Understanding the Importance of Data

By David Lee – Assistant Principal


“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

Albert Einstein, Physicist

Schools are placing greater and greater emphasis on the data they collect and how they react to this data, but as accountability measures change throughout the school system, how sure can we be that the data we collect is accurate, reliable and purposeful.

I will focus the discussion here around the measures at the end of year 11, although the changes in post 16 education are equally fraught with difficulty and unknowns. There are 4 main accountability measures for schools at the end of year 11:

  • Progress 8
  • The Basics
  • Attainment 8
  • The English Baccalaureate.

Progress 8 and Attainment 8

Progress 8 is a figure which measures schools by comparing individual students attainment (Their attainment 8) against the average attainment of students nationally with the same starting point from Key Stage 2 (the “estimated attainment 8”). This has caused a fundamental shift in how well schools are performing compared to other schools. With most old measures being focused on attainment at certain boundary points (eg. The C/D borderline), or progress being based around an arbitrary value (eg. 3 levels of progress), schools could focus on certain students to dramatically change these measures. Progress 8 values every grade (of their 8 qualifications that count) of every student (with Key Stage 2 data). Each student will have up to 8 qualifications that are included in their progress 8 measure: Their best English and mathematics (which are double weighted), three Ebacc. Subjects (see below) and 3 other subjects, which can include any from the first two categories that have not been used. Each grade is assigned a value, and this total is compared to the national figure for their peers. Many have hailed this as a step forwards as every child matters, however the complicated calculations involved and the changes in qualifications with new GCSE specifications make this a difficult number to predict with any certainty, which is compounded by the fact that the national figures for comparison don’t exist until after the results are released, and as was seen in 2016, these can vary considerably from year to year.

At Capital we have spent a great deal of time making sure that going forwards all students are on suitable pathways- they are taking the necessary qualifications to fill their 8 subject slots, with the exception of a small number of students for whom alternative pathways are more appropriate. Teachers are aware of the importance of their subject in its contribution to Progress 8 and the shift in measures. We have also used the Estimated attainment 8 figures to calculate aspirational targets for all students. For example for those students who have arrived with us with level 5s making 3 or even 4 levels of progress (in the old measures) represents under performance nationally.

The Basics

This measure is, in theory, one which is much more familiar. While the old measure of 5 A*-Cs including English and maths is no more, the basics measure gives a percentage of students achieving a good pass in English (this can be either language or literature), and Mathematics. This should be familiar territory for teachers and something schools as a whole and their English and Mathematics departments will be used to focusing on. However there is a spanner in the works. With the new specifications for GCSE English and Mathematics being examined this year, a “good pass” is no longer the same as it once was. From 2017 this measure will show the percentage of students achieving a grade 5 in both subjects, whereas a grade 4 is the equivalent of a C.

At Capital this hasn’t changed the focus of what we do in these subjects, or the strategies we put in place, but we are constantly reminded, that we are entering a realm of unknowns, and any predictions must be acknowledged with this caveat.

The English Baccalaureate

This measure has been around for a while, but has gained more notoriety recently with the government stating that all students should be completing the English Baccalaureate suite of subjects, although they have somewhat backtracked on this. This includes English, Mathematics, 2 sciences (which can be Computer Science), a Modern Foreign Language and either History or Geography. Some schools have decided not to pursue this route, some schools already have the majority of students taking this route.

At Capital we have decided that eventually the majority of students will take the full EBacc. suite of subjects. We are transitioning to this point with an increased number of students taking the EBacc. in year 9, around 90% in our current year 8. There are some students for whom we know this isn’t a suitable route, and who will take different pathways, and we have put in place a review point to ensure that students who are not achieving can be moved to different combinations of subjects where this is appropriate.

With all the changes in these measures, it is easy to get lost in the numbers, predictions, targets, percentages, etcetera. We must, as educators, not lose track of our core purpose: to teach. Data is a useful tool to help guide us and adapt our practice, both in the classroom and on a whole school level, but all of these measures will fall into place if we are doing the right thing by our students day in, day out.

The Numeracy Strategy

By Nas Sarkar – Maths Consultant


As part of my role this year I was asked to kick start a Numeracy Strategy for the school. As a department we felt strongly about developing a strategy in a simple, yet effective way.  We also wanted a strategy which built on the success of the Literacy strategy and empowered teachers to feel more confident about numeracy, regardless of whether they love maths or not. Above all we wanted to make it fun and create a buzz.

The Numeracy Strategy will focus on three key areas:

  1. Casio calculators – all pupils are to own and use one in lessons
  2. Graphs – ensuring that students have the ability to draw graphs and diagrams clearly
  3. Problem solving – ensuring students are exposed to problem solving and mental arithmetic tasks to help build their resilience

To support teachers further, the Maths department will be delivering INSETs on how to use graphs effectively in lessons during Friday morning sessions later in the year. Zain and I will be working on problems which can be done in LA time.

Please note that Casio calculators are sold in the library for £6 (substantially less than out there). It would be great if we have a massive push on ALL students owning one of these calculators.

The launch of the Numeracy Strategy was a great success.  All members of the Academy were extraordinarily receptive – it gave the Maths team a real buzz and we are looking forward to working with you in the near future.

Our Role as Research Practitioners 

By Alex Thomas – Principal


It is fitting that researchED  decided to use Capital City Academy for its national 2016 conference last term.  Capital was at the vanguard of another system shift – under Tony Blair’s education, education, education movement back at the start of the millennium.  Capital was one of the first three ‘City Academies’ opening in 2003 – and the first in its own building, designed by Sir Norman Foster and sponsored by Sir Frank Lowe who put up a significant proportion of the costs and remains an active part of the school today.

Academies then were quite different – they took over some of the most depressed, dysfunctional, dystopian schools in the country.  Indeed our predecessor school, Willesden High, had some of the worst GCSE results in the country – closing on 12% A-C (and that was without English and mathematics).

It might help you envisage Willesden High by thinking of it as Grange Hill (if you’re not sure, ask your parents!) an accurate picture as it was actually filmed there.

Despite serving the same community with the same challenges, Capital in 2016 is a very place with transformed outcomes that continue to improve.  We believe we can only become the best by adopting new strategies routed in research and good practice: that’s one of the reasons we jumped at the chance to host today’s conference.  Capital has always welcomed new initiatives like Teachfirst and School Direct.  We may be late converts to twitter and social media but there has always been an appetite for research-based strategy.

One of the talks I enjoyed most at the researchED conference was that delivered by Philippa_Cordingley of the Curee Foundation.  She challenged us to think about how we analyse what we know about school.

As Principal I would like to encourage all staff to see themselves as research practitioners.  Teachers quite literally have the best job in the world and such a rich field of possible subjects.  We should all reflect on our own class results to ask the question: ‘Why did one group do better than another’, look at the praises and sanctions and consider: ‘what does this say about how well different students are doing and, more importantly why?’

At Capital we have also supported a number of colleagues complete Masters and other further qualifications.  Sharing their research and learning is an important part of this commitment to individual’s professional development.

I look forward to reading posts on this blog and sharing my own thoughts from time to time.


Email: athomas@capitalcityacademy.org