School leaders and teachers have more data available than ever before, but turning this into valuable insights to make better decisions requires a strategy.

Without a clear plan for their data, school leaders miss out on a huge opportunity to better understand their students and community and make decisions that improve student outcomes and propel the school’s performance.

Moving towards a more data-driven culture is the answer, and it begins with a data strategy.

Illustration of school data displayed graphically on laptop

What is a data strategy?

A data strategy is a plan for how an organisation will collect, process, and analyse data to realise the full potential of its business goals and objectives.

It outlines the types of data that you will focus on, tools and technologies that will be used to manage the data, and processes and policies to ensure the data is used effectively, responsibly and securely.

For schools, a well-planned data strategy can help you do something transformative. It gives you the tools and capabilities to ask the right questions of your data, and these questions are how you turn raw data into insights. They could be insights into teaching that help your teachers make changes in the classroom, or they could be patterns in student well-being that you can investigate further.

Without a data strategy, these insights remain locked away in your raw data.

What should be in your school’s data strategy?

From Education Horizons’ experience of working with schools, here are five essential components of a robust school data strategy:

1. Use the right data models and rich data

Schools are swimming in an ocean of student data. However, you need suitable data models and rich data to dive deeper and make informed decisions.

Take attendance – there’s no value in recording attendance unless you are capturing different attendance types to track and analyse student attendance to identify issues and ask the critical questions – what and why is this happening?

The right school information system can help with this. For example, you can edit and create new attendance types to suit your school using a set of student attendance types.

2. Make it easy to capture the data accurately

Accurate data collection only happens when it is easy for people to submit it – and it is tough to make good decisions without reliable, up-to-date data.

Many teachers won’t be trained in collecting data and don’t necessarily know how data should be shifting their practice. By making it easy for them with user-friendly technology and transparent processes, you can ensure the correct data is collected while also starting to build a data-driven culture.

3. Make it easy to combine and extract school data

Raw data has limited value in isolation. It needs to be integrated with other data to tell a story, whether it is about student learning progress or the school’s performance over time.

You never get the whole picture if you cannot combine different data sets.

Again, this is where choosing the right education technology with a single source of truth is a crucial part of your data strategy, as the right student information system can help you consolidate and extract data in a way that makes it easy to see trends and patterns and make informed decisions.

4. Use custom school-specific templates and dashboards

Collecting data or visualising it in beautiful graphs often results in nothing of practical benefit. It’s what you do with it next that matters.

With templates and dashboards designed for schools, you can get data into the real world and help teachers or parents relate to it so that it can positively influence classrooms and learning. Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of statistics.

For example, integrating school management systems with Microsoft’s Power BI business intelligence tool can give schools access to various visual, interactive school dashboards that show vital information in an easily digested format.

5. Access to professional services support

A lack of expertise is one of the critical barriers holding schools back from creating a strong data strategy. However, with access to appropriate school-specific knowledge, you can use the right tools, processes and technology to get the best from your school’s data and build a data-driven culture.

At Education Horizons, we work with you to understand your data challenges and help to create one system to manage all your school data. We know implementing technology alone is insufficient to create a data-driven culture. That’s why our expert team of trainers and consultants support schools through the change process, ensuring everyone has the skills to collect the right data and access valuable data insights.

Ultimate benefits of utilising school data correctly

School leaders who develop a thoroughly thought-through data strategy can control the intelligence gathered across the school and bring it into the real world. Once data is integrated and made accessible in easily understood formats, all school staff are placed in a powerful position to make factually informed decisions. Then use that to accelerate student outcomes, whether focusing on academic achievement or the broader development of children and young people.

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