Use of data to inform practice with Berry Public School – What works best podcast

This podcast was originally published 2 October 2020.

This podcast is part of an eight-part series. In this podcast, Mark Scott, former Secretary of the NSW Department of Education, explores how they use data to provide students with effective feedback and inform their classroom practice.

Mark Scott speaks with Principal, Bob Willetts, and staff at Berry Public School.

Intro: Welcome to a special CESE podcast series on the ‘What works best: 2020 update’. For eight exclusive episodes join the Secretary of the NSW Department of Education, Mark Scott, as he speaks with schools and students about effective teaching practices that support student academic achievements. This week’s topic is on use of data to inform practice with Berry Public School.

Mark Scott: So, today we’re talking about how schools use data to inform their practice, which is one of the eight effective teaching practices identified in ‘What works best: the 2020 update’. And I’m here with the Berry Public School Principal Bob Willets, and the school’s Assistant Principals are going to talk about the ways they use data to improve teaching and learning of their schools. Bob, what type of data does Berry Public School collect? And how do you use that data to inform teaching and practice?

Bob Willets: Thanks very much, Mark. Like all schools, Berry Public School is data rich. We collect formal and informal data on all areas of the curriculum with a really strong focus on literacy and numeracy. And we also collect extensive data on social emotional development and wellbeing of every student in our school, both formally and informally. Formally, we use the ‘Tell Them From Me’ survey and the ‘Be You’ surveys for parents, for teachers, and for students, to collect data on wellbeing. And we use the data to inform teaching and learning on a macro level, to analyse and evaluate the effectiveness of our teaching and learning programs and our teaching practices, and of course we use the data then at the most granular individual student level to provide effective feedback for students and to inform where to go next in their learning.

Mark Scott: One of the things that we can see in the SEF is that when schools identify areas that they most want to work on and need support, the number one area is actually the use of data and the use of data effectively. How do you support staff, to not just have a lot of data available, but to really be able to mine it well and to use it well?

Bob Willets: So, we say data is our friend at Berry Public School, and we celebrate the strengths and our wins, we call them. And we also use the data to work on our weaknesses and we work on those until we can celebrate the progress in all the areas. So, we have frank and fearless conversations about our data as a direct reflection of the effectiveness of all of our programs and our initiatives and our programs and our practices. Teachers here complete a wide range of professional learning, both on a whole-school level, a stage level relating to all of their programs, but also on an individual basis as well. And they’re supported, particularly our beginning teachers are supported by our executive team, who are amazing instructional leaders, and also our learning and support teacher to develop their effective use of data in their program.

Mark Scott: Part of the challenge is the consistent use of that data, so that all teachers are using data effectively. How do you make sure that across 2 an interesting, challenging school like yours, that all teachers, no matter where they’re working, are using the data effectively as well?

Bob Willets: I suppose modelling it right through our executive team, through the use of our whole-school data, and analysing where we can “know thy impact,” celebrate the impact of our programs and the impact of our work, but also to analyse the key areas to improve. One of the big factors for us and the most effective ways is that we work in our stage teams and the executive teams through the creation of assessment tasks, the codesign of all of those. And then I suppose the combined explanation and evaluation of all of the data once it comes in from all of the assessment tasks.

Mark Scott: Brilliant.

Mark Scott: So, Keely, Peter, Jess, Assistant Principals at Berry Public School, tell us why data is important for teachers at the school?

Jess Snell: Data is important for teachers because it’s at the core of everything we do. I think sometimes it sounds like teachers walk around and consistently formally assess students and hand out surveys to parents, but that’s not the case at all. I think data needs to be a balance of qualitative and quantitative data, and sometimes you just need to know where to look. So, it could be as simple as an observation or a work sample or a walk through the playground or a conversation with staff, and all those things together are data. Often we get a comment at our school when people walk into our school about how positive our culture seems, and that’s not a happy coincidence; that’s because we use our LST data, we look at our attendance, we look at our Tell Them From Me, and all those bits and pieces make a puzzle for us that we are consistently assessing. Recently we did our NCC data and we noticed there was a huge shift for us in the social emotional category for our students this year after 2020, so that was something we analysed as a staff and we prioritised a wellbeing program. As a teacher, that’s really important, because our students aren’t going to come and learn if they’re not happy and feeling safe in that environment. Then at a classroom level, data’s just as important, because it helps us monitor student progress, give effective feedback, group of students; it’s at the core of everything we do in a classroom, and you can’t be effective without using data. I think it’s at every corner of our school; you just have to know where to look and what you’re looking for and how to use that data authentically and efficiently.

Mark Scott: So, on specifically around student strengths and areas of development, what particular data are you going to be diving into to help you identify strengths and areas of development?

Peter Burney: We delve into all data. You’ve got to think about data, it’s not teaching drives the data; the data drives the teaching. By that I mean everything we do is based on data. So, when we do a program, we analyse it using the data and say, “Okay, that program needs tweaking, because the data is showing us this.” Data comes across many levels, how we use it. So, it starts right at the individual student, going back to an ILP. And then that 3 data, which a lot of schools get caught up with, and we try to avoid, is the data being used the same way for everything. So, I’ll go back to the ILP. A student on an ILP, their data tracking is going to be used a lot more tightly than when you look at a whole cohort. So, all the assessments that we use ongoing, it’s a collective approach, which means that all the staff are invested in it. And when you use data to drive school practice, that data then becomes essential to the process that you have in a school.

Mark Scott: So, it sounds like you’ve got really quite a nimble approach to how you’re using data, that you’re using student learning and wellbeing data to monitor and adapt your practice over time, in light of the evidence that you’re getting?

Keely Hallowell: Yeah, so as Jess was saying before, data is a huge part of what we do at Berry Public School, and our overall culture of the school. So, as most teachers would do in the classroom, you are gathering data every single day. It’s an ongoing process and it’s embedded in everything. All key learning areas, but also wellbeing and all culture related aspects of the school. As Peter was saying, we definitely use data to drive our teaching, and for us, it’s not necessarily how much data we gather, but what we do with that data. And we’re always trying to use data for the greater good. So, we’re always trying to analyse what we are doing well and how we can maintain that. But an example of something we’ve done recently as well is identifying where we’re not doing as well or where we’d like to improve, and putting specific programs in place to help students to achieve in those areas. So, it’s also to us about tweaking ongoing programs. We have a lot of programs at Berry Public School that work really well. But as the years move on and the cohorts change, it’s a lot about looking into those programs and the data that we get from them, and seeing, “Is this still working? Or is it something that we need to change?”

Mark Scott: Brilliant. Let me just check with the crack crew here. Are we happy? We’re happy. We’re happy, we’re done. Thanks very much.

Peter Burney: Thank you.

Jess Snell: Thank you.

Keely Hallowell: Thanks, Mark.

Peter Burney: Thanks, Mark.

Outro: Thanks for listening to this special ‘What works best’ podcast series, produced by the Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation or CESE. Tune in next week or subscribe to listen to the next episode.


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