“Sorry, I don’t do spreadsheets”

This month, regular Education Today contributor

GRAHAM COOPER, head of education, Capita SIMS, offers an alternative view of pupil data for the spreadsheet-phobic amongst you.

Schools are increasingly expected to look at their data to see how students and staff are performing. For some, the prospect of wading through columns of figures holds little appeal, which is why the task of data analytics tends to fall to one individual in the school who has a passion for crunching numbers and a love of building spreadsheets.

At Pate’s Grammar School in Cheltenham, that person is Geoff Worth, Head of Science. Geoff enjoys playing with data because he knows it tells the truth, and with the latest data on tap, he can make informed decisions.

However, Geoff is aware that not everyone shares his passion for analysing the figures.

When colleagues used to ask for information, Geoff would carry out the analysis and present his findings in the form of a spreadsheet. Until one day someone said, ‘Don’t give me another spreadsheet Geoff, I don’t do spreadsheets.’

“Spreadsheets are like marmite,” he says, “You either love them or hate them but I believe data is different. The power of data is that it can solve a mystery and it can even predict the future. So, once you transform numerical data into stories, suddenly it has much wider appeal.”

In Geoff’s view, by seeing the beginning of a story, we are in a much better position to ensure that it ends well. “For example, if we know at the start of term that Charlie’s attendance is affecting his grades. Or maybe we can discover why the boys in Year 8 are flying in geography but struggling in science.

“By looking at the full story, we might notice that the introduction of a geography field trip has dramatically improved their grades.” But how can busy teachers extract these data stories and use them to get the best from their students?

“When a teacher is faced with a sea of individuals, each with different needs, backgrounds and interests, keeping a close eye on all of them is no small task,” says Geoff.

But as he points out, “I haven’t met many teachers who don’t get excited about the prospect of seeing a student’s past, present and predicted future, in a few clicks of a button.”

Geoff has found that showing the data stories visually with Venn diagrams, bar charts, pie charges and line graphs is a powerful way to enable teachers to carry out complex data analysis quickly and simply.

Using SIMS Discover means he can present data graphically, instantly revealing which students are struggling or excelling in specific areas, and enabling the school to put better support strategies in place for their students.

“It’s obvious that if the analysis is being done by one person and is not being presented in a way that makes sense to all members of staff, then the whole process is a waste of time and provides no value at all. Teachers need to be able to see an overview of all their students to be able to make good decisions to help their pupils achieve their full potential.”

And by providing colourful data stories rather than spreadsheets, teachers have the tools they need to get any pupils back on track, and Geoff and his team can plan for a happy ending to the story.

12 The media and

the classroom This month, monthly Education Today contributor KIRSTY BERTENSHAW offers some great ideas for incorporating news media into your classroom.

A new academic year is an ideal time to start new habits, try new resources and implement new policies. These days students have access to news articles and podcast on their mobile phones and tablets, and no longer wait for Newsround or read a newspaper. So, is there a role for the media in the classroom? I believe there is!


Newspapers and comics can be great way to encourage learning a new language. Using translation dictionaries, students can translate a comic or news story. More advanced students can then construct their own comic strips in a modern foreign language. This makes a fantastic homework activity over a period of time.

When learning about descriptive, persuasive, or biased language, newspaper articles can very useful. Students can highlight examples of types of language, decide if it is unbiased or persuasive etc. More able students can rewrite a story with a persuasive element. Articles from different sources can be compared to see how the language or the focus of the article differs.

“Article of the week”

For science, an article of the week could be used, detailing a new invention, discovery or treatment for a medical condition. This could be displayed, read out or used as a starting task in lesson, and helps to promote science as a valid career path, justifying the amount of lessons students have. For some topics, such as diet and health or vaccinations, it is possible to track how scientific thinking has changed over time.


Interesting articles can be used to form a display, especially in subjects such as science, PE and health and social care. Displays do have limited effectiveness, as they can easily be passed by, however they do offer a few positives. Those students interested can read them independently when convenient. They take little time to prepare, and very little maintenance or planning. The task can even be delegated to other students.


Education-focused magazines for children are enjoying a resurgence nowadays. These magazines can help the class stay up to date with news and the latest discoveries or inventions, providing a focus in the classroom for both primary and secondary schools. There are several commercial options available for different ages, and even some free magazines provided to schools. Using the magazines with students allows them to identify what is interesting or new, develop research skills for a concept from the curriculum, and encourage independent reading. This can be especially useful to older students, and supports cross curricular learning.

Developing in-school media

Using mainstream media as a foundation, schools can develop their own “news”. Students could develop a school news programme or podcast, using ICT skills and English writing and language to present the information to their peers. Newsletters, school newspapers, or a news website could be developed. These could be part of the curriculum, or as extra-curricular provision. Different classes could be tasked with this each month as part of their tutor time programme. Younger students or primary schools may prefer to present news from within the school rather than from mainstream media. As with all newspaper articles podcasts and videos, it is vital that teachers check the content first, ensuring only appropriate articles are examined in the classroom environment. mini-edition articles-language-class

September 2017

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