Schools want comparative data as soon as the GCSE and A Level results are available. They want to understand how their results compare to other local schools. But it is not a straightforward process to get comparable data in such a tight timescale. We have provided an on-the-day results service for schools for the last 11 years and have some lessons to share on how to do it well.
There is great interest in the performance of local schools on GCSE and A Level results days. Schools, the local authority, Councillors, parents and the press all want to know how their local schools have performed in comparison to others.
Some data is made available on results days. For example, GCSE and A Level results are published by subject and grade for the whole country by awarding bodies. Also, schools will often calculate their own performance against the headline performance metrics such as Attainment 8  and compare this against previous years. They can also compare their grades by subject against the picture for England. But they are unable to compare the DfE’s headline performance metrics against any other schools or an England comparator since they aren’t published at that stage. If they waited for public data, schools can only benchmark their KS4 performance when provisional data is released in October and KS5 performance in January.
In the interim, how can schools and local authorities understand their comparative performance?
Schools need to collaborate. They need to share their data to provide a meaningful comparison with other schools in the area. But few have enough resources to collate data from across other schools.
We have provided a service to help schools get comparative information for over 10 years. We have four key lessons for providing comparative data quickly:
- Identify your comparators
- Plan the process well in advance
- Build checks into your process
- Manage the politics.
1. Identify your comparators
You need to identify an appropriate comparison group. You should base this on existing relationships; a local authority area or MAT group. Schools should be used to looking at their performance within this group.
Your comparison group needs to be big enough to draw conclusions from the data but remain manageable in a tight timescale. Most local authority data teams will collect results from schools on results day, but these usually aren’t shared beyond local authority boundaries.
You also need to provide historic information for schools to identify year-on-year trends and put the latest data into context. You should recalculate historic averages to ensure they are comparable. For example, we don’t usually collect data from special schools on results day, so we take their data out of prior years’ published figures.
2. Plan the process well in advance
You need to have a process that is defined and understood well in advance of results day. Everyone should know what they need to do on the day to meet the timescale. In our experience, the following are key:
- Have a session with schools during the summer term to get agreement on what they want to compare. This is likely to focus on the key accountability measures for KS4 and KS5. You can then specify the data that needs to be collected
- Develop a simple template for data collection. An Excel spreadsheet is good enough but you could use a simple webpage for data entry. Validation and checking formulas are essential as, in the rush on results days, mistakes are easy to make
- Provide detailed guidance on your data requirements. Include definitions and be clear about what to include or exclude. For example, whether to exclude pupils discounted from the DfE performance tables. Be very clear about what you need and don’t assume that the school’s data manager will know what you need
- Agree named contacts responsible for providing and collating the data. These people need to be available and contactable on results day
- Communicate the plan across all schools. You should include both Head Teachers and Data Managers.
3. Build checks into your process
The timescales are tight and schools will make mistakes. You need to build checks into your process to identify any errors. You should:
- Ask schools for pupil numbers but present back the percentages as well so they can check their calculations. A common error is supplying EBacc results as a percentage of EBacc entries when you actually want it as a percentage of all pupils
- Use formulae in your spreadsheet to check the data. Total checks or error messages can be useful
- Cross check the data you receive to previous years. There may be changes in performance but these are usually gradual. Explore any big changes
- Show the results of the analysis to schools before circulating so they can check their own data.
4. Manage the politics
School performance is high profile and can be contentious. The level of scrutiny of a school rests on the results of exams at KS4 and KS5. So schools can be sensitive about sharing their data.
You should consider a data sharing agreement that states:
- Uses of the data
- Sharing of the data, for example, the local authority, press, school websites
- Whether individual schools can be identified or must be anonymised.
Peer pressure can be an effective tool to persuade reluctant schools if they are the only ones not sharing. Don’t underestimate the amount of time needed to smooth relations between schools.
It’s not easy for schools to get comparative performance information on KS4 and KS5 results in August. We can help with the collection and presentation of a group of schools’ results in a tight timescale. For more information contact us.
 The performance metrics at GCSE (KS4) are Attainment 8, Progress 8, percentage achieving 9-5 in English & maths, percentage achieving 9-4 in English & maths, EBacc achieved (9-5 and 9-4) and EBacc entries, as well as EBacc APS. At A Level (KS5) the metrics are points per entry for academic, technical and applied qualifications.