Getting the grades: three reasons why the further education sector needs a strategic view of data

The further education sector is changing. The introduction of T-Levels in September 2020 will provide another avenue for students to explore, with a mixture of classroom learning and ‘on-the-job’ experience creating the experience needed for students to open the door into skilled employment, further study or a higher apprenticeship. Additionally, Ofsted’s new framework is putting further emphasis on the curriculum, placing it back at the centre of the inspection to ensure young people and adults are provided with the high-quality training and support they need to succeed in their careers or next steps of education. Despite only contributing to one part of the Ofsted inspection, a year of above-average exam results could be critical to the success of a college looking to demonstrate its commitment to excelling the educational opportunities of its students. But how can progress be tracked throughout the year, and how can colleges ensure they have the data they need to report effectively?

Jacob Kemp, Head of Direct Sales, Dynistics, outlines three key reasons that all education establishments need a strategic view of their data throughout the entire academic year in order to get the grades they need to impress the regulators and set their students up to succeed.

1. Keeping students on track

First and foremost, a strategic view of student data throughout the entire academic year enables staff to keep their students on track and on the right path to progress. Looking at the exam results in isolation at the end of the year won’t paint a very clear picture. Yes, the student might have achieved their target grade, but how does it compare to their performance in the months or year before? Could the student have achieved even higher results with additional support, or, if they didn’t achieve their predicted grades, could additional tutoring sessions have enabled them to get back on track? Taking advantage of Government initiatives such as ‘Value Add’ is one way to keep high performers challenged; something that, historically, colleges have struggled to do.

Additionally, it isn’t only exam results that could be tracked throughout the year, but other aspects and KPIs such as attendance, engagement in Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), extra-curricular activities, revision classes attended and additional work completed outside of classroom hours. This is particularly valuable for students at risk: if the student’s attendance is below average or has dropped since the start of the year, could this also be a sign that additional support might be required? Ofsted’s new inspection framework will be looking for tutors and leaders that do the right thing for their learners and resist the temptation to take shortcuts, meaning that tutors who can demonstrate that student progress has been tracked and measures have been put in place throughout the year, will be in a good position to impress.

A clear view of how students are performing, at the right time, indicated by strategic, visual dashboards, will arm academic staff with the insight they need to not only understand what support might be needed but to better forecast what grades the students might achieve.

2. Staying in line with the curriculum

The additional attention that will be given to the national curriculum also demonstrates the importance of not only keeping students on track, but staff too. Having access to data insights takes the guesswork out of staff performance and enables senior leadership teams and governors to ask the tricky questions.

Are staff not only meeting their targets, but delivering their lessons in an innovative and creative way to enhance student engagement? Are the attendance or retention numbers lower for classes taught by a particular tutor, or are there higher numbers of exceeding students in one class? In a school, are the student’s grades average across the subjects, or are there certain areas where all students are falling short? Asking these questions and identifying patterns in the data can not only lead to answers but actionable outcomes, making sure both staff and students are in the best position when exam time comes.

3. Reputation management

As with any organisation, colleges have a reputation to protect and uphold. News of an underperforming college will quickly spread throughout the community like wildfire, which in turn can have a detrimental impact on future funding, new student applications and staff recruitment. And, as with any organisation, education establishments need to be able to report accurately and timely to all stakeholders at any given point, meaning that having real-time access to data is essential. 

Being able to see from a single snapshot that student performance isn’t as high as it could be in one subject area after a mid-year exam could make the difference between getting on top of the issue or letting it get to the point where grades aren’t up to scratch, teaching strays from the curriculum and word soon gets out that the standards of the college have slipped altogether. Additionally, having this insight enables colleges to field Ofsted questions or challenges before they have been raised: what might not be going to plan, why, and what could be done to resolve the issue?

A moment in time

The point at which a student receives their exam results is a siloed picture of the academic year, but there is far more to it than that. Fully utilising the potential of data and how it is analysed and reported can make the difference between a successful academic year and a college entering crisis mode. A single, holistic view of data provides the ability for tutors and governing bodies to not only track progress throughout the year but to ensure they are hitting the Ofsted benchmarks. It’s time for the further education sector to become far more strategic in its data outlook; those that do will soar through the league tables and get that all-important Outstanding rating.