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Opinion29th June 2016

Assembling the future of education data

The demands on a teacher’s time are endless. Often, it’s the administrative tasks that are the most burdensome. In a recent government survey on teacher workload, recording, inputting and monitoring data was one of the most commonly cited “unnecessary” tasks.

From attendance registers to behaviour records to assessment results, teachers have a multitude of data to record. Historically they have used a School Information System (SIS) to capture everything, but as a school’s requirements multiply, SIS are increasingly struggling to meet all their needs. This leads teachers, senior leaders and data managers to rely on systems like Excel to manually analyse and combine SIS data with other sources. The time spent inputting and formatting could be better used actually analysing, understanding and acting on the data.

At the same time, the EdTech sector in the UK is thriving, with UK schools spending £900m every year on thousands of education technology products. There are a whole host of innovative apps for tasks such as teaching curriculum, monitoring assessment or managing behaviour. But because these are usually standalone systems, they require yet more manual data entry to work, meaning that further valuable time and insight is lost.

Enter: Assembly, a new joint-venture from Ark and the NEON Foundation which aims to help UK schools use data more effectively and so improve education outcomes. The venture has also had generous support from other donors including Zing Foundation.

Assembly’s vision is to create a global platform for the education sector that brings education information management into the 21st Century. The Assembly Platform allows schools to securely connect their school data with innovative apps for school improvement. In addition, schools can easily combine and compare data from multiple sources to drive better decision-making through more insightful data analysis.

For schools, the advantage of a direct SIS link means that teachers don’t need to input data manually and have access to real-time information, such as registers or grades. In addition, they can combine data from multiple sources to create greater insight into how pupils, classes or even the whole school is doing against particular measures.

For example, Assembly has been working with Mathematics Mastery to transform how participating schools record and analyse pupil progress. Together they’ve developed an online gradebook which uses the Assembly Platform to access real-time SIS data. As a result, teachers no longer have to add pupil data manually, greatly reducing the time taken to enter assessment results. Teachers can also analyse performance more effectively, since the gradebook has access to contextual data from the SIS, such as prior pupil attainment.

In time, Assembly hopes the Platform will become the central point for schools looking to find school improvement apps and to make use of high quality data analysis, such as Assembly’s secondary school Benchmarking tool.

So far, there’s been a positive response to how Assembly is transforming the use of data in education, including articles in The Economist and Schools Week.

The Assembly platform launched in beta in autumn 2015, and was made available to all 70 secondary schools on the Mathematics Mastery programme. In May 2016 the team opened the platform up to all developers, and an exciting array of new products are scheduled to connect by September 2016, in time for the new school year. Assembly’s aim is to work with 1,000 schools during 2016/17.

To find out how you can support this exciting new venture, contact Sarah Harwood, Head of Development or Assembly directly.