

The This is Engineering campaign, led by the Royal Academy of Engineering, has worked with young engineers to identify seven wonders of the 21st century world that are rarely recognised as feats of engineering. The list includes breakthroughs in fashion, sport, technology, entertainment, film, healthcare and the environment, and highlights the increasingly broad role of engineering in everyday life.
The list was drawn up with input from a range of experts and a panel drawn from the Academy’s programmes for young engineers. It is part of the This is Engineering campaign, which aims to raise awareness of the breadth of careers in engineering and to help address the significant engineering skills and diversity shortfall that is holding back growth and productivity across the UK economy.

The list of engineering wonders is as follows (see Editor’s Notes for further details):

Gore-Tex Fabric – the waterproof, breathable fabric designed by engineers for all-weather use that has revolutionised the outerwear industry, from coats to trainers.
Hawk-Eye – the real-time visual tracking computer system developed by engineers to help both referees and viewers of ball sports.
iPhone – Apple’s device that launched a communications revolution in 2007, introducing the world to apps and putting the internet in our pockets.
YouTube – the game-changing platform that changed the way we watch television and share video content.
Dolby Atmos – the sound system that creates powerful, moving audio by introducing new concepts to cinema and film sound engineering.
3D printed bone implants – the medical engineering innovation of a custom-made ceramic structure that allows new bone to grow around it.
Clean water – the life-saving miracle of our age, enabled by continuing engineering innovation.
The list was also informed by a survey of 2,000 11-18 year olds’ attitudes to and awareness of engineering careers and industries. Just 14% of teenagers were aware of engineering roles in the music industry, such as audio, recording and live sound engineering, and only 8% were aware that the sports and food and drink industries rely heavily on engineers.

Despite owning or using many engineered products or services, most teenagers were unaware that engineering was involved in designing and creating them. More than two thirds of teenagers own a pair of trainers or sports shoes, but only 20% were aware that they are designed by engineers. More than half of teens use Facebook and YouTube, yet less than 16% were aware that these have been created by engineers.
The research showed that young people tend to have a stereotypical view of engineering. More than half of those surveyed correctly listed famous construction projects such as the Eiffel Tower, London Underground and the Shard as examples of engineering, but less than 20% were aware that social media apps such as SnapChat and Spotify have been developed by engineers.

Professor Mark Miodownik MBE FREng, Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and engineering broadcaster and writer, says: “Engineering plays an essential part in everyday life, from the water we drink to the gadgets we use, and it’s also vital to addressing the challenges of the future. However, our survey shows that many young people don’t associate engineering with the technology they use day to day, and the things they’re interested in, which could mean they miss out on the opportunities to change the world as an engineer. We hope our list of surprising, 21st Century engineering wonders will inspire today’s teenagers and give them new opportunities.”

Leora Cruddas: “Time to celebrate school trusts as education charities whose purpose is solely to improve children’s lives”

England’s state schools are living through an “education renaissance” driven by charitable trusts whose core purpose is to give children the best future possible, school leaders will hear today.
Leora Cruddas, Chief Executive of the Confederation of School Trusts (CST), will say that these trusts, which run schools in which 50% of children are now taught, have at their heart a “core charitable purpose to advance education for the public benefit – to make children and young people’s lives better”.
But she will also warn that the narrative about academy trusts has become “dominated by those who want to believe the motive is about business interest.”
Speaking at the CST’s Spring Conference in London today, Ms Cruddas will say it is time to celebrate that “academy trusts are education charities that run schools to give children a better future”, adding that academies are like any other state school – free to attend, inspected in the same way, and with their children taking the same tests and exams.
“Trusts are groups of schools working in collaboration as one entity to improve and maintain high educational standards across the group,” Ms Cruddas will say.
“They improve their children’s education by sharing ideas and expertise with each other. They help their local communities thrive by giving children the best opportunities to learn inside and outside the classroom. They work closely together and share expertise, which creates great opportunities for children and teachers. They share good practice on the important things – curriculum, assessment and behaviour. They offer structured career pathways for teachers, supported by high-quality professional development so teachers and leaders learn together.
“We are contributing to creating a great education system and making a better world. We are living through an education renaissance – a re-birth of a conversation about ethics, curriculum, pedagogy and assessment – and how education charities that run schools are the enablers of these most important professional conversations.
“There is an energy in education now that I have not felt for many years – a sense of optimism about what can be achieved.”
Ms Cruddas will say that in some other countries, such as the Netherlands and Canada, the fact that schools are organised into strong and sustainable groups led by education leaders is considered “normal”.

