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Research report

England’s approach to school performance data – lessons learned

Martin Kaliszewski, Astrid Fieldsend and Tony McAleavy

This report distils down what others can learn from three decades of England’s approach to school performance data.

It highlights some of the lessons learned and the successes of the England national pupil data story; by sharing England’s story we hope that policymakers in other countries where a national pupil-level data system is being developed or refined may be able to avoid some of the mistakes and unexpected consequences that England encountered.

Data has played an important role in England’s recent school improvement journey. The National Pupil Database is a vital tool for health-checking the education system, driving accountability, directing education policymaking and tracking the educational attainment of key vulnerable groups. But getting to this data-rich point has not been without its challenges and documenting the journey provides useful lessons for others.

Our report provides analysis of and commentary on seven key accepted lessons:

  • Lesson 1: The school accountability system in England benefits from a data infrastructure of national tests and information about pupil characteristics, supported by technology
  • Lesson 2: English experience demonstrates the risks of an over-simplistic approach to school performance data
  • Lesson 3: In England there has been an important and lively debate about ‘value-added’ measures which take into account the starting points of pupils
  • Lesson 4: There is a need for a national accountability system that evolves over time
  • Lesson 5: Accountability measures used in England have played a significant role in the development of school self-evaluation
  • Lesson 6: Schools can benefit from comparing their own students’ performance with that of the national database through item-level analysis
  • Lesson 7: There should be an alignment between data-based support for internal school improvement and external school improvement through inspection