Schools should think like supermarkets

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There is currently much discussion about the importance of individual learning targets. Gareth Philips, Business Development Director of Education Development International, discusses the benefits of online assessment learning programmes to understand how each individual pupil learns in different subjects...

When it comes to data collection and analysis there can be few businesses that do it better than the likes of Tesco, Sainsbury and their competitors. I am sure that almost all of us have a Clubcard, Nectar card or other alternative in our wallet or purse, and that we gladly hand it over to be zapped when we pay for our shopping. It is no coincidence that the introduction of reward cards has gone hand in hand with the booming business of the large supermarkets, and as decision makers in education there are many lessons that can be learned from this in order to improve teaching and boost school performance levels.

In short, schools should adopt the retail policy of electronic data collection, so that they can fully meet the learning needs of their pupils. The big supermarkets have really got to grips with understanding their customers shopping trends by collecting as much electronic data on them as possible.

When a cashier scans your club card and then your shopping they are not simply totting up the bill but they are collecting essential information on products and shopping trends for managers to analyse. They then use this information to provide you, the shopper, with information to help shape your future shopping. It also means that product performance can be tracked and monitored and enables them to spot weak selling items that need to be targeted with activities. This collection of data has revolutionised the way retailers work and has had a huge effect of their sales and results.

It is this high level of individual ‘client’ data collection and analysis that could prove invaluable to the education system. There is a lot of interest at the moment about the importance of individual learning targets, but how can you make it a reality if you don’t fully understand how each individual pupil learns in different subjects. The answer of course is that it isn’t.

To really make the most of data collection and analysis is a time consuming exercise that your staff will agree that they don’t have the time or resources to do. That is why online assessment tools can be so valuable in contributing to the performance of your school. An online assessment learning programme allows schools to use the supermarket ‘principles’ when it comes to teaching performance.

Online assessment learning programmes* provide a total solution to a school’s assessment and development needs, measuring all levels of pupil and school performance, providing individual feedback and strategic direction for the school. It derives its reports from a bank of engaging online assessments such as:

  • National Curriculum Progress Tests that assess and monitor pupil performance by subject across the spectrum of topics covered at a specific Key Stage
  • Focus Tests that concentrate on the specific National Curriculum topics within a subject and can be used frequently to assess individual and class progress
  • Life Skills Measure which looks at influences that impact on learning such as; classroom climate, pupil attitudes, pupil potential and reasoning skills

Questions for the tests can be mapped against the National Curriculum, the Numeracy and Literacy Strategies, the Framework documents and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) Programmes of Study. Reports produced by such programmes give each child the suitable National Curriculum level and set realistic targets for improvement.

Once pupils have taken these tests, detailed information and reports are available to teachers for feedback on individual and class learning patterns and performance. Aside from simply tracking and monitoring pupil performance areas of the curriculum can be highlighted that either one child or a whole class is struggling with. It is this information that should be seen as gold dust to schools because it will allow teachers to integrate this detailed understanding of their class with future planning. Essentially what it means is that schools can collect the data on how their pupils are learning and focus their efforts on areas that may need further support. this should then have an effect on results.

We have often been told by class teachers that one of the most frustrating things at the start of each year is not knowing enough about the class you are about to teach. When they get a new class they are almost starting from scratch as far as their understanding of their pupils’ abilities goes. They are relying on each child’s previous class teacher on having kept detailed enough records and then actually passing them on in a format that is easy to understand. Therefore a lot of teaching time at the start of the year is wasted just getting to grips with what level of learning the class is at, rather than actually furthering their education. This, EDI believes, is a problem that can be solved by the sharing of more detailed and properly analysed data, so that teachers will be able to get an instant overview of where the pupils’ strengths and weaknesses lie.

To supermarket bosses efficient customer analysis leads to ever increasing profits, but for schools the results of getting to grips with pupil data can lead to far more than a monetary value, it unlocks the key to really helping further a child’s learning.

*EDI’s Goal programme is a web based assessment and reporting system.

Gareth Philips, Business Development Director, Education Development International. Tel: 02476 516 500.

This article is taken from the June issue of Leadership Briefing