In my experience, as an ex-school data manager, you can never start preparing for results days too soon. It doesn’t matter whether it's your first or fifteenth results day, we always need to be ready for the unexpected. The last few years have definitely taught us that!
In my last role as a Data Consultant, each year I discussed ‘survival tips’ with school staff and my advice would always include ‘always do as much as possible before the actual event’. Results days can be long and hectic.
"The best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best today." - H. Jackson Brown Jr.
We’ll never think of every eventuality, but I highly recommend putting together an action plan or work schedule - we all love a good spreadsheet. I used to break mine down into sections such as Pre Results Days, A-Level Embargo Day, A-Level Results Day, GCSE Embargo Day and GCSE Results Day. It can be updated really easily and you’ll find the following year so much easier with it by your side. New colleagues will find it especially helpful, as processes and responsibilities can differ between schools.
*the above items were very specific to the school I worked at & my processes - these may not apply to you
When compiling it, think about:
A backup plan - think about the ‘what ifs’. These could include staff absence, IT failure, unexpected lockdowns (can you issue results electronically?), power cuts, etc. Does everyone have someone that could cover them if necessary? Could you work from home if necessary? I remember a Deputy Head having to manage a results day with no knowledge of systems, let alone their passwords, when the Data Manager decided to leave during the school holidays.
Clearly define colleagues’ roles and responsibilities - ensure all staff are aware of what they need to do and when. It's amazing how many different staff are involved. Can they buddy up with another colleague to help with your backup plan? Follow up discussions with emails or action plans/minutes.
Networking - If you are new to the role, make contact with another school to discuss their procedures. If you’re part of a Trust, a group get together could be really helpful.
Most schools will find the following action points useful:
Check A2C is working and you can connect to the exam boards. Install it on a second machine just in case!
Refresh exams base data if your MIS requires this to be done manually (Compass does it automatically!).
Check for missing discount codes - this saves questions about missing results on the broadsheet.
Set up embargos in your MIS (don’t forget to include yourself & be mindful of JCQ regulations!).
Ensure your student data reflects the January Census - this is key and can be checked quite easily. The June Tables Checking Exercise is an opportunity to check again (in particular, cohort total, the correct students, KS2, SEN & FSM Ever 6 information).
Check with your school’s Exams Officer whether any students are expecting any results for home languages or other qualifications they were not on their timetable.
Check with students whether they’re sitting (or have sat) external qualifications which your school may not be aware of - this is something form tutors can quickly find out during a registration period.
If your students are sitting qualifications externally, speak with those external providers to find out how and when you’ll receive the results.
If you’re using external software for results analysis, be sure to include any banked exams (with the appropriate date for first entry rules) - always check the latest DfE guidance to see what counts each academic year as Covid may have affected this.
Partially complete any LA or Trust returns with as much information as you can e.g. cohort numbers, PP, SEN etc to cut down on paperwork on the day.
Download a sheet of pupil identifiers - Exam No/Admission No/UPN - if you use third-party software for data analysis. You may find your exam results use UPN or Exam No, but the software uses Admission Number (VLOOKUP will come in handy here).
Ensure all upgrades are applied to your MIS well in advance in case of any bugs.
Check the IT staff will be available to support if necessary.
Check the IT staff are not doing major updates or infrastructure work on key days.
Have phone numbers to hand for exam boards and your MIS support. Check their opening times too.
Ask the site manager about maintenance work - you don’t want to arrive at an empty half-painted office!
Check you can access the school premises when you need to (being on the wrong side of the school gates at 5 am is not fun - yes I speak from experience; no sight of SLT or the promised bacon bap!).
Ensure there’s someone to man the phone when the students are being issued their results.
Remind all staff to have their logins ready (there will still be one that asks for a password reminder!). Check all of your own logins in advance so you can be confident they are accurate.
Have a list of entries ready so you can check all the results are in. You might wish to prepare something in Excel or your MIS to speed this up.
Ensure your number of targets matches the number of results to ensure your analysis is accurate.
Stock up on supplies. Not just paper, envelopes and tissues! Have plenty of drinks and snacks to keep you going on embargo and results days. A bottle of wine in the fridge for the end of the day!
Padlock/do not disturb sign for the office door - I say this in jest, but politely reiterate to overly keen members of staff that producing accurate data is easier when left to work undisturbed. Repeatedly asking ‘Is it ready yet?’ doesn’t make it appear any quicker :)
Good luck and enjoy - your hard work will pay off!
So if innovation is not exactly gushing forth from SIMS, where do we look for it? Well, I took on an advisory role at Compass, the Australian HQ-ed MIS, two years ago precisely because I was keen to see more new thinking in this space. And now that their first English schools have gone live it seems like a great time to catch up with UK General Manager Pete Collison to find out more about the identity they’re carving out for themselves. Here’s a rundown of our conversation.
Here at Compass, we are delighted to launch our brand new, integrated data visualisation tool for schools: Pulse. We know as schools you are swamped with unproductive tasks that burn through your precious time, with endless reports, exports, OfSted documentation writing impact statements and reporting back in Local authority meetings. So we got to work making sure the data you collect already can be easily repurposed and transformed into intuitive reports and data visualisations (graphs, pie charts etc.) for all your needs, and no additional workload.
"The first thing is do it. That is the first thing I would say. Like, it's just a no-brainer. It really is! I've used a good few of the other systems, so it's not that I'm completely biased, I just know the benefits of Compass. Rolling it out is the easiest thing you will do."