Data collaboration. The year that was, and what next?

July 9, 2018
By: Duncan Baldwin, ASCL Deputy Director of Policy

It’s just a year ago since I met the development team at SISRA and we discussed what seemed a rather crazy idea at the time: what if we asked schools if they were willing to collaborate by sharing their data? If we did that we could solve one of the current headaches of school leadership, knowing with reasonable confidence how well your school has done against the Progress 8 performance measure, as soon as possible and without having to wait months for the official figures.

With hindsight it proved to be not that crazy.

The most affirming thing I learned from this exercise was that schools can, and will, cooperate with each other where there is both trust and a common purpose. In the end, over 1,100 schools covering more than 180,000 pupils agreed to share their data which was anonymised at the point of collection. Schools of all types opted to share their data: academies and maintained schools, selective and non-selective, girls’ schools, boys’ schools and mixed. When we think about the accountability climate in recent years and how this has driven competition between schools, this is incredibly reassuring.

The average line we estimated proved to be remarkably close to the initial DfE figure and even closer to the validated version. Schools reported that their collaboration figure was very close indeed to the final published score, far better than I had anticipated. It was that close because so many schools opted in; this only works when everyone takes part.

News of this collaboration has spread widely. I’ve discussed it with several civil servants at the DfE – and with representatives from the Japanese government. A senior figure from Ofsted asked me the other day whether we would be repeating it this year.

Which brings me nicely onto what we should aim for in 2018.

The need for collaboration is just as high as it was last year. With many more reformed GCSEs on offer, Attainment 8, Progress 8 and EBacc will all continue to be in flux. Our 2017 collaboration picked up a big drop in Attainment 8 because of the points allocated to legacy GCSE subjects. If I was a betting man I would have a £1 wager that Attainment 8 averages will go up in 2018, particularly for middle-ability pupils. This is because a grade C in a legacy GCSE was allocated 4 points last year, and this year about one third of equivalent students will get a 5, which will push up the average score.

The really big change this year will be at individual subject level. We will want to know as soon as possible the transition matrices showing the percentage of pupils awarded each grade split by prior attainment so we can be clear how well individual subjects have performed, and get a stronger idea about target setting for Year 10 pupils. This is particularly true in science, where the double award has a whole new grade structure.

But we really need to understand this early in the autumn term when evaluation of performance takes place. In order to look at individual subjects early enough we need more schools to share so we can get to that finer detail. And we need to be really confident that schools are recording and sharing data consistently about subjects if we are to drill in to this level.

For me, this collaboration between schools is rather more than just working out some averages and cells in a table. The whole basis of our accountability system is misdirected at the moment. School leaders spend so much time agonising about headline measures that it’s easy to forget the real purpose and direction of accountability – your school’s pupils and their grades. By working together in this way we have taken an important first step to recapture accountability and root it firmly in a school-led system.

The team at SISRA are keen to have me point out that SISRA administrators need to take a few extra admin steps this year in order to ensure that their data is ready for the extended collaboration.  This is vital not only to allow SISRA to deliver the subject-level figures schools so crave, but the free additional setup checks included will help ensure all figures are as accurate as possible.  Please don’t leave this until results day, I’m sure that time is stressful enough!

So I hope that 2018 will mean even more of you opt in to your provider’s data sharing arrangements. The more we collaborate with each other, the more we can learn, the faster we can learn it, and the better we can lead our schools.

Duncan Baldwin, ASCL Deputy Director of Policy