The school data manager is a role that varies widely from institution to institution, which in some ways is to be expected as schools themselves are varied and complicated establishments.
For some years now there has been a relentless focus on achievement which means there’s a hunger for data and a need for sophisticated data management. The school data manager has certainly become a pivotal figure in all of this, providing accurate data and up-to-the minute interpretation of pupil information.
Having robust and timely data is the foundation for target-setting and an indicator for interventions to increase attainment. The person in charge of these powerful systems – the data manager – has to be able to manipulate and disseminate data effectively to the whole school community. Furthermore, there is now a sea of external data crashing into school shores and the data manager is also tasked with navigating this sea to filter out the data that is most useful to school priorities and that also portrays the school in the best light.
In brief, the data manager must master the Management Information System (MIS) and it’s many many facets, decide on whether a separate bespoke analysis system is required and then choose and implement one, or create one. They should have strong knowledge of the various national data sources and keep abreast of that ever changing landscape, informing senior leaders as appropriate. They should be able to problem solve and introduce solutions effectively, make the complex appear simple whilst communicating effectively to a wide range of audiences. Effectively they must have a hand on the tiller, a leg in the engine room, an ear to the SLT radio, an eye on the national picture and their heart absolutely must lie in improving educational outcomes for all.
It is incredibly rare to find two data managers with the same roles and responsibilities in different schools. Data managers tend to be islands in the fog, not always visible, even within their own setting; sometimes isolated, cast aside to battle tides of data and wrestle with systems whilst the rest of the world moves on. Data managers who do connect with others primarily compare their roles almost immediately.
Through my own drifting around conferences, local data meetings and making connections online I have found a remarkable number of different roles consumed within the Data Manager title.
Often these roles are defined by at what point in time the school decided that they needed a dedicated data role, this often governs what roles they have tied in with job and where the data manager sits in proximity to the Senior Leadership Team (SLT). So we have some Data Managers from ICT or systems backgrounds, some borne out of examination administration roles, data managers who have to deal with cover arrangements(!) – still don’t get that one. Data Managers solely for post-16, a vast array of data managers with teaching responsibilities, IT and maths being the most common in my experience. A real mixed bag, but all of which reflect individual schools past decisions and processes.
Myself, I am a data manager from a local authority data background. I have always been data and nothing else. I imagine there are some others like me out there…. HELLO?
My message to data managers of all descriptions is don’t be lonely, find yourself a good support network whether it be local data and assessment meetings via your local authority, or national sources such as twitter, edugeek or the SSAT data managers network.
The school data manager is a highly enjoyable and vibrant role, at the heart of modern education decision and school policy making, it may not have the hands-on rewards of teaching but do not be fooled, outstanding management of data can make a difference in schools and to the lives of young people. Be the best.