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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Ullmer

Use of data in education: a case study

This is the case study of an international school - it was a seemingly good school - one of the named overseas schools, with large numbers of UK staff and impressive buildings, overseen by a traditional UK school.

On walking around, the buildings were well maintained, discipline and work ethic was strong, and there were many happy and contented pupils and staff. However, in common with many overseas schools, there was little use of data.

A rigorous programme was put in place with external experts coming in to verify findings and work with staff in a supportive, positive way. Investigation soon showed that English development appeared to be well behind levels it should have been, bright children were coasting, and children from local schools coming in at 6th form level often appeared to have better English than children who had been taught at the school in English for many years.

This caused a radical curricular rethink. Children at the school had been taught and grouped as in a traditional English state school, without enough priority given to boosting English levels in a serious way where it was needed. In spite of the school being open for a number of years, no methodical checks on attainment had been undertaken. Research also shows the importance of a strong basis in your native language to succeed strongly in another. Native language lessons were refocused on the European framework as an additional language, which it was for many pupils, and its importance to local parents was clearly supported. The number of native language lessons needed to be increased to boost local languages, a reduction in the number of GCSEs was put in place with more time given to subject teachers, and a strong underpinning programme of English support instituted. Pupils who had previously been entered for GCSEs where they had no chance of success, were instead focused on additional support to enable them to do better in a smaller number of examinations. This left pupils with a far greater chance of success whilst still undertaking a sensible number of GCSEs. At KS3, additional support was put into the curriculum for language development.

Extra curricular activities after the school day were poorly supported, yet this is where pupils can relax and learn using English doing enjoyable activities. Hence extra curricular activities took place in the middle of the day to ensure every pupils participated, and suddenly every student was able to take advantage of a wide range of interesting and worthwhile activities. A slight extension of the school day and re-organisation of the timetable made this possible.

Immediate results were good, but the real impact of this change in policy can only be felt over time. There was an immediate uplift in GCSE results, with strong underpinning of language skills.

It remains to be seen if the governors who had not been aware of accurate literacy levels in the past will continue this progress. With the right structures and staff in place, there is no reason why the school cannot achieve close to 100% A*-C rates and with American Diplomas in place alongside the IB, average point scores at IB of close to 40.

Jonathan Ullmer as Principal of CATS College Canterbury led the school

to Excellent grading in all areas with the Independent Schools Inspectorate. As Headmaster of Haileybury Astana, the school won two international awards and was shortlisted for the U.K. Independent Schools award. The school was rated as having top international practice in 17 out of 19 areas under Jonathan’s leadership.

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