On a positive note, SIMS isn't all bad (as much as we might complain), it just needs to be a bit more user friendly in the assessment and analysis modules, or open up the DB so that those with the knowledge can create custom reporting solutions that fit their needs and always contain the latest available data
and now back on reality beach .... :)
The over-riding aim here is to improve the data tools that schools use so that data professionals and IT managers in schools can be more effective in the way that they use performance data.
I have suggested previously that schools need a number of data tools, and easy ways to move data about. I have made an analogy with Microsoft Word, which has a vast choice of useful features, but of course, people will also use Word in parallel with other applications.
But using data in a similar way to text is much more difficult. This is partly because of the need to preserve the relationships and interdependence of data held in many separate tables. It isn't really just a question of writing the correct SQL query, because it isn't enough to just pull data from one place and put it in another. What is more important than data is meaning. If one wishes to add greater meaning to data then this can be done by combining data from different sources and performing new mathematical operations on the combination. This is an example of where it will usually be more efficient to acquire a new tool that does just this. We could make a hammer, but it will usually be more sensible to buy one.
In our work, we have aimed to provide data tools that will selectively aggregate data from different sources, and other tools that let the user manipulate it in ways that can't easily be done in Excel. It then uses this information in conjunction with a live database of every UK examination, and another containing national comparative subject performance data. The result is that new information is revealed, and this can then be exported in different formats to be reused yet again.
I believe that it is very good for schools to have different companies providing solutions, new features and choices for schools. No single, monolithic approach will work for everyone.
For those that are interested, there is a web cast on 16th June @ 1.30 "Spotting the trends – Can this improve school performance?" Details on SupportNet.
A follow up to this thread. I was looking for a CMIS thread on the subject because of the availability now of equivalent routines for using the examination, pupil and teaching group information from both CMIS and SIMS. Many have looked to the Schools Interoperability Framework for news of easy movement of data between various tools, including Excel, that data professionals will wish to have in their toolbox. With the forthcoming closure of Becta it is uncertain how this work will continue.
We have always taken the view that data exists in native forms anyway (XML, CSV, XLS, TXT, DOC etc) and that simple compatible export and input routines on every tool in the toolbox would provide the interoperability that people need. Our developments permit maximum data movement by these routes, coupled with active extraction where any software application does not provide export options.
From August 24th schools systems will be tested with the arrival of the new examination results. This will be the time to check whether there are sufficient tools in the box to meet the new reporting requirements from LAs that include discounting, disapplication, capped and uncapped results and separate reporting for science and modern languages. If the processing of such reports requires the use of Excel and the possibility of the usual range of common processing errors, it will point to a possible need for further development by schools of the range of tools that they are using.
The point of this note is simply to argue for the benefit of reviewing one's IT systems at mission critical times, and to point to the value of simple interoperability protocols for moving data between the tools that can perform the tasks that are are needed, in the timeframe that is available, so as to create maximum impact.
The popular blog at Wrestling with the Data Genie describes many of the issues associated with getting better value from school data systems. It is an area to keep an eye on because of the potential for innovation. Both MIS suppliers and others are working on developments to make life easier for data professionals in schools.
The SIF Association UK, through the leadership of Becta, has become an efficient, widespread and self-sustaining organisation in the UK. While the new UK government announced the closure of Becta, the SIF Association UK will continue with the community membership continuing to manage the critical work ahead. The elected Management Board of the SIF Association UK continues to drive the vision and strategy of interoperability in the UK.
Does anyone remember a cartoon about a tree swing called 'What the Customer really wanted'?
History also shows that we can wait around for something promised to provide all the answers and then find that what we really needed was the step beyond that.
New opportunities to get better value from schools' data comes from using it together with other information from national datasets and from the school's particular context. Importing additional data is as important to this as exporting the data you already have. Sorting out interoperability of data is just a modest first step in making school data systems work harder.
In our project, developments are driven by what headteachers and data managers have asked us for. They have asked for easy ways to move their data between the tools they already have, ways to represent pupil performance that improve on grade lists and bar charts, tools to do the essential data-crunching for them without the usual embarrassments you get when working in Excel, and a way that makes it easy for teachers to use data without needing to be statisticians. We have also made sure that data professionals can try these ideas out for themselves instantly and without commitment.
ICT keeps moving forward and there are seldom single right answers. The world of performance data has much catching up to do, which is why being opportunistic and open minded is an asset.
SIF can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. A Zone Integration Server can handle the asynchronous transfer of data between applications in a school or college, between institutions (for 14-19, or potentially to replace CTF) and for vertical interoperability from schools to LAs or the Department for Education (as a potential replacement for Census?).
With more and more suppliers joining the SIF Association and implementing SIF in their existing products, or using third party agents to ensure interoperability, we are not too far off a situation where heads and data managers can easily transfer data into their existing tools. A list of SIF products currently available in the UK can be found on the SIF Association website.
SIF is driven by its members, with new developments coming from teaching staff and data managers via a number of working groups. Version 1.3 of the SIF Specification is almost at the end of a 30 day consultation period (closing tomorrow!) so if anyone wants to provide any feedback, please email penny.murray at becta.org.uk
But someone needs to pay for SIF, nothing is free. Ideally the "LA" would have a ZIS, and the schools would connect to it and the "LA" to the rest of the market, other LAs, DfE etc. SIF within the school across software sounds wonderful, but it's another service that schools need to support. Again, more cost.
The idea of Census being done via SIF sounds wonderful, it could be a more regular thing, however Census is an excellent time for data cleaning.
Take a look at this presentation from an assistant head at one of the schools involved in the SIF Association. He illustrates a number of the benefits of implementing SIF: reductions in bureaucracy, improving the quality of data, improving data security, freeing up time for staff to teach, improving child safety etc. He also estimates that his school could save 400 hours a year on data management by implementing SIF.
SIF can help improve data quality as you can enter data once into the MIS rather than having to retype the same info into every application and means you don't have to manually update every app when some info changes.
Becta's Information Management Strategy Framework may be helpful in doing this :-)
I agree, but the point still is, it's used as a time to cleanse data and the cost (in human hours) is embedded into the census process rather then, say, added more work to the actual day-to-day operation. I suppose you could integrated it into the "Ofsted" checks, but it's giving it another name and causing more work changing it.
Did you see Becta cost estimate of pushing out SIF? Personally, SIMS (school) can export into ONE (LA), it's been working for a number of years. I admit it's not perfect, but for most of the 22,000 schools, SIF won't give them much benefits. On paper it brilliant but in the real world of budget cuts...