PowerBI drives more informed decision making at The Whitehaven Academy and across Bright Tribe Trust

The following article was written by Matthew Woodruff, Technical Director at The Knowledge Network for, and on behalf of, The Whitehaven Academy and Bright Tribe Trust, and first appeared in the February 2016 edition of #TheFeed.

Matthew was also with us a BETT 2016, presenting daily in our Learn Live Theatre all about the PowerBI journey at Whitehaven Academy and across the broader Bright Tribe Trust.


PowerBI drives more informed decision making at The Whitehaven Academy and across Bright Tribe Trust

The Whitehaven Academy is part of Bright Tribe Trust, a multi-academy trust set up to raise the standards of education in the North West of England. We are a mixed, 11 to 19 academy in Whitehaven  in Cumbria.

Our approach is underpinned by our values of ‘Learn Grow Prosper’ where we assess every student to understand their strengths and weaknesses and tailor their education to meet their needs. We support and encourage students to make informed decisions about their future  and help them reach their potential.

Technology supported learning and KiData

We recognised early that in order to realise our objectives in assessment and tailoring learning pathways around the individual we’d need a sound technical solution. Working with The Knowledge Network has enabled us to very quickly leverage expertise in education data warehousing and mining, and Apps built around our chosen productivity platform – Office 365.

Last year we ran successful pilots in school focussing on ‘technology supported’ teaching and learning and also worked with the Trust to define our own view of the information requirements to help drive school improvement and student success. The existing Trust data platform, KiData, extracts data from the MIS and other sources both in school and hosted elsewhere.  An education data model is applied which turns the data into meaningful information which is then played back to all stakeholders whether SLT or Trust, class teachers, students or parents through  Office 365 or KiData Apps that are specific to their requirements. KiData really is the engine that gets the right information, to the right person, at the right time, to make better informed decisions – and it uses PowerBI.

The PowerBI journey

We’ve been working with Microsoft BI in various forms for many years, from early ProClarity and Performance Point Server  in SharePoint 2010 all the way through to the Office 365 based services today.

PowerBI represents a significant breakthrough that puts the power firmly back in the hands of the data analyst rather than the BI developer.  This means that self-service BI – the end user exploring the data to find the information they need – is one giant leap nearer to the data manager or IT savvy SLT.

You can sign up to PowerBI for free, and it can be as easy to use as simply selecting an Excel spreadsheet to use as a data source.  You can then drag and drop a variety of visualisations onto the report canvas to represent the data in different ways. 

There are many reasons why, if you haven’t already started exploring PowerBI, you must:

  • I’m very ‘Appy its cross platform – the native Apps on iOS, Android and Windows are superb. Not only does it make it very simple to access dashboards on any device, it brings an annotation feature in order for you to comment, highlight, or otherwise deface the visualisations and share your annotations with the team.
  • The community is buzzing – you only have to look at the PowerBI team blog to see that this tool is being updated daily, and released weekly.  Innovations are appearing before we’ve even fully  utilised the last.
  • No Excel, No Problem – The standalone PowerBI Desktop provides a rich and user friendly way to build reports, and publishing directly to Office 365 is no more complicated than… clicking Publish!
  • Did I mention the non Pro licence is free?

Last week we completed the first Academy and Trust ‘data drop’ for this academic year and the results, shared through the PowerBI reports that you can see demo versions of above, were instantly visible and significantly aided the process of discussion and activity planning.  We’d simply not have been able to gather, present and analyse this information,  in such an effective way, without KiData and PowerBI.

Read Matthew’s article, and more, in the February issue of #TheFeed:

We love a Challenge

There have been many challenges to overcome and we’re are not done solving them all. Here are the top four that come to mind:

  • Scope – we collect data automatically from the School MIS as well as financial and ‘softer’ records from disparate systems and Excel.  Students are with us from Early Years through to the end of Key Stage 5, with varied curriculum pathways. We therefore have a very large requirements scope with data to address core records and progress from 4 to 19.
  • Standards and consistent quality assurance – acutely problematic at the Trust level. Is an Apple in Cornwall an Apple in Cumbria?  While both appear to be apples, has the same classification of apple been applied, or has there been some interpretation?  Matching MIS data and qualifications, applying consistent behaviour policy, and assessing pupil progress in a world recently without levels is not straightforward.
  • Evolving landscape of education reform – follows on… Life without Levels, KS3 progress, introductions of Progress 8, new primary curriculum, new KS4 curriculum and changes to points and scales for English and Maths and the list goes on.  Discussion, design, implementation and review of systems to support these across the Trust takes time.
  • Commercial – PowerBI started life as a paid for service that would be prohibitive to scale. There remains no easy way to address parental licensing. 

The great news, of course, is that the new PowerBI service is now free (terms apply) or an affordable monthly subscription for a faculty Pro licence.

Where next?

While we’ve made good progress in our understanding of how to harness the data that already exists we recognise that we are only part way through our journey towards embedding data driven approaches in our Academy and Trust DNA.

PowerBI affords us a solid understanding of past and present performance and how we can most effectively target our limited resources towards interventions that we know are successful in improving outcomes.

We are moving forward from this foundation now to address both the predictive and prescriptive analytics space to help us better address the questions such as and ‘which curriculum resources and interventions should be considered for  each individual to most effectively  support their progress’.

Learning Analytics is of great interest to us, and the personalised learning pathway App KiPathways, built on Office 365, allows us to start to understand the value of particular curriculum pathways and even particular resources. We look forward to every opportunity to leverage emerging technology to support the Academy and Trust aims. Today, we are pursuing applications in education of Cortana Analytics and wearables, and we’re hugely excited by the possibilities with Augmented Reality in the near future. All of which help us to meet our aim for all our students to Learn, Grow and Prosper.

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