Learning by Questions continues to dominate the education sector’s awards

Learning by Questions (LbQ), has been presented with the ‘best education resource in secondary education’ award at the annual Education Resource Awards. This follows the organisation’s success in January 2019, when LbQ also won a Bett Award in the ‘Innovator of the Year’ category. LbQ was a finalist in an unprecedented six award categories.

LbQ is the brain child of Tony Cann, founder of the Promethean interactive whiteboard, used in schools across the world.

The LbQ resource was praised by the judges for its outstanding impact on children’s learning. The classroom app is filled with curriculum-aligned question sets and provides immediate feedback to accelerate learning while reducing teacher workload. Despite winning the secondary school award, the resource also spans the primary school curriculum.

The Education Resource Awards play a key role in identifying and rewarding excellence in education trade. The winning organisations were announced at the Education Resource dinner in Birmingham on Friday 22 March.

Commenting on this award, the judges commended LbQ, stating: “the resource offers an advanced pedagogy in reinforcing correct answers and identifying misconceptions before they become embedded. The judges saw how the resource presents teachers with the information in a considered and relevant form. The teacher mode was highly praised, and the strap line says it all – ‘Be the teacher you always wanted to be and unleash pupils’ potential.”

Tony Cann, founder and director of Learning by Questions said, “There are two education resource award programmes each year, the Bett Awards and the Education Resource Awards. The fact that we have now been presented with an award at both ceremonies is a testament to the power of our resource and its incredibly positive impact on teaching and learning.

“If you’re looking for evidence that the UK edtech resource industry is world-leading, look no further than LbQ. I know that at both award programmes, the esteemed judging panel of educationalists face a huge task in deciding which of the hundreds of entries should win so we are thrilled that they, as well as thousands of teachers across the UK, consistently recognise the true value of LbQ.”

For more information, please visit http://www.educationresourcesawards.co.uk and https://www.lbq.org.

Photo left to right Tony Cann, CEO LBQ, Dave Grosvenor and Jan Jackson of LbQ

Waltham Forest educators discover the future of PSHE in schools

Headteachers, senior leaders and subject experts have been brought together by the London Borough of Waltham Forest to explore new government guidelines on Relationships Education and Health Education in primary schools, which come into effect in September 2020.

The PSHE Discovery Conference on 13th March was organised by Headway Education, a social enterprise established to help provide children, and those who teach them, with the most up-to-date, sophisticated, high-quality and engaging materials possible, in partnership with the Borough. Headway’s innovative 1decision PSHE programme for primary schools is already used by over 100 schools around the country, and educators in Waltham Forest had the opportunity to learn more about the resource.

Within the bank of the 1decision programme for 5-11 year olds, schools can engage children in PSHE and related subjects through its relationships, growing and changing, feelings and emotions, and keeping/staying healthy modules. Teachers cover issues such as friendship, bullying, appropriate touch, puberty and healthy eating, as well as explore peer pressure, cyber bullying, image sharing, differences within religion and same sex marriage. The interactive on-screen programme features videos on key topics with alternative endings, with supporting activities and assessments throughout.

Speaking at the conference, Catherine Hutchinson, Public Health Strategist for Health in Schools at London Borough of Waltham Forest, outlined some of the major challenges around health in schools which drive the overall PSHE agenda. “Most mental health disorders develop at primary school age, 67% of teachers say they come into contact with pupils that self-harm, and suicide is the most common death in young people,” she said. “This is why we are pushing the 1decision resource to primary schools. The sooner you can talk about things the better, including Relationships and Sex Education (RSE), healthy relationships, consent and other important topics.”

Catherine went on to highlight the specific issue of school meals meeting healthy eating standards. “Tooth decay does not come up that much, but it is immensely important,” she said. “It affects speech and how you consume food. However, a lot of our primary school children are not going to the dentist. We are doing a lot of work with local dentists to make sure they are accepting children as patients, often from the age of two. We are also planning on auditing school meals to check they are meeting the standards.”

Other speakers included Headway Managing Director Ken Pritchard and 1decision creator Hayley Sherwood. “Schools need to think about children and how they learn, to ensure they are equipping young people with the vocabulary, understanding and confidence to be able to explore what are often highly sensitive issues,” Hayley said. “Our use of animated characters makes these PSHE, and now RSE and Health Education, topics less personal for the children. Pupils watch the characters and live action films with child actors in simulated real-life situations, decide what to do next with the options provided, and subsequently work through the activities and apply their new knowledge to situations they may face now and in the future.”

David Kilgallon, Director of Education at Waltham Forest Borough, added: “Anything we can do to enhance young people’s experience at school is critical. Schools are about more than data and figures. They are about teaching young people how to move on in their life and career and the best opportunity to do that is early on. Impact is far greater when they are eight, nine or ten years old. 1decision is something we came across and, after having several meetings to see it from all different angles, we find is really strong.”