The future of data managers in education

digital eye wave lines stock | The future of data managers in education
By David Draper | 28th April 2023 | 7 min read

What’s the typical day in the life of a data manager? Well, in my previous role at a large MAT, I spent all week, if not months, collating data for leadership teams, only for the information to be outdated by the time it was gathered.

What can trusts do with data that is a few weeks old? Well, not a lot.

Now, I know for a fact, my experience isn’t unique – this is the day-to-day of many data managers.

It’s no secret that more time is spent collating data than using it…

Despite this, the role of the data manager is an integral one; trusts need all their data in one place, and that is not possible without expert help.

Where’s my data?

MATs often fall into a few different buckets.

You first have those with dedicated data managers who spend most of their time hunting for data rather than using it.

In some cases, these data managers build bespoke data warehouses in an attempt to collate information in one place; however, I know personally having built a data warehouse for a trust that the cost and time associated are often astronomical, and frankly, if that data manager leaves, the system essentially becomes useless.

On the flip side, you have the schools and MATs who wish they had a data manager but simply can’t recruit any.

The salary for data engineers is far greater in other industries, resulting in an enormous talent shortage, meaning many can’t even find people to fill the role.

Lastly, you have smaller trusts that haven’t considered getting a data manager/don’t have it on their immediate agenda.

Getting better-connected

Roughly 90% of school leaders view obtaining and analysing data as a major issue impacting their school.

Better-connected data doesn’t have to be a pipe dream.        

The secret to improving your data is to connect information – from Management Information Systems, HR software and finance software to spreadsheets – in one central location.

Modern data consolidation and reporting tools, such as IRIS Central, offer schools and MATs a unified view of all their staff and student data, enabling real-time decisions to be made with haste.

The bottom line? Those that don’t have data managers can conduct more basic analysis themselves, while those with data managers can free up their time, enabling them to become strategic partners.

More content: Building a data strategy for your Multi-Academy Trust (MAT)

Read here

From data manager to data leader

With clever software tools, the tedious, painstaking process of collating data is eradicated.

So, what does a data manager now do with their day?

I believe we will see the evolution from data manager to data leader; with more time now available and information presented in real-time, data managers can take on a much more strategic role.

Rather than quickly trying to compile a report for stakeholders, data managers have the opportunity to analyse information, locate trends and offer advice, claiming a seat at the leadership table.

Getting out of the dungeon

A fellow data manager from the trust I worked at recently had her office moved directly next to the head teacher’s office.

Why? The strategic benefit of quick data access was recognised, and I believe we’ll see more and more MATs taking this approach.

With this evolution of the data manager, I expect many to move out of the dungeons of admin processing – all they need is the tools to help them help trusts.

UNCOMPLICATED Podcast: How to use data to build a strong trust

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Answering the difficult questions

I firmly believe the future of data managers and education leadership is to tell stories with data, whether that’s about staff, students, finance, attendance, performance, etc.

Think of all the questions you run into during your day-to-day and then imagine if you could get answers to them instantly (even mid-meeting as they arise)!

We recently held a session with education leaders, breaking down what their data barriers are and what questions they desperately needed answering; a few of the hot questions included:

  • Are more students absent on non-uniform days or Fridays?
  • What is the impact of staff working at more than one trust?
  • Does student behaviour worsen after significant sporting events?
  • What is the staff cost per subject?
  • Are there any early warning signs for pupils?
  • What are the energy costs by site?
  • What is the attendance of my vulnerable students?

These questions were only a few of the ones asked, but I’m sure you can resonate with them.

As mentioned, tools like IRIS Central help consolidate information in one place, but how exactly does it help answer these questions?

Take, for example, if you view attendance in isolation for one pupil, you might see they've not been there every Friday, but you won't know why. But if you also saw their dinner money balance and that it was in deficit for months, you might suspect issues at home – likewise, if you saw their parental communication history had stopped two weeks ago.

Putting the pieces of a story together is extremely difficult when data is fragmented, but with tools like IRIS Central, you can quickly aggregate not only data from all school MISs but also HR, finance and more into one location, ensuring all information is easily accessible.

Adapting and evolving

Schools hold a wealth of information, and when correlated together, the data has the potential to paint a very accurate picture of problems as they emerge.

Whether you’re combining student assessment, behaviour and attendance data to locate safeguarding issues or looking at HR and finance data to reduce cover costs – the possibilities are endless.

IRIS Central: Your control tower for more effective trust management

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