“Progress” has been the new buzzword in school improvement and inspection for the last two years now. It makes a lot of sense, especially to parents. “Are students making good progress?” is exactly what parents want to know. Schools do hold a lot of data about this, but they hold such a vast quantity of information acquired through pupil tracking systems that they have difficulty in getting a clear picture of it for themselves. Furthermore, school tracking data is often unfathomable to parents, especially in Key Stage 3. So what to do? For some years now I’ve been using data visualisations like the ones in RaiseOnline to get an overview of a cohort’s progress, particularly at KS4. What I’ve not done so well is visualising progress of individuals over time. When I heard about flight paths as a visualisation idea for tracking pupil progress across a key stage, I thought it sounded great. But what did flight paths look like? How were they used? Usually, Google is my friend, but at the time of writing (August 2013) there were no images of flight paths available online to explore. I’ve been told other schools have been using them, but I don’t know who they are or what their experience has been. (If you are using them, please get in touch via the reply form at the bottom.) So, I’ve just had a go myself. With some luck, they might be retrieved by a google image search for “flight path education” in the near future! Here is what they look like …
Of course, teachers want to see all the flight paths for their class in one document, like this (made-up data as an example).
Description of the flight paths
- Each chart shows the progress in English of a student.
- The white circles are the tracking grades. In my school, KS3 grades are “current attainment” and KS4 grades are “end of course predictions”.
- Each grade is joined to its neighbours by black lines to give a visual track.
- The grey paths and the spaces between them are the “flight paths”. The students have to “stay on their flight path or rise above it”. They can easily see if they are doing this.
- The coloured squares in the top left are coloured according to vulnerability information to help teachers. From top left, clockwise the squares represent: Pupil Premium, SEN, Ethnicity not White British, Intervention by Subject, Intervention by School, English as an Additional Language, currently Free School Meals. If a vulnerability does not apply, the square is white.
- The little blue arrow represents the school agreed target for the end of the key stage. The “T” reminds us it is a target.
- The narrow red arrow represents the most likely grade estimate from the Fischer Family Trust for the end of key stage. While most schools use Type D, you can use whatever estimate you want here. Of course, you only get these for some GCSE subjects and for English, Maths & Science at KS3 (and these are probably somewhat suspect five years after the demise of KS3 tests).
- (KS2-4 flight path) The blue lines from the end of Y9 to the GCSE bands show the progress that should be made from Y9 to the end of Y11. From then on, because the tracking grades are end-of-course predictions, students need to stay on the horizontal.
- The flight paths have been designed to give ambitious targets for all starting points. They don’t assume equal “sublevels” of progress, mainly because not all sublevels are equal, and in practice, students of higher prior attainment make more progress (at least in terms of sublevels) than students of lower attainment. There’s another post brewing about this.
In designing the slope of the grey flight paths, I’ve used lots of data from both government sources and the Fischer Family Trust. It’s made me think quite a bit about the rather simplistic “2+2” model of progress (rise two levels in KS3 and then rise another two in KS4), but I’ll have to leave all that for another post. It’s not easy to produce charts like this from a typical school Management Information Systems (MIS). There’s a lot of data processing to turn a spreadsheet of numbers into something like this on a large scale, but there’s also a lot to be gained. Here are a few points …
It’s easy to see where progress is good or not
Are the students staying on their flight path? Where are the “odd points”? Has anything odd happened in between different years?
You can easily see the relationship between estimates, targets and predictions
This is a distinction that needs stressing again and again. You can estimate a student’s end of key stage outcome from prior attainment and other data. For example, the Fischer Family Trust do this. Here the red arrow helps. Targets need to be agreed in the light of estimates and in the light of our ambition. Here, the blue arrow helps show how our target compares with both the individual’s FFT estimate and the school’s guidance (the grey paths). Finally, the white circles and black lines show whether we are moving towards our target with good progress, or otherwise. It’s much easier than trying to interpret by how much a sequence like 4b blank 4a 5c blank 4b 5c is falling short from an end of key stage target like 6c, even with colour coding.
Young people and parents can easily understand them
Parents have immense difficulty understanding KS3 grades. Even teachers struggle sometimes. Quick – how many sublevels progress between a KS2 grade of 4c and a KS3 grade of 5a? A visual chart really helps here and can inform many conversations – between students and teachers, teachers and managers & teachers and parents.
You can also display visually any vulnerability information
If the top left squares are white, there’s no vulnerabilities to worry about. If they are not, check a bit further. I’m not sure this will be so easy in practice, as you have to remember what each square is for, so I’ll keep a check on whether this is helpful. If we decide to share charts like this with students and parents (and I hope we will) we’ll produce charts with this information removed otherwise student’s vulnerable group membership will be obvious to other students. If you want to use these charts with your own students feel free. There is a set of blanks in a variety of format available below to download in a variety of formats.
In my school next year
We’ve spoken to middle leaders and we intend to trial the use of flight paths. Our aim is to raise student aspirations and identify when to intervene and monitor how well our interventions are going. We are aiming mainly at KS3, as KS4 already has a good identification and intervention program.
We’ll extract a subject spreadsheet from our MIS containing all the tracking information and vulnerability information to produce a chart like above. We will then process it in two ways …
1) We’ll make the flight paths into pdf files for teachers arranged by teaching group. Teachers will have a 2 or 3 page document with all their classes’ flight paths in.
Here’s a working demo of the interactive charts – from the link, just click on any circle (the circle is a student) to show the student’s flight path, then click again to get back to the start page. After that, try using the highlighting options at the left. Also, hover over some things to see what happens.
Get in touch I’d be keen to hear of any other school which is using flight paths – please get in touch via the comments.
Example flight path file by teaching group for English
KS3 blank flight path in png format
KS3 blank flight path in jpeg format
GCSE blank flight path in png format
GCSE blank flight path in jpg format
BTEC blank flight path in png format
BTEC blank flight path in jpg format