May 18 2020

Ace the new academic year with data at your fingertips

Future proofing and planning is critical to the success of any college, but during COVID-19, we explore how a strategic approach to gathering, analysing and reporting key data enables colleges to realise insights, create value, and raise the bar to get back on the path to success in the ‘new norm’?

Like every other industry, the Further Education colleges are having to adapt quickly during the pandemic and are now looking at how they can future proof themselves to hit the ground running in September, post lockdown, in time for the new academic year.

Uncertainty and change are the only consistencies at the moment, and because of COVID 19 and resulting fallout, sparse resources have led to many colleges across the country deciding to take this time to review their operations and infrastructure, to enable them offer better and healthier environments as well as improved communications, courses, services and most importantly education under the ‘new normal’ .

Without doubt, the future will mean a different approach to data, in the collection, analysis and way performance indicators are measured as to what makes a FE college or a university successful. Analysing standard data sets will no longer be acceptable because the current situation is unlike anything we have seen before.


Clearly the sector has many challenges, namely:

  • Funding - COVID-19 carries financial implications for many providers, who are possibly exasperated, given the pressure on the public purse and the extension of the furlough scheme. This may have serious future implications on funding available for FE colleges
  • Student Retention- If students are unable to complete their study programme as a result of COVID-19 and are recorded as withdrawn in end-year data, this could impact on the retention factor used to calculate 16 to 19 allocations for 2021 and beyond
  • Student Impact – Studying and schooling from home is not easy and the current situation could have an immediate impact on performance and grades when the new academic year commences
  • Changes to the way teaching is delivered - Having been asked to stop classroom delivery of courses, providers continue to offer support, provide education, examinations and care for their students, in extremely difficult circumstances. Some courses like English and Maths for example are easier to adopt than others such as vocational courses
  • Breaks in learning mean analysing additional data - To record breaks in learning for COVID-19 reasons, providers are having to incorporate additional data sets in their analysis (i.e. recording, retaining and submitting evidence in the usual way, but looking at other factors). Principals, for example, are now having to ensure that the affected learners are not recorded as permanently withdrawn from their learning, by applying different ‘statuses’, indicating for instance that the learner has temporarily withdrawn due to an agreed break in learning as a direct impact of COVID-19

Clearly these are only samples of some of the challenges in the sector at the moment, as other challenges also exist around performance metrics in areas such as examinations and assessments, audit and governance, regulation etc.


Insight from the very beginning

The value that can be gained from a data-driven approach cannot be underestimated. Having data analytics embedded in daily processes means that colleges can immediately benefit from clear insights previously hidden or simply missed. Identifying potential student dropout always wins over reviewing unexpected student dropouts (and therefore no unexpected lost funding). This data-driven strategy also provides real-time insights and reporting in other key sectors and function of a college and student lifecycle, thereby removing shocks when it comes to revealing student exam results at the end of the academic year and no surprises from student or staff end of year surveys.

Simply to reduce the number of student dropouts in the crucial next 12 months, colleges need to understand how engaged their students really are, to predict the odds of them continuing with their course. This understanding can come from data: a dashboard that analyses student attendance rates mixed with other data can quickly identify any anomalies of students who might not be starting on the right track. Having this insight from the very beginning can put a college in a favourable position, as not only can they start to spot patterns, but they can also put measures in place before the situation becomes irreversible.

Additionally, other factors might come into play. For example, is the data showing poor student attendance or engagement rates in one particular subject area, or with a certain tutor? When compared to historical data, can patterns be established to see if this has happened before? Or, if it’s a new tutor for the academic year, could guidance be given to ensure the tutor is performing in line with the college’s expectations?

As outlined above, the impact of COVID 19 on college students currently studying from home could have a clear and visible impact from September onwards. Overlaying ‘other’ types of data, like demographic information for example may be able to give colleges and universities the ‘heads up’ and look for patterns emerging before they become a problem. This can enable an early intervention.

Data as a priority

In normal times, how many colleges actually access and analyse the data they hold? Of those that do, how many colleges treat data as a high priority on their to-do lists? Looking at data patterns or analysis once per term and presenting the data in a single report isn’t enough; a change in mindset is needed within colleges to make data a day-to-day priority.

A quick, regular glance at a data dashboard on finance, student retention, engagement or exam results is all it takes for a member of staff to get a snapshot of what is going well or what needs to be improved, especially in the critical first six weeks. Quite simply, lecturers and tutors need to have access to the right information, at the right time.

Using data efficiently and effectively buys valuable time for a college, but more importantly puts what is both important and requires urgent action on the radar for immediate attention by the right resources at the right time. Colleges can’t (quite literally) afford to have a data blind spot: they need to know what is happening across all areas and then put plans in place to remediate any negative situations, quickly turning them into positives. Learnings from data can be applied year-on-year to enable approaches to be refined and new tactics to be tried; if one approach to student engagement does not bring any positive results, the college should know not to repeat it again.

With a strategic approach to data -adopted not just by one person - but by the entire college, there is no reason for funding, or students, to be lost in the first few months of the academic year. It’s time for colleges to adopt the data mindset and get back in the numbers game.

Join us on Tuesday 9th June at 15:00 for our webinar Data at your fingertips in time for the new academic year.

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