Capability to Better

Serve and Lead

Data and research in Catholic schools

Data and evidence are essential to providing a high-quality Catholic education.

Catholic Education Melbourne’s education framework, Horizons of Hope, states: ‘Catholic educators draw on a range of evidence to measure the learning growth, progress and improvement of every student and to determine where to next’.

‘Testing and data gathered at the local level enable educators to make precise decisions for their learners within their context.’

Catholic Education Melbourne provides data and evidence to schools to enable data-driven decision-making and improve educational outcomes.

Academics and universities also benefit from data and research in our schools, and we have engaged those organisations to promote relevant, engaging and impactful research.

Sharing school performance analysis

Data on school performance are analysed by Catholic Education Melbourne staff, and provided to regional leadership consultants and learning consultants to enable discussion with school staff to support a process of improving school and student outcomes.

Data analysis can take many forms and be provided in a variety of formats but, increasingly, such analyses are provided in Tableau workbooks.

The Tableau system of data analysis allows school and student data to be visualised in simple charts to create meaning for end users. The system also has the capability for users to manipulate various aspects of the visuals, thus creating their own unique charts that are more useful for understanding school needs.

Many different data sources are used, but the most useful for our regional leadership consultants and learning consultants are based on NAPLAN and VCE results.

Both of these data sources are reliable and have been available for many years, thus giving the opportunity for detailed longitudinal analyses.

One such example of how the full range of VCE data can be visualised in one simple chart is shown below. It is a ‘one-stop shop’ in terms of VCE data analysis as all the major VCE indicators are shown in one chart.

School leaders and teachers can select from a variety of different filters to change the year level, school, year and VCE subject. This level of detail improves the quality of analysis, and enables the design and measurement of targeted interventions and changes.

Regional Leadership Consultant Vicki Myers, who works closely with principals on every aspect of leading a school, said: ‘Data presented in Tableau provides an extremely effective platform from which to take school leaders and teachers through significant data sets that move from broad sector and regional performance, to school-level and individual student-level data’.

‘There has been real enthusiasm for engaging with data, using it to plan and prioritise and look for evidence of impact.’

The work with data in Tableau has expanded from engaging with principals and leadership teams on school performance, to presenting the data to teachers themselves who have identified implications for their practice. 

Vicki added: ‘Getting leaders and teachers to explain the story behind school-level data, and then to put “faces on the data” at student level, has seen school leaders and teachers engage with data. They are making connections with various relevant data sets in order to identify priority areas that need to be addressed in the learning and teaching program’.

As Regional Leadership Consultant Rob Scanlon explained, teachers benefit from ‘understanding where their individual students are placed’. 

When more workbooks are developed and the Tableau server system is deployed, it is expected that the system will become even more widely used and useful for improving school performance.

Relevant and engaging research opportunities for schools

Schools get many requests to participate in external research projects, but most often they say ‘no’ – in fact 80% of the time, according to the Understanding School Engagement in Research (USER) study results.

It is not that our schools do not value research – quite the opposite!

The majority of schools who participated in the USER study said they believe research is important for school improvement, and they were able to give at least one example of a project that positively impacted their school community.

However, many of the research proposals that principals receive are either not relevant to their school priorities, or they are conducted in a way that does not actively engage the school.

Therefore, how do we make relevant, engaging and impactful research projects the norm, rather than the exception?

A key first step was to review and update our Research in Schools (RiS) policy and process.

Catholic Education Melbourne receives approximately 100 applications per year from researchers wishing to conduct research in our schools. While applications are reviewed to ensure any ethical concerns and risks are minimised, USER findings prompted us to pay greater attention to the benefits, demands, engagement of schools and how the learnings would be shared.

Researchers are asked to respond to these aspects in their applications, and related feedback is provided to them during the review process. Early signs in our 2018–19 RiS Annual Report showed more researchers are considering how they can better engage schools in their research projects.

The USER findings were also the impetus to more proactively engage universities in a conversation about relevant, engaging and impactful research from the perspective of schools and Catholic Education Melbourne.

Invitations to conduct workshops were accepted by Deakin University, Monash University and the University of Melbourne. Four interactive sessions were conducted in 2019, with approximately 50 researchers from across the three universities. Key messages were shared from The Insiders’ Guide: Helping researchers and schools get the most out of working together, and the feedback was extremely positive with 96% of researchers reporting the session to be very worthwhile.

Even more pleasing were the commitments researchers made to how they would recruit and engage schools in their research projects to ensure learnings and benefits to schools could be maximised. Catholic Education Melbourne is currently reviewing RiS application data from 2019–20 to see if this approach to conducting research in schools is indeed starting to become the norm, rather than the exception.